We might as well check in here on St. Stephen's Day, even though there is not a lot of change in the standings with the relatively light action. The conference didn't fare too well in prime match-ups last week, but still looks to be on track for seven or eight NCAA tournament bids.
1. Michigan (12-0) W v. Eastern Michigan 93-54
The Wolverines destroyed the Eagles, and will likely drop 100 on Central Michigan if the Nebraska game was any sort of guide. Mitch McGary put together a double-double in 18 minutes, but I was more intrigued by fellow freshman Caris Levert finally getting off the bench and notching 8 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and a block in 16 minutes. The Wolverines remain undefeated, and they are definitely good, but are they better than Hoosiers? I can't wait for conference play to start.
2. Indiana (11-1) W v. Mt. St. Mar,y's 93-54 W v. Florida Atlantic 88-52
So, IU beat Mt. St. Mary's and FAU handily, and will likely beat Jacksonville by a lot as well. I am getting a little concerned about the rotating door that is the Hoosiers' bench. While it seemed like the Hoosiers had nothing but guards through the first 9 games of the season, now it seems like they've got almost nothing but bigs. Remy Abell and Will Sheehey can handle any minutes that come their way, so I'm not worried yet, but I will feel better when the Jeremy Hollowell situation gets resolved and Maurice Creek gets cleared to come back. I still love the potential that Hanner Mosquera-Perea is showing, and I know Derek Elston's game will come around. It'll be interesting to closely watch the Hoosiers' bench over the next few games, though.
3. Minnesota (12-1) W v. Lafayette 75-50
I really only have one question about the Gophers. Will it work in the Big Ten? They do look deep, they've got the athleticism to make plays and they are killing it on the offensive boards. But if I recall correctly, they were 12-1 with the same approach and much the same personnel at this point last season. And their defense got exposed, and their offense stagnated at crucial times in conference play. They should be better this season, but how much?
4. Michigan State (9-2) W @ 53-66 Bowling Green, W v. Texas 67-56
The Spartans are starting to round into shape, beating a rising Longhorns squad that had just thumped UNC. I'm still concerned about the balance of this team, and the outside shooting, and the turnovers. Still, as long as Izzo is on the bench, this team looks like it has enough talent to generate another long run in March.
5. Ohio State (11-2) W v. Winthrop 65-55, L v. Kansas 66-74
The Buckeyes had compiled a number of big wins, and had a prime chance to pay the Jayhawks back for a season sweep last season. The choking away of the lead against Kansas in the Final Four game had to be still fresh in Matta's mind, but apparently Bill Self knows the secret to beating Matta. I had been wondering if Aaron Craft would be able to resume his scoring when OSU needed it, but evidently not. More concerning was how Kansas (a fine team, but one that MSU beat) was able to posterize the Buckeyes again and again down the stretch to crack the game wide open.
6. Illinois (12-1) L v. Missouri 73-82 (n.)
So, the game against Missouri didn't turn out so well. The Illini are still shooting terribly, and just got killed on the boards. Missouri didn't shoot great, but still looked like a team that would beat Illinois more often than not. Unless Brandon Paul goes off, it's hard to say how the Illini beat good teams. I think coach Groce will cobble together enough conference wins to get into the NCAA tourney, but they've got serious problems.
7. Wisconsin (8-4) W v. Milwaukee 74-53
So, the Badgers beat Milwaukee handily, and will likely crush Samford before moving into conference play. They won't really have a chance to get back in the national picture until Illinois comes to Madison on January 12th. That should be a good gauge for both clubs stand. Ryan Evans appears to be recovering his shooting stroke somewhat, which would help Bo Ryan's club, a lot.
8. Iowa (11-2) W v. South Carolina St. 90-46, W v. Coppin State 80-50
The dual freshman-point-guard starting line-up appears to be paying dividends, as Iowa appears to be getting their offense in gear against lesser opponents. They are idle until they host Indiana on New Year's Eve. Reserve center Gabriel Olaseni scored a career-high 14 points (with 7 rebounds, 2 blocks) against Coppin St. Would they be able to grab an at-large bid? They'll have to put up some wins in conference play.
9. Purdue (5-6) W v. Ball State 66-56
This is one ranking that's probably too high. But the Boilers did beat Ball State, and if they take down William and Mary this weekend, maybe they can make out like Iowa last season and get in the conversation for an at-large bid. I do like that Jacob Lawson is starting now, but there's a ton of questions for this team that I don't need re-hash now.
10. Northwestern (9-4) L v. Stanford 68-70, W v. Brown 63-42
The narrow loss versus Stanford isn't a terrible thing, but losing Reggie Hearn to an ankle injury in that game just isn't helpful to a team who's post-season hopes were already razor thin. Hearn should be back, and it was nice to see the Wildcats thump Brown without him, But NU is looking more a team that's going to be hanging out with Penn State and Nebraska in the final conference standings.
11. Penn State (7-4) W v. New Hampshire 72-45
The Nittany Lions enjoyed a blowout win against New Hampshire, in what may be their big margin-of-victory win last of the season. Still, it's nice to see they still have some fire left. If coach Chambers ever gets some talent in Happy Valley, he might have some really tough teams. In the New Hampshire game, frosh Donovan Jack got some time and did pretty well, hitting both field goals and free throws, three rebounds and a block.
12. Nebraska (8-4) W v. Jacksonville St. 59-55, W v. CMU 89-75 (n.), L @ UTEP 52-68
Well, the Huskers did win two games, but the loss at UTEP keeps them firmly in the cellar. I know Central Michigan isn't very good, but I was a bit surprised to see Nebraska drop 89 points on them. One particular notable standout from that box score was sixth man David Rivers dropping 20 points in that game, which I kid you not, matched the point total from his entire freshman year. Of course, the next day against UTEP he goes 0-for-3 in 16 minutes with three fouls, so let's not anoint it a breakthrough performance just yet.