**Illinois **shrugged off Missouri's pressure defense and destroyed the Tigers, 75-59 in a 68 possession game. The game actually didn't feel as close as the final score indicates, as Illinois led by 20+ points for much of the second half. Offensively, the Illini actually did commit a lot of turnovers (25.1 TO%), but they shot so well that it didn't matter (63% on twos, 44% on threes). Illinois did a great job of slowing the game down and working for a good shot - it seemed that Missouri's defense would collapse when forced to defend for 30 seconds. This ball movement led to 22 assists on 29 makes, and Illinois continues to lead the nation in assists per made FG.
Demetri McCamey and Trent Meacham were magnificent, scoring 43 points on 23 shots, although they did combine for 8 turnovers. Chester Frazier continued to do everything but score, as he posted 6 rebounds, 8 assists, just 2 turnovers, and 3 steals while missing his lone FG attempt.
On the other end of the court, the story was Missouri's 2 for 18 shooting from downtown. The Tigers aren't a great outside shooting team, but they're not that bad. Give some credit to Illinois' defense, which has now limited opponents to the 7th lowest 3-point percentage in the nation.
As something of a sidenote, highly-rated transfer Alex Legion played only 6 minutes and went 0 for 3 from the field, looking totally lost in the process. The Illinois backcourt has been playing so well that Legion hasn't been needed, but eventually Bruce Weber will need the talented sophomore to figure it out. Box score.
In the other high profile game of the night, Wisconsin lost a tight one to #9 Texas, 74-69. As is becoming customary here at BTG, we have to ask - where's Wisconsin's defense? Texas posted an offensive efficiency of 112.1, which is actually higher than their adjusted season average. In other words, Texas fared better against Wisconsin's defense than you'd expect them to fare against a purely average defense - this was a bad performance.
Texas did it by grabbing nearly half of their misses as offensive rebounds, which is a bit strange as rebounding has been one of the rare strengths for this Wisconsin defense. Joe Krabbenhoft, the Badgers' best defensive rebounder, collected only one carom in 30 minutes, but he's not the only one to blame. In fact, the only Badger with more than 2 defensive rebounds was 6'2'' guard Jason Bohannon. This may have just been an anomoly, but it's interesting to note that Wisconsin has given up an OR% of at least 35% to each of the top 100 teams they have faced. The Badgers have really cleaned up the defensive glass against cupcakes; against good teams, not so much.
Offensively, Wisconsin was pretty good, hitting for an eFG% of 50% and taking excellent care of the basketball. This solid offense kept the Badgers in the game, but it wasn't enough to overcome the poor rebounding. The backcourt tandem of Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon combined for 34 points on 17 shots. Box score.
All the other Big Ten games last night were surprisingly close victories over cupcakes:
- Northwestern beat Southern Methodist 66-55 with a balanced attack in which all 5 starters took 7 to 9 shots and scored 9 to 14 points. Box score.
- Minnesota tried out their shiny new top 25 ranking with an 80-71 victory over Southeastern Louisiana. This game was tight throughout the first half, but the Gophers stretched out the lead early in the second half and were never really threatened. It was Minnesota's interior defense that allowed the game to stay close, as Southeastern Louisiana shot 58% on twos and had a 34.5 OR%. The rebounding issue is nothing new for Minnesota, but the two-point FG defense was abnormal. Blake Hoffarber scored 15 points on just 7 shots and has earned a Christmas card from We Three Geeks of Orient Are (ok, ok, there's just two of us and we're from the midwest). Box score.
- Penn State ran out to a 16-point halftime lead and then withstood a late rally to defeat Sacred Heart, 73-65. This was a 3-point game with 51 seconds left, before Talor Battle got an "and one" on a driving layup to put the game out of reach. Penn State's problems last night were much like Minnesota's - they allowed Sacred Heart to shoot 57% on twos and grab 38.5% of their misses as offensive rebounds. Talor Battle continues to be, statistically, the most impressive guard in the conference - he posted 25 points on 13 shots. Box score.
The Big Ten now takes a holiday break until Saturday, which brings a big matchup between Ohio State and West Virginia. Conference play is only 6 days away, with a Purdue/Illinois tilt that looks a lot more interesting than it did 2 months ago. For now, we'll have to settle for college bowl games, Sam Adams Winter Lager, and 24 hours of A Christmas Story - life could certainly be worse.