As the race for the NCAA Tournament heats up (see extended discussion in the post below and the link in the upper right of the blog), there were some ugly slug-it-out games this week, as teams move toward a Saturday that will come a little closer to sorting out the race.
Wisconsin 69 Iowa 52
The Badger resurgence continued, as they won their third in a row and pulled back to even in the conference at 6-6. Joe Krabbenhoft scored 16, and the backcourt of Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon combined for 29. Wisconsin also took very good care of the basketball, committing only six turnovers. One area of concern has to be raised though--Iowa shot 50 percent from the floor. During the losing streak, the Badger defense had become soft, whereas the first two wins of their resurgence had seen Bo Ryan's D find its customary identity. Playing against a weak foe at home, they were able to get away with it. But Ohio State comes to Madison for ESPN's prime-time show on Saturday night and Ryan better find his defense for that one. An NCAA bid may rest in the balance for both teams, but particularly for UW.
Purdue 61 Penn State 47
In the showdown between two top post players, Purdue's JaJuan Johnson came out decisively ahead of PSU's Jamelle Cornley. While scoring was relatively even (16-14 for Cornley), Johnson came up with a big 13-3 edge in rebounding. In the meantime, the Boilermaker defense was outstanding, shutting out Talor Battle who was suddenly in a bad slump. Not coincidentally, his team has slumped along with it and the Nittany Lions now face a must-win situation against Minnesota in Happy Valley on Saturday.
Minnesota 62 Indiana 54
The Gophers kept their own tournament train on the tracks by slugging out a home win over IU. The Hoosiers were playing without recently suspended Devan Dumes, but got 18 from Verdell Jones. Another player who is also in a funk is Minnesota's Lawrence Westbrook, who has been in single digits three straight games. But Tubby Smith got big help off the bench in the person of Paul Carter, who scored 22 points and grabbed 7 rebounds to save his team from what would have been a devastating home loss.
Illinois 60 Northwestern 59
Bruce Weber kept his fight to return to the NCAA Tournament moving ahead with a classic win that bubble teams must have if they are to survive. He goes on the road against an archrival where his team isn't at its best, but somehow sneaks out of town with a W. Northwestern got unexpected help from a source outside the Craig Moore/Michael Thompson/Kevin Coble trio, as center Luka Mirkovic came up with a 14/12 double-double. But Moore was silent with only 8, and the Illini were led by Demetri McCamey's 21, as they survive the road and can enjoy a bye this weekend.
Michigan State 54 Michigan 42
And the Spartans keep rolling along on the path to a conference championship. Delvon Roe delivers a solid 14 points and 10 rebounds, but the defense really comes up big. They held Michigan to 15 points in the first half and Manny Harris to just 7 for the game. DeShawn Sims popped in 18 for the Wolverines, but it wasn't enough, as John Beilein is seeing a spot in March Madness slowly disappear.
Player Of The Sequence: Like Tubby Smith, we turn to the unlikely source. Reserve Paul Carter, whose effort against Indiana may be the difference between making the NCAA Tournament or suffering the kind of loss that kills you in the eyes of the committee. Carter is the first non-starter to be so acknowledged by Big Ten Country this year.