It certainly was a fun season in the Big Ten. Nine out of the eleven teams in the conference won 8 or more games, but at the same time, Michigan State won the conference title by the widest margin in over ten years. Here are some of the surprises we saw along the way, all to a snappy tune:
E'Twaun Moore Doesn't Look a Thing Like Jesus: After a scintillating freshman performance, E'Twaun Moore was Mike's pick for Player of the Year. And Mike's a pretty sharp dude. But this year, Moore did everything worse. He shot worse, created less, turned it over more - Purdue fans were longing for the days when Moore was young.
Illinois, In Every Way: It's a good thing Sufjan Stevens finished up his ode to the Land of Lincoln a couple years ago, because the past 6 months would have provided enough material for an entire album. The Senator gets elected President, then the Governor tries to sell the vacant Senate seat, then the actual Senate appointment undergoes an ethics probe...but all that has nothing on Bruce Weber's Fighting Illini. The team was coming off a wreck of a season and dismissed their would-be go-to scorer in Jamar Smith. And if someone were to tell you that top #40 RSCI recruit Alex Legion would provide next-to-nothing this season (and maybe less than that), it's hard to imagine them having much success. But here they are, 23 wins later, winning games via the worst shot in basketball. There are simply too many eccentricities to count with this team. For example, the Illini now rank dead last, among the 344 Division One basketball teams, at getting to the free throw line. Usually, teams that win 23 games in a power conference are not "dead last" in anything. Even if it's "opening tips won" or "number of times the bus driver gets lost." Sometimes, you've just gotta throw your hands up.
Thad Matta is Kelly Clarkson: Last year, the Buckeyes shot 31.6% on three pointers in conference play. And that was with Jamar Butler, who converted 35.7% of his 129 3 pointers in conference play. The outlook for this season wasn't pretty. But since he's been gone, the Buckeyes have shot over 40% from long range this year. Of course, it hasn't been a clean break from Butler. Thad Matta is figuring out that life does suck without Butler, whose steady hand kept the turnovers down. Without him, the Buckeyes have been sloppy with the ball.
The Gophers' Shots Are In, Then They're Out. The Shooting Percentages are Up, Then They're Down: Minnesota was the worst shooting team in the conference this season, by a wide margin (46.7 eFG). They were also tied for the best free throw shooting team in the conference (75%). Were the Gophers taking a lot of bad shots? Do they suffer from motion sickness?
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Purdue Shot Better, But Scored Less: Last year, the Boilers shot 40% from 3 point range, but they were also the worst two point shooting team in the conference. This year, the 3P% has been much lower (34.8%), but the emergence of JaJuan Johnson has rocketed up the 2P% (50.6%). Overall, the Boilers' shooting improved. But they scored less per possession this season. Turnovers, offensive rebounds, free throws - the other three factors each got a little worse.