The Big Ten continued down its maddening (and elite) path this weekend, stringing together upsets and bouts of inconsistency at every turn.
Indiana, among others, epitomized the conference’s up-and-down nature with its wide variety of performances. Three days removed from scoring 72 points (50 percent shooting) and losing on a backdoor mental lapse to the 88th-ranked defense (Illinois), the Hoosiers turned around and rolled over Ohio State, one of the top defensive teams in the country. Knocked from its perch as the No. 1 team for the second time this season—both losses coming at the hands of unranked opponents—Tom Crean’s squad looked like a championship contender once more Sunday afternoon.
Perfect example: Just who exactly is Cody Zeller? Is he the mismatch nightmare that threw up 24 points (8-of-11 shooting from the field) and eight rebounds against the Buckeyes? Or is he the NBA-touted big man who disappeared down the stretch versus the Illini, only to play overly aggressive on the game-winning in-bound play?
Of course, then there’s Michigan, the former top-ranked team that the Hoosiers beat last weekend. The Wolverines have looked like the team to beat at times, then lost to Wisconsin at times. Although the 65-62 overtime loss to the Badgers will provide ammunition for the likes of Ken Pomeroy, that’s still not a loss Michigan should suffer.
With Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio State sporting major hiccups, the nation’s best conference remains up for grabs (except you, Penn State) with March fast approaching.
Perhaps Tom Izzo’s Michigan State team, despite common misconceptions, is the most consistent team still in the hunt. That early-season loss to Miami looks better and better, and the Spartans’ two conference losses came versus teams currently ranked in the AP Poll (Minnesota and Indiana). Maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise , given the past decade or so of supporting evidence. Maybe it should, given the Big Ten’s overall talent level.
Either way, the trend is that there is no trend. Jim Delaney’s conglomeration of teams continues to confuse—and excite.
Jump on board with Deadspin here , because the undying criticism of UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad needs to hit a wall eventually.
When his teammate, point guard Larry Drew II, knocked down the game-winner on Saturday, it’s true that Muhammad did not react with the court-storming giddiness we are so accustomed to seeing in college basketball. It’s also true that he demonstratively called for the ball on the play, one in which he looked like Option A.
But to imply the star freshman (18.5 points, five rebounds per game) was disappointed that his teammate bucketed the winning shot because he wasn’t the one garnering the subsequent hero worship—a conclusion many came to in the postgame —is absurd. Whenever (some) college basketball writers stop characterizing the Bruins’ standout as a prima donna looking for free handouts, maybe then, they will start to recognize one of the truly gifted offensive players within a sport severely lacking them.
But that time doesn’t seem to be coming soon. His role has been determined.
Answer this: Why would any player want to lose, especially one as ultra-competitive as Muhammad? What about losing and/or pouting over a win would improve his draft stock—a concept many seem to believe Muhammad is riveted by? Why does our sporting culture, as a whole, over-applaud those most willing to take and make the final shot, then turn around and criticize those willing to demand it?
Between having his past nit-picked for potential impermissible benefits and his inexpensive backpack create an uproar (seriously?), Muhammad has been heaped with more negative attention attention than almost any other player in college basketball, this season. And in the end, the guy’s played only one truly poor game (shout-out to Utah).
In a draft pool lacking in overall talent and depth, he’s one of the brightest young stars around.
Let him be that guy.