Rather than the standard efficiency margin table, we went visual this week with a scatter plot. The best offensive teams lie to the right and the best defensive teams fall in the upper half. The ideal quadrant for the best teams is the upper-right.
Michigan and Indiana continue to score the ball better than anyone in the league and it’s not close. But Michigan State has carved out a niche, tied at the top of the standings, due to steady but unspectacular play on both ends of the floor. Indiana continues to draw closer to Michigan in the efficiency margin table as the Wolverines have steadily regressed toward the pack. Over halfway through the Big Ten season, the Spartans are clearly a conference title contender even if their offense isn’t as high octane as the Wolverines. In many ways they are similar to last year’s Michigan team; grinding out close wins but rarely blowing out opponents.
Wisconsin and Ohio State remain vaguely in the title hunt with the two best defenses in the league but their lackluster offense has proven costly in recent games. Minnesota’s incredible fall from grace can be attributed to just the opposite. The Gophers can score the ball as well as anyone other than Indiana and Michigan but haven’t taken a liking to the defensive side of the floor. – Dylan Burkhardt
Game of the Week: Wisconsin 65, Michigan 63 (OT)
While Wisconsin has a reputation for “playing ugly,” this game was fun to watch despite the numerous mistakes by Michigan down the stretch. While Michigan at times had trouble finishing around the basket, the Wolverines kept the game stunningly clean, turning the ball over on just 10 percent of their possessions. The game was played at a relatively slow pace — 68 possessions including overtime — but since neither Michigan nor Wisconsin committed many fouls, the action breezed by. However, what made the game great was the final minute or so of regulation, which was chock-full of talented players making clutch plays. Trey Burke started things off with a step-back jumpshot in the middle of the lane to put Michigan up three; Wisconsin countered with a ferocious drive down the middle and dunk by Jared Berggren for an and-1 to tie the game. On Michigan’s ensuing possession, Tim Hardaway Jr. got the call and hit what many assumed to the game-winner out of the timeout: a guarded but squared-up 3-pointer from NBA range at the top of the key. Then, you could hear the collective shattering of Michigan fans’ hearts as Ben Brust received the ball with 2.4 seconds left at midcourt and made an impossible heave to tie the game and send it into overtime. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more exciting minute of hoops than the one the Badgers and Wolverines played at the end of regulation in this contest.
Disappointment of the Week: Minnesota goes 0-2 against Michigan State and Illinois
After beating Michigan State at home to kick off the Big Ten season, Minnesota has struggled mightily in finding another signature conference win to show they weren’t mere pretenders for the Big Ten crown. After four straight losses, including a shock defeat at the hands of Northwestern, the idea of the Gophers as Big Ten contenders essentially evaporated. Minnesota appeared to right the ship with wins over Nebraska and Iowa but this was another fall down to earth for Tubby Smith’s team. With a chance at a signature road win against one of the conference’s elite in Michigan State, Minnesota looked overmatched against the Spartans in East Lansing and lost, 61-50. They followed up that game with a deflating loss at home against Illinois, who came into the contest with a 3-7 record in conference play. While Minnesota made a game of it against the Illini, those are the games you have to win at home in order to be taken seriously in this conference. The Gophers appear to heading quickly for also-ran status, and this week’s shortcomings went a long way toward getting them there.
Stat Line of the Week: Victor Oladipo 26 points, 8-of-10 shooting, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals
Few players in the country have played better than Victor Oladipo this season, especially in conference play. In Big Ten games, the junior has been crazy effective: Oladipo is making 60 percent of his twos and has made 11 of his 17 3-point attempts for a 65 percent clip. The star Hoosier continued his terrific play on Sunday, scoring a career-high 26 points — shooting a staggering 8-of-10 from the field — on his way to completely dismantling Ohio State in Columbus. Oladipo is arguably the player who makes Indiana go, at both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. He is always aggressive, and his manic style has led to Indiana possessing one of the most dangerous transition attacks in the country. As the Big Ten season winds down, the race for Big Ten Player of the Year heats up, with Oladipo and Trey Burke as prime contenders.
Unsung Hero of the Week: Tyler Griffey 14 points, 8 rebounds & back-door cut to win; 16 points against Minnesota
On a team loaded with talented long-range bombers who tend to grab most of the headlines, Tyler Griffey is the definition of unsung. After spelling departed Illinois big man and 2012 lottery pick Meyers Leonard last season, Griffey has found himself with more playing time but still not many opportunities in Illinois’ more perimeter-oriented offense. But on Thursday, Griffey found himself the star of the show when Illinois knocked off then-No. 1 Indiana at home. It was Griffey who, on an out-of-bounds play with just .9 seconds on the clock, cut back door against Cody Zeller and scored the easy layup to secure a last-second victory for the Illini. The win was a jump-start to a season that was fading fast for Illinois, but Griffey didn’t stop there. Averaging just seven points and three rebounds per game for the season, Griffey racked up 14 and 8 against Indiana then led his team in scoring with 16 in a close win against Minnesota on Sunday.
Surprise of the Week: Illinois goes 2-0 with wins over Indiana and at Minnesota
John Groce had a great week in Champaign. The 2-0 week for the Illini, with wins over Indiana and at Minnesota, likely rescued a floundering season for Illinois. The Illini had a number of great non-conference wins but were 2-7 in Big Ten play, losers of six of seven, entering last week’s action. The stretch run is far from easy but it appears that Illinois is a likely NCAA tournament team once again. The Illini still have home games against Purdue, Penn STate and Nebraska with more difficult road trips to Northwestern, Michigan, Iowa and Ohio State. Is a 7-11 conference good enough to punch a bid? Maybe, maybe not but with quality wins over Butler, Gonzaga, Indiana, Ohio State and at Minnesota it will be hard to keep John Groce’s team out of the tournament.
Upcoming Game of the Week: Michigan at Michigan State (Tues. 9pm)
Even with Michigan falling against Wisconsin on Saturday, this game will still get main billing in Big Ten circles this coming week. The Spartans are a game up on the Wolverines in the Big Ten standings at 9-2, and with a chance to even out that deficit Michigan will come into East Lansing ready to play. Not only will this game have serious implications for the Big Ten title, but these teams don’t like each other one bit and we’ve been treated to some gems in the past. From DeShawn Sims missing a last-second shot at Crisler Arena by about half an inch in 2010 to Zack Novak’s aneurysm of leadership a year later at the Breslin Center, these two teams have been locked in some epic battles in recent years. With Michigan having taken three of the last four contests, Michigan State will be eager to re-establish what the Spartans believe to be the natural order of things come Tuesday in East Lansing. – Joe Stapleton