So, outside of the 2+ hours of torturous MSU fandom Friday night, my 4-day/3-night stay in Indianapolis was lovely. Highlights:
- My 2-year old daughter hanging out with the MSU Dance Team at the Thursday night pep rally and winning a Sparty doll.
- The consuming of food (and spirits) at Cafe Patachou, The Ram Restaurant, Buca Di Beppo, and the Rock Bottom Brewery.
- An entertaining and enlightening Sunday morning at the Indianapolis Children's Museum.
- Five consecutive competitive basketball games from Friday at noon through Saturday at 4:00.
- A rare opportunity to see the consensus national player of the year play on three consecutive days.
(I even do my travelogues in bullet-point fashion.)
And, thanks to LVS and Pete, I got to enjoy the entire long weekend without having to type any more than 140 characters at a time. I could get used to having just-a-fan-of-the-blog status.
But it's back to the blogging grind now. To get back in the groove, I'll start with a recap of the Big Ten Tournament. And by "recap," I mean "a series of random thoughts on Big Ten teams, mostly regurgitated from my Twitter feed."
Random thoughts on the eight teams I saw play over the weekend are after the jump, neatly sorted by ascending order of BTT finish.
So has John Beilein explained his last-second defensive strategy, beyond just "I was really, really scared of a full-court pass"? With only 2 seconds left, you can already drop one man back to the front court with no danger of the offensive player in-bounding the ball getting a return pass. Isn't three defenders to guard two offensive players enough to at least get a hand on the ball if there's a full-court pass attempt? Turner's shot probably only goes in 10% of the time, but why not make sure he doesn't get a clean look at the basket with all his momentum moving forward? Terrible way for the career of a player as classy as DeShawn Sims to end.
Looking forward, neither option available to Manny Harris looks too appealing: declare for the draft and probably fall to the second round due to continued concerns about his outside shooting or stay at Michigan and have defenses hound him even more than they did this season. Michigan returns no post players with any significant on-court experience.
Going into next season, I imagine Northwestern will again be a popular pick to make a run at the top of the conference and finally earn that elusive first NCAA Tournament bid. Jeremy Nash is the only regular who will depart, and they'll have a healthy Kevin Coble back. But I wonder if the whole will be less than the sum of the parts. John Shurna basically gave them everything they could have hoped for from Coble this year. How much does having two guys capable of scoring 20 points per game, but who do it in exactly the same way, help?
Outside of MSU, I like watching Northwestern as much as any team in the league. But I'm starting to wonder if the peaks and valleys inherent with (1) shooting so many 3-pointers and (2) the 1-3-1 zone set a cap on the Wildcats' in-league performance at around .500.
Somehow, I have no distinct thoughts about the Badgers' performance on Friday. A function of how predictably (but normally effectively) they play, I suppose.
5. Michigan State
How can you be 30 games into a season and only have four scholarship players that can be trusted on the court late in a close game? Tom Izzo's implicit statement by playing Mike Kebler down the stretch, on both defense and offense, was "My team is on the floor." It's hard to feel like there's a Hoosiers-like happy ending coming here, though. At this point, MSU has two guys playing with tremendous determination and focus (Raymar Morgan and Draymond Green), one guy with enough innate ability to overcome his recent shooting woes (Kalin Lucas), and . . . not much else to go with those three players.
Bruce Weber did not impress. There were, of course, the poor last-second offensive play calls in the loss to Ohio State. There was also the fact that Weber stands six feet out on the court attempting to direct traffic while his team plays defense at the other end of the floor. Does Weber not teach his team how to play defense in practices? Does he really want his players looking down the floor for his directions while play is live?
Heckuva job by Demetri McCamey to keep his team in the game, given that his supporting cast doesn't compare all that well with Evan Turner's.
I'm using seeding as the tie-breaker in ranking the tournament finishes, but Purdue is clearly not the third best team in the Big Ten right now. Dan Hanner has quantified just how enormous the impact of Robbie Hummel's injury has been on the Boilermakers. It's really astounding how the Purdue offense has broken down without Hummel's soothing presence; everything turns into a one-on-one move by JaJuan Johnson or E`Twaun Moore. With 29 minutes gone in Saturday's semifinal game, only two field goals had been made by Purdue players other than Johnson.
Something Matt Painter should consider: Tell every player on the roster that he is compelled to take any open 3-point look given to him by the defense. Can Chris Kramer and Lewis Jackson taking open shots from beyond the arc really make the offense any worse? At one point on Saturday, there was a defensive miscommunication by Minnesota and Lewis Jackson was left unguarded by the defense while dribbling the ball for a period of 3-4 seconds. Rather than shooting or driving, Jackson found an open teammate and passed off.
I wonder if Al Nolen losing his academic eligibility actually helped the Gophers in the long run by forcing Devoe Joseph to become a more assertive player. They still have a tendency to fall into a shell on offense when they have a decent lead, but Joseph at least gives them a guy who can create his own shot late in the shot clock. Killed us in overtime, obviously.
1. Ohio State
If not for the fact that they were placed in the same bracket as Kansas, Ohio State would be a popular Final Four pick. Evan Turner is a sublime basketball player, and their starting lineup looks nearly impossible to stop when they're clicking. You can't press them, you can't zone them. And David Lighty does a great job compensating when he's matched-up with a taller player at the 4 spot.
But I think we should back up here and note that it took a miracle last-second shot and two overtimes for Ohio State to get to the conference tournament final. The Buckeyes didn't put a team away until the second half of the final, playing against a team that had already played 140 minutes of basketball in a 67-hour period.
It'll be interesting to see if Ohio State can continue to coast with its 6-man rotation during the NCAA Tournament and then turn on the jets when they need to.
Bonus! Crowd Observations
Big thumbs up to the Big Ten's decision to sell discounted tickets to students this year. Having the small-but-loud student contingents in the upper deck helped add some life to the place. Michigan's student contingent probably had the highest volume-to-size ratio. MSU's and Illinois's were the largest and the loudest in absolute terms.
Also, Ohio State really is a football school. Conseco was barely 40% full for the final. Walking around the concourse at halftime, I counted as many OSU fans wearing football jerseys as basketball jerseys. Illinois had the biggest fan contingent prior to Sunday--although their blinding orange shirts skew the estimates a bit.
Overall, I note that my comments above about the top eight Big Ten teams are decidedly negative. That either means (1) a poor showing by the league in the Big Dance is forthcoming or (2) I've been watching these teams play for too long now.