Bob Asmussen's Big Ten report

Bob Asmussen's Big Ten report

On Saturdays, we’ll gauge where John Groce is in getting his Illini back in the NCAA tournament:

A week ago, we told you not to think about the postseason for the Illini. We might have jumped the gun a bit. Thanks to Wednesday’s upset win at Minnesota, a winning record seems much more likely now. But to earn an NIT bid, the Illini likely need to split their remaining four league games. One problem for Illinois when it comes to the NIT is that it doesn’t have the building available to host. The State Farm Center is out of commission for the tournament as reconstruction continues. More likely, if Illinois is picked for the NIT, it would be sent to play a nearby midmajor.
 

THE STANDINGS

This week’s Topic: Even though Louisville coach Rick Pitino says high-tech distractions are poisoning the minds of college athletes, copy editor David Burleson goes down that road by telling us what the Big Ten teams would be if they were an app on a smartphone or tablet:

    CONF.    ALL
TEAM    W-L    W-L    APP — COMMENT
Michigan State    11-3    22-5    Emergency First Aid and Treatment Guide — Trainers deserve a raise
Michigan    10-3    18-7    Hill Racing — Tough climb without McGary, but they’re gettin’ ’er done
Iowa    8-4    19-6    Angry Birds — Getting revenge this season
Wisconsin    8-5    21-5    TripAdvisor — Still believe they’ll make travel plans in late March
Ohio State    8-6    21-6    Sniper — Good shot to pick off last four league targets
Nebraska    7-6    15-10    Candy Crush Saga — Sweet story but forget about tourney invite
Minnesota    6-8    17-10    How To Dance — Step 1: Protect home turf
Purdue    5-8    15-11    Michael Jordan Basketball Tips — Can really use some of these
Northwestern    5-9    12-15    Stupid Zombies — Once lively, they now look like the walking dead
Indiana    4-8    14-11    MapQuest Maps, GPS and Traffic — Team looks really lost
Illinois    4-10    15-12    ICE — Illini’s cold shooting reaching emergency levels
Penn State    4-10    13-14    Cut the Rope — Sack Chambers and start anew
 

THE SCHEDULE
Want to know which of this week’s games are worth your time? Here’s help from Bob Asmussen, who bounced back, just a bit, from the most dreadful week of predicting ever. He went 6-4. To be fair, the league is nuts this season. Not sure if anybody could consistently pick the winners. But that is the job, so he will continue to try:

TODAY
Wisconsin at Iowa, 11 a.m., ESPN2

Bo Ryan’s Badgers picked the right time to get hot. After dropping consecutive games to Northwestern and Ohio State, Wisconsin has taken four in a row. The most impressive of the games was a 13-point decision at Michigan, which knocked the Wolverines out of first place in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes will have to be aware of Illinois product Frank Kaminsky, who lit up the Wolverines for 25 points. Asmussen’s pick: Iowa, 98-68

Minnesota at Ohio State, 5 p.m., BTN
After what we saw from the Gophers against Illinois on Wednesday, there isn’t much nice to say. The team took an early double-digit lead, then fell apart against the worst team in the Big Ten. If Minnesota has any hopes of getting into the NCAA tournament, it needs a big win on the road. The Gophers have been a mess away from Williams Arena, losing five of their first seven Big Ten road games. Asmussen’s pick: Ohio State, 60-50

Indiana at Northwestern, 7:15 p.m., BTN
The good news: The sky won’t fall during the game. Northwestern has done some renovations on its building, and the place seems sturdy. The same can’t be said for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Since a mid-January win against Wisconsin, the Hoosiers are 2-6 and looking at the popped side of the NCAA tournament bubble. Time is running out on the Hoosiers, who thought this season would be so much better. Asmussen’s pick: Northwestern, 51-50

SUNDAY
Michigan State at Michigan, 11 a.m., WCIA (CBS)

Want to better understand the Spartans’ home meltdown against Nebraska? Get in line behind Tom Izzo. But a good place to start is the limited play of guard Keith Appling. He went 19 minutes against the Huskers in his first action after a three-game break. Yes, Adreian Payne is important, but Appling keeps the guys pointed in the right direction. With Appling out, Gary Harris tries to do too much, and the whole system gets knocked out of balance. Izzo is smart enough to know that the games that really count come in March. So, don’t be surprised if he sits Appling for a few games in the hopes of getting him healthy. Asmussen’s pick: Michigan, 77-68

Purdue at Nebraska, 3:15 p.m., BTN
If Nebraska doesn’t reach the NCAA tournament, it is going to look back at a January game in West Lafayette and kick itself. Purdue won 70-64, part of an 0-4 start to the Big Ten season for Nebraska. After that game, Nebraska won six of its next eight in the conference. Terran Petteway has become a serious All-Big Ten candidate. And he is getting help from Shavon Shields and Walter Pitchford. Asmussen’s pick: Nebraska, 55-54

TUESDAY
Iowa at Minnesota, 6 p.m., BTN

Though they are thrilled not to get bashed in the head by some random piece of metal, the last thing the Hawkeyes wanted this week was an unexpected break. The team scored convincing wins against Penn State and Michigan. And thanks to a minislide by the Wolverines and Spartans, the Hawkeyes find themselves in third in the Big Ten. Iowa cares about the Big Ten title. It comes with a big trophy and a lot of bragging rights on the recruiting trail. Asmussen’s pick: Iowa, 90-55

Indiana at Wisconsin, 8 p.m., ESPN
There was a time, what feels like decades ago, when any Wisconsin win against the Hoosiers was an upset. But that was before Dick Bennett reminded the folks in Madison what it was like to play winning basketball. And that’s before the school made a wise choice and hired Bo Ryan to run the program. The old arena has long since been replaced by the Kohl Center, which is the envy of the league facilitywise. Asmussen’s pick: Wisconsin, 66-58

WEDNESDAY
Michigan at Purdue, 6 p.m., BTN

Since Indiana ended Michigan’s 10-game winning streak, the Wolverines haven’t been able to find any consistency. Good against Nebraska followed by bad against Iowa. Good against Ohio State followed by bad against Wisconsin. The Wolverines are getting everybody’s best shot. Asmussen’s pick: Michigan, 89-74

Nebraska at Illinois, 8 p.m., BTN
If you notice a twinkle in Tim Miles’ eyes, it could be he just looked at his team’s roster. Barring defections, Nebraska is set up for an even better 2014-15 season. Only one senior, Ray Gallegos, plays important minutes. The top three players are sophomores. Asmussen’s pick: Illinois, 67-65

THURSDAY
Ohio State at Penn State, 6 p.m., ESPN2

The Buckeyes enter the game on a nice run. They have won five of six, with the lone loss coming against Michigan. Aaron Craft is making better decisions and is looking for his own shots. He still gets his teammates involved, but the Buckeyes are at their best when Craft is a little bit selfish. Asmussen’s pick: Ohio State, 77-73

Iowa at Indiana, 8 p.m., ESPN
Just a hunch the Hoosiers would rather the game never be played. They’re struggling that much. Asmussen’s pick: Iowa, 110-60
 

ILLINOIS MVP

PLAYER    PREVIOUS
Nnanna Egwu    4
Kendrick Nunn    2
Rayvonte Rice    1
Malcolm Hill    3
Tracy Abrams    —
Bob Asmussen’s take: How much better will Illinois be next season because of the starting experience Nunn and Hill are getting? It might be worth five or six wins. Like with most freshmen not named Jabari Parker, there will be some inconsistent moments. And “playing the kids” doesn’t guarantee future success. What John Groce wants to see in the final few weeks of the season is for the players to put it together on the same night.  
 
BIG TEN MVP

PLAYER    PREVIOUS
Gary Harris, Michigan State    1
Terran Petteway, Nebraska     —
Nik Stauskas, Michigan    2
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana    3
Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa    4
Asmussen’s take: What once looked like a potential runaway for Harris is getting closer by the day. Harris had a brutal game in the loss to Wisconsin, missing 17 of 20 shots from the field. He appears to have lost his “good shot” filter, cranking up shot after shot. It is as if somebody close to him said, “You need to do more for Michigan State to win.” It seems to have gotten worse since Payne returned to the court. Could be a case of the players having to relearn their strengths and weaknesses. Ferrell’s chances of winning the award might depend more on the team’s success.

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR

ROOKIE    PREVIOUS
Noah Vonleh, Indiana    1
Kendall Stephens, Purdue    5
Kendrick Nunn, Illinois    —
Marc Loving, Ohio State    —
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin    4
Asmussen’s take: It was a big week for Purdue’s Stephens, who scored 19 points and hit 4 of 5 three-pointers against Michigan State. The youngsters are finding their range. Nunn led a win against Minnesota on Wednesday by hitting five three-pointers. That kind of shooting will keep you in the starting lineup.

COACH OF THE YEAR

LEADER    PREVIOUS
Fran McCaffery, Iowa    3
Tom Izzo, Michigan State    2
John Beilein, Michigan    1
Tim Miles, Nebraska    —
Thad Matta, Ohio State    4
Asmussen’s take: The only newcomer to the list is Miles, who followed the upset win against Michigan State with a home victory Thursday against Penn State. If Miles puts Nebraska in the NCAA tournament, the folks in Nebraska might name a brand of corn in his honor. Good job by Izzo, who helped his team rebound from the loss to Nebraska with a lopsided win at Purdue. Never easy to get a win in West Lafayette. Demand a winner in the coaching race and the best bet is to go with Izzo.

DANCE CARDS

Teams in the NCAA field, or not
SCHOOL    STATUS
Michigan State    Lock
Michigan     Lock
Iowa    Lock
Wisconsin    Lock
Ohio State     Lock
Minnesota     Bubble
Nebraska    Bubble
Indiana    NIT
Purdue    NIT
Illinois    NIT
Northwestern    Next year
Penn State     Next year
Asmussen’s take: ESPN’s Joe Lunardi still has the Gophers in his field, putting Minnesota on his list of the last four byes. Just a hunch that Richard Pitino’s team moves out after Wednesday’s home loss to Illinois. Nebraska hasn’t been listed often on any tournament lists. The advantage for the Huskers is a schedule that softens at the end after a difficult opening stretch. The win against Michigan State has Nebraska thinking it can move into the field with a strong finish. As far as NCAA seedings are concerned, losses last week hurt Michigan State and Michigan. But Iowa, Ohio State and Wisconsin remain in contention for one of the coveted top 16 seeds.

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Illini '73 wrote on February 22, 2014 at 8:02 am

The picture of Coach Groce clapping on the home page makes me want to comment.  You usually see this from poor coaches (Crean does it all the time) when the team has committed a bone-headed turnover or has thrown up an air-ball on a poor shot, etc, etc.  The camera pans the sidelines to see the coaches reaction, and the coach is over there clapping like a seal.  It gives the impression that is all the coach has.  I don't see this from Pitino, Calipari, K, etc.  I don't know if it is just a pet peeve of mine, or if others notice the same thing.