Two first-place teams, two road wins, two guesses....'Tis said you have to win the games you're supposed to win. A couple first-place teams did so last night.Maybe players should wear knee braces during warmups just so they can take them offIowa beat Purdue 77-68 in West Lafayette. Newly liberated from his clunky Dan Marino-like knee brace, Hawkeye guard Jeff Horner lit up the Boilers to the tune of 32 points--21 in the second half alone--and hit 7-of-10 threes. "The brace made it pretty tough to keep your balance,'' Horner said afterward. "Tonight, it felt like everything was on balance." Boiler coach Matt Painter proclaimed himself satisfied with his team's defense on Horner and said there was simply no stopping the Hawkeye guard: "We had a hand in his face, and he was still hitting shots. It was his night." Purdue led by as many as 11 in the first half but Iowa switched to a zone defense in the second half and extracted a flurry of turnovers from the Boilers during "a decisive 11-0 run." (Box score.)The guess here: Iowa's first-place days are numbered. Consider that they won this game with their outside shooting--can Steve Alford count on that game in and game out? The Hawks drained ten threes and, as it turns out, they needed all but three of those. (No, Horner won't be Superman now that he's not wearing a knee brace. Canonical blogger Ryan Kobliska has already looked at the numbers with and without Mr. Knee Brace. Contrary to popular belief, Horner's struggles did not reflect "a season-long slump that deepened following his knee injury." In fact his three-point shooting improved slightly with the brace. Suffice it to say the senior guard had a great game last night but he's about to get an unwelcome visit from Mr. Regression to the Mean.) Not to mention Iowa was beaten on the boards at both ends of the floor and allowed a last-place team to post a notably robust 56.3 effective FG percentage. (Look at this line put up on Iowa by an opposing big man: 8-of-9 shooting for 17 points and seven boards in 24 minutes. Marco Killingsworth? Paul Davis? Nope. Gary Ware, last night. Ye gods.)BONUS love for Purdue! No fair-weather fan he, alert reader and die-hard Boiler backer Matt May has posted his salute to this year's team.Bryce Jordan: where the tough losses belong to the home teamMichigan beat Penn State 71-65 in State College. Dion Harris had what hoops analysts in white lab coats refer to as a Kris Humphries line: 13 FGAs and zero assists. But when you're making those shots all is well: Harris shot 11 threes and made seven of them to lead all scorers with 23 points. "It was a gritty effort by both teams, but hitting those three-pointers was the difference for us," said Tommy Amaker after the game. Daniel Horton notched the rare points-assists dub-dub with a 13-12. ("Daniel kept on finding me," as Harris put it afterward.) As for the Nittany Lions, they've now hosted three of the Big Ten's top seven teams and been competitive in all three games, losing by an average of seven points. They're playing hard but can't quite win. David Jones of the Harrisburg Patriot-News nails it: "[Ed] DeChellis needs players. Not players with guts and passion. He has those. He needs just a couple of bigger guys who can play the way his current guys do." More from Jeff Rice of the Centre Daily Times: "The Nittany Lions' level of play has improved as the season has gone on, which makes the close losses somehow more frustrating. They don't seem broken by the setbacks, just a bit mystified." (Box score.)The guess here: I like the different ways the Wolverines have been winning. One game it's Horton, the next it's Harris, etc. But Michigan has a fairly tough schedule remaining, with road games at Iowa, Michigan State, and Ohio State. Not to mention their D's nothing to write home about. In fact, the Wolverines have rather quietly morphed into what some of us thought Michigan State was going to be like: a mediocre defense obscured by a very good offense. Bottom line: this team is better than just about anyone expected. With a little improvement on D, they could be much better than we expected.In today's less Wonk-ish venues.... Indiana beat Northwestern 72-63 last night in Bloomington. In the sassy new starting lineup unveiled by Mike Davis for this game, Robert Vaden is officially the shooting guard. But someone forgot to cc: Roderick Wilmont on that email. Wilmont shot no fewer than ten threes and made five; he led all scorers with 23 points. Meanwhile Errek Suhr, at 5-8, led the Hoosiers with three offensive boards in only 22 minutes as he seemed to get to every loose ball. And as for Marco Killingsworth, he was seen happily indulging himself at the all-you-can-eat defensive rebound buffet known as the Northwestern Wildcats. Killingsworth stuffed his stats with 12 boards (ten defensive) in just 29 minutes. (NU is the worst offensive rebounding team in the Big Ten by far--partly by choice. Their intent is to allow no transition points and they work toward this by fleeing back into their defense en masse the instant a teammate puts up a shot.) If there's such a thing as an ominous win, this is one of those for the Hoosiers. The 'Cats were in this game throughout and shot extremely well from the floor (57.1 effective FG pct.). If IU's opponent had been merely normal on the offensive boards, this would have been a very tight game. (Heck, if Mohamed Hachad could've done better than 4-of-10 at the line, this would have been a tight game.) (Box score.) COMING this weekend! The recurring festival known as the Do Wonk's Blog for Him Contest! Your intrepid blogger and the Wonk Wife are escaping for a few days of non-slush-related existence in their prior stomping ground of northern California. Today's post will be the last until I return next Wednesday. And that's where you come in! The Big Ten never escapes! There are games this weekend and I need recaps. You can fill that need! You know the drill: link to the (official) box score, say who won, drop a few "Ye gods," link to some beat writers, and, voila! It's a recap. Here's your chance to blog without having to do it every day: keep those recaps to 200 words or so and bring 'em on! Wonk back! Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me! Latest update from previously euphoric Badger fan Heather Hey, Wonk,
Wow, what a difference two weeks can make! Badger fans were feeling great with both the men's hockey and basketball teams sitting on top of their respective conferences and ranked nationally 2 1/2 weeks ago. Since then there's been nine games (between them) and eight losses. Yikes! Watching the last two Badger games has been hard to stomach as a fan. They have timid players not playing with heart--uncharacteristic of a Bo Ryan coached team. Nobody moves on offense, no one crashes the boards, nobody wants the ball. And the defense--I can't believe it is the same team. In reality, it isn't. The loss of Landry and Steimsma is too much mentally for the "bigs" to overcome, or at least it appears that way. They aren't conditioned to be playing as much as they are and it's showing on both ends of the court (e.g., the wide-open fast breaks by Illinois Tuesday night during their 19-point swing). If Tucker and Taylor are the only ones carrying this team, it is going to be long season and the magic of the Kohl Center will be lost. Like you said, not time to panic, but certainly time to worry.
Heather A. in Badger LandTake comfort in UW's sweet, sweet February schedule, Heather. Lot of Ws there waiting to happen.