Friday, February 27, 2009

What do Indiana & Michigan State have in Common?

They both have home losses to Penn State and Northwestern this season.

Of course, MSU is a *lot* better than IU right now, but I'm just saying, let's keep in perspective. The streaks that ended that season were just that, streaks that ended (and ones that probably should've ended a while ago if not for a little luck on the Hoosiers part- I'm thinking of 1994-1995, specifically), and IU won't be this bad next season. And Penn State and Northwestern are worthy top 100/post-season teams, and the Hoosiers aren't. PSU & NU are just better this year. Hoosier fans have to look to the future.

That said, most of our new talent next season will be freshmen (with the exception of transfer Jeremiah Rivers), but Christian Watford should be able to start and be a go-to scorer that we just don't have right now. This season isn't over yet, so let's not start predicting next year's line-up at the moment, but we've only got three more games to suffer through. And probably, we IU fans will be suffering as the remaining contests are at Penn State, home against Michigan State, and at Wisconsin... and all those teams need the wins, so they won't be soft on the Hoosiers.

But hey, IU could always win the Big Ten tourney, right?

I keed, I keed.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Big Ten Power Poll Week 8

1. Michigan State (11-3)
The Sparties hold their destiny in their hands. The regular-season conference championship (which to me, frankly, should decide the automatic NCAA bid, but I'm a traditionalist) is theirs if they win out. Iowa, @Illinois, @Indiana, and home against Purdue. What is of concern to Izzo has to be the way MSU got rolled at Purdue. The Illinois game seems like a probable loss, but if they get healthy, who knows? And even if they lose at Illinois, as long as they win against the conference cellar-dwellars, they can still stamp their victory with the finale at home versus PU.

2. Purdue (10-4)
The Boilers beat down their rivals, but this "rivalry" hasn't been much of one for the past 15 years. It seems the Hoosiers and Boilers alternate down years, and although the Boilers have been slightly disappointing, this is *the* all-time down year for the Hoosiers. The Boilers have a bit of a rough stretch here at the end, traveling to Michigan and facing Northwestern and Ohio State at home. All those are probable wins but possible losses. If they get through that fine, then they travel to a revenge-seeking Michigan State in their senior game. And if Purdue wins there, they'll get the #1 seed in the Big Ten Tourney, and live up to the pre-season hype.

3. Illinois (10-5)
From last week "I just haven't been convinced that this is a real contender to the conference crown." Watching most of that "game" with PSU reaffirmed my suspicions that this is an also-ran. But, then Weber's kids go out and beat OSU in Columbus. It seems that the Illini are clearly above the middle-class of the Big Ten, but whether Penn State is above them will be settled in the final game of the season. This week they have only a home game with Minnesota, and a win should lock up a NCAA berth.

4. Penn State (8-6)
I don't know how PSU did it, but the 38-33 win at Illinois was huge in keeping this team's NCAA hopes alive. The game tonight at Ohio State looks intimidating, but if the Lions can win at Iowa, hold off Indiana at home, and finish the sweep of the Illini in their final home game, their chances look pretty good for getting to the Big Dance. If they finish just 2-2 over these four games, I'd bet they need to win a couple in conference tournament to get in.

5. Wisconsin (8-7)
The Badgers are not the team they used to be, as the loss at Michigan State revealed, but they're not to be taken lightly either, as that loss ended a five-game win streak. The Badgers have three games left, and the two home games are against Indiana and Michigan. If they can win at Minnesota, they're definitely in, but I would guess they finish 10-8 and need at least one win in the Big Ten tourney to get that ticket to the Big Dance.

6. Minnesota (8-7)
I think that the Gophers don't quite have an at-large bid sewn up yet. They're probably looking at a loss in Champaign this week, but if they can hold off Michigan and Wisconsin at home, then they're looking strong to get that bid.

7. Ohio State (7-7)
From last week "...they've got to start picking up some conference road wins as their NCAA resume is fading. The big wins over Miami & Notre Dame are now starting to look increasingly less impressive, leaving OSU firmly on the bubble. I think Matta's guys need to 4-2 down the stretch to get an at-large bid." Well, the two losses are in. Can the Buckeyes go 4-0 to close out the season? PSU & NU at home seem doable enough, and they can get a road win at Iowa, but the probable loss at Purdue will put them pretty squarely on the bubble, I would think.

8. Michigan (7-8)
On the one hand, the home win over Minnesota was nice, but the loss at Iowa has put their backs against the wall. The Wolverines are going to have to win out to make a case to get into the NCAA tourney, which means beating Purdue at home and sweeping the resurgent Minnesota and Wisconsin teams on the road. Don't get me wrong, they're ahead of where I thought they'd be this year as UM seems a lock for the NIT (I had them with no postseason). But fans who were savoring the wins over UCLA and Duke earlier are probably a little disappointed.

9. Northwestern (5-9)

The Wildcats snapped their losing streak with a thrilling home win over Ohio State, but then got blown out at Minnesota. Carmody needs the team to have a good week with a visit to Indiana and a home game against Iowa. If they win both, a winning season is guaranteed. That would be Carmody's second at NU (2002) and would tie for the second-highest ever win total for NU!

10. Iowa (4-10)
Iowa beat Michigan to nudge themselves back over .500 overall (14-13), but a winning season doesn't seem like it's in the cards this year. If Cyrus Tate comes back, maybe they get the road game at NU and hold off OSU & PSU at home, but throw in the game at Michigan State and the uncertainty of Peterson & Tucker's availability, and you've got a rough schedule stretch to end a rough year. The good news is that Jake Kelly and Matt Gatens are turning into solid young wings that play well together.

11. Indiana (1-13)
I was hoping for the Hoosiers to pull a bit of a surprise against Wisconsin, but the Badgers are hitting their stride and are focused on achieving a postseason. At least, I hope that's what's happening, 'cause the alternative is that the young Hoosiers are just wearing down.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Big Ten Power Poll 2009, Week 7

1. Michigan State (10-2)
The defensive clampdown of the Wolverines at Michigan has pretty much wrapped the conference race up for MSU. All they have to do now is split the home-and-home with Purdue, and either win at Illinois or have OSU beat Illinois while avoiding any other upsets and claim the regular season Big Ten conference title. This is far and away the conference's deepest and best team, but Izzo needs guys to start getting healthy for the stretch run.

2. Illinois (9-4)
The Illini avoided disaster at Northwestern, pulling out an incredible comeback win, and then held off the scrappy Hoosier comeback in the second half. Still, despite having the position and momentum to challenge MSU, I just haven't been convinced that this is a real contender to the conference crown. If they can beat MSU at home, that'll help convince me.

3. Purdue (8-4)
The Boilers have turned around what was looking like a small slide with a smashing win over PSU and scrappy performance at Iowa. However, they've got two games with Michigan State left, as well a trip to Michigan. If Painter is able to get his guys to sweep Michigan again, then the Boilers are back. I just don't see it happening with a half-strength (at *best*) Hummel, 'though.

4. Ohio State (7-5)
The only game the Buckeyes had last week was a loss at Wisconsin, and while it's not enough to bump them below the Badgers just yet, they've got to start picking up some conference road wins as their NCAA resume is fading. The big wins over Miami & Notre Dame are now starting to look increasingly less impressive, leaving OSU firmly on the bubble. I think Matta's guys need to 4-2 down the stretch to get an at-large bid.

5. Wisconsin (7-6)
Bo Ryan's team has been somewhat of a hard-luck club in the Big Ten, but noone's feeling sorry for him, I can tell you. In the six-game losing streak, four of those losses were either by three points or less and/or overtime games. Their resume isn't looking super-great, as the only non-conference win of note is at fellow bubble squad Virginia Tech. From here, UW plays Indiana twice, but also travels to Minnesota and MSU. This team's bubble may be decided in the conference tourney.

6. Minnesota (7-6)
Probably the game to watch, if you're a Gopher fan, will be Thursday's contest at Michigan. If Minnesota wins there and holds serve at home, they will have done all they needed to do to get a NCAA tournament invite. The loss at Penn State doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in Tubby's ability to win in Ann Arbor, but it's a crucial game for this team.

7. Penn State (7-6)
From last week "Looking down the rest of the schedule, it seems quite possible that the Nittany Lions don't go .500 in conference play, which means they're probably out of NCAA berth contention." Penn State has to finish strong, but games at Illinois and Ohio State are probably losses, meaning this inconsistent team has to win their last three conference matches to get above .500 to have any chance at a NCAA slot. if they can win at either Illinois or Ohio State, the road to the Dance looks a lot smoother.

8. Michigan (6-7)
The Wolverines got a good win at Northwestern, but the shameful home loss against a short-handed Michigan State team was the knee-capping of their NCAA hopes. They'll either have to sweep the next five games (possible, if improbable) or they'll have to win the conference tourney. Either way, it'll require a consistency and a winning streak that we've not seen out of Michigan so far this year.

9. Northwestern (4-8)
It was just a terrible week for Northwestern, letting a huge lead get away against Illinois and then losing in OT at home against Michigan. If NU is able to go 2-4 (or even 3-3) in their final conference games, they'll finish with an overall winning record and be ready to really move forward next season. But the Wildcats have a very hard schedule ahead and have had so many opportunities just slip through their fingers this year.

10. Iowa (3-10)
The Hawkeyes missed a golden opportunity to take down Purdue at home after getting demolished at Wisconsin. But the good news is that the only one of their last five games that seems un-winnable is at MSU. Games at Northwestern and home against Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State could all be wins, especially if they get point guard Jeff Peterson back.

11. Indiana (1-11)
Devan Dumes' errant elbows may have cost the Hoosiers a chance for their second win, as they actually seemed to somewhat contain the Illini defensively and be within striking distance -if only they'd hit their free-throws- but Illinois just had too much experienced talent for the Hoosier freshmen. The Hoosiers only other reasonable chances for a win are Wisconsin at home, Northwestern at home, and at Penn State. PSU & Wis. need the wins for a possible NCAA berth badly, so NU looks like the most likely option for a second conference win.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Big Ten Power Poll 2009, Week 6

1. Michigan State (9-2)
On one hand, the Spartans looked pretty good beating down Minnesota and Indiana while not at top strength. On the other, a quite rough stretch of the schedule approaches. IF MSU does not win at Michigan, they must 1) at least split the home-and-home with Purdue, and 2) either win at Illinois or hope OSU beats Illinois while also losing to Purdue, while 3) avoiding any other upsets, in order to claim the regular season Big Ten conference title. But the good news for MSU fans is that Tom Izzo is in the driver's seat, and he knows how to get it done.

2. Illinois (7-4)
Thrashing Purdue at home gives the Illini a nose into second place. They've got the schedule to finish strong, and should be a lock for the NCAA tourney. However, catching Michigan State for the conference title is now probably out of the question.

3. Purdue (6-4)
Robbie Hummel's back issues have got to be terrifying Boiler fans. Without him, Purdue just isn't as good. Jajaun Johnson is doing a nice job inside, but Moore & Grant aren't quite where they were last season, and there's no real back-up for Hummel inside. Getting beat in OT at OSU, and even getting thrashed at Illinois is understandable, but PU has to turn this around before this turns into a streak.

4. Ohio State (7-4)
Nothing like a couple of big home wins to boost your chances. The OT win vs. Purdue was crucial to confirming OSU place in the upper division of the conference. However, they'd really be helped by notching a couple more road wins, which looks quite do-able (last four OSU road games: Wis., NU, Pur, Iowa).

5. Minnesota (6-5)
This Gopher squad is now seemingly in free-fall, with the Illinois win sandwiched by a lot of bad losses and a narrow win at IU. I think they've got to finish with a 10 conference wins to get into the Big Dance, but the schedule from here out looks 50-50. Still, of all the teams in the Big Ten, Tubby's is perhaps the one who could finish at .500 and still get in.

6. Penn State (6-5)
From last week "The next three games (@Mich, v.Wis., @Pur.) should illuminate the bubble question: anything less than 2-1 means PSU are firmly on it." Yep, PSU is back on the bubble, likely now to go 0-3 for the stretch. Looking down the rest of the schedule, it seems quite possible that the Nittany Lions don't go .500 in conference play, which means they're probably out of NCAA berth contention.

7. Michigan (5-6)
Despite a loss at Connecticut, this was actually a great week for Michigan. The way the Wolverines played on the road against one of the nation's top teams reminded everybody of their earlier performances against Duke & UCLA, and it looked good for the Big 10, too. And Michigan absolutely thrashed Penn State in a home conference game.

8. Wisconsin (5-6)
Back-to-back wins! Maybe the Badgers have just been on the wrong side of the dice this year, as the home dismantling of Illinois and the road win over Penn State bring this club back to life. They really need to put a streak together, tho, but they've got a favorable second-half schedule.

9. Northwestern (4-6)
In their only conference game of the week, the Wildcats lost a big one at Iowa. If they can't get the bottom-dwellers on the road like Iowa & Indiana, their NCAA tourney chances sit at zero. As it is, they'll probably have to spring another upset or two on the road and make some noise in the conference tournament to get considered.

10. Iowa (3-8)
A loss to lowly Indiana was followed by a narrow home win over Northwestern. This is pretty clearly the conference's second worst team, at least without Cyrus Tate. Is he ever coming back? What about Anthony Tucker? Is he going to transfer or will he get some PT?

11. Indiana (1-9)

The Hoosier's *r-o-l-a-i-d-s* win over Iowa means that the team won't be going defeated in conference play. However, there wasn't much to build on in the loss at Michigan State. Not because of the margin of victory, MSU seems to beat everyone by that score at home or they lose, but because Dumes finally let his temper, which had been cooking all season long, get the best of him as he threw multiple nasty elbows which eventually got him ejected and suspended. And good for the suspension, coach Crean! Either Dumes learns to play with class or he can find another team to move on to next year.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A BIG sigh of relief

Indiana will not go defeated in conference play, hanging on to win at home over Iowa. I had this date circled all year as the one game that the Hoosiers probably should win in the Big Ten. And as Iowa was still without Cyrus Tate, it would've been a big disappointment if the Hoosiers hadn't hung on for the win. But they did!

Everyone's talking about Devan Dumes' big shooting night (which was very much needed when what should've been our advantage- inside play- became something of a weakness when Tom Pritchard had just a terrible night, fouling out in 14 minutes), but to me the hidden hero was Nick Williams. He just never let up, hit the boards hard, executed, and caused all sorts of problems including that last steal which sealed the Hawkeyes' doom. His defensive play is definitely coming along, and I can really see him keeping his starting spot in the years to come. Also, Kyle Taber was only credited with one steal, but I think he forced several Iowa turnovers in addition to his rebounding and blocked shots. I'm not sure what's up with his free-throws (two ugly, ugly misses), but he had everything else going last night.

With Dumes and Roth starting to find their range outside, and with Jones settling down at the point, and Taber & Pritchard providing some stops on defense, coach Crean is finding himself in possession of a basketball team. There isn't much depth here, outside of Moore and Story, who just can't be trusted to play starter's minutes yet for reasons of turnovers (have you seen Story's conference assist/turnover ratio?) and defense (Moore needs some lessons from Erreck Suhr about on-the-ball defense). There won't be many more wins this season, unfortunately, but there could be a surprise or two left in these guys. Good on you, Hoosiers.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Big Ten Power Poll 2009, Week 5

1. Michigan State (7-2)
On the one hand, I'd like to throw out the NU & PSU home losses as aberrations, and just think of them as games where MSU lost its focus. But this Sparty club is starting to look a little like the old Loyola Marymount teams- sure they can score, but can they stop anyone? I don't know, Izzo's got the "Izzo depth," maybe he should try running a bit more and wear the other team down. That used to be my playground strategy: if you can't stop 'em, wear 'em out.

2. Purdue (6-2)
Well, look who's back again, making themselves relevant and scary in the conference race! The Boilers have to survive road trips to Ohio State and Illinois this week, but if they do, they might just able to slip into first place in the conference again. Getting that win at Wisconsin was huge, but maybe there's just something about that place that Hummel just really likes. His late threes were the dagger late in that game, and he had zero hesitation in shooting them.

3. Minnesota (6-3)
Getting that convincing over Illinois has seemingly jumbled up the Big Ten race but good. But to me, I think it's clarified that most of us fan-bloggers were correct at the start of the season; really it's MSU & Purdue for the title and everyone else but Indiana is scraping around for a post-season bid. But holding Illinois to 36 points is most impressive.

4. Illinois (6-3)
The Illini had a lock on the #2 spot, and given MSU's home to loss to PSU, looked like they were going to be able to maybe grab a piece of the conference title. But the stinking-it-up at Minnesota was not redeemed with a narrow home win over Iowa.

5. Ohio State (5-4)

The Buckeyes still haven't convinced me they belong in the NCAA tourney, but their chances look 50-50. If they can defend their homecourt, Matta's crew should be a solid bet- especially if they get David Lighty back anytime soon.

6. Penn State (6-3)
The great win at Michigan State has now given the Lions the kind of marquee win that the NCAA selection committee really likes. The next three games (@Mich, v.Wis., @Pur.) should illuminate the bubble question: anything less than 2-1 means PSU are firmly on it.

7. Michigan (4-6)

It's not really fair to expect the Wolverines to go on the road and win at OSU and Purdue, but how long can this team cling to the wins over UCLA and Duke? I'm guessing this is a club on the way down, but hey- with Manny Harris- who knows?

8. Northwestern (4-5)
The Wildcats have bounced back nicely after the 0-4 start. Still, close home wins over Indiana and Wisconsin could've gone either way. This isn't the most intimidating club, but at least they're headed the right way.

9. Wisconsin (3-6)
What is happening? I really expected more out of Landry, Krabbenhoft, and Hughes. But maybe it's just a stretch of really, really bad luck. Hey, after the breaks the Badgers got in Bo Ryan's first season (for me, the win at IU crosses my mind), perhaps it is just the karma evening out.

10. Iowa (2-7)

The Hawkeyes could really use Cyrus Tate back right about now, as their chances for a winning season are slowly leaking away. Of course, I'm hoping he comes back right *after* the IU game. The Hawkeyes could also use a good scoring point guard, but still, Jeff Peterson's still better than anyone the Hoosiers have at that spot.

11. Indiana (0-8)

The good news is that the Hoosier offense has finally woken up, and Matt Roth's record-tying 9 threes were beautiful to behold. The bad news is that IU is running out of its best chances to get a pressure-releasing first conference win. Iowa at home will be their best chance yet.