The Inside the Hall Big Ten Power Rankings are back following a thrilling fourth week of conference play that saw several game-winning shots, including one that gave Rutgers its first Big Ten win of the season.
Last year, it took Rutgers until the final game of the regular season to record a conference win. The wait wasn’t nearly as long this time around, as a Corey Sanders putback with one second remaining gave the Scarlet Knights a victory over Nebraska. Not enough to move up in the power rankings, but it’s certainly progress.
It’s gone from bad to worse for the Illini, who are now in the midst of their second three-game losing streak of the season. There is no shortage of issues with Groce’s team, with many of the problems centering around the defense. Illinois has allowed opponents to shoot 58 percent from inside the arc in conference play, far worse than any other team in the Big Ten (the next closest is Iowa at 53.5 percent).
The Cornhuskers are 0-3 since it was announced that 6-foot-7 sophomore Ed Morrow would be out indefinitely with a foot injury. The latest two losses, against lowly Ohio State and Rutgers, were nearly identical. Nebraska held the lead in the final seconds in both games, but an inability to get a stop did them in.
The Hawkeyes’ season has gone downhill since downing Purdue, following up the upset win with two straight defeats. Iowa had the lead over Maryland with just over three minutes remaining in Thursday’s contest, but 10 late points from Melo Trimble doomed the Hawkeyes.
The Buckeyes have rebounded from an 0-4 start to conference play, winning two of their last three. Thad Matta’s Buckeyes still have a long way to go if they want to reach their potential, but they’re trending in the right direction.
Sophomore D.J. Wilson has been the key to Michigan’s recent improvement, especially on the defensive end. Wilson swatted four shots over the last two games, helping the Wolverines hold consecutive opponents below 1.10 PPP for the first time since the conference season began.
A winless week for the Spartans has left coach Tom Izzo befuddled. Michigan State now enters a pivotal home stand, needing to pull off wins over Purdue and Michigan to remain in the Big Ten title hunt.
On the verge of defeating Wisconsin for the first time since 2014, the Minnesota offense went cold down the stretch, scoring just three points in the final five minutes of regulation before falling in overtime. The Gophers have played the second toughest schedule in the conference but will get a temporary reprieve – four of their next five games are against teams ranked no better than ninth in this week’s edition of the rankings.
Indiana had a 2-0 week, exploiting the top two defenses in the conference despite playing with a depleted frontcourt. The Hoosiers now enter the most difficult portion of their schedule with momentum, but whether that carries over to road games against Michigan and Northwestern remains to be seen.
With each successive win, the Wildcats keep making history. On Sunday, Northwestern topped Ohio State in Columbus for the first time in 40 years. But questions remain regarding Northwestern, who have yet to face the conference’s elite. A brutal back-end of the schedule will see the Wildcats face Purdue (twice), Maryland, Indiana (twice) and Wisconsin.
Led by an all-around effort from freshman Justin Jackson, the Terrapins dispatched the Hawkeyes in Iowa City and improved to 3-0 in Big Ten road games. The next road test for Maryland? A Saturday trip to Minneapolis where the Terrapins were shocked a season ago.
The Boilermakers took full advantage of two home games against inferior competition, thrashing Illinois and Penn State at Mackey by a combined 48 points. Caleb Swanigan continues to be a machine on the defensive boards, where he’s grabbed 33.9 percent of available rebounds in conference play (No. 1 in the Big Ten, per KenPom).
Behind a career-night from sophomore Ethan Happ, the Badgers prevailed in their 200th meeting with Minnesota. After surviving close calls against Michigan and Minnesota, the Badgers will undertake the softest three-game stretch you could ask for, ending the month with games against Penn State, at Rutgers (at Madison Square Garden) and at Illinois.
Film Session: Michigan State
After a Kenny Goins dunk pulled Michigan State within four with 5:03 to go in Saturday’s contest, the Hoosiers needed buckets and stops to maintain the lead and emerge victorious.
They got ’em, as Indiana received contributions from a number of players down the stretch to seal the victory. We’ll look at some key final moments from Saturday’s win in the latest edition of Film Session:
Up four, Devonte Green passes the ball to James Blackmon Jr.:
Blackmon Jr. dribbles in a bit off the perimeter and attracts Joshua Langford over. This leaves Green open. Blackmon Jr. makes the pass:
Green fakes the shot:
Which helps him get a sliver of an advantage on Langford. He drives left to the paint:
Green puts up a one-handed runner in the middle of the paint over Langford’s outstretched arm. It banks in for two to put the Hoosiers up six:
This was a tough shot from Green. But his play over the last several games has dictated more trust in crucial moments and he delivered here.
Five takeaways from Indiana’s win over Michigan State
Indiana won its third straight game – an 82-75 triumph over Michigan State – on Saturday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The win improved the Hoosiers to 14-6 overall and above .500 in Big Ten play (4-3) for the first time this season.
Here’s a look at five takeaways from the win over the Spartans:
· James Blackmon Jr. carries Indiana: This was a great team win for Indiana. Numerous guys contributed, the Hoosiers took care of the ball, played really good defense for the first 25 minutes and again guarded well to close the game.
But looking at individual performances, this is the best game James Blackmon has ever played in an Indiana uniform. Blackmon came out firing in the game’s opening minutes and never slowed down. He hit difficult, contested 3s. He finished at the rim over length. And he played very solid defense nearly throughout.
Blackmon’s line was outstanding: 33 points (11-of-16 from the field, 5-of-6 from the line), four rebounds, an assist and two turnovers in 36 minutes.
For an Indiana team that plays, out of necessity, several guys who are offensively challenged, Michigan State knew that Blackmon was going to be on the attack all afternoon. And they still had no chance at stopping him.
· Take care of the ball and good things happen: After Wednesday’s near debacle at Penn State where Indiana couldn’t hold on to the ball (23.8 turnover percentage), the Hoosiers reversed course on Saturday.
Indiana had a season-low nine turnovers and a season low turnover percentage of 14. It was a major reason the Hoosiers put 1.27 points per possession on a defense that came in surrendering .91 in Big Ten games.
“I was disappointed in our defense in the first half but I was impressed with Indiana’s offense,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “They dribble drove us, bullied us and they did a good job. It was boys against men.”
Taking care of the ball better with more regularity will be a key to winning games away from Bloomington. Indiana still has seven league games on the road, beginning with a pair this week at Michigan and Northwestern. Neither of those teams are particularly strong at forcing turnovers, so Indiana’s chances for success will depend largely on taking care of the ball.
· Robert Johnson scores 17, slows down Miles Bridges: For the first time since Indiana’s NCAA tournament win over Chattanooga in March, Robert Johnson didn’t have a turnover in Saturday’s win.
He was 6-of-12 from the field, including 3-of-5 on 3-pointers, and added four rebounds and an assist in 30 minutes.
But as good as Johnson was offensively, his defensive effort on Miles Bridges was more important. Johnson started out on Bridges and forced him to take difficult, contested shots for much of the game. Bridges went just 4-of-17 from the field and finished with 13 points.
With OG Anunoby out for the season and Juwan Morgan still out with a left foot injury, Johnson shut down one of the Big Ten’s most versatile wing players. And it was a major reason Indiana won its third straight game.
· Early minutes for McRoberts now paying off: The minutes for Zach McRoberts earlier in the season were met with plenty of skepticism. Indiana’s lineups in the Nebraska game, several of which included McRoberts, were questioned in this very space.
But with all of the injuries, McRoberts is now an essential piece to Indiana’s success. He only scored three points, but he played 32 minutes, which is 13 more than he’d played in any game this season. But he took care of (no turnovers) and moved the ball (three assists), hit the boards (five) and had two steals and a block.
“He serves his teammates,” Tom Crean said postgame. “He’s one of those guys that he wants to make them better and sometimes he’s got to be reminded that he’s pretty good too. But he’s very, very valuable to them. I was sold when I watched him get better this summer, when I watched the work that he put into his body to gain the weight that he did after he tried out.”
· Defense starts strong, but struggles in second half: Indiana’s defense was a major issue in its first four Big Ten games. IU’s best defensive performance in that 1-3 span was holding Maryland to 1.14 in a loss.
The Hoosiers were better against Rutgers (.77) and Penn State (1.05), but those teams are offensively challenged. Saturday’s first half performance was encouraging from a defensive perspective as IU held Michigan State to just one point per possession.
The second half was a different story as Michigan State scored 1.44 points per possession and grabbed 56.3 percent of its missed shots for 18 second chance points.
But Indiana buckled down late.
After Kenny Goins brought the Spartans to within four with a dunk at the 5:03 mark, Indiana didn’t allow another field goal until Miles Bridges hit a 3-pointer with 20 seconds remaining. Over that span of 4:43, Michigan State missed six shots and scored just five points, all on free throws.
Notebook: Blackmon Jr. leads way for IU in win
Indiana dominated Michigan State for the majority of the game on Saturday afternoon at Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers led by as many as 20 early in the second half and held on late for an 82-75 victory.
The win was pivotal for the Hoosiers (14-6, 4-3), putting them back in the top half of the Big Ten standings as the conference schedule nears the halfway point.
James Blackmon Jr. led the way on the offensive end, tying career-highs with 33 points and six made 3-pointers.
Since failing to hit a 3-pointer against Rutgers, Blackmon has been on fire from beyond the arc, nailing a total of 11 threes against Penn State and Michigan State.
“I was nice to him when I was recruiting him,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo told reporters after the game. “I don’t know why he’d do that to me. He was unbelievable.”
Blackmon made each of his first five attempts from the floor, scoring 16 points within the first nine minutes of the game.
“Probably the warm-ups,” Blackmon said when asked when he realized he was in a zone offensively. “I felt like I got a good warm-up in. And then after my first shot, probably.”
In the middle of his junior season, Blackmon continues to rewrite the Indiana record books.
Blackmon’s 1,072 career points put him within a bucket of passing Rick Calloway (1,073) for sole possession of 46th in program history, while his 177 made 3-point field goals are the ninth most by any Hoosier.
McRoberts gets the start
With Indiana missing three of their most versatile players, Tom Crean called on walk-on Zach McRoberts to start.
The redshirt sophomore was perhaps the most active player on the court despite taking only one shot. Besides posting a game-high plus/minus of +14, McRoberts grabbed five boards, dished three assists and recorded one block and two steals.
“We know what Zach can do,” Blackmon said. “That’s why we’re confident when he’s out there. He brings so much to the table. He brings that energy and he does the little things that we need.”
Prior to receiving the start today, the most minutes McRoberts had played was 19 (Nov. 27 vs. Mississippi Valley State). McRoberts played 32 minutes Saturday, but said he never tired.
“With our practices, I think we do a good job of staying in shape,” McRoberts said. “I was ready to play however many minutes. I wouldn’t think I was fatigued at all.”
Not only did Indiana dominate the offensive end, but they contained the Spartans’ most heralded player – freshman Miles Bridges.
In the Spartans previous two games, Bridges put up a total of 40 points, hitting 14-of-19 shots he attempted.
Against Indiana, Bridges struggled to get going. The freshman missed five of his first six shots, finishing with just 13 points on an inefficient 4-of-17 shooting.
“We just wanted to make it tough for him all night,” Robert Johnson said. “Coach (Tim) Buckley did a great job of getting us a game plan to go out and stop those guys, and we pretty much knew what the plays – where he wanted to catch the ball. We just wanted to take that away.”
Several Hoosiers, from Blackmon Jr. to Thomas Bryant to McRoberts, guarded Bridges throughout the game. It was Johnson, however, that spent the majority of the contest on the 6-foot-7 Bridges.
Crean credited Buckley with the plan to start Johnson on Bridges, adding that he was the best option with both Morgan and Anunoby out due to injuries.
“(Putting Johnson on Bridges was) a very good idea,” Crean said. “We were fully ready to have Thomas (Bryant) be in there, but when you’re guarding somebody like (Bridges), where you maybe don’t have that natural matchup – we do have that natural matchup, but (Anunoby and Morgan) just aren’t healthy, so we can’t put those guys on them.”
Without OG Anunoby and Juwan Morgan, the Hoosiers stepped onto Branch McCracken Court with a sense of purpose this afternoon. The defense, spurned on by first-time starter Zach McRoberts, was stout. James Blackmon Jr. couldn’t miss. Others were dropping in 3-pointers as well. Devonte Green continued to make the most of his minutes.
The Assembly Hall faithful, which had been ready for this one all day, were rocking.
It all led to the Hoosiers holding a double-digit lead for 13:19 of game clock (4:11 in first half to 8:52 in second half), the lead ballooning all the way up to 20 at the 15:20 mark in the second half.
And despite a bit of a scare over the final minutes of the contest where the Spartans cut the lead to four, Indiana emerged with a seven-point victory. This is Indiana’s third straight win, its first over a Top 50 team since UNC on Nov. 30. The Hoosiers are now over .500 (4-3) in conference for the first time all season.
Blackmon Jr. was brilliant this afternoon as his 33 points tied for a career-high. The junior let it rip from distance and hit 6-of-10 from beyond the arc, which helped aid the Hoosiers to a hot shooting performance from 3-point distance (11-of-24, 45.8 percent). Blackmon Jr. also hit a tough right-handed runner late to keep the Spartans at distance.
Thomas Bryant still looked a little out of sorts at times. But he played hard. Really hard. A sequence in the second half tells the tale. After missing a second of two free throws at the line, Bryant hustled down to the other end of the court and drew a charge on Alvin Ellis III. On Indiana’s ensuing possession, Blackmon Jr. drilled a 3-pointer to put the Hoosiers back up 11. Bryant finished with 11 points, six rebounds, an assist and a steal.
Indiana’s offense put up 1.28 points per possession against the Big Ten’s best defense. An under the radar reason for Indiana’s great offensive efficiency today? It didn’t shoot itself in the foot. The Hoosiers turned it over on just 14 percent of their possessions against the Spartans, a season best. When Indiana’s offense doesn’t turn the ball over, it can be absolutely deadly — especially when the 3-ball was dropping like it was in this one.
Indiana did allow 1.17 points per possession to the Spartans after giving up just .90 in the first half. Which is how MSU — led by Eron Harris (21 points) — erased a 20-point lead. But Indiana’s offense was good enough this afternoon to make up for its defensive slump in the second half.
While McRoberts isn’t as talented as Morgan or Anunoby, he’s certainly been more consistent in terms of what you can expect from him game in and game out. And he seems to have growing confidence with an increased role over the last two contests. McRoberts stuffed the stat sheet with five rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block in 32 minutes of play. The walk-on also hit a 3-pointer in the second half to boot, capping a contest where his contributions were incredibly valuable.
Indiana needs wins wherever it can get them at this point. So its two wins this week were important. But next week brings bigger challenges with two away games at Michigan and Northwestern.
The Hoosiers aren’t favored in either, but today’s effort brings hope they can beat the odds.
Video: Tom Izzo reacts to loss at Indiana
Tom Izzo met with the media following Michigan State’s 82-75 loss to Indiana on Saturday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Watch the full press conference below:
Video: IU players react to win over Michigan State
Robert Johnson, Zach McRoberts and James Blackmon Jr. met with the media following Indiana’s 82-75 win over Michigan State on Saturday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Watch the full press conference below:
At the Buzzer: Indiana 82, Michigan State 75
Quick thoughts on an 82-75 win over Michigan State:
How it happened: No OG Anunoby. No Juwan Morgan. No problem this afternoon for Indiana. The Hoosiers, who led by as many as 20 in the second half, controlled the contest from the opening tip. Michigan State made it interesting down the stretch and cut the lead all the way down to four with 5:03 remaining. But Indiana had an answer, as it did all afternoon. Indiana won this game on the strength of its offense and was able to build such a large lead because it played well defensively for the game’s first 25 minutes. Unlike last season’s team, which buried some teams at home in Big Ten play, this group didn’t play well for all 40 minutes. But in a game the Hoosiers desperately needed, the barrage of 3-pointers was enough to carry Indiana to the win.
Standout performance: James Blackmon Jr. was terrific from the opening tip as he finished with 33 points on 11-of-16 shooting. It was the highest scoring output ever for Blackmon Jr. in a Big Ten game and also matched a career-high.
Statistic(s) that stands out: Indiana’s 3-point shooting and offensive efficiency lit up one of the Big Ten’s best defenses. Michigan State came in allowing Big Ten opponents just .91 points per possessions. Indiana scored 1.27. The Spartans were also allowing Big Ten opponents to shoot just 31.6 percent on 3s. Indiana hit 11-of-24 for 45.8 percent.