Two weeks ago, Michigan State and Penn State hooked up on the gridiron to give the conference one of its better football games of the season. Last night, the same schools combined forces on the hardwood to salvage a smidgen of league pride in the event that needs to be re-named "The Annual Big Ten Beatdown."
The ACC won three of five games last night, to finish this year's event at 8-3 and win it for the ninth straight year of its existence. But in East Lansing and Happy Valley, there were plenty of reasons to smile.
Michigan State doesn't look like the team that lost an exhibition game to Grand Valley State. The Spartans took an N.C. State club that many expect to be in the top four of the ACC and whipped them from pillar to post. Goran Sutton had 16 points and 12 boards inside to key an attack that saw Drew Neitzel and Raymar Morgan also hit double digits.
MSU already has a tough win over Missouri and a competitive loss to top-ranked UCLA behind them. Destroying the Wolfpack like they did indicates they are quickly rounding into the club that Big Ten observers expected--one that would win the conference championship. Shannon Shelton at The Detroit Free Press declares that Tom Izzo found the chemistry he was looking for last night.
In the meantime, Penn State surprised Virginia Tech. Mike Walker came off the bench and knocked in 17 points. Tech contended for the ACC title to the last week of the regular season last year, although there's not a lot in the cupboard this time around. But the folks in central Pennsylvania aren't throwing anything back.
Elsewhere, Illinois fell to Maryland 69-61. It was a competitive, but sloppy game. Brian Randle and Shawn Pruitt are going to give Bruce Weber a solid inside presence all year long, but they are going to have find someone to hit shots consistently. The head coach candidly told Herb Gould of The Chicago Sun Times he was disappointed with what he got last night.
Ohio State gave North Carolina a run for its money in the first half, but a ice cold stretch after the break enabled the Tar Heels to pull away, 66-55. Thad Matta is rebuilding his team after the early departures of Greg Oden and Mike Conley. It's going to be tough for him to win a third straight conference title. Then again, that's what I thought about his football counterpart this fall. The replenishing process gets another tough test on Saturday at Butler. Bob Hunter of The Columbus Dispatch says last night's game isn't one that lends itself to any real conclusions.
Michigan fell at home to Boston College, rounding out the latest tough year for the Big Ten against its counterpart from the East.