A Big Ten (plus 2) representative hasn’t won college basketball’s national championship since 2000 (Michigan State).
Indiana got to the title game in 2002, as did Illinois (2005), Ohio State (2007), Michigan State (2009) and Michigan (2013), so they’ve been knocking on the door. Here’s a look at some of the best of the Big Ten with the March tournaments on the horizon.
Michigan Wolverines: Not a lot you can look at and say, “Here’s where they can be exploited.” Michigan lost to mighty Arizona (72-70) and at No. 10 Duke, but has been dominant in Big 10 play.
The Wolverines are a powerhouse on offense, 21st in the nation in shooting (.485%) behind 6-6 sophomore Glenn Robinson III (13.6 ppg, 5 rpg) and 6-6 sophomore Nik Stauskas (18.5 ppg).
Their offense is tops in free throws and field goal shooting and they can play defense, too, third in points allowed in league play. They had three straight games last month against Top 10 teams, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State, and won them all, 77-70, 75-67 and 80-75 –and two were on the road.
Note: The Wolverines are in the middle this week of their last tough stretch, facing four straight top 20 teams.
Michigan State Spartans: You need frontcourt muscle in the Big 10 and the Spartans have it with 6-10 senior Adrian Payne (16 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and 6-6 junior Branden Dawson (10 ppg, 8.7 rpg). But it’s the backcourt that leads this balanced team in scoring with sophomore Gary Harris (18 ppg).
They’ve had some injury trouble of late, but have an impressive resume against top 25 teams, knocking off Kentucky (78-74), Ohio State (72-68) and at Iowa (71-79 in OT). In the win at Iowa they won despite the Hawkeyes getting 43 free throw attempts to 20 of their own!
Note: Sparty has a rematch with Michigan coming up, along with a season-ending schedule against Iowa and at Ohio State back-to-back.
Iowa Hawkeyes: Ranked No. 7 in the nation in scoring (84.5 ppg), and up-tempo with remarkable outside shooting range behind 6-6 senior point guard Roy Marble (16 ppg), 6-9 junior Aaron White (14 ppg) and 6-7 senior Melsahn Basabe.
Nine of Iowa’s top 10 scorers are back from last season. But they’re not all offense, with the defense third in the Big 10 in field goal shooting and three-point defense.
Note: It’s a challenging week playing three of four road games, including at Penn State and Indiana.
Wisconsin Badgers: Bo Ryan’s club is often about slowing the pace down, but not this season. The Badgers are second in scoring in the Big 10 behind up-tempo Iowa, while the scoring defense has slipped to 8th.
Wisconsin has good balance with 6-8 sophomore Sam Dekker (14 ppg) and 7-foot junior Frank Kominsky (13 ppg, 6 rpg) up front, and senior guard Ben Burst (13 ppg) and junior Traevon Jackson (11 ppg). After a 16-0 start, the Badgers fell apart, losing 4 of 5 despite being favored in all of them.
Note: The loss at home to Northwestern was hard to swallow, allowing 48% shooting while the offense shot (gulp) 26%! Perhaps they should get back to slowing things down?
Minnesota Gophers: The Gophers aren’t winning with defense, last in the Big 10 in scoring defense. The offense is strong and balanced behind junior guard Andre Hollins (15.5 ppg) and senior guard Austin Hollins (11.7 ppg), while 6-11 junior Ellliott Eliason crashes the boards.
Minnesota hasn’t played well when stepping up, losing an early non-conference showdown with Syracuse (75-67) in Maui, along with losses to Michigan State (87-75 in OT) and Iowa (94-73). None of those games were at home and last week they lost at Nebraska (82-78) allowing 50% shooting.
Note: The Gophers play four of their final seven games on the road, three against Top 20 teams.
Ohio State Buckeyes: The Buckeyes enjoyed a great season, rising to No. 3 in the nation…until Big 10 play started. From 15-0 to a stumbling run that culminated in a 71-70 OT loss at home to Penn State as 13-point chalk. Ouch.
They have star power and defense, led by 6-8 junior LaQuinton Ross (14 ppg, 5.7 rpg), 6-11 junior Amir Williams (9 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and 6-4 senior Lenzelle Smith, Jr. (12 ppg).
Note: Is this a mid-season slump by a talented group or a team losing its confidence?
Jim Feist, author and leader in sports information for over 40 years, hosts TV’s Proline as well as running National Sports Services since 1975. Follow him on twitter: @JimFeistSports . Reach him at [email protected]