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Posted on Thu, Feb 9, 2012 : 4:46 p.m.

Answers to 4 Big Ten hoops questions as the season hits the stretch drive

By Nick Baumgardner

We're less than a month from the Big Ten Tournament, and roughly five weeks from the NCAA Tournament.

I know, I'm excited, too.

But there's plenty of basketball to be played, plenty of position-jockeying to be had, RPIs to boost and a league championship to declare.

So, as we head down the stretch drive, here's my take on four burning Big Ten questions.

1. Will Ohio State lose again?


Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas (1), William Buford and the Buckeyes are in control of the Big Ten race.

Associated Press

The easy, and realistic, answer is yes.

Ohio State is the best team in the Big Ten, but the Buckeyes seem to have an issue bringing an absolute 100 percent effort night in and night out.

OSU lost on the road at Indiana and Illinois, and Purdue nearly stole one in Columbus earlier this week. I'd expect Ohio State to fall on the road at least one more time — maybe twice.

Remember, the Buckeyes have to visit both Michigan (Feb. 18) and Michigan State (March 4).

I think they lose at least one of those, but in the end, I still say they win the league.

2. How many NCAA Tournament bids will the league get?

I'm going to be "that guy" and say the Big Ten gets nine teams into the tournament.

Yeah, nine. That's right, 75 percent of the league.

As of now, the league's locks are Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois. Purdue and Minnesota are both right there, and will still get a few RPI booster chances.

So, that leaves Northwestern.

As of Thursday, the Wildcats had 14 victories and an RPI of 37. If the Wildcats can somehow get to, say, 19 wins, I think they'd be impossible to turn away given the schedule.

The RPIs in this league are just too high to ignore, as the Big Ten still had a sizable overall league RPI advantage on the rest of America as of Thursday, per CollegeRPI.

At worst, this league gets eight. But I'll go on a limb and call for nine.

What the Big Ten does with those bids, though, will be the true answer as to how good the league really is.

3. Who's the MVP?

Most folks seem content to just roll with Jared Sullinger, as he's the best player on the best team in the conference.

But his supporting cast is also better than anyone else's. Sullinger is averaging 17.4 points and nine rebounds per game, and he would be a fine choice for player of the year.

But, Michigan State's Draymond Green is putting up a double-double (15.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg). And, in reality, if he's not on the floor for Michigan State this season, the Spartans are likely a wreck.

Green also ranks among the Big Ten's top 10 in assists (3.6), steals (35) and blocked shots (23). And, again, without him, the Spartans are nowhere near a second-place team at this point.

When he struggles, Michigan State generally loses. I don't know if you can say that about Sullinger.

Right now, for my money, no one in the Big Ten is more valuable to his team than Green is to Michigan State.

4. Who's a Big Ten Tournament dark horse?

In order to get hot and upset people in a tournament situation, a team needs two must-haves.

Shooters and guards.

And, though some are struggling, no one boasts more proven guards and shooters than Michigan.

The Wolverines have a Freshman of the Year candidate running the show in Trey Burke, two senior leaders in Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, and one sleeping All-League caliber wing in Tim Hardaway Jr.

Add in the possibility of an Evan Smotrycz or Matt Vogrich to heat up at the right moment, and Michigan could be a pretty tough team to bounce in a one-game situation.

Also, for my money, there aren't too many coaches better at turning around a short game-plan than John Beilein. And, conversely, there's not many coaches that are harder to scheme against on short rest than Beilein.

Michigan can throw so many different defensive looks, and Beilein's always careful about not showing too much throughout the course of one 40-minute setting.

If the Wolverines get hot entering March, look out.

Sky High: No. 3 Ohio State (21-3, 9-2)

The Buckeyes are in control of their own destiny at this point, and they have the inside track to a third consecutive Big Ten championship.

There's tough tests to be had (two games vs. Michigan State, one at Michigan), but no one boasts the same three-headed monster as the Buckeyes do with Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas and William Buford.

Even when they're completely off, they're incredibly tough to beat.

Rock bottom: Nebraska (11-12, 3-9)

Penn State is in last place, but the general consensus is that PSU fans really like Patrick Chambers, and have belief he'll be able to get things turned around.

Nebraska, on the other hand, is a mess.

During the Cornhuskers' blowout home loss to Michigan on Wednesday, Nebraska fans booed relentlessly down on embattled coach Doc Sadler.

On the court, the team appeared on the verge of just quitting.

Sadler insisted afterward that the team was playing as hard as it could, which actually might make things worse when you consider their performance.

He's got some time to turn it around, but if he doesn't, it could be an interesting off-season in Lincoln.

Standout Stats


Big Ten player that averages a double-double this season, Michigan State's Draymond Green (15.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg)


Consecutive wins following a loss by Michigan this season. The Wolverines, according to the Big Ten Network, lead the country with a 7-0 mark after defeats.


Big Ten teams with an RPI of 64 or better, according to CollegeRPI.


Years since Nebraska lost more than seven games at home. The Cornhuskers are 8-7 in Lincoln this season.


"It's very disappointing, frustrating, disappointing, whatever you want to call it. But it's life. ... Come out to watch us practice if you want to ask me questions about frustration or quit. Come watch us practice, see how many times they're on the floor and see how much enthusiasm they've got. They're giving me everything they've got, and I'm proud of them."

-- Doc Sadler, Nebraska coach

Nick Baumgardner covers Michigan basketball for He can be reached at 734-623-2514, by email at and followed on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.

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Sun, Feb 12, 2012 : 2:09 p.m.

Can some one tell me when Nebraska has ever been good in basketball? where do their fans get off booing anyone? shut up and sit down. I hope he resigns and gets a job at a place where they appreciate how good a coach he is.


Fri, Feb 10, 2012 : 1:58 p.m.

3. I love Jordan Taylor's game, but how can anyone pick against Sullinger? I like Dramon, but he has too many "strange" nights (5 against Illinois in a loss, 7 against Michigan in a loss and shut down by Zach mainly in one on one defense that night). Dramon could prove his doubters wrong with a couple of MVP type efforts against the Buckeyes in the next two weeks. 4. Ditto Nick's comments on Doc Sadler. I would also add that it is strange how the Iowa Hawkeyes play Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Some nights they are tough (see the results from 1/14/12) and some nights they lay down and die (like last night at Evanston). McCaffery has improved their win/loss total every year BUT... I thought Melsahn Besabe was better than he has played this year. Basabe, Cartwright, Marble and McCabe are just not consistent. Gatens puts up solid efforts every night inspite of the fact that all of the B1G TEN coaches game plan for Gatens. Fran coaches with fire, passion and anger but it time to have the players show some of that energy on their own and not look to the coach to provide "passion" for them.


Fri, Feb 10, 2012 : 1:56 p.m.

1. Ohio State - they might not lose another B1G TEN game, I have to agree. Thad Matta has never played many guys, last year it was not uncommon for Aaron Kraft to come in for Dallas Lauderdale and at the first time out and Motta would only play six guys total. Going back to Matta's days at Butler and Xavier, he didn't go very deep inthe bench. This year looks different. Motta is going much further down the depth chart. Ravenell, Smith and Thompson got some quality minutes at Wisconsin last week, where the Buckeyes finally won for the first time this century(?) Then the other night against Purdue, with Kraft and Sullinger on the bench in foul trouble, OSU went to Ravenell, Smith and Thompson again, and the quality experience against Wisconsin paid off huge for Motta in that Purdue game, as Buford went off with some help from his friends from that 3:00 minute to 2:00 minute mark. This might sound funny but their lack of a shot blocker and a weak side presence could be their achilles heel down the stretch for OSU as the try to get to the Final Four. 2. I saw a stat that Oregon hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 1990, BUT Northwestern has never made it! It might come down to Purdue, Minnesota or Northwestern for the 8th spot, I am not so sure the B1G TEN gets 9 schools into the big dance. Northwestern plays at Purdue on Sunday. Now this is a MUST win for both schools. I also am looking at the Minnesota at Northwestern game next Saturday as a huge game for the Wildcats. I am not sure Mionnesota makes it with a record under .500 in the B1G TEN, so that game is huge for both squads.

Dwight Howard

Fri, Feb 10, 2012 : 12:33 p.m.

My buckeye friends tell me they would be OK with another road loss as it would help the team mature come tournament time. They probably have the best talent of anyone but young. Can't help agree about Green being more valuable to his team than any other player in Big Ten but I believe the same can be said about Trey. Take him out of the line up and our record would be diffrent. Sullinger is the best overall in league. No way Northwestern squeaks in, just don't believe it. lastly Michigan can be the surprise team, as balance is can carry them. How about a last second shot in tourney final to upset those ohio boys?


Fri, Feb 10, 2012 : 2:14 a.m.

I like these articles from the A2dotcom from Nick Baumgardner that look at the Big Ten through a wide lense. Too much of the so-called "sports" coverage in this paper is just basically UM boosterism and relies too much on sensationalist baiting of either MSU or Ohio (not that I have as much as problem with rips on the B-eyes, but still...), esp. the football articles, but all season long, Nick has been doing a good job giving those of us who root for BOTH the State of Michigan's Big Ten schools in basketball...something worth reading about rather than just getting inflamed about. Thanks Nick, keep up this sort of coverage of the Big Ten!


Fri, Feb 10, 2012 : 1:16 p.m.

I have to agree with Goofus, great stuff Nick. Less than four weeks to the B1G TEN tournament. Can wait to get back to Indy.