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Big Ten power rankings: Week 10

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014



As the Big Ten regular season wrapped up on Sunday Michigan was able to sit back and relax having wrapped up the outright conference title by three games and the number one seed in this week’s tournament. The Wolverines will face the winner of the last two teams they faced to close the season, Illinois and Indiana, in the quarterfinals on Friday. The rest of the tournament bracket can be found here

As the conference heads to Indianapolis to battle it out for the automatic NCAA Tournament berth, we took another look at the power rankings.

1. Michigan (23-7, 15-3)  Even
Last week: Mar. 4 W at Illinois 84-53, Mar. 8 W vs Indiana 84-80
This week: BTT quarterfinals Friday vs (8) Indiana or (9) Illinois 12pm ESPN/ESPN2

Michigan finished off an incredible conference season by outlasting Indiana on senior night. Jordan Morgan went out with a bang, recording his first double-double of the season and keeping the Wolverines alive early with critical offensive rebounds. The Big Ten outright champions earned the top seed in the conference tournament after running away from the pack and finishing three games ahead of second-place Wisconsin and Michigan State. 

2. Nebraska (19-11, 11-7) • Up 1
Last week: Mar. 5 W at Indiana 60-50, Mar. 9 W vs #9 Wisconsin 77-68
This week: BTT quarterfinals Friday vs (5) Ohio State or (12) Purdue 2:25pm ESPN/ESPN2

In its biggest game of the season Sunday, Nebraska beat Wisconsin to finish the year with a league-best 15-1 home record. Incredibly, the preseason pick to finish dead last in the Big Ten earned a first-round bye in the conference tournament and landed just one game out of second place. 

3. Wisconsin (25-6, 12-6) • Down 1
Last week: Mar. 5 W vs Purdue 76-70, Mar. 9 L at Nebraska 68-77
This week: BTT quarterfinals Friday vs (7) Minnesota or (10) Penn State 6:30pm BTN

Bo Ryan’s Badgers had their eyes set on a prize outside the Big Ten: A No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A nine-point loss to Nebraska seemingly eliminated Wisconsin from that discussion, but it still earned the second seed in the conference tournament after an 8-1 finish.

4. Michigan State (23-8, 12-6) • Up 3
Last week: Mar. 6 W vs #24 Iowa 86-76, Mar. 9 L at Ohio State 67-69
This week: BTT quarterfinals Friday vs (6) Iowa or (11) Northwestern 8:55pm BTN

Michigan State looked like it was back on track after a win over Iowa on senior night. However, a loss to Ohio State in the regular season finale dropped the Spartans to just 5-7 in their last 12 games and 1-2 since sending a healthy starting lineup back on the court.

5. Ohio State (23-8, 10-8) • Up 3
Last week: Mar. 9 W vs #22 Michigan State 69-67
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (12) Purdue 2:25pm BTN

At the beginning of the conference schedule, Sunday’s Michigan State-Ohio State game looked like a potential shootout for the regular season championship. In reality, the game meant very little to the final Big Ten standings. But Aaron Craft did get a win on senior night, and the Buckeyes just barely managed to finish above .500 in the conference.

6. Illinois (18-13, 7-11) • Down 1
Last week: Mar. 4 L vs #12 Michigan 53-84, Mar. 8 W at #24 Iowa 66-63
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (8) Indiana 12pm BTN

John Groce’s team could’ve thrown in the towel after a nine-game losing streak planted it firmly in last place. Instead, the Illini rallied and won four of their last five games, all of which were against NCAA Tournament hopefuls (Minnesota is the only non-lock at this point).

7. Minnesota (19-12, 8-10) • Up 2
Last week: Mar. 9 W vs Penn State 81-63
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (10) Penn State 6:30pm ESPN2

Minnesota put itself into a very tough position heading into the final weekend of the regular season. Losses in nine of 14 games put Minnesota on the outside of the tournament bubble looking in with just a home game against Penn State left. The Gophers did what they had to do, blowing out the Nittany Lions 81-63, but it still may not be enough.

8. Iowa (22-11, 9-9) • Down 2
Last week: Mar. 6 L at #22 Michigan State 76-86, Mar. 8 L vs Illinois 63-66
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (11) Northwestern 8:55pm ESPN2

Near the midway point of the season, Iowa was ranked in the top 10 of the AP poll and competing for a Big Ten championship. After five losses in its final six games, this team is reeling at the worst possible time. Iowa drew a favorable matchup in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, facing a Northwestern team that it beat by 26 points — twice.

9. Indiana (17-14, 7-11) • Down 5
Last week: Mar. 5 L vs Nebraska 60-70, Mar. 8 L at #12 Michigan 80-84
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (9) Illinois 12pm BTN

The preseason top-25 Hoosiers know there’s only one route to the Big Dance now: winning the conference tournament. Indiana dropped its last two games to land in the No. 8 slot in Indianapolis and a matchup against the streaking Fighting Illini.

10. Penn State (15-16, 6-12) • Even
Last week: Mar. 6 W at Northwestern 59-32, Mar. 9 L at Minnesota 63-81
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (7) Minnesota 6:30pm ESPN2

Minnesota waxed Penn State in the final road game for the Nittany Lions, but they still managed to finish the conference season with a 6-6 record in the final 12 games after losing the first six. Penn State drew a rematch against the Gophers in the first round Thursday — a chance to strengthen its NIT resume.

11. Northwestern (13-18, 6-12) • Up 1
Last week: Mar. 6 L vs Penn State 32-59, Mar. 9 W at Purdue 74-65
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (6) Iowa 8:55pm ESPN2

Northwestern quietly earned a big road win on Sunday to stay out of the cellar and finish 11th in the Big Ten. The Wildcats held much higher expectations after a 5-5 start, but a seven-game losing streak put any hopes of contending quickly to rest.

12. Purdue (15-16, 5-3) • Down 1
Last week: Mar. 5 L at #9 Wisconsin 70-76, Mar. 9 L vs Northwestern 65-74
This week: BTT first round Thursday vs (5) Ohio State 2:25pm BTN

Matt Painter’s team sure hit rock bottom this season. After nearly dethroning the first-place Michigan Wolverines two weeks ago, Purdue had its heart ripped out and lost its three final games. The Boilermakers finished the season by losing 11 of 13 games, including the final six.

Stauskas, Beilein earn top honors, Wolverines re-enter top 10

Monday, March 10th, 2014


Big Ten champs celebration

Nik Stauskas became Michigan’s second straight Big Ten Player of the Year the conference announced on Monday evening. The sophomore was voted the top honor by both the coaches and media, following Trey Burke who won the award a year ago. Stauskas has averaged 17.4 points, 3.5 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per game this season with 13 games of 20 or more points. He is the only Big Ten player to rank in the top 10 in field goal percentage (48.9), three-point percentage (45.8), and free throw percentage (81.1).

Stauskas was also a unanimous selection to the All-Big Ten first team and named to the Sporting News All-America second team.

In addition, John Beilein was named Big Ten Coach of the Year by the media, becoming the first Michigan coach to win the award since Bill Frieder in 1985. Johnny Orr also accomplished the feat in 1974 and ’77. Nebraska’s Tim Miles was awarded the honor by the coaches.

Caris LeVert was named to the All-Big Ten second team  after averaging 13.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game. Glenn Robinson III garnered honorable mention honors, averaging 13.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game. Derrick Walton Jr. was named to the all-freshman team, averaging 8.1 points, 2.9 assists, and 2.9 rebounds per game. This is the fourth straight season the Wolverines have had a player on the all-freshman team (Robinson III in 2013, Burke in 2012, and Tim Hardaway Jr in 2011).

Below are the full All-Big Ten teams as selected by both the coaches and the media.

All-Big Ten first team
Coaches Media
Name School Name School
Nik Stauskas* Michigan Nik Stauskas* Michigan
Roy Devyn Marble Iowa Roy Devyn Marble Iowa
Gary Harris Michigan State Gary Harris Michigan State
Terran Pettaway Nebraska Terran Pettaway Nebraska
Frank Kaminsky Wisconsin Frank Kaminsky Wisconsin
All-Big Ten second team
Coaches Media
Name School Name School
Yogi Ferrell Indiana Yogi Ferrell Indiana
Caris LeVert Michigan Caris LeVert Michigan
Adreian Payne Michigan State Adreian Payne Michigan State
D.J. Newbill Penn State D.J. Newbill Penn State
Sam Dekker Wisconsin Aaron Craft Ohio State
All-Big Ten third team
Coaches Media
Name School Name School
Noah Vonleh Indiana Noah Vonleh Indiana
Aaron White Iowa Aaron White Iowa
Aaron Craft Ohio State Drew Crawford Northwestern
LaQuinton Ross Ohio State Tim Frazier Penn State
Tim Frazier Penn State Sam Dekker Wisconsin
All-Big Ten honorable mention
Coaches Media
Name School Name School
Rayvonte Rice Illinois Rayvonte Rice Illinois
Glenn Robinson III Michigan Glenn Robinson III Michigan
Keith Appling Michigan State Will Sheehey Indiana
Denzel Valentine Michigan State Keith Appling Michigan State
Andre Hollins Minnesota Denzel Valentine Michigan State
Shavon Shields Nebraska Andre Hollins Minnesota
Drew Crawford Northwestern DeAndre Mathieu Minnesota
A.J. Hammons Purdue Shavon Shields Nebraska
Ben Brust Wisconsin LaQuinton Ross Ohio State
A.J. Hammons Purdue
Ben Brust Wisconsin
Josh Gasser Wisconsin
Traevon Jackson Wisconsin
All-Big Ten all-freshman team Sportsmanship Award honorees
Name School Name School
Kendrick Nunn Illinois Joseph Bertrand Illinois
Noah Vonleh Indiana Will Sheehey Indiana
Derrick Walton Jr. Michigan Mike Gesell Iowa
Kendall Stephens Purdue Jon Horford Michigan
Nigel Hayes Wisconsin Denzel Valentine Michigan State
All-Big Ten defensive team Austin Hollins Minnesota
Name School Shavon Shields Nebraska
Gary Harris Michigan State Drew Crawford Northwestern
Aaron Craft Ohio State Lenzelle Smith Jr. Ohio State
Shannon Scott Ohio State Tim Frazier Penn State
A.J. Hammons Purdue Travis Carroll Purdue
Josh Gasser Wisconsin Ben Brust Wisconsin
*Unanimous selection

Michigan also moved back into the top 10 in both polls, checking in at No. 8 in the AP Poll and No. 9 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. It is the first time the Wolverines have been in the top 10 since the first week of February when they reached 10th.

Wisconsin’s loss to Nebraska on Sunday dropped the Badgers below Michigan, to 12th and 13th. Michigan State remains at 22nd in both polls for the second straight week, while Ohio State moves back in at 24th in both. Iowa dropped out.

As for Michigan’s non-conference opponents, Arizona dropped one spot to fourth in both polls, fell to seventh and sixth, and Iowa State is still 16th in both.

The full national rankings are below.

AP Poll Coaches Poll
Rank Team Rank Team
1 Florida (29-2) 1 Florida (29-2)
2 Wichita State (34-0) 2 Wichita State (34-0)
3 Villanova (28-3) 3 Villanova (28-3)
4 Arizona (28-3) 4 Arizona (28-3)
5 Louisville (26-5) 5 Louisville (26-5)
6 Virginia (25-6) 6 Duke (24-7)
7 Duke (24-7) 7 San Diego State (27-3)
8 Michigan (23-7) 8 Virginia (25-6)
8 San Diego State (27-3) 9 Michigan (23-7)
10 Kansas (23-8) 10 Kansas (23-8)
11 Syracuse (27-4) 11 Syracuse (27-4)
12 Wisconsin (25-6) 12 Cincinnati (26-5)
13 Cincinnati (26-5) 13 Wisconsin (25-6)
14 Creighton (24-6) 14 Creighton (24-6)
15 North Carolina (23-8) 15 North Carolina (23-8)
16 Iowa State (23-7) 16 Iowa State (23-7)
17 Oklahoma (23-8) 17 Saint Louis (26-5)
18 Saint Louis (26-5) 18 Oklahoma (23-8)
19 Memphis (23-8) 19 Memphis (23-8)
20 New Mexico (24-6) 20 New Mexico (24-6)
21 Connecticut (24-7) 21 Connecticut (24-7)
22 Michigan State (23-8) 22 Michigan State (23-8)
23 Virginia Commonwealth (24-7) 23 Southern Methodist (23-8)
24 Ohio State (23-8) 24 Ohio State (23-8)
25 Southern Methodist (23-8) 25 Virginia Commonwealth (24-7)

Big Ten Tournament bracket: Michigan the top seed

Sunday, March 9th, 2014


BigTenTournamentBracket2014_edited-2

Big Ten power rankings: Week 9

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014



This week’s edition of the Big Ten power rankings features more movement than usual as the conference continues to deal surprise after surprise. With March upon us, teams that play well down the stretch often outperform teams with more impressive overall resumes in postseason tournaments.

While teams like Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa will certainly make the field of 68, playing poorly in late February and early March can really take the steam out of a potential deep run in the Big Dance. Meanwhile, teams that streak into the tournament on the final days of the season (Nebraska? Indiana?) represent extremely dangerous matchups.

So here’s how the Big Ten teams are playing with less than a week remaining before they head to Indianapolis.

1. Michigan (21-7, 13-3)  Even
Last week: Feb. 26 W at Purdue 77-76 OT, Mar. 1 W vs Minnesota 66-56
This week: Tuesday at Illinois 7pm ESPN, Saturday vs Indiana 6pm 

The in-state rival Spartans lost just before tip-off in Ann Arbor on Saturday, and after Michigan took care of Minnesota, it officially clinched at least a share of the regular season Big Ten championship. John Beilein’s surprise team can seal the title alone with a win at Illinois tonight or against Indiana on Saturday. 

2. Wisconsin (24-5, 11-5) • Even
Last week: Feb. 25 W vs Indiana 69-58, Mar. 2 W at Penn State 71-66
This week: Wednesday vs Purdue 9pm BTN, Sunday at Nebraska 7:30pm 

History shows that no matter what happens early in the season, a hot team is dangerous in March. The Badgers are red-hot heading into the final week of conference play, riding a seven-game winning streak and tied with Michigan State for second place in the Big Ten. Wisconsin could represent the most dangerous team in the conference, but clinching a share of the title gave Michigan the nod at No. 1 for now. 

3. Nebraska (17-11, 9-7) • Up 4
Last week: Feb. 26 L at Illinois 49-60, Mar. 1 W vs Northwestern 54-47
This week: Wednesday at Indiana 7pm BTN, Sunday vs #9 Wisconsin 7:30pm

Despite last week’s loss to Illinois, which looks slightly less egregious after the Illini won in East Lansing on Saturday, Nebraska finds itself contending for a first-round bye in Indianapolis. Tim Miles’s team held off Northwestern on Saturday and can secure a winning conference record with a win in either of its final two games (at Indiana on Wednesday or against Wisconsin on Sunday).

4. Indiana (17-12, 7-9) • Up 4
Last week: Feb. 25 L at #14 Wisc. 58-69, Feb. 27 W vs #20 Iowa 93-86, Mar. 2 W vs #22 OSU 72-64
This week: Wednesday vs Nebraska 7pm BTN, Saturday at #12 Michigan 6pm

Don’t look now, but Indiana is making the run that Big Ten fans were waiting for. Indiana knocked off two straight top-25 teams last week to keep its dim tournament hopes alive. They may not recover from the 3-7 stretch that plagued the heart of their conference schedule, but the Hoosiers aren’t going down without a fight. It may take a win in Ann Arbor in the season finale to put Indiana over the hump.

5. Iowa (17-12, 6-10) • Up 3
Last week: Feb. 26 W vs Nebraska 60-49, Mar. 1 W at #18 Michigan State 53-46
This week: Tuesday vs #12 Michigan 7pm ESPN, Saturday at #24 Iowa 8:30pm

John Groce waited nearly two whole months of Big Ten play for his team to show some life, and although it’s likely too late to join an already-crowded NCAA Tournament bubble, Illinois played spoiler three times in the past two weeks. A win over Michigan State in East Lansing proved the most impressive feat for Illinois on the season, but beating Minnesota and Nebraska the week before was more nationally significant, as both teams have tournament hopes that hang by a thread.

6. Iowa (20-9, 9-7) • Down 1
Last week: Feb. 25 L at Minnesota 89-95, Feb. 27 L at Indiana 86-93, Mar. 2 W vs Purdue 83-76
This week: Thursday at #22 Michigan State 9pm ESPN, Saturday vs Illinois 8:30pm

When both Michigan and Michigan State faltered on their home courts on Feb. 16, Iowa climbed to within one game of the conference co-leaders in the loss column. The Hawkeyes responded by losing their next three games and falling completely out of contention. After struggling to beat Purdue at home, Iowa looks to take advantage of an equally-wounded Spartan squad on Thursday.

7. Michigan State (22-7, 11-5) • Down 3
Last week: Mar. 1 L vs Illinois 46-53
This week: Thursday vs #24 Iowa 9pm ESPN, Sunday at Ohio State 4:30pm

All season long Tom Izzo stuck to the same story: when Michigan State returned all of its injured players, the miraculous turnaround would begin. Well on Saturday Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson all played against Illinois and the Spartans lost on their home court, and scored just 46 points in the process. The time to start worrying about Michigan State has arrived, as it has dropped six of its last 10 games, with half of those coming at home.

8. Ohio State (22-8, 9-8) • Down 5
Last week: Feb. 27 L at Penn State 63-65, Mar. 2 L at Indiana 64-72
This week: Sunday vs #22 Michigan State 4:30pm CBS

The last time Ohio State lost to Penn State, it responded by winning six of its next seven games. This time, the Buckeyes followed up with a loss to Indiana. Unfortunately for Thad Matta’s squad, the most glaring part of the statement is that the Buckeyes have lost to the 5-11 Nittany Lions twice.

9. Minnesota (18-12, 7-10) • Down 3
Last week: Feb. 25 W vs #20 Iowa 95-89, Mar. 1 L at #16 Michigan 56-66
This week: Saturday vs Penn State 8:30pm

Minnesota nearly punched its NCAA Tournament ticket for good Saturday when a furious second-half charge brought it to within two points of first-place Michigan. The visible frustration on coach Richard Pitino’s face as the game slipped away perfectly sums up the remainder of his team’s season. Minnesota will sit and watch the rest of the bubble teams play during the week before hosting Penn State in a game that does little to strengthen its tournament resume. As Joe Lunardi’s “last team in,” this stressful week could turn Pitino’s hair a few shades closer to his father’s.

10. Penn State (14-15, 5-11) • Up 1
Last week: Feb. 27 W vs #22 Ohio State 65-63, Mar. 2 L vs #14 Wisconsin 66-71
This week: Thursday at Northwestern 7pm ESPNU, Saturday at Minnesota 8:30pm

Though Penn State is unlikely to win its final two road games and finish the season with an overall .500 record, it did complete a sweep of the preseason No. 11 Buckeyes on Thursday. After losing their first six conference games, the Nittany Lions can settle for morale victories.

11. Purdue (15-14, 5-11) • Down 1
Last week: Feb. 26 L vs #16 Michigan 76-77 OT, Mar. 2 L vs #20 Iowa 76-83
This week: Wednesday at #9 Wisconsin 9pm BTN, Sunday vs Northwestern 12pm

Purdue played both Michigan and Iowa to the end last week, but the end result was two losses, bringing the streak to a total of four. The Boilermakers’ last chance to play spoiler against a tournament team comes on Wednesday, when they travel to Madison to battle the streaking Badgers.

12. Northwestern (12-17, 5-11) • Even
Last week: Mar. 1 L at Nebraska 47-54
This week: Thursday vs Penn State 7pm ESPNU, Sunday at Purdue 12pm

Northwestern crashed and burned after a strong start to the conference season, currently riding a six-game losing streak. The Wildcats do have an opportunity to finish on a positive note as the final two regular-season games come against fellow last place Big Ten opponents.

Champs again: Michigan 66 – Minnesota 56

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014


Big Ten Champions(MGoBlue.com)

A few minutes before Michigan tipped off their second-to-last home game of the season versus Minnesota, a stunned crowd started to quietly file out of the Breslin Center an hour to the northwest after watching their Michigan State Spartans fall in defeat to Illinois. With that result in the books, Michigan would be guaranteed at least a share of the Big Ten title with a win over the Golden Gophers.

But the young Wolverines didn’t know about that help they were given right away.

“Jon Horford mentioned it at halftime,” said Glenn Robinson III after the game. “I don’t know how he found out, but we all said that we were gonna stay focused and win this game and that gave us more motivation.”

And win the game they did. After coming out of the gates a little bit slow, which has become the norm of late, Michigan ended the first half on a 22-5 run to take an 11-point lead into the locker room. With the added motivation in the second stanza, the Wolverines staved off a feisty Gopher squad and clinched the Big Ten championship with a 66-56 win.

Glenn Robinson III made the highlight of the game with an alley-oop dunk over two Gophers (MGoBlue.com)

Glenn Robinson III made the highlight of the game with an alley-oop dunk over two Gophers (MGoBlue.com)

The star of the show was once again sophomore Nik Stauskas, whose five threes matched a conference high for him this year and whose 21 points led all scorers, but it took a while to get Michigan going.

A wide open corner three from the Canadian opened the scoring for Michigan 1:15 into the game and a Derrick Walton, Jr. midrange jumper two minutes later gave the Wolverines a one-point lead, but then things got a little worrisome.

Over the next 4:19 of game time, Michigan went scoreless and let Minnesota creep out to a 6-point advantage at the 10:53 mark of the first half. Luckily, however, the Maize and Blue’s defensive effort was about as good as it’s been all season, and they did an excellent job in limiting the Golden Gophers to just five points after a Maurice Walker bucket exactly halfway into the opening half.

In that 10-minute span, Michigan showed why they have been so difficult for any team to defend them this year with great pizzazz. Stauskas, who quipped after the game that he had made 48-of-50 threes in a drill after practice on Friday, nailed two more threes and a layup to give him 11 at the break. Caris LeVert and Walton each added one three apiece, while Robinson III showed why he had so many NBA scouts drooling over his potential going into this season.

Robinson, perhaps the most polarizing player on the team – but not for his quiet and kind personality – pulled up from 18-feet with 9:44 on the clock in the first half and drained a shot that is quickly becoming a favorite for him. A few minutes later, the sophomore conjured images of his dad’s past play with a strong move and bucket from five feet away. Then Robinson threw down an alley-oop from Stauskas that may have been the dunk of the season in the Big Ten. When Stauskas threw the ball up, Robinson had two defenders between himself and the hoop, but instead of running around them, he simply jumped over both, rose gracefully through the air, and hammered home the lob to give the home team a six-point lead.

After a Stauskas three on Michigan’s next possession, Robinson received another lob from the same teammate and this time had to contort his body slightly to convert a mid-air lay-in.

In the second half, Minnesota made things interesting behind 14 points from Austin Hollins, and even cut Michigan’s lead to two points with 4:31 to go, but the Wolverines were able to hold on with some strong rebounding and toughness from fifth-year senior captain Jordan Morgan, who grabbed 10 boards for the second time this season.

Stauskas made five threes for the fourth time this season (MGoBlue.com)

Stauskas made five threes for the fourth time this season (MGoBlue.com)

Morgan, who has never been a star on either end of the floor but has been a stalwart for four John Beilein teams, simply outmuscled Minnesota a couple of times for rebounds and made perhaps the biggest play of the game by drawing a held ball with 4:06 to go when a Gopher seemed to have secured a rebound while trailing by just two points. Instead of having a chance to knot it up or even take the lead, Minnesota lost the possession and saw Michigan score five straight to seal the deal.

After the game, both Richard Pitino and John Beilein called Morgan’s hustle play “huge”.

“I thought we did a good job of fighting back in the second half there,” Pitino said. “(But that play was) huge, huge, huge. That was the play of the game, in my opinion. We had a chance to get it, they had a chance to get it, two-point game. I thought that changed the game. Simple as (a) 50-50 ball. They got it, we didn’t.”

Beilein shared similar thoughts: ”I mean, it was huge, because you could see that one was gonna come down to somebody was gonna make big shots for us or them, and whoever did was gonna win the game. When you can keep possession, you keep them from hitting that big shot.”

In the overall picture, it is quite amazing what these Wolverines have already accomplished this season, having won 75 percent of their 28 games so far and 81 percent of their Big Ten games with two remaining. Almost all of this success has come without the services of preseason All-America center Mitch McGary and after a season in which two Wolverines from last year’s team are making splashes in the NBA. Few thought Michigan would compete for a Big Ten championship before McGary went down with a back injury, and some questioned whether the Wolverines would even earn a berth to the NCAA Tournament starting later this month.

Now, those pundits look foolish as Michigan has all but guaranteed their first outright conference championship in 28 years, a top-3 seed in the Big Dance, and a whole lot of respect.

Then again, these Wolverines are making a lot of teams and coaches look foolish too.

Three Stars:

***Nik Stauskas***
21 points (7-of-13 FG, 5-of-8 3PT, 2-of-2 FT), four assists, three rebounds, two turnovers in 37 minutes

**Glenn Robinson III**
12 points (6-of-10 FG, 0-of-1 3PT), four rebounds (one offensive), three assists, one block, three turnovers in 35 minutes

*Austin Hollins*
16 points (6-of-12 FG, 2-of-6 3PT, 2-of-2 FT), three rebounds, two steals, one block, three turnovers in 35 minutes

Quick Hitters:

 As each game passes, it becomes more and more clear how much Nik Stauskas’s success correlates to the team’s overall success. In games in which Stauskas has scored at least 12 points, the Wolverines are 18-3. When he scores 11 or fewer, Michigan is just 2-4 (he missed one game).

Moving forward, opposing teams will see this and do their best to shut Stauskas down, but if he continues to be as aggressive as he has been lately, he will be tough to stop. Beilein noted after the game that he has been pleased to see Stauskas start to shoot more even when he’s not wide open and has encouraged him to keep firing even more.

 Glenn Robinson III continues to struggle from beyond the three-point line, but he has seemed to figure things out inside recently. The sophomore has scored double-digit points in four straight games and has made 60 percent or more of his shots in Michigan’s past two contests. When asked after the game what, if anything, has changed for him, Robinson III gave an interesting response: “I’ve been listening to slower music before the games. I read that it kinda calms you, doesn’t put as much pressure on you, (so) that’s something I’ve been doing.”

When prompted to rattle off some names, Robinson obliged.

“My mom used to always listen to Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, those type of lady singers, slow singers, I like that,” Robinson said. “It calms me, makes me think of my mom, grandma, and all those people that have been with me throughout the game.”

 Michigan has now swept four of the seven Big Ten teams they will face twice this year for the first time since the 2011-12 season, but unlike that year, they won’t be swept by any conference foe.

 With a win in either of their two remaining games or a single loss by Wisconsin and Michigan State in their last two games, Michigan will clinch an outright Big Ten championship for the first time since the 1986 season.

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 6-10 0-1 0-0 1 3 4 1 12 3 3 1 0 35
10 Derrick Walton Jr.* 3-5 2-4 0-0 0 3 3 3 8 0 0 0 0 18
11 Nik Stauskas* 7-13 5-8 2-2 0 3 3 1 21 4 2 0 0 37
52 Jordan Morgan* 2-3 0-0 1-3 2 8 10 3 5 0 2 0 0 32
23 Caris LeVert* 5-13 1-5 2-2 0 3 3 1 13 5 1 0 2 37
02 Spike Albrecht 2-3 1-2 2-2 1 1 2 2 7 2 0 0 0 24
15 Jon Horford 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 2 2 2 0 0 1 0 0 8
21 Zak Irvin 0-3 0-3 0-0 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 9
Totals 25-50 9-23 7-9 5 23 28 14 66 14 10 1 2 200
Minnesota 22-48 5-18 7-11 5 22 27 15 56 10 11 1 5 200
Full Stats

Derick’s 3 thoughts: Minnesota

Saturday, March 1st, 2014


Michigan-Minnesota header

After a miracle victory over Purdue in West Lafayette on Wednesday, Michigan remained atop the Big Ten standings despite never leading during the 40 minutes of regulation. Now, the Wolverines set their sights on a Minnesota team that’s fighting for its NCAA Tournament life as the calendar flips into March and conference play winds down.

Michigan’s surprising dominance during Big Ten play started against these very same Golden Gophers in Minneapolis on Jan. 2. Minnesota rode a six-game winning streak into that matchup while Michigan reeked of an 8-4 non-conference performance. The teams switched roles during the heart of Big Ten play, as the Wolverines look to inch closer to a regular season championship with just three games remaining.

Jon Horford breakout, part two: Jon Horford played perhaps his best game of the season in the first meeting, scoring 14 points and grabbing nine rebounds against the Gophers. Horford shot 6-of-8 from the field and Coach John Beilein rewarded him with 30 minutes of playing time, by far his most this season.

The redshirt junior virtually disappeared during the overtime game against Purdue on Wednesday, picking up three fouls and just two rebounds in a scoreless effort. To be fair, Horford’s lack of offense often stems from unwillingness to enter the ball into the post on the part of his teammates. Ball reversals around the outside often give Horford one-on-one matchups inside, but the pass rarely goes in to the big man, and he’s regularly left with a visible look of frustration painted on his face.

When Michigan involves Horford in the offense, it usually wins. In each of its seven losses, he scored less than five points (with an average of 2.1 points per game). Horford plays efficiently, albeit in small doses, on offense when given the opportunity. Minnesota’s Elliott Eliason struggled to defend Horford in the last meeting, and Michigan needed every one of his 14 points in the three-point victory.

Shut down Deandre Mathieu: The Hollins duo — Austin and Andre — receives much of the offensive attention for Richard Pitino’s team, but probably the most deadly weapon in its arsenal is junior Deandre Mathieu. The 5’9″ transfer from Morehead State averages 11.9 points and 4.3 assists per game, but his value comes in the percentages.

Through 29 games this season Mathieu, converted over half of his attempts from the floor and shot 44.8 percent from beyond the arc. His shooting percentage dwarfs those of Andre and Austin Hollins, and despite taking less shot attempts, ranks second on the team in scoring ahead of Austin.

Minnesota relies heavily on its top three scorers, and the roster thins out considerably behind them. If Michigan can limit Mathieu, clearly the most efficient player on the team, then it leaves the Golden Gophers with just two volume scorers to run the offense.

Beilein owns multiple options when attempting to defend a talented opposing guard. Derrick Walton Jr.’s dominance over Keith Appling in both matchups with Michigan State lands him on the short list to guard Mathieu. Caris LeVert may also earn the honor as the best all-around perimeter defender on the team.

No matter who receives the assignment, he needs to be ready from the tip to avoid allowing Mathieu to catch fire like Yogi Ferrell and Aaron White did in the past few weeks against the Wolverines.

When the clock starts, play Michigan basketball: Slow starts have haunted Michigan in its past five games, two of which it could never recover from. Since Iowa jumped on the Wolverines 29-13 in the first half of the game in Iowa City, Beilein’s team has struggled to match the opponent’s first half intensity each game.

Though Michigan never climbed out of the hole it dug against the Hawkeyes, a similar slow start hampered the starting lineup three days later in Columbus. The Buckeyes jumped out to a nine-point lead just a few minutes into the game, and only a furious charge in the waning minutes of the first half brought Michigan back within four at the break.

A strong second half erased the struggles from fans’ collective memory, but the opening woes struck again in Ann Arbor. Wisconsin absolutely waxed the first place Wolverines during the first half on Feb. 16, building an 18-point lead before entering the break leading 34-19. LeVert did bring his team back within a few points, but the massive Badger lead proved insurmountable in the end.

Even in its two most recent wins Michigan came out of the locker room sluggish. Adreian Payne and Denzel Valentine vaulted Michigan State up 22-11 early in the biggest Big Ten game of the season. And Purdue built an even larger lead Wednesday after a Terone Johnson three-pointer put his Boilermakers up 27-8 with 7:42 remaining in the first half. Fortunately, Michigan was able to overcome both of those.

Michigan’s 3-2 record despite slow starts in each of the last five games proves just how talented the 2013-14 team can be. If the Wolverines learn to put 40 strong minutes together before March, they represent a real threat to make anther deep tournament run. That process begins today against Minnesota.

Prediction: Minnesota comes to Ann Arbor desperate for another marquee victory. Michigan, despite leading the Big Ten, struggled to play consistently throughout the month of February. Now that slow starts became a noticeable trend for his team, Beilein will have it fixed for March and Michigan can kick off the most important month of the season in style with a 76-68 win over Minnesota.

Big Ten title race down to three

Friday, February 28th, 2014


UM crowd vs MSU 2-23-14

As February comes to a close and perhaps the greatest month in all of sports approaches, the Big Ten men’s basketball conference remains as unpredictable as ever.

Nearly two weeks ago, the would-be headliner battle between the two Michigan schools that topped the standings all season long suffered a major blow when Michigan fell to Wisconsin and Nebraska shocked Michigan State in East Lansing. Meanwhile, Nebraska put together a five-game winning streak to burst onto the NCAA bubble, only to lose to lowly Illinois and see it all slip away. Even the Iowa-Indiana game scheduled for Feb. 18 proved unpredictable, as an eight-foot beam that fell from the Assembly Hall ceiling postponed the game for over a week.

With less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, the standings usually provide a clearer picture of what the conference tournament will feature. But in the midst of such an erratic regular season, more surprises surely lie ahead, right?

Spoiler alert: This year’s Big Ten regular season championship is Michigan’s to lose.

Remaining schedule for Big Ten title contenders
Michigan Michigan State Wisconsin
Saturday vs Minnesota, 6pm BTN vs Illinois, 4pm ESPN
Sunday at Penn State, 12pm BTN
Tuesday, Mar. 4 at Illinois, 7pm ESPN
Wednesday, Mar. 5 vs Purdue, 9pm BTN
Thursday, Mar. 6 vs Iowa, 9pm ESPN
Saturday, Mar. 8 vs Indiana, 6pm ESPN
Sunday, Mar. 9 at Ohio State, 4:30pm CBS at Nebraska, 7:30pm BTN

After the victory to sweep Tom Izzo’s Spartans, Michigan firmly planted itself atop the conference with four winnable games remaining.

A trip to Purdue, which provided the most difficult remaining challenge, ended with a miracle in-bounds play for the Wolverines, who snuck out of West Lafayette unscathed, much to the chagrin of championship hopefuls Michigan State and Wisconsin.

Now the only teams standing in Michigan’s way are 5-9 Indiana, 5-10 Illinois, and a struggling Minnesota team with just two conference road wins against the league’s last place squads. John Beilein’s one-game lead should hold up and bring Michigan the long-awaited sole Big Ten title.

But outcomes rarely go according to plan in the 2013-14 edition of the Big Ten. If the first place Wolverines do drop any of their final three games, what does it mean?

Iowa’s loss at Indiana on Thursday night and Ohio State’s loss at Penn State made it mathematically official: the only two teams left to challenge Michigan are Michigan State (one game behind) and Wisconsin (two).

Michigan's last-second win over Purdue on Wednesday kept the Wolverines on track for the outright Big Ten title (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Michigan’s last-second win over Purdue on Wednesday kept the Wolverines on track for the outright Big Ten title (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Let’s say Michigan finishes the season by winning two of its final three games. Regardless of what Wisconsin does in its final three games, the Badgers would fall short of the Wolverines, having already lost five times in the Big Ten.

A Michigan loss would, however, leave the door open for Michigan State, which could finish the season in a tie and, despite earning the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, boast a share of the regular season championship. But the Spartans face a one of the toughest stretch runs in the Big Ten.

Michigan State played sub-.500 basketball in the month of February, losing four of seven games. The Breslin Center lost some of its esteem after Nebraska came in and bullied the Spartans last weekend, so a matchup with the desperate Hawkeyes on March 6 could challenge Izzo’s battered team. Iowa’s current three-game losing streak compliment’s Michigan State’s struggles to set up a surprisingly important matchup in the final week of the season.

Days later, the Spartans travel to Columbus in what Big Ten officials probably expected to be a conference-deciding game against Ohio State. However, a sweep at the hands of bottom-feeding Penn State dropped Thad Matta’s team well out of contention, and barring a Michigan loss, this game provides little importance in the bigger picture.

If Michigan does lose, then Ohio State earns a chance to play spoiler for Michigan State and help its hated rival from Ann Arbor. Michigan State hasn’t won back-to-back games since Jan. 21 when a win over Indiana marked its 11th straight at the time. Michigan ended that streak.

Clearly, Michigan State’s quest for a Big Ten title remains an uphill battle.

Wisconsin, unlike the Spartans, plays a much easier schedule to finish the season. Penn State and Purdue, both tied for last place, figure to provide little resistance for Wisconsin next week, setting up an important trip to Lincoln on March 9.

Nebraska’s only loss in the new Pinnacle Bank Arena came at the hands of the first-place Wolverines, who snuck out of Lincoln with a 71-70 win on Jan. 9 after the Huskers missed three layup attempts in the closing seconds. Despite the loss at Illinois on Wednesday, Nebraska’s five-game winning streak puts it tied for fourth place in the loss column in the conference. With a Big Ten record that matches Iowa’s and a nearly-perfect home resume, Nebraska provides a real challenge for Wisconsin to finish the regular season.

Even the most unpredictable conference standings take shape near the end of the season. Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin played well enough through 15 Big Ten games to stay alive into March, but Michigan represents the clear-cut favorite with less than two weeks to go.

The Wolverines may win all three remaining games and leave no room for another contender to catch up. But even if the surprising Big Ten serves up another upset, the odds lie in Michigan’s favor.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 8

Thursday, February 27th, 2014


1. Michigan (20-7, 12-3)  Up 2
Last week: Feb. 23 W vs 13 Michigan State 79-70
This week: Wednesday W at Purdue 77-76 OTSaturday vs Minnesota 6pm BTN

In the biggest game in the Big Ten this season, Michigan completed a sweep against conference co-leader Michigan State and regained sole possession of first place. The Wolverines then avoided disaster on Wednesday night at Purdue thanks to a last-second bank shot from Glenn Robinson III. 

2. Wisconsin (23-5, 10-5) • Down 1
Last week: Feb. 22 W at #15 Iowa 79-74
This week: Tuesday W vs Indiana 69-58, Sunday at Penn State 12pm BTN

The Badgers had another tremendous week, knocking off Iowa on the road and bouncing back from a poor 19-point first half performance to hold off Indiana on Monday. Wisconsin owns the longest current winning streak in the Big Ten at six. 

3. Ohio State (22-6, 9-6) • Up 3
Last week: Feb. 19 W vs Northwestern 76-60, Feb. 22 W vs Minnesota 64-46
This week: Thursday at Penn State 7pm ESPN2, Sunday at Indiana 4pm

Sam Thomson and the Buckeyes have quietly reclaimed one of the top four spots in the Big Ten. With wins in six of its past seven games, Ohio State sits in position to earn a first-round bye in the conference tournament.

4. Michigan State (22-6, 11-4) • Up 1
Last week: Feb. 20 W vs Purdue 94-79, Feb. 23 L at Michigan 70-79
This week: Saturday vs Illinois 4pm ESPN

The Spartans continued their recent trend of losing every other game when they dropped another game to the Wolverines in Ann Arbor on Saturday. Michigan State is likely to get back on track Saturday against Illinois.

5. Iowa (19-8, 8-6) • Down 3
Last week: Feb. 22 L vs #16 Wisconsin 74-79
This week: Tuesday L at Minnesota 89-95, Thursday at Indiana 9pm ESPN, Sunday vs Purdue 2:05pm

For the first time all season, Iowa has lost two straight games and dropped to fifth in the Big Ten behind Ohio State and Wisconsin. The makeup game in Assembly Hall Thursday night could be a make-or-break game for Iowa’s hopes of earning a first-round Big Ten Tournament bye.

6. Minnesota (18-11, 7-9) • Up 1
Last week: Feb.19 L vs Illinois 49-62, Feb. 22 L at #24 Ohio State 46-64
This week: Tuesday W vs #20 Iowa 95-89, Saturday at #16 Michigan 6pm BTN

Richard Pitino’s team found its back up against the wall on Monday after dropping eight of its last 12 Big Ten games. The Gophers somehow found a way to hold on against Iowa and move back on the right side of the NCAA bubble, for now.

7. Nebraska (16-11, 8-7) • Down 3
Last week: Feb. 20 W vs Penn State 80-67, Feb. 23 W vs Purdue 76-57
This week: Wednesday L at Illinois 49-60, Saturday vs Northwestern 5pm ESPNU

Just when it looked like Nebraska’s Cinderella story run to the NCAA Tournament could become a reality, it dropped a must-have game to Illinois. Now only a deep conference tournament run could put Tim Miles’s crew back in the conversation.

8. Illinois (16-12, 5-10) • Up 3
Last week: Feb. 19 W at Minnesota 62-49
This week: Wednesday W vs Nebraska 60-49, Saturday at #18 Michigan State 4pm ESPN

After losing 10 of 11 games during the heart of the Big Ten season, Illinois has no chance of earning an at-large bid into the Dance. But the Fighting Illini are bursting a few other Big Ten bubbles with wins over Minnesota and Nebraska in the past week.

9. Indiana (15-12, 5-9) • Up 3
Last week: Feb. 22 W at Northwestern 61-56
This week: Tuesday L at #14 Wisconsin 58-69, Thursday vs #20 Iowa 9pm, Sunday vs #22 Ohio State 4pm

It was a great week for Indiana basketball. Not only did the Hoosiers pick up a road win against Northwestern, but Assembly Hall has been repaired and deemed safe enough to play the previously-scheduled game against Iowa on Thursday.

10. Purdue (15-13, 5-10) • Down 2
Last week: Feb. 20 L vs #13 Michigan State 79-94, Feb. 23 L at Nebraska 57-76
This week: Wednesday L vs #16 Michigan 76-77 OT, Sunday at #20 Iowa 2:05pm BTN

Purdue missed a golden opportunity at a marquee win on Wednesday night after getting waxed in back-to-back games by Michigan State and Nebraska. Purdue’s schedule doesn’t get any easier after the overtime loss as trips to Iowa and Wisconsin loom.

11. Penn State (13-14, 4-10) • Down 1
Last week: Feb. 20 L at Nebraska 67-80
This week: Thursday vs #22 Ohio State 7pm ESPN2, Sunday vs #14 Wisconsin 12pm

Pat Chambers’s team is reeling after a 13-point loss at the hands of Nebraska. The Nittany Lions have a chance to sweep Ohio State when the Buckeyes visit State College on Thursday.

12. Northwestern (12-16, 5-10) • Down 3
Last week: Feb. 19 L at #24 Ohio State 60-76, Feb. 22 L vs Indiana 56-61
This week: Saturday at Nebraska 5pm ESPNU 

Remember when four out of five wins put Northwestern in the top four spots in the conference? Now the only cause for celebration in Evanston is that the Wildcats get to host the proverbial last-place game against Penn State next week.

Your Big Ten hoops rooting guide for the rest of the week

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014


Michigan’s win over Michigan State on Sunday put the Wolverines in sole possession of their Big Ten title destiny, and as Drew described in this morning’s Inside the Numbers post, Michigan now has a 93.9 percent chance of earning at least a share of the conference crown.

Less than two weeks remain in the regular season, and beginning tonight we will have a rooting interest in the three or four games that each of the remaining contenders have left. Of course, if Michigan takes care of business and wins all four of its games, what Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio State, and Nebraska do is irrelevant. However, since the Wolverines have split each of their last eight games we can’t count on that happening. So here’s the schedule for the next two weeks and who to root for and against.

Tuesday, Feb. 25

Iowa at Minnesota, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network

Iowa stands two-and-a-half games back of Michigan in the Big Ten hunt, so one more loss will virtually knock them out of the race. Of their five games remaining, three are away and this is probably the most winnable of the three. We might want some Iowa help next week, so let’s just go ahead and root for them to lose tonight and get knocked out of title contention.

Root for: Minnesota

Indiana at Wisconsin, 9 p.m., ESPN

It’s unlikely that Indiana can go into the Kohl Center and beat Wisconsin, especially with the way the Badgers have been playing lately, but with Wisconsin just two games back of Michigan our rooting interest is for the Hoosiers. One Wisconsin loss will essentially eliminate them from contention, so hope Indiana gets hot and puts Bo Ryan’s squad to rest.

Root for: Indiana

Wednesday, Feb. 26

Michigan at Purdue, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network

A Michigan win would guarantee the Wolverines a record of no worse than 12-6, which still isn’t good enough to clinch the Big Ten title just yet, but it would clear one of two remaining road hurdles out of the way.

Nebraska at Illinois, 9 p.m., Big Ten Network 

Nebraska is the least likely of Michigan’s five title challengers to catch the Wolverines at three games back, and one loss would do the trick. Nebraska’s only loss in its last eight games was at Michigan, and with a win at Michigan State included in that streak the Cornhuskers are making a major push at an NCAA Tournament bid. Nebraska recently moved into the Kenpom and RPI top 50, which helps Michigan’s tournament resume, so since the Huskers aren’t really going to give Michigan a scare for the Big Ten title — barring a monumental Michigan meltdown — let’s root for Nebraska to continue its run.

Root for: Nebraska

Thursday, Feb. 27

Ohio State at Penn State, 7 p.m., ESPN2

Like Nebraska, Ohio State is on a bit of a streak with the only blemish in its last seven games being a loss to Michigan. The loss before that: against Penn State. The Buckeyes will likely correct that on Thursday in State College, and if they do, they’ll remain two-and-a-half games behind Michigan (assuming the Wolverines beat Purdue on Wednesday) with two games left. Ohio State isn’t likely to catch Michigan, but like mentioned above with Iowa, Michigan might need the Buckeyes to beat Michigan State next week, so let’s just go ahead and root for OSU to be eliminated now.

Root for: Penn State

Iowa at Indiana, 9 p.m., ESPN

If Iowa gets past Minnesota on Tuesday night, they’ll still be in contention for a share of the title, so we should continue to root for a loss. This will be the likely loss remaining on the schedule aside from next week’s visit to East Lansing, and we might need the Hawkeyes to win that one.

Root for: Indiana

Saturday, March 1

Michigan State vs Illinois, 4 p.m., ESPN

Michigan State is obviously Michigan’s main challenger for the Big Ten title. As long as the Wolverines take care of Purdue on Wednesday, Michigan will hold a one-game lead over the Spartans with three to play. Any Michigan State loss is welcomed at this point in case Michigan suffers a misstep. This is the least likely loss among State’s remaining games, but we can still root for Illinois to pull off the stunner.

Root for: Illinois

Nebraska vs Northwestern, 5 p.m., ESPNU

As mentioned above, Nebraska winning helps Michigan’s tournament resume at this point as the Wolverines are currently have nine wins against teams in the RPI top 50, the second most in the nation behind Kansas. If Nebraska falls out of the top 50, that number drops to seven. It’s not going to make a huge difference come selection Sunday, but it could keep Michigan squarely in the three-seed range.

Root for: Nebraska

Michigan vs Minnesota, 6 p.m., Big Ten Network

Assuming Michigan beats Purdue on Sunday, a win over Minnesota here would assure the Wolverines of at least a 13-5 record, moving them one win away from clinching at least a share of the Big Ten title. It would also eliminate Ohio State and Nebraska from contention regardless of whether or not they keep winning.

Iowa vs Purdue, 8:15 p.m., Big Ten Network

If Iowa can get through the Minnesota and Indiana road tests on Tuesday and Thursday, the third game in five days will be a reprieve back in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. At this point, unless Michigan loses to Purdue or Minnesota, Iowa will have to win to have any hope of staying alive for a share of the title. But that would mean Michigan would have to lose both of its games next week.

Root for: Purdue

Sunday, March 2 

Wisconsin at Penn State, 12 p.m., Big Ten Network

Assuming Wisconsin beat Indiana at home on Tuesday, they’ll still be mathematically alive for a share of the title. Penn State has lost four of five (five of six if they lose to Ohio State on Thursday), so beating Wisconsin is unlikely, but that’s what we want to happen anyway.

Root for: Penn State

Ohio State at Indiana, 4 p.m., CBS

Ohio State’s second to last game of the regular season won’t matter if Michigan wins on Wednesday and Saturday, but if the Wolverines stumble Ohio State will still be alive for a share. Winning at Assembly Hall is never an easy proposition, so pull for the Hoosiers.

Root for: Indiana

Inside the Numbers: Go ahead and order the banner

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014


UM win over MSU 2-23-14(Tony Ding, AP)

The stakes were set when Michigan and Michigan State took the floor at the Crisler Center this past Sunday. The victor would inherit sole possession of first place in the Big Ten and have the inside track to become the Big Ten regular season champion. Never before had the Wolverines and the Spartans played each other under these circumstances with so few games left in the conference season. It arguably was the biggest game in the history of this heated intrastate rivalry.

You already know what happened. The Spartans caught fire and sprinted out to an 11-point lead in the first ten minutes. But the Wolverines fought back to within two points at halftime and used a 21-4 run in a seven-minute span in the second half to pull away. Michigan bested MSU, 79-70, sweeping the season series and beating the Spartans for the sixth time in their past eight meetings.

With Michigan sitting atop the Big Ten standings, many U-M fans have wondered, “How likely is it that the Wolverines win the Big Ten regular season championship?” I have the answer, and Michigan fans will love it.

The Wolverines currently are 11-3 in the Big Ten. With four games left, U-M can end with no worse than an 11-7 record. Only five other Big Ten schools can post such a record, meaning only six teams still are mathematically in the hunt for a conference title. They are Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio State, and Nebraska. Here are the conference standings as of yesterday:

Big Ten Standings as of February 24, 2014

Place

Team

Record

Games Behind

1

Michigan

11-3

-

2

Michigan State

11-4

0.5

3

Wisconsin

9-5

2

4

Iowa

8-5

2.5

5

Ohio State

9-6

2.5

6

Nebraska

8-6

3

Ken Pomeroy, a proponent of advanced statistics in college basketball, uses a complex algorithm that provides the odds teams have to win in each of their upcoming games. These percentages can be found on the team pages at his website, Kenpom.com. For example, here are the odds that Pomeroy gives Michigan to win in each of its final four games:

Michigan’s Odds to Win in Each of its Four Remaining Games per Ken Pomeroy

Date

Opponent

Site

Odds to Win

February 26

Purdue

Away

74%

March 1

Minnesota

Home

84%

March 4

Illinois

Away

66%

March 8

Indiana

Home

87%

With these percentages, I can calculate the likelihood that Michigan will finish with a certain conference record. I also can conduct the same analysis for the other teams in contention for a Big Ten championship. Therefore, using this analysis, I determined the likelihood that the Wolverines will win the Big Ten.

Projected records

Odds Michigan Finishes 15-3: 35.7 percent

Michigan controls its own destiny not only to win a Big Ten championship, but also to win it outright. U-M is the only Big Ten team with no more than three conference losses. Therefore, if the Wolverines win each of their four remaining games, they will be the sole Big Ten champion regardless of how the other contenders perform down the stretch.

The great news for Michigan is that it will be a significant favorite in each of its remaining contests. The Wolverines will have at least a 74 percent chance to win in three of their four remaining games. The only one with lower odds to be victorious is at last-place Illinois, but U-M still has a 66 percent chance to upend the Fighting Illini in Assembly Hall. Because these odds are so high, the Wolverines have a 35.7 percent chance to run the table. If they do so, they will have 15 conference wins for the first time since 1993 and their first outright Big Ten title since 1986.

Odds Michigan Finishes 14-4: 43.1 percent

Michigan does have room for error, though. A loss does not hurt U-M’s odds to win a Big Ten championship. No other team can earn a better Big Ten record than 14-4, so the Wolverines still are guaranteed to win at least a share of the Big Ten crown even if they drop one game. Therefore, because Michigan has a 35.7 percent chance to finish 15-3 and a 43.1 percent chance to finish 14-4, it has a 78.8 percent chance to win a share of the Big Ten title without any help.

(Scott Mapes, UMHoops)

Michigan has a 78.8 percent chance of at least a share of the Big Ten title with four games remaining (Scott Mapes, UMHoops)

Even if U-M loses one, it still is very likely to be the outright Big Ten champion. Only one other team can attain a 14-4 conference record: Michigan State. But, to do so, MSU will need to beat all three of its remaining opponents. Because the Spartans still must host Iowa and travel to Columbus to face the Buckeyes, the odds of doing so are low. In fact, Pomeroy gives MSU just a 15.9 percent chance to run the table and finish 14-4. Accordingly, the Wolverines still will be in great position to be the only Big Ten champion with a 14-4 record.

Odds Michigan Finishes 13-5: 17.9 percent

This is the territory where Michigan could see a Big Ten crown slip through its fingers. If U-M finishes the season with a 2-2 record, it opens the door for Michigan State to be the sole Big Ten champion. To do so, MSU would need to run the table and finish 14-4.

As aforementioned, those odds are slim. There is only a 3.4 percent chance that the Spartans finish 14-4 and the Wolverines finish 13-5 or worse. Further, Michigan has a 96.7 percent chance to finish with a 13-5 record or better. If U-M earns such a record, there is a 93.9 percent chance that U-M will be at least a co-champion.

However, if U-M settles for 13-5, it’s not likely to be the outright Big Ten champion. Three other teams can reach 13-5: Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Iowa. There is only a 19 percent chance that all three of them fail to have at least a 13-5 record. Accordingly, Michigan cannot expect to be the only Big Ten team to hang a banner in its home arena next season if it loses half of its upcoming games.

Odds Michigan Finishes 12-6: 3.1 percent

This would be an absolute collapse by the Wolverines. A 1-3 close to the conference season is very unlikely, but not completely out of the realm of possibility. Because Michigan is 10-2 against opponents ranked outside Pomeroy’s Top 50 this season and none of U-M’s final four foes are in the Pomeroy Top 50, no one expects U-M to win only once more in the regular season. But, if it does, the Wolverines can kiss away the crown. There is only a 0.6 percent chance that all four of Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Iowa finish with not better than 12-6 records. One of these three Big Ten foes will do better, leaving the Maize and Blue to wonder how it all fell apart.

Odds Michigan Finishes 11-7: 0.2 percent

Nope.

Takeaway

This is why Sunday’s game against the Spartans was arguably the biggest in the history of the rivalry. With the win, Michigan essentially has locked up at least a share of the Big Ten regular season championship. The Wolverines are guaranteed a share if they finish 15-3 or 14-4, which has a 78.8 percent chance of occurring. And there’s a 93.9 percent chance that they have at least a 13-5 record and grab a piece of the crown. Given Michigan’s remaining strength of schedule, only an utter collapse will send U-M home empty-handed.

Should Michigan begin to plan a banner ceremony for next season? Not yet only because nothing is guaranteed, especially in the Big Ten. But the Wolverines would probably not hurt themselves by getting a head start on the paperwork to order a “Big Ten Champions” banner for 2014.