On Saturdays, we’ll gauge John Groce progress toward getting Illinois back in the NCAA tournament:
Losing your cool can be effective. It worked wonders in “Bull Durham” when the manager listened to Crash Davis’ advice to “scare ‘em.” But that was fiction. And that was when we thought of Kevin Costner as one of our fine American actors. Things change. Kids are different. Scaring them might not work, especially for a young team that has clearly lost confidence. Three losses in a row leave Groce’s team in jeopardy of not making the big dance. But there are plenty of opportunities to turn it around, starting with tonight’s home game against Michigan State.
This week’s Topic: With Academy Award nominations out this week, here’s the Oscar-quality films each team would be, courtesy copy editor David Burleson:
TEAM W-L W-L MOVIE — COMMENT
Michigan State 5-0 16-1 “Braveheart” — PG Gary Harris (right) always ready for a fight
Michigan 4-0 12-4 “Almost Famous” — No titles without big man Mitch McGary
Wisconsin 3-1 16-1 “Good Will Hunting” — Badgers have high basketball IQs
Iowa 3-1 14-3 “Rocky” — Hawkeyes feature big offensive punch
Minnesota 3-2 14-4 “The Godfather” — Richard Pitino groomed in family business
Indiana 2-2 12-5 “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” — Driving Tom Crean craz(ier)
Purdue 2-2 12-5 “Kramer vs. Kramer” — Purdue/Matt Painter split imminent
Ohio State 2-3 15-3 “The Hurt Locker” — Buckeyes can defuse an offense
Illinois 2-3 13-5 “Gone with the Wind” — Illini blew right out of Top 25
Northwestern 1-4 9-10 “Titanic” — Wildcats will finish at bottom
Nebraska 0-4 8-8 “Silence of the Lambs” — Cornhuskers are getting devoured
Penn State 0-5 9-9 “Crash” — Patrick Chambers’ squad falling to pieces
Want to know which of this week’s games are worth your time? Here’s some help from Bob Asmussen, who got off to a bad start by going 5-5 last week. He promises to do better:
Northwestern at Indiana
1:30 p.m., BTN
If I am Chris Collins, I’m making dad Doug show up for every game. Then, I’m telling the officials, “My dad lost that controversial Olympic final in 1972. Don’t mess with us.” Could work wonders.
Asmussen’s pick: Indiana, 70-55.
Michigan at No. 3 Wisconsin
5 p.m., ESPN
Don’t make Bo Ryan angry. You wouldn’t like him when he gets angry. John Beilein, by comparison, is a pussycat. Meow.
Asmussen’s pick: Wisconsin 81-80.
Penn State at Purdue
6 p.m., ESPNU
Now that he has our attention, we will keep a close eye on Boilermaker big man A.J. Hammons as a possible all-league choice. The blocked shots (3.6 per game) are impressive.
Asmussen’s pick: Purdue, 60-59.
No. 4 Michigan State at Illinois
7 p.m., BTN
Here’s the good news for fans attending the game: former Illini great Eddie Johnson will be there. Hard to believe it has been 35 years since E.J. beat Magic Johnson. Eddie is one of the classiest guys you’ll ever meet.
Asmussen’s pick: Michigan State 79-77.
Minnesota at No. 14 Iowa
It isn’t Floyd of Rosedale, but it is just as important to the winner. Especially if it is the Hawkeyes, who are trying to chase down Michigan State and Michigan for first place in the conference.
Asmussen’s pick: Iowa, 84-74.
No. 11 Ohio State at Nebraska
6 p.m., BTN
You realize the Big Ten knew it wasn’t getting a basketball power when the Huskers signed up. The school has never won an NCAA tournament men’s game. Not going to happen this decade.
Asmussen’s pick: Ohio State 65-64.
Indiana at No. 4 Michigan State
6 p.m., ESPN
Ahhh, the teacher vs. the student. Tom Crean learned well from mentor Tom Izzo. Now the Spartans coach wants to beat his brains in ... on the court.
Asmussen’s pick: Michigan State, 62-57.
Purdue at Northwestern
8 p.m., BTN
Another trick Collins might want to try: Have his guys slap the floor when they are about to play defense. That really intimidates teams if you have Duke’s talent. Otherwise, it just causes back pain.
Asmussen’s pick: Purdue, 49-48.
No. 14 Iowa at Michigan
6 p.m., BTN
Going into the weekend, the Hawkeyes and Wolverines had four of the top 15 scorers in the Big Ten, led by Michigan’s Nik Stauskas.
Asmussen’s pick: Michigan, 77-76.
No. 3 Wisconsin at Minnesota
8 p.m., BTN
Gophers coach Richard Pitino has 31 wins in his first two seasons in charge. Dad Rick won 38 games his first two full seasons in charge at Boston University. Chip doesn’t fall far from the block.
Asmussen’s pick: Minnesota, 71-68.
Illinois at No. 11 Ohio State
6 p.m., ESPN
Another example of the teacher vs. the student. This time, it is Illini coach John Groce facing mentor Thad Matta. Groce needs the win more, but Matta won’t take it easy on him.
Asmussen’s pick: Ohio State, 70-62.
Nebraska at Penn State
7 p.m., ESPNU
Penn State’s D.J. Newbill and Tim Frazier are one of only two teammates ranked among the top 10 Big Ten scorers. They would trade the points for more wins.
Asmussen’s pick: Penn State, 67-64.
Joseph Bertrand 4
Rayvonte Rice 1
Tracy Abrams 3
Kendrick Nunn —
Malcolm Hill —
Asmussen’s take: Gutty effort by Rice to get back on the court after suffering an injury against Northwestern. But it was another reminder that the Illini rely too much on the veterans and need to get more playing time for the freshmen.
Big Ten MVP
Gary Harris, Michigan St. 2
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana 3
Nik Stauskas, Michigan 5
A.J. Hammons, Purdue —
Rayvonte Rice, Illinois 1
Asmussen’s take: Michigan State is missing one of the best players in the league. When Adreian Payne returns from his foot injury, the Spartans are going to be that much better. The team is placing a heavy burden on Harris and Keith Appling, but they are coming through.
Freshman of the Year
Noah Vonleh, Indiana 1
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin 4
Kendall Stephens, Purdue 5
Sanjay Lumpkin, N’western 2
Troy Williams, Indiana —
Asmussen’s take: Tom Crean is doing something right with his newcomers. Vonleh and Williams are ranked among the Big Ten leaders in rebounding. And Vonleh continues to hit a high percentage of his shots from the field.
Coach of the Year
Tom Izzo, Michigan State 2
Bo Ryan, Wisconsin 1
Fran McCaffery, Iowa —
John Beilein, Michigan —
Richard Pitino, Minnesota 4
Asmussen’s take: A hearty welcome to McCaffery and Beilein, who replace Thad Matta and John Groce in this week’s rankings. In the Big Ten, it is all about what have you done for me lately. Somebody should have warned the coaches about that before they took their jobs. Groce remains in a honeymoon phase at Illinois, but lose a couple more to Northwestern and his call-in show will have to be heavily monitored for bad language (from the fans, not the coach).
Teams in the NCAA field, or not:
Michigan State Lock
Ohio State Lock
Northwestern Next year
Nebraska Next year
Penn State Next year
Asmussen’s take: It was a good week for the Big Ten. Well, most of the Big Ten. Illinois fell from a solid choice to the dreaded bubble. But there are enough quality opponents left for Illinois to get back in the field of 68. It won’t be easy. Michigan State and Wisconsin are competing for more than just spots in the tournament. Both have a shot at No. 1 seeds and the relatively easier roads that come with it. Not to pick on the Badgers, but they don’t deserve a ton of faith after early-tournament flameouts. This team looks immune to a bad loss. We will see.