Big Ten Wonk
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Alive yet uncertain
Granted, there are some knowns. Ohio State will be a 1-seed; Wisconsin, either a 1 or a 2.

Indiana and Michigan State are also, by popular acclamation, safely in—nevertheless they both lost last night.

But as for Illinois and Purdue, both are still alive, yet both are still unsure of what they'll hear tomorrow night. Losses last night by Nevada and Xavier likely reduced the number of bubble-ish bids available by two. And what if Oklahoma State actually wins the Big XII tournament? Or NC State wins the ACC tournament?

Welcome to the uncertain collisions of the Big Ten tournament....

(1) Ohio State 72, (8) Michigan 62
What a strange game. The Buckeyes suffered a total collapse on the defensive boards (the Wolverines recorded 22 offensive rebounds out of 41 possible), yet won with relative ease. Greg Oden scored 22 points on 12 shots and Ohio State turned the ball over just five times in a 61-possession game. As for Dion Harris, he'll actually want to play in the NIT so this isn't his last game: 1-of-13 with six assists and five turnovers. (Box score.)

Speaking of uncertainty....Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg thinks it's time for a change and canonical blogger Brian Cook likewise has his annual Tommy-no-mas post up (the more lengthy position paper is here). As Brian notes, the sounds coming out of athletic director Bill Martin are much different this year ("I'm, at this stage, very, very open") than last year ("joined together hip to hip"). But might the celebrated-in-football "Michigan difference"—asking yourself in any given situation what an SEC program would do and then doing the exact curmudgeonly opposite—actually work to keep Amaker in place? We shall see.

(5) Purdue 74, (4) Iowa 55
The Hawkeyes came into the weekend knowing they'd almost certainly need to hoist a trophy Sunday to get a bid—so why'd they look so lifeless in this game? This was a 19-point win for the Boilers and it easily could have been even more lopsided if not for 17 Purdue turnovers. Carl Landry posted a 20-11 dub-dub. Adam Haluska will actually want to play in the NIT so this isn't his last game: 4-of-16 from the field. Purdue is now in the semifinals for the first time since the inaugural Big Ten tournament in 1998. (Box score.)

Speaking of uncertainty....Matt Painter says he thought his team was in before the game. After? We'll find out tomorrow night.

(2) Wisconsin 70, (7) Michigan State 57
Wow. Offense a-go-go from the previously struggling Badgers: 70 points in just 58 possessions. And a surprising defensive collapse from the hitherto stout Spartans—indeed, their worst defensive performance of the entire season. (Having Raymar Morgan limited to 24 foul-blighted minutes certainly didn't help.) Alando Tucker made 4-of-8 threes and scored 21 points. Drew Neitzel continued the day's struggling 2-guard tradition set by Dion Harris and Adam Haluska and went 3-of-13. (He did have eight assists, however.) (Box score (pdf).)

Speaking of (not nearly as much) uncertainty....Asked if his team is safely in, Tom Izzo responded: "I think this team has done its job. I'm tired of answering that question to be honest with you. If they don't take this team for what we have done, who we played -- the toughest schedule in this whole damn league -- we'll go to the NIT."

(6) Illinois 58, (3) Indiana 54 (OT)
Zounds! An overtime game! It is possible. The Illini kept missing free throws (15-of-27 for the game) and the Hoosiers kept missing shots (effective FG percentage: 37.3) but finally random chance dictated that someone had to win. Turned out it was Illinois, whose defense is increasingly looking like it really is as good as their offense is bad, to wit: over their past 12 games the men in orange have allowed opponents just 0.88 points per possession. That's Kansas-good. Warren Carter had 17 points but five turnovers. Shaun Pruitt posted a 16-12 dub-dub for the Illini in 33 foul-blighted minutes. Precocious youngster Armon Bassett made 3-of-6 threes and scored 18 for IU. (Box score.)

Speaking of uncertainty....Hear Bruce Weber: "We talked about if we got to Saturday we'd feel pretty comfortable about the NCAA bid, but you never know."

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Two teams with little to play for (or, in Ohio State's case, almost literally nothing to play for) against two teams fighting for bids. How symmetrical!

(5) Purdue vs. (1) Ohio State (CBS, 1:40 ET)
In an ordinary time the Buckeyes would pose a really bad match up for the Boilermakers: Thad Matta's team doesn't turn the ball over like other Purdue opponents. But this is no ordinary time: what motivation does OSU have for this game? Displaying cool new uniforms?

(6) Illinois vs. (2) Wisconsin (CBS, 4 ET)
The Illini have become eerily similar in appearance to a Bob Huggins-era Cincinnati team: abusive defense and abysmal shooting. The latter is likely to continue but will the former? (Fatigue?)

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