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The Big Ten Title Picture

With No. 5. Michigan State falling to No. 20 Indiana Tuesday night in Assembly Hall, 70-55, the Big Ten Title picture got a little murkier. The Spartans have clinched a share of the title no matter what happens the rest of the week, but Ohio State and Michigan still have a shot at becoming co-champions.

Michigan State (13-4 Big Ten, 24-6 overall) has only one game remaining on the schedule, playing the Buckeyes at home on Sunday. The Spartans win that game, they win the outright Big Ten title.

But that game suddenly seems more up for grabs than it did a mere day ago.

Against the Hoosiers, Michigan State relied on Draymond Green for its entire offense and didn’t get production from anywhere else. Green had 29 points — three more than the rest of the roster combined. If Green is the only Spartan that can score on Sunday, the Buckeyes will have their name etched in right next to Michigan State at the end of the year.

Before Sunday’s showdown, Ohio State (11-5, 23-6) will travel a little more than six hours to the east to take on Northwestern. In year’s past this wouldn’t have been a cause for concern, but Northwestern (7-9, 17-11) is on the NCAA Tournament bubble right now and will be playing for their postseason lives. This game will not be a cakewalk for the Buckeyes, who need both wins to split the Big Ten title.

Things get a little more confusing for No. 16 Michigan. The Wolverines (11-5, 21-8) need to win their remaining two games, but also need some help from Ohio State on Sunday.

Michigan State holds the tiebreaker over Michigan, but Ohio State doesn’t. So in the case that the Spartans fall to the Buckeyes, Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan would all be co-champions. In this scenario, Michigan State would be the one seed, Michigan would be the second seed and Ohio State would be the third seed in the conference tournament.

Michigan still has to win its remaining two games, though, on the road against Illinois and Penn State to close out the season.

If the Wolverines had beaten Purdue at home last weekend, they would have been in a great position to win the title outright.

Instead, Michigan has to win out, then root for Ohio State on Sunday. 

Recap:  

- Michigan State wins Big Ten outright with a win over Ohio State.

- Ohio State wins Big Ten with Michigan State with wins over Northwestern and Ohio State

 - Michigan wins Big Ten title with Michigan State and Ohio State with wins over Illinois and Penn State, coupled with an Ohio State win over Michigan State.

 

Behind Brandon Paul's 43 Points, Upset Of Ohio State By Fighting Illini

Brandon Paul had a night to remember, almost doubling his career high in points and converting eight three-pointers to lead Illinois to a 79-74 win over No. 5 Ohio State on Tuesday night. Paul scored 43 points and pulled down eight rebounds, putting the Fighting Illini over the hump in by far their biggest win of the year.

Early on, Illinois’ (4-1 Big Ten, 15-3 overall) strategy was to work the ball into the post to sophomore Meyers Leonard, who is the center in the four-guard, one-post player strategy that Bruce Weber employs. But the Fighting Illini got into a habit of forcing the ball into their big man, turning the ball over four times in the first five minutes of the game.

The lack of size killed Illinois in the paint — the Buckeyes grabbed 13 offensive rebounds and scored 10 of their first 12 points inside the key. Leonard more than held his own against Jared Sullinger, scoring 14 points on 7-12 shooting, but the inside game slowed down when Sullinger was in the game.

But that was inconsequential for the Fighting Illini, because it was the Paul show.

The junior guard sealed the victory by scoring the last 15 points of the game for Illinois, including a ridiculous, off-balanced shot with a hand in his face that gave it a four point lead with 43 seconds to play. On the ensuing possession, Paul swooped in on Sullinger in the post and blasted the ball into the stands, one of his four blocked shots on the night.

When Ohio State (3-2, 15-3) went on its big scoring runs, Paul brought Illinois back into the game. With the Buckeyes up eight in the first half, he scored eight-straight to tie the game up. Right after halftime with the Fighting Illini down nine, he made three shots from downtown in five minutes, finding himself open in the corner after some punishing screens from Leonard.

As a team, Illinois shot 60-percent from the floor and 61-percent from deep, using its four guards on the floor to stretch out Ohio State’s defense.

Still, the Buckeyes were in this one until the very end, behind another dominating performance from their frontcourt. Sullinger scored 21 points, including two 3-pointers, and sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas added 23. Ohio State seemed to be in control all game, physically dominating Illinois and forcing 17 turnovers. 

But the late heroics of Paul were too much to overcome, sending Ohio State to its second loss in 11 days. 

Big Ten Power Rankings (Jan. 9th)

With teams having played either three or four conference games, it is an opportune time for a Big Ten power rankings.

1. Indiana (3-1, 15-1)

Assembly Hall is well on its way to becoming the new Breslin Center. Indiana has beaten a No. 1 (Kentucky) and a No. 2 (Ohio State), and has yet to lose a game on its home floor. The Hoosiers only loss of the year was on the road against Michigan State, and this team has been impressive. Indiana has the ability to do its work on the inside with Cody Zeller — who is averaging almost 15 points a game — or on the outside, where it is shooting almost 46-percent from beyond the arc. In a close 73-71 win over Michigan, Indiana’s starting frontcourt of Zeller and Christian Watford combined for 43 points. Three days later, the Hoosiers made 15 3-pointers in a win over Penn State. Eventually, Indiana is going to need a big win on the road, but for right now, they top this week’s Power Rankings.

2. Ohio State (3-1 Big Ten, 15-2 overall)

The Buckeyes could make a case for the No.1 spot as they continue to roll through the early, albeit cupcake, portion of their Big Ten schedule. Ohio State has beaten Northwestern, Nebraska and Iowa, and it’s only Big Ten loss was on the road against Indiana. The Buckeyes get another chance against the Hoosiers at home next week, but their schedule doesn’t get tough until late January. Ohio State has a four-game stretch against Michigan, Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan State, so we will have a much better idea of how the Buckeyes will fare in the Big Ten in a couple of weeks.

3. Michigan State (3-0, 14-2)

It’s hard to fault a team that hasn’t lost since November, back-to-back losses that came against North Carolina and Duke. But in a very strong Big Ten, Michigan State hasn’t done enough to rise to the top. The Spartans did hand Indiana its only loss, but they also needed an overtime and to beat Wisconsin—and if Ryan Evans had shot the game-tying 3-pointer about .2 seconds earlier, who knows what could have happened in double overtime. If Keith Appling can keep up his sidekick to Draymond Green role, Michigan State could be a dangerous team come March.

4. Michigan (3-1, 13-3)

Sunday’s win against Wisconsin was probably the best game Michigan has played all year. Sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, as the Wolverines held Wisconsin to 19 first half points en route to a 59-41 victory. But on nights when Hardaway Jr. is off, Michigan will struggle. Last week on the road against Indiana, he scored 17 points, but went 0-7 from deep in Michigan’s only Big Ten loss. Freshman point guard Try Burke is a great talent, but he is a freshman and can be a streaky scorer (4-15 against Indiana and 6-15 against Wisconsin). The post play, specifically the interior defense, will continue to be a question all season, especially when Jared Sullinger and Draymond Green come to town.

5. Wisconsin (1-3, 12-5)

The slowest-pace team in the Big Ten has lost three conference games in a row, but they will almost certainly make the Tournament for the 14th year in a row. Senior point guard Jordan Taylor is leading the Badgers in scoring despite shooting 40-percent from the floor. He is also averaging more than eight minutes a game than the next closest Wisconsin player, playing almost 35 minutes a game. The Badgers will only go as far as Taylor takes them.

6. Purdue (3-1, 13-4)

This is where things start to get murky. Illinois, Purdue, Iowa, Northwestern, and Minnesota could all conceivably make the Tournament, but the Big Ten is probably only going to send seven, maybe eight, teams to the tournament. Basically, five teams that so far aren’t that far apart are fighting for two or three spots. Purdue has beaten all the teams it was supposed to, but it also doesn’t have a defining win. Robbie Hummel leads the team with 16 points a game, and Purdue could backdoor its way into the tournament with a couple upsets here and there. The Boilermakers have a brutal month long stretch coming up, playing Wisconsin, Michigan State, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State in the span of seven games.

7. Illinois (3-1, 14-3)

Illinois is a solid team that doesn’t wow in any particular area. The Fighting Illini have four players averaging more than 10 points a game, but nobody averaging more than 13. The standout could be Meyers Leonard, who is averaging 13 points and eight rebounds a game. Illinois hung tough with Missouri and beat Gonzaga, but also lost to Purdue by 15 and only beat Nebraska by five — The fighting Illini season could go a lot of different ways over the final two months.

8. Iowa (2-2, 10-7)

Iowa beat Wisconsin by seven, then lost to Ohio State by 29. A team like Illinois that doesn’t have a standout player or characteristic, the next month will go a long way to figuring the Hawkeyes out.

9. Northwestern (1-2, 11-4)

Northwestern doesn’t have a particularly impressive win, and has lost to Baylor by 28 and Ohio State by 33, but they could still hang around the Big Ten. The Wildcats have two very solid players, Jon Shurna (almost 19 points-per-game) and Drew Crawford (17 points-per-game), and could be in a decent position by doing well against the lower half of the Big Ten. But as with teams 6-10, the next month is going to tell us a lot.

10. Minnesota (0-4, 12-5)

Playing the what-if game is never fun, but Minnesota losing Trevor Mbakwe was a crushing blow. The Golden Gophers went into conference play with a 12-1 record, then promptly lost their first four conference games. A few good bounces could land Minnesota in a good spot, but not having Mbakwe really makes this season tough.

11. Penn State (1-3, 9-8)

The Nittany Lions played Indiana tough on Sunday, only losing by eight, but that might be one of the high points of the season — moral victories can’t be discounted for struggling teams.

12. Nebraska (0-4, 8-7)

The Cornhuskers have lost their four Big Ten games by a combined 73 points. That is all. 

Ranking The Big Ten Recruiting Classes For 2012

Mitch McGary and Gary Harris are two of the most highly prized recruits to pick Big Ten schools in recent years.

All Michigan Eyes On Hardaway Jr.

Tim Hardaway Jr. improved at an incredible rate throughout his freshman season. With Darius Morris gone to the NBA, Michigan will go only as far as Hardaway can take them.
 

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