Big Ten Basketball: Observations from Saturday's Games

Ryan CuriFeatured ColumnistDecember 14, 2013

Dec 14, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Eric Atkins (0) dives for a loose ball against Indiana Hoosiers forwards Jeremey Hollowell (33) and Noah Vonleh (1) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Notre Dame defeats Indiana 79-72. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, Dec. 14, nine of the 12 Big Ten teams took the court. With the Ohio State-North Dakota State and Illinois-Oregon games still to be played, the Big Ten posted an unimpressive 3-4 record in the earlier matchups of the day.

First, Michigan nearly knocked off the top-ranked Arizona Wildcats, falling short by a score of 72-70. The Wolverines were unable to hold on to a nine-point halftime lead, where Glenn Robinson III shot a perfect 7-of-7. In the second stanza, Robinson only attempted two shots, making one.

Robinson, Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert played 37, 38 and 38 minutes, respectively, showing Michigan isn't as deep as anticipated. Mitch McGary's eight points and four rebounds on 2-of-3 shooting say a lot about the Wildcats' young frontcourt.

The fourth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers defeated Eastern Kentucky, 86-61, once again spreading the wealth of points. Ben Brust paced UW with 20 points, while the frontcourt tandem of Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky combined for 29 points. Most impressive was freshman Nigel Hayes' career-high 17 points.

Penn State became the second Big Ten team to blow a late lead, after leading Princeton, 35-23, at halftime. After the Tigers forced overtime and led by two, Patrick Chambers drew up a perfect Christian Laettner-like play, but Tim Frazier's layup rattled out. Both Frazier and D.J. Newbill scored 24 points for the Lions.

Michigan State struggled after a 10-day layoff following their 14-point loss to North Carolina. The Spartans trailed underdog Oakland by one point at halftime, in a game played at the Palace in Auburn Hills. MSU pulled away late, knocking off Oakland 67-63.

Defensively, the Spartans were able to disrupt sharpshooter Travis Bader, who connected on four of 14 three-point attempts. Without Gary Harris, Tom Izzo's squad looked lost at times. The trio of Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson combined for 57 of the team's 67 points.

Nebraska knocked off Arkansas State, 79-67, though the Cornhuskers let down after leading by 23 points at the intermission. Four Huskers starters scored between 11 and 15 points, while freshman point guard Tai Webster's struggles continued as he was held scoreless.

Dec 14, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Butler Bulldogs forward Erik Fromm (4) drives to the basket against Purdue Boilermakers center A.J. Hammons (20) during the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Spor
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The remaining two games featuring Big Ten teams occurred in Indianapolis, though neither outcome was in favor of the Big Ten squad. First, Notre Dame beat Indiana, 79-72, followed by Butler's 76-70 win over Purdue, in two games featuring only teams from the state of Indiana.

Noah Vonleh was held back by foul trouble, as the stud freshman scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds, but he was limited to only 21 minutes of playing time. Will Sheehey's 21 points were a welcomed sign for Hoosiers fans, though Yogi Ferrell's decision-making late in the ballgame proved costly.

In the second game of the doubleheader, Butler nearly allowed the Boilermakers to make an epic comeback in the final minutes with turnovers and missed free throws. During that stretch, Matt Painter rode a young lineup, containing three freshmen, with A.J. Hammons and Terone Johnson riding the pine.

To rank Saturday's performances (not the season rankings), the order would be Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska, Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue and Penn State. Here's to hoping the Buckeyes and Fighting Illini can notch a pair of victories in the late session of games.