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February 26, 2013A look at the week that was for U-M's top competition in the race for the Big Ten crown
No. 1 Indiana - 24-3 (12-2):
Indiana ended a 17-game losing streak in East Lansing with a 72-68 victory over Michigan State Feb. 19, and in doing so further cemented its spot as the team to beat in the Big Ten.
The top-ranked squad in the nation for the fourth-consecutive week, the Hoosiers hold a two game lead in the conference race with matchups against Minnesota (Feb. 26) and Iowa (March 2), which have struggled to a combined 4-6 record since Feb. 6, on the horizon.
IU, which is a perfect 4-0 against top-10 foes this season, barely scraped past the Hawkeyes 69-65 in Iowa City to open its Big Ten slate Dec. 31 and topped the Gophers 88-81 at Assembly Hall Jan. 12, and can clinch a share of a regular season Big Ten title for the first time since 2002 by splitting its final four games.
Dynamo junior guard Victor Oladipo earned his third Big Ten Player of the Week honor after scoring 19 points, including six in the final 50 seconds, and adding nine rebounds, five steals and one block against the Spartans.
For the first time in the school's storied history, the Hoosiers will enter a game with four career 1,000 point scorers when they travel to Minneapolis; senior guard Christian Watford (1,642), senior guard Jordan Hulls (1,261), sophomore forward Cody Zeller (1,011) and junior guard Victor Oladipo (1,005).
"Indiana hasn't won anything yet
"As promising as everything might look to fans of the No. 1 ranked Hoosiers, there is still some work to be done. Of the five teams still in contention for a conference championship, Indiana arguably has the most difficult schedule remaining."
"That is what you get in this league day in and day out. You get incredible games and you need high level performances to win those games. We're not only getting ready for Minnesota this week, but focusing on sharpening our game up and making sure that our skill level continues to rise.
"We've had a really good week of practice before we leave for Minneapolis, in what we know will be another one of those high level, high energy, high intensity Big Ten battles."
No. 9 Michigan State - 22-6 (11-4):
Michigan State had the opportunity to assert its dominance in the conference with critical matchups against Big Ten contenders Indiana and Ohio State, but faltered under the bright lights.
In two games that came down to the final minutes, the Spartans struggled down the stretch and squandered late leads to the Hoosiers and Buckeyes, losing 72-68 and 68-60 respectively.
Fortunately for Tom Izzo's crew, MSU welcomes a six-day break that offers the opportunity to regain its composure heading into a colossal road clash with in-state rival Michigan March 3.
The nightmarish week greatly diminished what had been an outstanding conference start, and the Green and White now find themselves two games back of Indiana in the Big Ten standings.
Junior point guard Keith Appling was absolutely abysmal in the two losses, scoring just nine total points on 2-of-16 shooting (12.5 percent) and adding merely three assists against seven turnovers. Junior forward Adriean Payne was a bright spot, averaging 14.5 points and 11 boards in the two contests.
The Spartans dominated Michigan 75-52 in East Lansing Feb. 12, but have lost their past two contests at Crisler Center, where the Wolverines are 31-1 over the past two seasons.
"And, for Michigan State's season, more worrisome.
"There were several reasons for the Spartans' 68-60 loss at Ohio State Sunday, all of them signs of a perpetually flawed group that, in many ways, whiffed mentally against the Buckeyes more than anything.
"But there was also the suddenly puzzling case of Appling - MSU's gutsy playmaker and defensive stalwart turned something much less.
"Vulnerable. Almost absent. Like an aging NBA veteran, living on spirit and reputation, in denial that he's lost a step."
"We've had some injuries and had some guys play through injuries that we had to let them play through, and sometimes that isn't the best policy. We're regrouping a little bit and we're going through are gauntlet like every team in this league has gone through.
"We played average and lost a couple of close games that we had chances to win at the end. I have to find a way to do a better job; that is what coaches do right now. They figure out what players did wrong, and look in the mirror and find out what the coach did wrong."
No. 17 Wisconsin - 19-8 (10-4):
Wisconsin remained afloat in the conference title race with a 69-41 triumph at Northwestern Feb. 20, and aims to keep the positive momentum going in Madison Feb. 26 against Nebraska.
The victory over the Wildcats, in which the Badgers held NU to only 12 first half points, clinched a winning record in Big Ten play for the 13th-consecutive season - among the six major conferences, only Kansas (23) maintains a longer active streak of finishing above .500 in league play.
Junior guard Ben Brust once again paced the Badgers offensively, scoring 12 points and grabbing eight rebounds in Evanston, and has notched double-digit point totals in six-straight games.
UW has won five of its last six games, and is 4-2 against Nebraska since 1990.
"Nebraska is set to make a stop in the Kohl Center Tuesday night for a chance at payback, after stunning the Iowa Hawkeyes by pulling off a 19-point comeback and beating them 64-60 on Saturday. But even though they expect another tough game with the Cornhuskers, the Badgers believe they've grown as a team since their last meeting."
"There are so many times where you hear the people covering the game say 'Oh, they've only scored two points in their last ten possessions or they've scored 15 points in their last ten possessions.' It's just such a game of streaks and runs that you have to make sure that your players are mentally tough enough to handle the rough spots and mentally tough enough to handle success when they have it.
"The game can get away from you in a hurry and there are also instances where you hit a few shots in a row and think 'this is easy.' But it is never easy."
No. 16 Ohio State - 20-7 (10-5) :
A desperate Ohio State squad benefited from a career performance by junior point guard Aaron Craft in a 68-60 home victory over Michigan State Feb. 24. The typically pesty, defensive-minded Craft scored a career-best 21 points and added six assists to lead the Buckeyes, who outscored the Spartans 43-29 in the second half. OSU also decimated Minnesota 71-45 earlier in the week, and has now won three of its last four.
Junior forward Deshaun Thomas continues to lead the conference with 19.9 points per game, but struggled against MSU, scoring 14 points on 4-16 shooting (25.0 percent). He tallied 19 points in the blowout victory over the Gophers.
With the win over then-No.4 Michigan State, OSU has defeated two top five teams at home in the same season for the first time in school history (No. 2 Michigan, 56-53 Jan. 15), and the stingy Scarlet and Gray have held opponents to under 50.0 percent shooting in 24 of 27 games this season.
"It will be difficult for Craft to keep his offensive game at this level, but he might have no choice. It might be the only way this team can have the kind of success it wants."
"When you look at his stat line [against Michigan State], 21 points and six assists, that is a heck of a point guard line for us.
"Aaron brings it every single day. What you see in a game is what you see in practice. There are times where we have to pull him out and sit him down a little bit and rest him because he goes so hard in everything he does. It is a great trait to have and it is who he is."
Indiana: 24-3 (12-2)
Michigan State: 22-6 (11-4)
Wisconsin: 19-8 (10-4)
Michigan: 23-4 (10-4)
Ohio State: 20-7 (10-5)
Illinois: 20-9 (7-8)
Purdue: 13-14 (6-8)
Minnesota: 18-9 (6-8)
Iowa: 17-10 (6-8)
Nebraska: 13-14 (4-10)
Northwestern: 13-15 (4-11)
Penn State: 8-18 (0-14)
Big Ten Teams in the AP Top 25
Also receiving votes: Illinois
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