Northwestern came up just short against Ohio State, 52-47 in a 52 possession game yesterday, effectively ending their at-large bid hopes. The Buckeye offense stalled about halfway into the second half, allowing the Wildcats to get back into the game. Then came Thad Matta's "Aha!" moment when he realized he had a 7-0 lottery pick at his disposal. Thereafter, the Buckeyes ran several lob plays for the big man to get the offense going again. Still, Northwestern was able to hang around with the help of several long range bombs from Craig Moore. That's when Evan Turner had his own "Aha!" moment when he realized he was the best player on the floor, and scored on clearout after clearout. Turner finished with 17 points on 11 shots, while Moore led the Wildcats with 18 points on 15 shots. Box score.
After their win against Purdue, it seemed like Northwestern's fan base doubled in size as an at large birth seemed like a possibility. Now, the Wildcats likely have to win the conference tournament in order to go dancing. But that shouldn't diminish the work the Wildcats have done this season. The 17 wins by Bill Carmody's team represents the most, well, ever (at least as far as I can tell). Not bad for a squad coming off an 8-22 campaign. So a hearty congrats to Northwestern for that. But they're not done yet, and hopefully this loss isn't too deflating for the Wildcats.
Ohio State finishes this season just as it finished last - at 10-8 in conference play. That's probably good enough for an at large bid, but it was probably good enough last year. The good news is that the Buckeyes won't be playing the Spartans in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament this year, and instead will take on Wisconsin.
Iowa and Penn State needed 50 minutes of basketball to sort out their differences before the Hawkeyes prevailed 75-67 in the 67 possession contest. Todd Lickliter has gone all Thad Matta and installed sophomore wing Jake Kelly as the team's point guard out of necessity. Despite that, Iowa's turnovers have gone into hiding over the past 3 games. The Hawkeyes only had 11 in this one, which was a big reason for the victory. Sure, Penn State's defense can hardly be categorized as "tenacious," but this is nonetheless a good sign for Lickliter's squad. Iowa has struggled with turnovers despite running the ex-Butler coach's system, maybe this is a sign that those days are over. Kelly led the Hawkeyes with 22 points on 16 shots and dished 11 assists. Talor Battle poured in 26 points on 20 shots, and also pulled down 10 rebounds before fouling out in the second extra period. Box score.
The loss by Penn State killed their chances at a #2 or #3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Maybe that's for the best, given their efficiency margin. It just doesn't seem right to hand out such a high seed to a team that's actually been outscored by its opponents in conference play. But the Nittany Lions still have 10 wins in conference play and enough quality victories that should get them to the Dance no matter what happens in the conference tournament. But I'm not on the Selection Committee - start the letter-writing campaign, Penn State fans - so I'm sure there will be some sweating in State College over the next week.
Michigan State finished off the season with an ugly win over Purdue, 62-51 in a 68 possession game. The Spartans were sloppy, turning it over 19 times, but they made up for it by grabbing 46% of their misses. And neither team could throw it in the ocean. But Michigan State, as is their style, pounded the ball inside and received 15 more free throws than the Boilers. That was largely the difference in this one. JaJuan Johnson had 12 points on 9 shots for Purdue, and Kalin Lucas had 21 points on 14 shots (six turnovers though). Box score.
So despite not playing a game over the weekend, Illinois had a pretty good couple of days. With Penn State and Purdue losing, the Illini move into the #2 seed on the conference tournament, while Purdue takes the #3 spot.
Michigan put itself back on the bubble (in a good way) by beating Minnesota at the Barn on Saturday, 67-64 in a 57 possession game. In a way, the Wolverines were playing a game of H-O-R-S-E, in that as soon as a shot went up for either team, Michigan figured the possession was over. John Beilein's team grabbed just thirteen rebounds against the much taller Gophers, but still found a way to win. Sure, both teams shot very well (especially from the FT line, as they combined to go 32-34 from the stripe), but that's still a really low total. But Minnesota's second opportunities were equalized by their sloppiness with the ball, as they coughed it up 18 times. Lawrence Westbrook led Minnesota with 16 points on 6 shots, while DeShawn Sims put up 24 on 15 shots. Box score.
Both of these teams sit at 9-9, and each has a very good non-conference win as well. Minnesota's RPI is 41, Michigan's is 42. You gotta figure that if one of them is in, then the other is as well. Of course, the corollary is that if one is out, then the other is also likely headed to the NIT (how Joe Lunardi figures all of this out is beyond me). Bottom line - a win or two in the conference tournament could go a long way, for both teams.
Wisconsin finished off their season with a trouncing of Indiana, 85-61 in a 61 possession game. It was a typical ball control offense for the Badgers, as they turned it over just 5 times. Compare that to Indiana, who coughed it up on 26% of their possessions. In addition to valuing the basketball, Wisconsin also shot lights out (59.0 eFG), grabbed 42% of their misses, and attempted 32 free throws. It was the best offensive performance of the season for the Badgers. Joe Krabbenhoft led Wisconsin with 19 points on 10 shots, and also grabbed 9 rebounds. Verdell Jones spearheaded the Hoosier attack with 23 points on 10 shots. Box score.
Despite the win, Wisconsin's status as an at large team is up in the air. The 10-8 conference record is good enough, but the best win on the resume is a home victory against Illinois. Their best road win is at Penn State. If I was on the committee, they'd be in (start the letter writing campaign, Badger fans!), but I'm sure Bo Ryan will feel a lot better with a win in the conference tournament.
Ok, for those keeping score, here are your tournament seeds:
#1: Michigan State
#5: Ohio State
#6: Penn State
Of course, the efficiency margins tell us there isn't much difference between #5 and #9. Before the season started, everyone knew that Purdue and Michigan State were the teams to beat. Well, true to form, those teams did finish atop the conference standings and efficiency margin.
But, I think everyone expected Purdue to finish at least a bit closer to the Spartans, who ended up winning the whole thing by four games. That isn't dominance in the Memphis/Conference USA kind of way, but it was nonetheless dominance for the amount of parity we saw this year. Congrats to Tom Izzo's team for a fine season.