Tournament play is on the horizon! It’s the start of a wild few weeks with conference tournament play helping to whittle the field. In the Big 10, Ohio State made the title game three years with Greg Oden while Michigan State won it all in 2000. Here’s a look at some of the top teams of the Big 10 looking to make a similar run.
Purdue: The Boilermakers have been a streaky team, starting 14-0, losing three in a row, then ripping off another long win streak. Purdue’s Big Three has proven to be difficult to contain, with junior guard E’Twaun Moore (17 ppg) running the backcourt, and 6-8 junior Robbie Hummel (15.8 ppg, 7 rpg) and 6-10 junior JaJuan Johnson (14.8 ppg, 7 rpg) pounding the glass.
However, their attack will be cut down to size with the loss of Hummel for the season due to a knee injury.
Purdue has been great on the road because of a fierce defense, third in the Big 10 in points allowed and second in field goal shooting (38%) allowed. They are also reliable from the line, second in free throw shooting (75%). If a game is close, it’s nice to have a confident team at the charity stripe. The Boilermakers started 2-0 SU/ATS as a dog.
Michigan State: The Spartans have exceptional balance, leading the Big 10 in scoring and rebounds, plus tops in three-point shooting defense. The backcourt is run by junior guard Kalin Lucas (15 ppg), the leading scorer for the second straight season. Up front is a pair of outstanding board bangers in 6-7 junior Raymar Morgan and 6-6 sophomore Draymond Green.
However, after a great start, the Spartans fell apart in February, losing three in a row. Coach Tom Izzo knows he has a talented team, but expressed frustration that they don’t always defend or rebound with enough passion. "This is a very good team," Izzo said. "We have a chance to play with anybody in the country, but we still have some leadership and chemistry and distraction problems. If you don’t defend better and you don’t rebound better, you’re not winning anything that matters." Turnovers and free-throw shooting have been problems, plus they are 1-3 SU/ATS as a dog.
Illinois: The Illini are not the choking defensive team they were a year ago, evident by a 9-0 start over the total. Junior guard Demetri McCamey (15 ppg, 6.8 apg) has been the sparkplug that drives the offense, third in the Big 10 in scoring (78.6 ppg).
Coach Bruce Weber has a pair of big bodies in the paint with 6-9 junior Mike Davis (10 ppg, 8 rpg) and 7-foot-1 junior center Mike Tisdale (11 ppg, 6 rpg). They can still play defense, which will help during tourney time. Last week Illinois shot 37.3 percent but survived 51-44 because Michigan shot a season-low 24.6. ‘’Prettiest ugly win ever,’’ Weber said.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes are about defense for Thad Matta, leading the Big 10 in blocked shots and one of the top defensive teams allowing 60 ppg. They swat shots with athleticism behind 6-7 junior Evan Turner (19 ppg, 9 rpg) and 6-8, 260-pound Dallas Lauderdale, a kid with six or more blocks three times. Turner suffered broken bones in his back Dec. 5 and was out for one month. He missed six games and the Buckeyes went just 3-3.
There’s even some impressive height in the backcourt with guards 6-5 soph William Buford and 6-6 junior Jon Diebler. Ohio State is tops in the Big 10 in field goal shooting (50.9%) and three point shooting (39.5%). The Buckeyes have made the Big 10 race even more exciting the last two weeks with a loss at home to Purdue, but a win at Michigan State.
Wisconsin: The Badgers like to slow the pace down, allowing 57 ppg overall and 60 per game in conference play, on a 14-4 run under the total. Four players score in double figures, led by a three-guard attack of senior Trevon Hughes (15 ppg), senior Jason Bohannon (12 ppg) and sophomore Jordan Taylor (10 ppg).
The Badgers had to adjust to life without second leading scorer 6-10 Jon Leuer through January and half of February with a wrist injury. He is back now for the most important time of the season, though he has looked rusty. "I was definitely a little bit tentative," he acknowledged last week. "The more games I get the more confidence I think I can get."
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Jim Feist