Bob Asmussen's Big Ten report: Anything can happen

THE STANDINGS

This week’s topic: Nearing the midway point of the Big Ten schedule, it’s been a Looney Tunes season so far. This week, copy editor David Burleson, who wasted a lot of time in front of the TV on Saturday mornings as a child, tells us what the Big Ten teams would be if they were famous cartoon characters:

              CONF.    ALL
TEAM    W-L    W-L    CARTOON CHARACTER — COMMENT
Michigan    8-0    16-4    The Road Runner — Off and running in the Big Ten

Michigan State    8-1    19-2    Bugs Bunny — Izzo keeps finding ways to outsmart opponents

Iowa    5-3    16-5    Foghorn Leghorn — Mighty birds will be loud in March

Wisconsin    4-4    17-4    Pepe Le Pew — Stinkin’ it up lately

Minnesota    4-4    15-6    Sam Sheepdog — Protect The Barn and they’ll likely be dancing

Northwestern    4-5    11-11    Underdog — Collins getting super play from squad

Ohio State    3-5    16-5    Casper the Friendly Ghost — Nobody is afraid of them now

Indiana    3-5    13-8    Scooby-Doo — Ri ru rans rayin’ ruh roh

Purdue    3-5    13-8    Yogi Bear — Once-proud program hibernating

Nebraska    3-5    11-9    Tigger — Bounce in their step

Illinois    2-6    13-8    Elmer Fudd — Can’t shoot

Penn State    2-6    11-10    Popeye — Knocked out Buckeyes in OT

THE SCHEDULE

Want to know which of this week’s games are worth your time? Here’s help from Bob Asmussen, who understands Loren Tate’s reluctance to make predictions after going 3-7 last week. He might call in Tate as a pinch hitter next week:

SATURDAY

Ohio State at Wisconsin, 11 a.m., ESPN
Team Schizo, meet Team Psycho. They were unbeaten well into the season and thinking about contending for the Final Four. Today, they are a combined 7-9 in the Big Ten and trying to hold off Penn State and Illinois for last place in the league. Just goes to show you that you can never get too cocky in the Big Ten. Asmussen’s pick: Wisconsin, 12-11

Northwestern at Minnesota, 1 p.m., BTN
The Wildcats are the flip side to the Buckeyes and Badgers. Left for dead earlier in the season, Chris Collins has the Wildcats purring. While not a threat to end their NCAA tournament-less streak, the Wildcats are just under .500 in the Big Ten and won’t be an easy out in the postseason. Asmussen’s pick: Minnesota, 75-73

Michigan State vs. Georgetown, 2 p.m., Fox Sports 1
The Spartans take a break from Big Ten play to meet the Hoyas in New York. Michigan State has lost one nonconference game this season (against North Carolina). This shouldn’t be a second blip. The Hoyas are struggling at 11-9. Tom Izzo will get his guys fired up about playing in the Big Apple. Asmussen’s pick: Michigan State, 80-60

Iowa at Illinois, 6:30 p.m., BTN
The first of two games this season between the teams, with Illinois returning in early March to Iowa City. Iowa star Roy Devyn Marble is one of five Big Ten players to score at least 30 in a game this season. The Illini hope he doesn’t do it again. Asmussen’s pick: Iowa, 66-65

SUNDAY
Purdue at Penn State, 10:30 a.m., BTN
The Nittany Lions are looking to continue the momentum from an overtime win against Ohio State. That makes it two in a row. Not bad for a team that opened the Big Ten at 0-6. Asmussen’s pick: Penn State, 55-51

Michigan at Indiana, noon, WCIA (CBS)
There’s desperate, and then there are the Hoosiers. Tom Crean’s team had Thursday’s game at Nebraska well in control. Until it didn’t. Missed free throws and ragged defense allowed Nebraska to rally and put Indiana’s NCAA hopes on life support. This is a must win. Asmussen’s pick: Indiana, 73-72

TUESDAY
Ohio State at Iowa, 6 p.m., ESPN
Good thing the Hawkeyes have the Illinois game before hosting the Buckeyes. Iowa is coming off a disappointing home loss to Michigan State. But Iowa coach Fran McCaffery does a good job getting his guys to forget about losses. The Hawkeyes haven’t dropped two in a row all season. Asmussen’s pick: Iowa, 89-79

Wisconsin at Illinois, 8 p.m., BTN
Of course, the Illini owe the Badgers. That was a major beatdown earlier in the season, one that led to the current six-game slide. While the Badgers are no longer a threat to the Top 10, there is still plenty of talent on Bo Ryan’s team. And the Badgers have never feared games against the Illini. Asmussen’s pick: Wisconsin, 48-47

WEDNESDAY
Nebraska at Michigan, 5:30 p.m., BTN
The football matchups might have dropped a bit, but the basketball games are getting better. Tim Miles has Nebraska thinking it can win again. That is a first step. If the game was in Lincoln, you might favor Nebraska. But the Wolverines are playing for a Big Ten title and aren’t likely to slip. Asmussen’s pick: Michigan, 76-71

Minnesota at Purdue, 7:30 p.m., BTN
The two-overtime loss to Northwestern on Jan. 18 put the Boilermakers on the wrong path. Three losses in a row turned NCAA tournament dreams into “can we make the NIT?” Too early to know. Asmussen’s pick: Minnesota, 68-60

THURSDAY
Penn State at Michigan State, 8 p.m., ESPN2
As well as the Nittany Lions have recovered from the poor start, it would be better not to have a game at East Lansing on the schedule. Michigan State looks at games against Penn State, especially at home, as sure things. And it is right. Asmussen’s pick: Michigan State, 90-60

THE LISTS

ILLINOIS MVP

PLAYER    PREVIOUS
Rayvonte Rice    5
Joseph Bertrand    1
Nnanna Egwu    3
Tracy Abrams    4
Kendrick Nunn    —

Bob Asmussen’s take: The Illini got half their problem solved at Indiana as Rice bounced back from a scoreless game to lead the team. The next piece of the puzzle is Abrams, who missed a bulk of the game with back spasms. You can’t compete consistently in the Big Ten with one scorer. And right now that is the situation the Illini face. At least Egwu seems to be out of his offensive funk. What John Groce needs more than anything is to have four or five players get hot on the same day. Maybe it happens against Iowa.

BIG TEN MVP

PLAYER    PREVIOUS
Gary Harris, Michigan State    2
Nik Stauskas, Michigan    1
Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa    5
Keith Appling, Michigan State    —
Terran Petteway, Nebraska    —

Asmussen’s take: First time for a Husker on the list this season. Sophomore Petteway, a transfer from Texas Tech, forced his way on by scoring a combined 53 in wins against Minnesota and Indiana. He had a career-best 35 in Nebraska’s shocking win against the Gophers. Best thing about the swingman is that Tim Miles will have him for two more seasons.

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR

ROOKIE    PREVIOUS
Derrick Walton, Michigan    —
Noah Vonleh, Indiana    1
Bryson Scott, Purdue    —
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin    3
Stanford Robinson, Indiana    —

Asmussen’s take: First sign of trouble this season from Indiana big guy Vonleh. He followed a four-point game against Illinois with seven points against Nebraska. The Illinois game ended a streak of four consecutive games in double figures. All first-year players hit a wall. Maybe this is his. Indiana is counting on him more and more each game. Could be the increased demands are getting to him. There is no questioning his talent. And he continues to rebound and play defense. Vonleh’s rough week created an opportunity for Walton, who scored 19 and 14 in a pair of wins.

COACH OF THE YEAR

LEADER    PREVIOUS
John Beilein, Michigan    2
Tom Izzo, Michigan State    1
Fran McCaffery, Iowa    —
Chris Collins, Northwestern    5
Richard Pitino, Minnesota    3

Asmussen’s take: Let’s hear it for the new guys. First-year coaches Pitino and Collins have their teams playing at a high level. And second-year coach Miles appears to have turned the corner at Nebraska. The league is loaded with talented, veteran coaches. But there is room for the younger coaches to break into the Izzo-Beilein-Ryan circle. Remember, Lou Henson was once a young coach before he became a legend. Same goes for Mike Krzyzewski, Bill Self and Rick Pitino.

DANCE CARDS

Teams in the NCAA field, or not
SCHOOL    STATUS
Michigan State    Lock
Michigan    Lock
Iowa    Lock
Wisconsin    Lock
Ohio State     Lock
Minnesota     Lock
Indiana    Bubble
Purdue    NIT
Illinois    NIT
Northwestern    Next year
Nebraska    Next year
Penn State     Next year

Asmussen’s take: The first six aren’t going anywhere. At this point, they are playing to move up the seed lines. Michigan State has a clear path to a No. 1 if it wins the league title and takes the Big Ten tournament. Michigan remains in contention for a No. 1 seed but is more likely looking at a No. 2. Ohio State and Minnesota might want to finish strong if they want to avoid the dreaded 8-9 seeds. Iowa and Wisconsin are close to securing the protected top-four seeds. You want that status so the committee can justify keeping you close to home for the opening week of games. Indiana needs a couple quality wins in the next month or it can start checking dates for the NIT. Trust me, nobody in Bloomington wants to be NIT-picked. Unless that is the only option. Continuing the season is always preferred to staying at home.

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Green Shirt wrote on February 01, 2014 at 8:02 am

I hope you are right about the Illini getting into the NIT.  I have serious doubts that they will have the .500 record required and, if they do, whether the committee would pick a team that experienced a dismal second half to their season.  I guess you are counting on Groce turning it around, something I consider doubtful given their talent deficit relative to the rest of the Big Ten.