With five weeks down in the Big Ten men’s basketball race and five more to go, it’s time for our midyear review.
Top player: Michigan point guard Trey Burke.
Thanks, Trey, for saying no to the NBA last spring. The college game needs all the good players to watch it can get. And Burke, the league’s No. 2 scorer and top assist man, is worth every penny of a ticket. Opposing coaches are scared to death of him winning a game by himself at any time.
Most improved player: Indiana’s Victor Oladipo.
As a sophomore, the 6-foot-5 guard averaged 10.8 points and shot 47.1 percent overall and 20.8 percent on 3-pointers. This season, playing the same 27 minutes a game, he has averaged 14 points and shot 65.5 percent overall and 52.9 percent on 3s.
Plus, Oladipo is a strong candidate for Big Ten defensive player of the year, and he earned this compliment Monday from Michigan State coach Tom Izzo: “I think he’s got the best motor in college basketball.”
Top coach: Michigan’s John Beilein.
The workload intensifies when three of your top six players are true freshmen. But Beilein has been masterful at getting them acclimated and managing egos. How steady are the Wolverines? They haven’t lost back-to-back games in the past two regular seasons.
Top rookie: Indiana point guard Yogi Ferrell.
The Big Ten freshman class is loaded, so it’s difficult to go wrong here. Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III and Michigan State’s Gary Harris get a lot of well-deserved ink. Still, Ferrell has jumped in and led IU to No. 1 in this week’s polls, doing the things a point guard is supposed to — he’s No. 3 in the league in assists, No. 5 in free-throw shooting and No. 7 in assist-to-turnover ratio.
Best game: No. 3 Indiana 81, No. 1 Michigan 73. As if there was any question?
“Sometimes when there is so much attention and hoopla surrounding a game, it can’t live up to the hype,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “This one did.”
Unintended consequence of league strength: The bottom half of the league is beating itself up enough while not pulling off enough first-division upsets that a huge divide between a top six and a lower six has been created.
With an 8-10 league mark likely needed to get an NCAA bid, this is starting to look a lot more like a six-bid league instead of the seven or eight that many speculated about earlier this season.
Most interesting with the media: Nebraska coach Tim Miles.
He actually seems to enjoy his time talking to the press, and the feeling is mutual. I’ve heard a few complaints that Miles’ bluntness comes off as disparaging. I don’t take it that way, and I don’t think his players do, either. It’s refreshing to hear an honest explanation of what happened, and to hold scholarship athletes at this level accountable.
Freakiest stat: Ohio State played a game and a half last week without the opponent shooting a free throw (whole game vs. Wisconsin, first half vs. Nebraska). In that span, the Buckeyes were 19 of 22.
Maybe a freakier stat: In its past two games, Illinois watched Michigan State and Wisconsin shoot 32 and 31 free throws — in the second half.
Referee who elicits the loudest groan in press rooms from writers watching other Big Ten games on TV: Ted Valentine. Honorable mention: Ed Hightower.
Biggest headache for a marketing person: Illinois has sold out its past four home games, and lost all four.
Worst travel story: Nebraska’s sad saga of trying to get home from Minnesota.
Never trust a pilot who says, “I think we can get there.” But the Huskers took off anyway from Minneapolis after an 8 p.m. Tuesday game, heading for snowy Lincoln. Once in Nebraska, the flight crew learned it was too icy to land in Lincoln or Omaha.
So the plane flew back to Minneapolis.
At 3 a.m., the Huskers had to find a hotel to stay in — for about three hours. They also had to find transportation since the charter bus company was closed for the night. So the players went three or four to a cab with a staff member. And they decided not to get their bags because it would have forced another pass through security upon departure.
At about 7:30 a.m., the not-so-sweet-smelling travel party trudged back to the airport by cab, this time with one vehicle getting detoured, forcing a delay. Finally, the team got home at 10 a.m.
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