Tag:Big Ten tournament
Posted on: March 12, 2011 8:03 pm

Ohio St. and Penn St. to go for Big Ten title

It is not the final anyone expected, but after Saturday’s action in the Big Ten tournament, Ohio State will play Penn State on Sunday for the Big Ten championship. The two teams both won their semifinal games with convincing performances in which their stars came out and helped carry their team to impressive victories.

Ohio State defeated Michigan 68-61 on Saturday afternoon in the league's first semifinal. Jared Sullinger was not quite his usual dominant self, but still had beastly moments, scoring 14 points and finishing with 13 rebounds in the victory. Jon Deibler added 16, including two big shots during a 16-0 run in the second half that helped push the Buckeyes lead to 63-45, from which the Wolverines could not come back. With the victory, Ohio State has set itself up to potentially be selected the No. 1 overall seed on Sunday when the brackets are announced, regardless of the final outcome of the Big Ten tournament. A conference win however would make the Buckeyes the first repeat Big Ten tournament champions since 2000.

Thad Matta’s team’s opponent will be Penn State, thanks to an impressive 61-48 victory over Michigan State. The Nittany Lions have been one of the surprises of college basketball this season, but came into the Big Ten tournament likely needing a couple of wins to ensure a berth in the NCAA tournament. On Saturday however they looked clearly the part of a NCAA team, shutting down Michigan State offensively and getting terrific performances from Talor Battle and Tim Frazier. Battle scored 25 points in the victory and Frazier had a spectacular 22 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists to help Penn State produce one of their most complete performances thus far this season.

The final will be a repeat of a game from just two weeks ago, when Ohio State took out the Nittany Lions 81-62 in University Park, Pennsylvania. Penn State had no answer then for Jon Diebler, who set a conference record by draining 10 three-pointers in the game and making a mockery of the Nittany Lions’ perimeter defense. Stopping the three point shot, while still finding a way to double team Jared Sullinger in the post is a hard row to hoe for any team, but is especially crucial for a Penn State team that likes to play with so few offensive possessions. 

From the outset, Ohio State will seek to control tempo and keep the game at much faster pace than Penn State has been accustomed to seeing so far this tournament. Penn State’s defense has been the story early on in the Big Ten tournament and they are only allowing teams to average 45.3 points a game against them in Indianapolis. Expect Ohio State to quickly force transition opportunities, while making Penn State run much more than their opponents have so far in Big Ten play. When the two teams played a close game in Columbus earlier this year, it was because Ohio State allowed Penn State to dictate pace, a mistake I don’t expect them to make in the final.

Sunday will be a big day for Ohio State regardless of the game’s outcome. The Buckeyes are certain to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and may very well end up its overall No. 1 seed. Penn State has had an impressive run thus far this week and has likely played its way into the final 68 Sunday evening with its impressive (if visually unappealing) performances. But the ride is likely to end on Sunday, as Ohio State crushes its dream of winning the first conference tournament title in school history, on the Buckeyes' path to a potential Final Four destiny.

Posted by Matt Jones

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Posted on: March 12, 2011 8:33 am
Edited on: March 12, 2011 8:35 am

Saturday's Big Ten matchups unexpected

Very few people likely had Ohio State vs. Michigan and Michigan State vs. Penn State as their two Big Ten semifinal matchups before the tournament started. However, those are exactly the games we are going to get on Saturday in the Big Ten conference tournament semifinals.

The first game between the Buckeyes and Wolverines does follow seeding, but still comes as somewhat of a surprise. The Buckeyes looked exceedingly vulnerable in their first round win over Northwestern. Unlike in the past couple of weeks, when ball movement and top-notch passing had been the signature strengths of their team, Ohio State only had three assists for the entire game against Northwestern and too often looked stagnant on the offensive end. Thad Matta had expressed just how happy he was with his team's development coming into the Big Ten tournament, but Saturday's game will tell us whether the Friday performance was simply an aberration or a sign of potential problems that could be creeping in.

Ohio State's opponent Michigan, comes in having likely assured itself of a NCAA tournament berth and can now focus on trying to play a good game against its rival. The Wolverines have been terrible against Ohio State over the past few years, but this season both games have been competitive. John Beilein has gotten a good one-two scoring punch from Tim Hardaway Jr. and Darius Morris, the latter of which was great in the victory over Illinois on Friday. If Michigan is to have any chance of pulling the upset, both players must be able to score effectively and find a way to limit the possessions of the big guys down low for Ohio State. In both prior losses, interior points have been the difference and that will once again have to be the focus for Michigan.

In the second semifinal, the story is all about Michigan State and the resurgence once again under Tom Izzo in March. Coming into the Big Ten tournament, it wasn't even clear that the Spartans were assured a berth in the NCAA tournament. But as always, Izzo has his team playing the best when it matters the most. Kalin Lucas was brilliant against Purdue on Friday, scoring 30 points in an absolute embarrassment of a team that still considered itself to be an outside contender for a No. 1 seed. As with all Izzo teams, this Spartan group has turned up the March heat by ramping up defensive intensity and making fewer mistakes. It has been a recipe for success in the first two games of this tournament and with a win on Saturday, could get Michigan State back to an unlikely conference title game.

As for Penn State, the upset win against Wisconsin was probably (a) the ugliest game in the history of organized basketball and (b) enough to get the Nittany Lions in the NCAA tournament. The game on Friday night featured the fewest possessions of any college basketball game since 1998...an amazing statistic that showcases just bizarre a game it actually was to watch. But all that matters to Penn State's players and coaches is the result, and with the win the entire postseason has opened up. A win over Michigan State would remove all doubt as to the team's future, and because the Lions only scored 36 points on Friday night, they should have plenty of energy left to score the necessary points on Saturday.

Posted by Matt Jones

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Posted on: March 12, 2011 3:12 am
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Posted on: March 12, 2011 3:06 am
Edited on: March 12, 2011 8:28 am
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Posted on: March 11, 2011 9:14 pm

Michigan State locates postseason magic

Kalin Lucas scored 30 in an upset of Purdue

Posted by Eric Angevine

Seriously, can we really never, ever, ever give up on the Michigan State Spartans?

A regular Final Four participant over the past five years, the Spartans finally seemed to be out of gas this season, sliding to a 9-9 record in the Big Ten. A win over rebuilding Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten tournament wasn't much to write home about. With a final score of 66-61, it was hardly impressive in terms of rising above the NCAA tourney bubble.

Then came tonight's effort. Kalin Lucas, a senior who doesn't want to go out without a return trip to the NCAA tournament, put up a stunning 30 point effort, hitting 4-6 three point buckets and 10-11 free throws to will his team to a big win. Getting to the semifinal is quite an achievement for this team. Doing it by beating Purdue -- a team playing for a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance -- is nothing short of mind-boggling.

Purdue beat Michigan State twice this season; by ten points in West Lafayette and then by 20 in East Lansing. So where did this 74-56 reversal of fortune come from? It's not really that hard to say.

Michigan State has always had the ingredients to win big games this season. They have senior leadership in the backcourt, the usual stellar recruits, and the coaching mind of Tom Izzo. Given enough time to simmer, that's bound to make something tasty. The player defections that dogged the program definitely cut into the success formula, and it may not be sustainable for long, but at least Michigan State fans have hope. They've seen that old spark again.

The Spartans now await the winner of the Big Ten nightcap. Either Wisconsin or Penn State will advance to face the old familiar foe. Only that team will look a little different this time.

Instead of the light-colored jerseys awarded to favored seeds on a neutral court, they'll come armored in forest green. But they'll still be the Spartans.

Photo: US Presswire

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Posted on: March 11, 2011 3:05 pm
Edited on: March 11, 2011 3:08 pm

Ohio State shows vulnerabilities in OT win

Posted by Matt Jones

That was not the Ohio State team I watched all season. The Ohio State team that I saw win the Big Ten regular season title would not shoot 32% from the field and struggle to beat a significantly inferior Northwestern team 67-61 in overtime in the conference tournament. The Ohio State team I saw set an NCAA record for three point shooting in a game would never follow that up by going 3-15 from behind the arc, missing a number of wide open looks in the process. And the Ohio State team that I saw pass the ball with such precision all season would never play an entire 45 minutes of basketball, score 67 points and only collect three assists total as a team in the process. That would not be the Ohio State team I saw play all season long.

But all that and more happened on Friday, as the Buckeyes proved that in the right setting, they can be just as vulnerable as all the other NCAA tournament contenders. Going into the Northwestern game, the common perception was that while all the other potential No. 1 and 2 seeds had major issues that could be exploited, Ohio State was the most complete team in America, with no real obvious weakness. But the group that took the court on Friday dispelled any such thought. Thad Matta's team played with uncharacteristic selfishness, refusing to share the ball and devolving into a one-on-one attacking offense late, that neither played to the Buckeyes strength or was effective at creating late points.

Ohio State only scored 10 points in the last 9:30 of the regulation, a stretch that saw the Buckeyes run some of their worst offensive sets of the year. William Buford's two field goals during that stretch were the only points scored away from the foul line by Ohio State and absent an exceptional free throw performance by Jared Sullinger (16-18), Northwestern would have been able to pull off the stunner. The Wildcats showcased that the way to defeat Ohio State is to change the style of play to such a degree that the Buckeyes become frustrated. Northwestern threw a number of defensive looks, slowed the ball down on offense and dared the Buckeyes to beat them with outside jumpers. All confused Thad Matta's group and made the best team in America look decidedly ordinary.

In the end, Ohio State ability to control the glass (they outrebounded Northwestern 41-24) and use its exceptional height and athleticism to overcome its poor play, allowed the Buckeyes to escape with a victory. But the game does raise some worries for those positioning the Buckeyes as the favorite when the brackets are announced on Sunday. For the first time in a number of weeks, the Buckeyes looked disjointed and were taken out of their game, something that hadn't happened even in their road defeats. A great passing team was reduced to selfish play and little offense was generated outside of drawing contact and getting to the free throw line. It even took a questionable call in the game's final minutes (the strange technical on Northwestern center Luka Mirkovic for throwing his mouthpiece down in frustration in overtime) in order for the Buckeyes to seal the victory. 

None of those traits are consistent with the Ohio State I watched all season and was certain could cut down the nets in Houston this April. Ohio State is still the best overall team in America, but Friday's win showed that the Buckeyes are vulnerable, just like everyone else.

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Posted on: March 11, 2011 2:52 pm
Edited on: March 11, 2011 2:54 pm

Ohio State's close call could be right medicine

Posted by Matt Norlander

Maybe it's a good thing for Ohio State that it needed overtime to defeat Northwestern?

Are you buying that? I mean, what happens tomorrow and Sunday will put this game in better perspective, but I can buy that a close game against a non-player is good medicine to awaken the senses. The type of atmosphere the Buckeyes were faced with today in Indianapolis will certainly resemble a first- and second-round game a week from now.

For Northwestern, another season without an NCAA tournament berth. Still the only BCS conference team to not get a chance to put on dance shoes. At least they gave us excitement again. Didn't that window feel like the NCAA tournament to you? It did to me.

It's a 67-61 win for Ohio State, who most definitely locked up the overall one seed with the win. Why the close call was good: Jared Sullinger did something he never had before: make most of his free throws after taking a lion's share of them. The nation's best player hit his final 11, and went 16 for 18 overall, a career high. When your best player is the reason you win a close game, it's almost always encouraging.

So even though OSU looked a little raw and unprepared and probably should have lost, it's a good day for the Buckeyes. Get that close win, get that reminder that you're human. A beatable team. Complacency is the evil bed fellow of top dogs in major conference tournaments. It always seems like these afternoon conference tourney games are detrimental to the higher seeds. Pittsburgh got swiped by UConn yesterday; UNC barely esacped Miami; and I'll have a post on Xavier coming up.

Photo: AP

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Category: NCAAB
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