Big Ten Wonk
Saturday, March 11, 2006
A first
Illinois had never lost a quarterfinal game in the Big Ten Tournament in the history of the event. Until last night. Michigan State's bold flouting of tradition leaves today's semifinals looking like this:

(2) Iowa vs. (6) Michigan State (CBS, 1:40pm ET)
If the Spartans have any legs after a 14-hour turnaround from last night, this could be a fun game to watch. The two teams split their regular season meetings, as each squad defended their home court with relative ease. Seeing how they match up on a neutral court could be interesting. As has been noted here before, the Hawkeyes are more likely to give you a look at a three than a drive into the paint. And they limit you to one shot. For their part, the Spartans don't shoot many threes, nor are they particularly accurate when they do--so something may have to give there. When Iowa has the ball, on the other hand, they of course like to feed it to Greg Brunner in hopes of a basket, a foul, or both. But the big guy appeared hobbled last night with an injured ankle. It didn't matter that he was slowed against Minnesota but it could matter if he's still gimpy today.

(1) Ohio State vs. (5) Indiana (CBS, 4pm)
Both teams play similar offensive styles in the half-court: four well-spaced players out beyond the arc looking to feed the post. Indeed, on paper the Hoosiers match up very well with the Buckeyes--unless Terence Dials goes nuts. Indiana's primary weakness is their interior D and Thad Matta will likely make IU prove they can stop Dials. Another thing to watch: turnovers. Indiana coughs the ball up with surprising frequency for a guard-oriented team, with Marco Killingsworth and Robert Vaden being the primary offenders.

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Ohio State beat Penn State 63-56. The Buckeyes trailed by 12 with 13 minutes to play before getting hot from outside. ("We only needed one or two to kind of light the fire," said Matt Sylvester afterward.) Ron Lewis led OSU with 17 points, while Terence Dials recorded a 13-10 dub-dub. Jamelle Cornley led all scorers with 18 points and Ben Luber dished nine assists for the Nittany Lions. David Jackson gave credit to Ohio State: "They've played in a lot of big games, and they kept their composure. They knew their shots were gonna fall."...The NCAA announced yesterday that it is placing Ohio State on three years' probation in connection with violations that occurred under former coach Jim O'Brien. The Buckeyes will not, however, be banned from postseason play, nor will they lose any scholarships. O'Brien, on the other hand, was given a five-year "show case" penalty: if he seeks another position with an NCAA member institution in the next five years, he and the school would have to appear before the NCAA infractions committee. (Box score.)

Indiana beat Wisconsin 61-56. After a slow ugly first half (in which neither team recorded a single assist), the Hoosiers got things going after the break. "I think our execution really stepped up in the second half," said Marshall Strickland afterward. Marco Killingsworth recorded a 20-12 dub-dub. Alando Tucker led the Badgers with 20 points. UW hit just 2-of-17 threes ("The Badgers' shooters couldn't hit the side of an Indiana farmhouse despite numerous open looks") but kept this game close with 18 offensive boards. Said Tucker: "As poorly as we shot tonight, we were still in the game. It's all about being able to know how to close out games." (Box score.)

Iowa beat Minnesota 67-57. Jeff Horner was outstanding, leading the Hawkeyes with 26 points, hitting 6-of-9 threes, and dishing six assists. Vincent Grier led all scorers with 29 points on 24 shots but the Gopher D could not get the stops they needed. Adam Boone said: "We didn't play as well as we can defensively. And that's why we're going home." Greg Brunner was slowed by an ankle sprain (he did not record a single rebound for the game) and afterward Steve Alford said it showed, especially in the first half: "It's like any sprained ankle, the hardest thing is to convince yourself you're OK. I thought in the second half he was able to play through it." Brunner says he'll be ready for Michigan State: "I can't wait. I've only got a couple games left in my career." (Box score.)

Michigan State beat Illinois 61-56. In a game that was otherwise evenly played, the Illini missed their free throws (12-of-21) and were unusually charitable with the ball. It cost them the game. (Committing 13 turnovers sounds benign. But in a slow (57-possession) close game, giving the ball away on 23 percent of your possessions when both you and your opponent's opponents average closer to 18 percent is dangerous, as Illinois learned.) Mo Ager and Paul Davis each had 16 points for the Spartans while Goran Suton added ten rebounds. James Augustine had a 16-15 dub-dub for the Illini. Said Tom Izzo: "It felt good because I felt we played pretty good in both Illinois (losses) this season....We weren't the prettiest--Illinois really pressured us and it bothered us some--but the defense we played and the job we did, I can't say enough." (Box score.)

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