Player of the Week
It has been rather easy to heap praise on Ohio State’s play so far this season, but please understand that it would be harder to ignore it. When facing Iowa on the road, the Buckeyes had a bit of a sleep walking start. The first half was slow and ugly on all counts, and Iowa went into the break with a 36-29 lead. Ohio State came out in the second half and rode Sullinger early and often. In the first nine minutes of the second half, Sullinger got a shot on nine of the team’s sixteen possessions, scored 11 points, and saw the Iowa seven point halftime lead turned into a seven point deficit. Sullinger finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds and Ohio State held on in what was for the most part a game worth forgetting. On Sunday against a very long Minnesota squad with a great matchup against Trevor Mbakwe, Sullinger did not have quite as dominant an effort but still very solid against a quality opponent. Mbakwe was his typical active self on both ends around the basket finishing with 16 points, 12 rebounds, and was able to block Sullinger’s shot three times. Still, the runaway freshman of the year finished with 15 points on 5-11 from the field and had 12 rebounds to help Ohio State escape another week undefeated.
Last week’s blog noted the much appreciated offensive output from Ryne Smith in Purdue’s first two Big Ten games, but this week Smith was nothing short of tremendous at shooting. He was 11-14 from the field, all of which came from behind the arc. He was 5-5 from three for 20 points at Penn State, with 5-7 from the line to boot, and 6-9 shooting for 18 points against Iowa. His ascension as Purdue’s third scoring threat cannot be understated. On a day like Sunday where JaJuan Johnson and [Player: E’Twaun Moore] combine for 12-32 shooting, the Boilermakers could have been incredibly vulnerable. Smith’s six threes combined with a quality performance from Kelsey Barlow made it a no doubter.
Northwestern’s Defense in Champaign
Northwestern took a major hit when John Shurna sprained his ankle. While he has continued to play, he has clearly been limited by the injury. The injury, however, does not excuse the team for how remarkably bad they were defensively at Illinois. The Wildcat 1-3-1 zone was little more than a speed bump for the Fighting Illini who ended up shooting 31-44 from the field (70.5 percent) and 25 of the 31 field goals were off assists. Six Illini players reached double digits in scoring. The game got ugly early with Illinois scoring 16 points on their first five possessions and 29 points on their first thirteen. It never really got better, just sloppier, with Northwestern falling 88-63. For years, Bill Carmody prided himself as a Princeton coach that wanted a tough, defensive team that was efficient offensively. They could not have been any further from that ideology on Thursday
Top 5 Early Bubble Questions
1. With Michigan State’s record sitting at 10-5 after an upset loss to Penn State, how low in the bracket can they sink? The Spartans had three eleven loss regular seasons in the past eight years. In 2004, they were 18-11 and received a #7 seed. In 2006, they were 22-11 and received a #6 seed. The following years, they were 21-11 and received a #9 seed. This year’s Michigan State team still has tough road games at Ohio State, Purdue, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota with Purdue, Illinois, and Wisconsin also going to East Lansing. Would a 12 or 13 loss Michigan State team with non-conference wins over South Carolina (10-4), Washington (12-3), Oakland (11-8 and 6-0 in the Summit) be able to avoid a 12-seed? What #5 seed would want a first round date with the Spartans? Would that not be the best argument to guarantee them a spot among the best 68?
2. How much is Minnesota going to have to cling to their wins over North Carolina and West Virginia? The Gophers could not have been expected to start better than 1-3 in the conference given their schedule, but with Maurice Walker and Devoe Joseph out of the picture and Austin Hollins suffering through a slump the team no longer appears as deep as it did a month ago. Will they be able to win enough league games to breathe easy on Selection Sunday?
3. Can Northwestern get a signature win? The weak non-conference slate will hurt them, and they might have missed a good chance last Monday when they hosted a struggling Michigan State team. With the top of the league being as strong as it is, the Wildcats will have plenty of chances but will need to cash in and avoid falling in games against the lesser teams of the league.
4. Is an attempted run for the tournament by 11-5 Michigan only going to hurt the league’s chances of getting seven teams in? Right now, the team can point to four of their five losses coming against teams in the RPI top 30 as well as wins over Clemson, Utah, Oakland, and Harvard. They need to be able to beat one or two of the elite teams in the conference and avoid disaster against the other bubble teams in order to go into the conference tournament in the hunt. They have the good fortune of only playing Purdue and Illinois once, but that also limits their opportunities to get a resume polishing win over the elites. It means that is more likely that Michigan will be looking to knock out Northwestern or Minnesota in order to give themselves a chance.
5. Was Penn State’s victory over Michigan State just an aberration? Maybe it was, but the Nittany Lions are 2-2 in conference with Illinois coming to Happy Valley on Tuesday for an always tricky mid-week road game in the Middle of Nowhere, PA. Last year, Illinois won 54-53 and the year prior Penn State won 64-63 with both games coming during the week. If they beat the Illini, it might not be quite such an absurd question.
Devoe Joseph requested and was granted a release from his scholarship at Minnesota last week. Joseph had a huge coming out at the end of last season leading the Gophers to the Big Ten tournament title game and ultimately solidifying their NCAA tournament bid. The strong finish led to high expectations for this season, but never came to fruition. He was suspended for the first six games of this season after violating team rules, and decided to transfer shortly after being suspended by Tubby Smith for the second time on the year. Joseph has become the fourth player in the past year to transfer along with Paul Carter (Illinois-Chicago), Justin Cobbs (California), and Royce White (Iowa State). SNY.tv reported that Joseph is considering a number of schools, including West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Oregon, Baylor, Charlotte and Niagara. Joseph will have one more year of eligibility after sitting out next year.
Illinois is shooting 64% as a team in their 3-0 start to the conference.
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