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Big Ten First Round Preview

March 11, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Big Ten Conference First Round Preview

Preview by Alan Rubenstein

No. 8 Indiana – No. 9 Ohio State (The winner plays Illinois)
The Buckeyes and Hoosiers begin the Big Ten tournament heading in opposite directions. Both teams concluded the regular season one game below .500. The winner will have a glimmer of hope for an NIT bid if they don’t make an improbable run to capture the Big Ten tournament title.

Each team won on the other’s home court, but Ohio State has been playing better the second half of the season and Indiana is sliding. After starting 5-1 in the Big Ten, IU has faltered winning only two of their last ten.

The Buckeyes have been playing better since Jim O’Brien left Tony Stockman at home when Ohio State lost at Iowa. Stockman has averaged 15.3 PPG since the suspension and hit seven three pointers to help the Buckeyes defeat Penn State last week.

Inside, Velimir Radinovic and Terence Dials give Ohio State a big advantage inside. Radinovic burned IU for 39 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks in their two meetings this season. Dials had 35 points and 14 boards. Ohio State has been successful this season when they have been able to get the ball inside.

IU has struggled with bigger and more physical teams throughout the year. Sean Kline and George Leach played in only 13 out of 27 games this season together. Kline is out for the year after knee surgery last month and Leach missed nine games in December and January with a knee injury. With Leach and Kline as the only consistent big men Mike Davis has been able to rely on, the injuries have been devastating.

Ohio State weakness might play right into the Hoosiers perimeter oriented attack. That is if Bracey Wright, Marshall Strickland and Co. can knock down the three consistently. Ohio State has had a porous three point defense all season. The Buckeyes allowed their opponents to shoot 40.8 percent from long range. IU outs them up often, finished second in three pointers made, but only seventh in percentage. The problem has plagued Ohio State all year. Five teams have burned the Buckeyes for ten threes in a game this year.

Ohio State rides into Indianapolis having won three of its last five. IU will have the crowd behind them, but watch for Ohio State to play with more confidence. The difference in the game should come down to the more balanced offensive team. Ohio State has been getting a good balance in scoring from the interior and perimeter. IU leans too much on Strickland and Wright. Stockman has been hot and the Hoosiers have been unable to stop Radinovic and Dials in the two earlier meetings. The advantage inside for the Bucks should prove to be the difference in a six to eight point OSU victory.

No. 7 Purdue vs. No. 10 Minnesota (The winner plays Wisconsin)
The Big Ten tournament always seems to have an upset and a surprising team that makes a run deep into tournament. This match up might be primed for the early upset.

Purdue was one of the surprise teams nationally after opening the season 10-1. They won the Great Alaska Shootout in November by beating Duke in the championship game. Gene Keady was counting on a memorable season in West Lafayette after an NCAA appearance and the return of six seniors. Senior center Chris Booker was sidelined in December with academic problems and injuries have hindered the Boilermakers all season. The Boilers were sitting at 17-8 and appeared to be a safe bet to make the tournament two weeks ago. A four game losing streak since then and Purdue has put themselves in the position of probably having to win at least two games in Indy to make the NCAA’s

Minnesota’s only chance at a postseason birth would be to win four games in four days to capture the automatic bid.

The game comes down to the balance and patience of Purdue versus the dominance of Kris Humphries and the Gophers preference to run. In Indianapolis, the key will be Humphries. Big Ten teams have been able to force Humphries to work harder to get his points. The freshman star was only ten for 31 against the Boilers this year and the Gophers hot only 34.5 percent in a pair of losses.

This one should go down to the wire. With the game on the line watch Humphries for Minnesota and Kenneth Lowe and David Teague for Purdue.

No. 11 Penn State vs. No. 6 Northwestern (The winner plays Michigan State)
With Penn State on a ten game losing streak, the outcome of this game would seem like a foregone conclusion. In their two meetings this season, each team won on their home courts. Penn State needed overtime and a clutch tip in by Ndu Egekeze to survive the Cats in Happy Valley, while Northwestern cruised to a 65-52 win in Evanston.

Penn State’s troubles have been an inconsistent offense and poor shooting. If Penn State wants to win this one, it is going to have to get the ball inside. Jan Jagla torched Northwestern for 28 points and 21 rebounds in the two games this year. Jitim Young was the man for NU, averaging 16.5 PPG against Penn State this year.

For Penn State to have any chance at victory, they are going to have to hope that Vedran Vukusic continues his slump. Vukusic was frigid in the Cats two games last week. He was able to overcome a poor game against Iowa by hitting two shots late. The inconsistent shooting came back against Michigan in a game NU needed. On the week, the junior from Croatia hit on only six of 27 shots from the floor and just four of 15 from beyond the arc. He torched Penn State for 17 points including four of eight on treys in the NU win, while making only three of nine for eight points in the NU loss.

This one is just too much of a mismatch. Northwestern’s players have experienced success with a win over Minnesota in last year’s Big Ten tournament. Luber and Smith have played valiantly all season, but an all freshman backcourt usually find it rough in the Big Ten. Jitim Young will shine and Northwestern should cruise home to a ten to 15 point win.

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