As for the Gophers: If you had said 2 months ago that the Minnesota men could be 11-1 and rated #17 in the nation at this point in time, you would have said, "I'll take it." Every time. And yet, here they are, 11-1 and rated #17 in the nation and the Gopher faithful are not happy. Aside from 2 upset wins in Puerto Rico--over #8 North Carolina and over West Virginia--the season consists primarily of too-close contests with a bunch of nobodies:
Siena by 9 at home, Cornell by 5 at home, Akron by 8 at home, and South Dakota State by 12 at home in a game that was closer than that.
And don't forget the loss to 8-4 Virginia, at home.
All in all, the analysis is that this is not a good shooting team, nor does it have a good perimeter defense. The Gophers have out-shot their rivals, overall, 47 percent to 39 percent. But from 3-point-land, it is the opponents who have out-shot the Gophers, 37 percent to 35. And it cannot be denied that the Gophers are a truly dreadful FT shooting team at 62 percent.
The final tune-up was pretty typical. Minnesota shot 48 percent to South Dakota State's 38 percent, but from beyond the arc it was 31 percent (Gophers) to 30 (Jackrabbits). And from the FT line the Gophers made just 16-of-26 (62 percent). At about the 6:30 mark, the Gophers were 8-for-18 and the score was tied at 64-64. Fortunately they made 8-of-8 down the stretch to pull away to the win.
Despite the whining, there they are, 11-1 and #17 in the nation. I'll take it. But where will they be come March?
1. Ohio State 16-2, 29-2, #2
You gotta be good to be lucky and these guys are both. The Buckeyes' not-quite-full-round-robin conference schedule does not contain a game at Michigan State this year. But seriously, these guys are good. They're out-shooting their opponents 49-40 percent and out-scoring them 81-55. They've out-rebounded their rivals 38-31 and have committed 100 fewer turnovers.
Freshman Jared Sullinger is scoring 17.5 points per game with 10 rebounds. David Lighty, Jon Diebler, William Buford and Deshaun Thomas all scored in double figures--and, all but Buford shoot 46 percent or better. Dallas Lauderdale comes of the bench to shoot 64 percent with a team-high 2-and-a-half blocks and a team-2nd best 5 boards.
Oakland probably seems like a strange barometer for the Buckeyes or any Big Ten team, but just consider: The Golden Grizzlies lost at Michigan by 18, at Purdue by 15, at Illinois by 9 and at Michigan State by 1. They lost at Ohio State by 29. (They won at then-#7 Tennessee.)
2. Michigan State 14-4, 22-8, #14
At 8-4, the Spartans' non-conference record is 9th-best in the Big Ten. And the latest, 67-55 against #17 Texas at home, was not what you'd call a "good loss," though the other 3--at UConn, at #1 Duke and at #8 Syracuse could be so classified. But, hey, they've 5 of their top 6 players back from last year's Final Four team--Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, Draymond Green, Korie Lucious and Delvin Roe. That they're not the pre-season fave in the Big Ten is only testimony to the monster that Ohio State has become. The predicted 4 conference losses is the absolute rock bottom for these guys. It's just a shame they only play the Buckeyes once, at Columbus, on Feb. 15. Advantage (unfair): Buckeyes.
3. Minnesota 12-6, 23-7, #12
It says here that, sure, the Gophers are a mediocre defensive team, not a great shooting team and a terrible FT shooting team. And, that they play down to their opponents--as well as, up. The North Carolina and West Virginia games are indicative of the Gophers' ability, not the Virginia game. 4 guys are scoring in double figures--Blake Hoffarber, Trevor Mbakwe, Devoe Joseph and Ralph Sampson--and 6 are scoring 7 or more. To some this indicates the lack of a go-to scorer, and there's some truth to that. But it also means that Big Ten defenses won't be able to focus on anybody, so anybody can get hot. And the Gophers' schedule is not the worst. In a strange quirk, they open at Wisconsin, then don't play the Badgers again in regular season. And they don't have to go to Illinois. Go Gophers!
4. Purdue 12-6, 23-7, #14
The Boilermakers miss Robbie Hummel something fierce, otherwise they're up there with Ohio State. Still, nobody's got a 1-2 punch like JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore. Both are scoring more than 19 ppg and they're collecting 14 boards between them. Moore leads the team in assists and steals. Depth is a problem, however, and coach Matt Painter has auditioned 6 different players for the other 3 starting slots.
5. Illinois 11-7, 10-3, #21
The Illini feature one of the Big Ten's most dynamic players in Demetri McCamey (16 points and 7 assists), and D. J.Richardson, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale also score in double figures, and the shooting percentages are solid all the way to the end of the bench. It's only a testimony to the toughness of the Big Ten that they're slotting in at #5.
6. Wisconsin 10-8, 19-10
Ditto Wisconsin with Jon Leuer (20 points and 7 boards) and Jordan Taylor (15 points and 5 assists). But the Badgers' depth is questionable. Minnesota high school grads Mike Brusewicz and Jared Berggren need to step it up a bit. But the only losses are at UNLV and Notre Dame at home. The signature win thus far is at Boston College by 10. The Gophers open at Wisconsin and that is tough enough as openers go.
7. Northwestern 7-11, 16-12
Progress is being made under coach Bill Carmody. Their top 3 are almost as good as anybody's: John Shurna with 23 points, 5 boards and 3 assists; and guards Drew Crawford and Michael Thompson each score 15 points apiece as Crawford adds 5 boards and Thompson 5 assists. But after that the cupboard remains a little bit bare. Still, the Wildcats already have a signature win over Georgia Tech by 20 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. More recently, they lost at St. John's by 16, and open conference play at Purdue and with Michigan State at home.
8. Michigan 7-11, 17-13
The Wolverines have lost only at #9 Syracuse and at UTEP but beat Clemson by 9 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. And only guards Darius Morris (16) and Tim Hardaway, Jr. (12) score in double figures.
9. Indiana 5-13, 14-17
The time is c0ming, and soon, when the Hoosiers and coach Tom Crean will be a powerhouse once again. But not quite, not this year, as the non-conference schedule concluded with shocking home losses to Northern Iowa and Colorado. They also lost at Boston College, unlike conference rival Wisconsin. Christian Watford (18) and Verdell Jones III (12) score in double figures.
10. Penn State 4-14, 11-18
Penn State appeared on the road to respectability a couple years ago, but now seem to be slipping backward. Guard Talor Battle is still a stud, with 21 points, 5 boards and 3 assists, but other than Jeff Brooks and Andrew Jones, the rest of the supporting cast is shooting below 40 percent. The final tune-up, a 10-point homecourt loss to Maine, bodes poorly.
11. Iowa 3-15, 10-20
The Hawkeyes, too, will return to respectability but not in 2011, as losses to South Dakota State, 5-8 Long Beach State, and 6-6 Wake Forest will attest. Leading scorer Matt Gatens is at 11.7 ppg and 38 percent from the floor.
Big Ten Tournament
#6 Wisconsin over #11 Iowa
#7 Northwestern over #10 Penn State
#8 Michigan over #9 Indiana
#1 Ohio State over #8 Michigan
#2 Michigan State over #7 Northwestern
#3 Minnesota over #6 Wisconsin
#5 Illinois over #4 Purdue
#1 Ohio State over #5 Illinois
#3 Minnesota over #2 Michigan State--who said lightning doesn't strike twice
#1 Ohio State over #3 Minnesota
Ohio State 32-2, #1 seed 5 wins, national runner-up 37-3
Michigan State 23-8, #3 seed, Elite Eight 26-9
Minnesota 25-8, #4 seed, Sweet Sixteen 27-9
Purdue 23-8, #5 seed 1 win 24-9
Illinois 22-11, #7 seed 2 wins 24-12
Wisconsin 20-11, #8 seed 2 wins 22-12
JaJuan Johnson, Purdue, sr., Player of the Year
Jared Sullinger, Ohio State, fr.
E'Twaun Moore, Purdue, sr.
Kalin Lucas, Michigan State, sr.
Demetri McCamey, Illinois, sr.
John Shurna, Northwestern, jr.
Talor Battle, Penn State, sr.
Jon Leuer, Wisconsin, sr.
David Lightly, Ohio State, sr.
Durrell Summers, Michigan State, sr.
Jon Diebler, Ohio State, sr.
Draymond Green, Michigan State, jr.
Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin, jr.
Blake Hoffarber, Minnesota, sr.
Christian Watford, Indiana, soph.