One of Kelvin Sampson's trademarks has been tough defense. And since his ignoble departure from Bloomington, that quality has been noticeably lacking. Indiana survived a poor defensive outing in Evanston in the first game of the post-Kelvin era (to the extent that a year-plus can really be called an "era"), but there would be no escape from East Lansing. Michigan State had five players in double-figures. For all of Raymar Morgan and Drew Neitzel's inconsistency in league play, none of it showed on Saturday night. Morgan had 20, Neitzel popped in 17 and the Spartans hung 103 on the defenseless Hoosiers.
Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star writes that the lack of effort would disappoint a certain former coach. In the meantime, Drew Sharp at The Detroit Free Press says that blowing Indiana out of the conference race is nice, but it doesn't make up for a blown season. Sharp's sentiments are understandable, but he's too quick to pull the trigger on the season. MSU's failure to win the conference title is an undeniable disappointment, but they are still arguably the team to beat in the league tourney and have a chance at redemption in the NCAA.
With IU's loss, the championship race narrowed to a two-dog fight. Purdue kept pace with Wisconsin in rolling over Northwestern at home. The Boilermakers shot 11-of-22 from beyond the arc, keyed by Robbie Hummell hitting all three of his trey attemps and leading the way with 15 points.
Ohio State did not keep pace in the NCAA Tournament race. Minnesota may be unable to play their way into the field, but they delivered a harsh blow to the Buckeyes. The two Lawrences--McKenzie and Westbrook--combined for 36 points, and OSU was nowhere to be found on the glass in the 71-57 final up in Minneapolis. Later this week, we'll re-examine the bubble and see if Ohio State needs a split or a sweep in its remaining tests against Purdue & Michigan State. But the way this slumping team is playing, it might be irrelevant--they won't survive losing both games and nothing has happened the past several weeks that indicates the defending champs can win either one.
Rounding it out, Penn State finally got a win over Michigan, even if it wasn't the sport that Lion fans would prefer. The PSU win featured a pair of superlative individual efforts. Taron Battle poured in 28 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. On the other side, Manny Harris led all scorers with 29. But Battle had more help, particularly on the boards, with Jamelle Cornley's ten rebounds giving the Lions the edge. And Shawn Pruitt finally showed up for Illinois, with an 18-point/7-rebound effort to lead his team past Iowa in a somewhat surprising road win. Illinois has been able to win in Minnesota & Iowa--not the most fun places to travel in winter--but hasn't maintained the consistency anywhere else.