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Friday, July 19, 2019

The Big Ten As I See It:  Weekend Upsets Show There Are No Truly Bad Teams in the League This Year

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Photo Caption: Finishing with 19 points, Indiana guard Jori Davis led four Hoosiers in double figures on Sunday in a stunning, 67-62, upset of nationally ranked Ohio State. It was the first in a day of Big Ten upsets that saw five of the conference’s top six teams unseated by the league’s bottom five.

Photo Credit: Courtesy UI Athletics

By Sharon Crowson

If obscure records were kept, the Big Ten likely set one on Sunday.  The bottom five teams in the standings all played teams currently in the top six.  All five second division teams upset their first division counterparts.

The league coaches have said all season that there is great parity in the conference this year.  That can be a code for overall mediocrity but, in this case, it doesn’t appear to be so.  Ohio State may be the only team in the league capable of competing with top teams nationally, but there are no truly bad teams in the Big Ten this season.

Big Ten No. 1 Ohio State 62 - Big Ten No. 7 Indiana 67

The day began with the biggest upset.  Indiana (11-10, 4-6 entering the game) hosted Ohio State (21-2, 9-1), then ranked No. 7 in the country by Full Court Press and No. 4 and No. 6 by the Associated Press and the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll, respectively.  The Hoosiers used a swarming, aggressive defense to hold the Buckeyes without a field goal for the last 9:21 of the game en route to a 67-62 upset win.  Ohio State’s post players Jantel Lavender and Andrea Walker combined for 35 points and 22 rebounds, but Indiana held Buckeye starters Tayler Hill and Sarah Schulze scoreless and allowed the Buckeye bench outside of Walker just two points collectively.  While the Ohio State posts put up good numbers, the Hoosiers were not intimidated by them.  Even without starting center Sasha Chaplin, who is out with a stress fracture, Indiana matched OSU’s 32 points in the paint and was only out-rebounded by two by the much bigger Buckeyes.

Most importantly, the Hoosiers maintained their poise down the stretch as they picked up their most impressive win in Coach Felisha Legette-Jack’s four seasons at the school.  A Lavender free throw gave Ohio State its last lead at 60-59 with 4:14 to play.  Down the stretch Indiana hit three of its last six shots and both of its free throws.  On the other end, Ohio State missed its last six attempts.

Other than setting the stage for the day of upsets, Indiana’s victory may have had one huge consequence.  When Ohio State lost at Purdue, it was surprising, but no Purdue victory is ever really shocking.  Indiana, on the other hand, is not a women’s basketball program that has earned much respect of late and their upset win takes a lot of the luster off the Buckeyes, who fell to No. 12 in this week’s Full Court rankings (No. 8/9 in the AP and coaches’ polls).  Future league opponents are much more likely to listen when their coaches speak about any team being capable of beating anyone in the Big Ten.

Big Ten No. 2 Penn State 62 - Big Ten No. 6 Michigan 66

With 11:49 to go in the first half of the day’s second game, an upset did not appear to be in the making.  Led by nine points from Tyra Grant, Penn State (15-6, 7-4), currently second in the Big Ten standings,  jumped out to a 21-6 lead over a resurgent Michigan (12-8, 4-6) squad.  Although Michigan began hitting shots, the Lady Lions still held a 34-26 lead at halftime.  Whatever Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said at halftime certainly worked, as his Wolverines started the second half with a 19-6 run to take a 45-40 lead.  Junior Veronica Hicks scored 10 of the Wolves’ 19 points during that stretch and she provided much of the leadership for Michigan down the stretch.

Once Michigan took a five-point lead, they were unable to extend it and the teams essentially matched baskets the rest of the way.  Six-six Michigan center Krista Phillips hit her second three of the game with 13 seconds to play and two free throws by Courtney Boylan with two seconds left were enough for the Wolverines to upset the Lady Lions, 66-62.

Less than three weeks ago, Michigan looked to be on the verge of seeing their season go down the drain.  A 20-point loss to Wisconsin on Jan 10 dropped their Big Ten record to 2-4 and left the Wolverines dispirited.  Their next two games produced two two-point losses and, at 2-6, it appeared that they were destined for another basement finish.  But Michigan has bounced back to defeat Indiana, Illinois and now Penn State and, while their 5-6 conference record is not likely to earn them an NCAA bid, they are in a position to finish strong and perhaps make a run in the WNIT.

Penn State, meanwhile, has lost two games since they achieved their first national ranking (No. 23, Associated Press) since the 2004-05 season. However, they are still alone in second place in the Big Ten and in good shape if they can manage a couple more stops a game in the future.

Big Ten No. 4 Purdue 50 - Big Ten No. 8 Iowa 70

In their last two games Purdue (11-11, 6-5) had defeated first-place Ohio State and second-place Penn State.  On paper, they looked to have a much easier contest at hand when they traveled to injury-decimated Iowa (11-10, 4-6). Iowa began the season with 12 scholarship players and are down to just eight.  Two of the players who are missing the season were projected to start and a third was likely the first player off the bench.  In addition, two of the Hawks’ remaining starters are playing through painful injuries.

But, of course, games aren’t played on paper.  Coach Lisa Bluder’s teams always play hard and she always gets the most from the talent she has.  Iowa came out blazing, jumped to a 19-1 lead and never looked back.

The game highlighted the strengths of Iowa and the weaknesses of Purdue.  Iowa, which plays four freshmen, two sophomores and two juniors, can get points from any of the eight and usually has several players in double figures.  On Sunday, five players hit double digits and two, junior Kachine Alexander and freshman Morgan Johnson had double-doubles.

Purdue coach Sharon Versyp has said that her team is too nice.  It may not be niceness, but the Boilermakers lack leadership on the court.  There is no one who demands the ball and puts the team on her back.  Brittany Rayburn is their top scorer, and is a good shooter, but Versyp constantly has to tell her to shoot more.  On Sunday, when her team was struggling to score, Rayburn took only 11 shots.  As a result, there was no one to lead a Purdue run,  and they never made one. 

After Iowa took an 18-point early lead, they maintained their momentum and never led by less than 12 in the first half.  With 13:45 to play in the second, Purdue cut the lead to eight, 38-30, the only time they got the gap to less than 10 points since the first Iowa run.  But Iowa promptly responded with seven points from their reserves to launch a run that gave the Hawkeyes a 50-33 lead. The last eight minutes of the game were played only to determine the final score: 70-50, Iowa.

Despite the win, Iowa simply doesn’t have the healthy bodies to move up much in the standings.  Still, as their performance last weekend amply demonstrated, the Hawkeyes will not be an easy win for anyone and, if they manage to get and stay healthy, they should be a force in the league for the next few seasons.  Purdue, meanwhile, again showed that they still are not a consistent ball club.

In both of the last two games of the day, the lower ranked teams played on the road.  It didn’t matter.

Big Ten No. 3 Wisconsin 62 - Big Ten No. 10 Northwestern 68

Northwestern (13-9, 4-7) had been struggling, losing seven of its last eight games and again falling to the bottom of the Big Ten standings.  In contrast, despite a shaky offense, Wisconsin (16-5, 6-5) has been one of the positive surprises in the Big Ten.  After being picked to finish tenth in the league, the Badgers opened the day tied for third place and with a decent chance at their first NCAA bid in eight seasons.

Wisconsin started strong, grabbing a 26-12 lead with 5:08 to play in the first half, but Northwestern did an excellent job of utilizing its strengths to expose the Badgers’ weaknesses.  Wisconsin has built its record on its defense.  They use a “pack” defense to fill the lane and take away the paint from opponents.  They do a good job of dominating in close defensively, but the defense loses effectiveness as the opponent moves farther from the basket.

When Northwestern suddenly started netting their jump shots—the Wildcats hit their last four shots of the half, including three threes—they quickly cut Wisconsin’s lead to 32-27 by the half.  Northwestern continued its hot shooting to start the second half.  After a Badger basket stretched the lead to 34-27, the Wildcats drained their first nine shots of the second half, heading off on a 21-4 run to take a 48-38 lead. With just under six minutes left to play, the ‘Cats had stretched their lead to 15 points.

From there, the ‘Cats continued to shoot the ball well and kept Wisconsin at bay, and still led by 14 points, 65-51, with just under two minutes left on the clock. Wisconsin got hot in the final minutes, and Northwestern lost their poise on defense, allowing the Badgers to cut the lead to 65-58 with 47 seconds to play. But three Amy Jaeschke free throws and some very strange clock management decisions by Stone kept the game from ever being in real doubt, and the Wildcats won it, 68-62.

By nailing their jump shots, Northwestern forced Wisconsin out of their preferred defense, then used excellent passing to pick apart whatever defense Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone tried to throw up.  For the game, the Wildcats assisted on 17 of their 21 baskets. Another of the Badgers’ weaknesses is the lack of a go-to scorer.  Alyssa Karel comes closest but she can be inconsistent and, even when Karel has the hot hand, Wisconsin has no consistent second option.  This proved fatal for them in Sunday’s game.

The victory should give Northwestern confidence and make them a dangerous opponent as the clock ticks down on the conference regular season.  Wisconsin goes on the road to Minnesota and Purdue for its next two games in what is now a crucial stretch for them.

Big Ten No. 6 Minnesota 48 - Big Ten No. 11 Illinois 61

In the day’s final game, Illinois (12-9, 4-7), who had been playing the worst basketball in the conference went to Minnesota (11-10, 4-6). Prior to the season, Minnesota was picked to finish third or fourth in the league and Illinois was pegged as the potential surprise team in the conference. Neither team has lived up to expectations. Illinois, which started the year with a celebrated six-player recruiting class, saw its “super six” whittled down to four with the transfer to Baylor of Destiny Williams and the ACL injury suffered by Amber Moore. The Illini have gotten few contributions from anyone other than senior,Jenna Simpson; of the frosh, only Karisma Penn and Adrienne GodBold have had a significant impact on the team. 

Minnesota is simply awful offensively and only decent on defense.  The Gophers had lost three consecutive games, dropping them to sixth place in the conference heading into Sunday’s game. But though Minnesota may be a struggling team, they are still better than roughly half of their Big Ten opponents, and they are usually a decent team at home. Not so much this day.

The Gophers used an early 8-0 run to take a four-point lead, 30-26, at the half. But the second half was simply a nightmare for the home team.  Under the best of circumstances, Minnesota is not a great offensive team, but they were truly awful in the second half of this game.  To make matters worse, the Gophers, who are usually a decent team defensively, also saw their defense fall apart in the second half. Bottom line: The Gophers were in big trouble.  Illinois opened the half with a 17-0 run to pull ahead, 43-30, and Minnesota was never in the game after that.

Minnesota has no consistently good shooters on its team and it cost them in this contest.  The Gophers hit only 24 percent of their shots in the second half and 29.8 percent for the game.  Illinois, on the other hand, played better than expected, shooting shot 59 percent in the second half to coast to a comfortable, 61-49, victory.
The only postseason tournament either of these two will likely see is the WNIT and both will suffer significant graduation losses.  If either of them goes into the tank or simply fails to compete for the remainder of the season, it could have long-term effects on the program.

After all the upsets, the league standings changed little.  Minnesota took the worst hit, dropping to ninth place in the conference race. The only upper division team that did well was Michigan State, who had the bye.  At 5-5, the Spartans are currently in fifth place in the league’s standings, but are just one-half a game back from Wisconsin and Purdue, tied for third place. All three have five losses.

Fairly or unfairly, Sunday’s upsets will likely hurt the national image of the Big Ten.  But in fact, these upsets reflect the parity in this league and suggest that the last four weeks of the regular season, and the Big Ten tournament to follow, could indeed be exciting this year.

Originally published Wed, February 03, 2010

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
Rank remains unchanged since last week
Ranking has risen since last week.
Ranking has dropped since last week.
Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.