Ohio State and Michigan State gave the nation a great show on Saturday night. It was a tale of two halves, with the Spartans staging an amazing rally from twenty points down. They actually got a couple clean looks at three-pointers that could have won it, but both of Drew Neitzel's tries--one at the buzzer--didn't go down. That was about the only thing that didn't go down for Neitzel all night though, as he poured in 29 points to key the comeback.
This loss realistically ended any hopes Michigan State had of getting into the championship picture. The race seems to boil down to two questions now--can Ohio State hold serve on its home floor when Wisconsin comes to town on February 25? The Badgers' home win in the first installment of the series is the only difference in the league race right now. And perhaps more importantly, which of the two contenders will have the first unexpected stumble?
Ohio State has a road trip to Purdue on Wednesday that looms large. The difference in the Boilermakers' home/road performance is easily the biggest in the league, and that was much to Illinois' misfortune. Purdue put a seventeen-point smackdown on the Illini, and with all due respect to Neitzel's show, David Teague might have been the star of the weekend, ringing up 28 points and grabbing nine boards to boot. The loss dropped Illinois to 3-5 in the conference as they hit the halfway point, and the Boilermakers are still in the mix for an NCAA bid. They need a road win and they could use a signature home victory on top of it--and an opportunity for the latter will never be better then on Wednesday night.
Indiana continues to lurk below the surface. An easy win over Michigan kept them at 5-2. This was a game of contrasts, as the Hoosiers lit it up from beyond the arc, while the Wolverines had a huge edge at the foul line. To Kelvin Sampson's great credit, he did not blame the officials for the big gap in the number of free throws each team attempted.
Quite frankly, I have never understood the logic behind fans and coaches who act as though a wide disparity in the number of fouls called each way is somehow prima facie evidence of bad officiating. It's not the job of the referee to make sure everything comes up even. It's his job to call the fouls that take place, and given IU spent more time on the perimeter while the Wolverines went inside, it only makes sense that Michigan drew more fouls. Kudos to Sampson for not whining. His statesmanship was no doubt made easier by his team's 34-24 rebounding edge on the way to the win.
Indiana joins archrival Purdue in playing host to a heavweight on Wednesday. The first-place Badgers, who ran their record to 7-0 in Iowa City on Sunday, will come to Assembly Hall on Wednesday. Bloomington is not an easy place to win, but Wisconsin's proven themselves tough enough all season long. This should be a great one.