Continuing a disturbing trend, Illinois struggled mightily with their road shooting and fell to Wisconsin, 63-50. This latest goose egg by the Illini (35.9 eFG%) was laid against one of the worst eFG% defenses in the conference - coming in, Wisconsin had allowed an eFG above 52% in five straight games (all losses). Watching the game, it felt like Illinois was simply missing shots they had been making all season, but credit Wisconsin for not letting the Illini get any easy buckets either.
Offensively, the Badgers shot just 41% from inside the arc and didn't really hit the offensive glass at all, but they made up for those shortcomings by hitting 40% from downtown, led by Jason Bohannon's 6 for 7 night. Bohannon finished with 20 points on just 9 shots, didn't turn it over at all, and even led the team in defensive rebounds (5). Marcus Landry and Jon Leuer provided most of the remaining offense, combining for 31 points on 23 shots and grabbing 6 rebounds apiece. Box score.
For Wisconsin, the big win breaks a 6-game skid and evens the season series between the teams. The Badgers still have lots of work to do if they hope to reach the NCAA Tournament, but a 9-9 conference mark seems doable, with only three games (at Penn State, at Michigan State, at Minnesota) looking like losses according to Pomeroy. That type of finish would put Wisconsin in position to possibly squeak into the NCAAs with a good Big Ten Tournament.
As for the Illini, they've got to figure out how to hit a few shots away from Champaign. They'll need to win at least a couple of their remaining road games (Northwestern, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State) to truly lock up an NCAA Tournament bid, as their home slate is far from easy (Purdue, Penn State, Minnesota, Michigan State). I could see Illinois finishing anywhere from 14-4 to 9-9 in the conference, with 5 of their remaining games looking like true toss-ups. It figures to be an interesting month for Illini fans, one way or another.
In the other matchup of the night, Michigan shrugged off Penn State's recent successes and beat down the Nittany Lions, 71-51 in 63 possessions. Beilein Ball was working like magic, with the Wolverines taking over half of their shots from downtown and making 38% of those long-range attempts. As usual when Beilein Ball is working, Michigan also shot a nice percentage inside the arc - 56% on this night. To complete the trinity, the Wolverines took outstanding care of the ball, and Penn State was toast. Throw in the 39% eFG posted by Penn State and this game turned into a blowout.
Manny Harris was spectacular, scoring 28 points on 13 shots, grabbing 6 boards, dishing 7 assists (just 2 turnovers), blocking two shots, and making two steals. Corperryale had been struggling as of late, but it looks like Manny Fresh is back. For Penn State, the Battle/Pringle backcourt shot just 6 for 29 on the night, and Jamelle Cornley's great effort (25 points on 12 shots) wasn't enough to overcome it. Box score.
It looks like we can put to rest any ideas of Penn State contending for the Big Ten title, but the Nittany Lions are still in great shape for their first NCAA Tournament bid since the 2000-01 Sweet 16 season. Penn State hosts Wisconsin on Sunday in a game that both teams really need as we head down the homestretch.
The conference gets back into action on Saturday, with the most interesting league game being Minnesota at Ohio State - the loser drops to 5 losses and makes their road to a bid that much tougher. Michigan gets a chance to knock off another giant as they travel to Connecticut. Indiana comes off their big first win and - whoops - has to travel to Michigan State, while Iowa hosts Northwestern.