Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


State of the Big Ten: UM, MSU risky spoiler bets

Hard to believe, but it’s been three weeks. The time is nigh for the second installment of the State of the Conference — a column dedicated to the inner workings of Big Ten basketball.

Servants of the spread: In the vast lexicon of self-indulgent sports punditry exists a variety of phrases to describe teams that display sporadic feats of skill in games they simply shouldn’t win. Unfortunately, for teams too solid to be taken lightly by the juggernauts, the tags prove much more scarce.

Perhaps the reason for this lies in the etymology. After all, nobody appreciates predictability in college basketball — why not just call boring what it is? On that note, the Michigan State Spartans this season could bore paint off the walls.


Among the Spartans’ four losses this season, two came at the hands of highly ranked opponents (No. 10 Duke and No. 1 Illinois) with the extra pair more by virtue of environment (Wisconsin at the Kohl Center and George Washington at MCI). Every other game Michigan State secured, abiding by the spread with bureaucratic exactitude.

With all six primary Spartan contributors boasting of scoring averages near or just above the double-digit benchmark, Michigan State spreads the ball around with remarkable effectiveness. Although, their consistency also fuels predictability.

With a multitude of options available to point man Chris Hill every time he walks the floor, the Spartans can afford to suffer a bad night from as many as four of the big six (depending on the opponent). Of course, this also means when the team requires a take-over performance to rise above a superior squad, none of the players exhibit that unilateral ability. The talent might be there, but no one Spartan possesses any experience wresting control of the game.

In college hoops — just like on Wall Street — every so often, greed must rule.

Pressing issues: Behind still-undefeated Illinois, there’s little doubt which team deserves the lion’s share of attention in the Big Ten. Bereft of their star heading into the season and seemingly damned with a supply of undeveloped talent, the Minnesota Golden Gophers have wildly exceeded expectations.

Slated by many analysts to finish either dead last or, at least, in league with Penn State and Purdue, the scrappy ground squirrels currently occupy fourth place in the Big Ten standings. The reason — beyond the impressive figures being posted by junior guard Vincent Grier — lies in the Gophers’ relentless full-court press.

“There are no egos on this team,” Grier said after toppling Wisconsin Saturday. “We all just believe in each other and know what we’ve got to do to be successful.”

No egos? Well, not yet. Unfortunately for Minnesota, success has a funny way of swelling the heads of young players. And, of course, the Gophers face Indiana next week. Even with half a coach, the sleeping Hoosiers possess the weapons to stage an upset and disrupt seeding in the Big Ten tournament.

Speaking long term, here’s the thing about Minnesota: the pressure defense — as opposed to a containment scheme — only works if the defenders can rattle the other team’s backcourt. It sounds foolishly obvious, but consider what happens if a cool-headed guard manages to juke on the advancing defender. With the post players holding tight inside, the guard simply has to land an open pull-up jumper.

Some college shooters have trouble with accuracy if they can’t spot up, while others sink the shot either way (Illinois and Michigan State have these). As a result, picking the Gophers as an any-night tournament spoiler isn’t a safe bet since they simply lack the medium and long-range skills to match up in a shootout.

As for the real tournament, March Madness in the Twin Cities seems like a safe bet at this point. However, teams from speedier conferences (like the ACC) rarely get caught off-guard by Big Ten pressure pretenders.

Happidy days will come again: For Michigan head coach Tommy Amaker, the bad news doesn’t ever seem to end.

Toward the beginning of the season, Michigan lost perhaps their most dynamic scoring threat — junior wing Lester Abram — due to a rather serious left shoulder injury. As soon as Abram went under the knife, the injury floodgates opened in Ann Arbor. Forwards Graham Brown, C.J. Mathis, Chris Hunter and point guard Daniel Horton all suffered some affliction in the month of December and missed time.

Then, just as the team started to get back to health in January, a misdemeanor assault charge against Horton once more left the Wolverine offense without a maestro. Well, nothing you can do about bad luck, right?

Wrong. Amaker just needs to get himself a fortune cat.

On one of our many excursions to a South Side Chinese buffet, my roommates and I stumbled across a deal too sweet to refuse: collect $100 in receipts and select among an assortment of Eastern novelties. Admittedly, I was out of town covering basketball for most of the collection process but, in my stead, those four brave souls persevered in the face of imminent heart disease to bring home Falbo Tylenol-Jackson McTaxt, fortune cat extraordinaire.

“Happidy and happy hocks will be with you always,” read a tag from Falbo’s right ear. Now, what exactly constitutes a happidy hock, I’m still not quite sure. Regardless, the Falbs fulfilled his promise of fortuity — though I won’t bore the reader with details. The point is: one-guards come and go, but a fortune cat’s magic never dies.

And the winner is: Just three months after Illinois toppled Indiana 26-22 in the 2004 Toilet Bowl, the bottom of the Big Ten basketball barrel squared off Wednesday in a bout of the beleaguered. In one corner stood Penn State, a team with post bullies, a lead-footed backcourt and the outside shooting prowess of a pack of moles. In the other corner stood Carl Landry, a titan among boobs with lights-out skill from medium range.

Naturally, the team with at least one talented player won the day. In the Boilermakers’ 77-50 rout of Penn State, Landry and hot-cold guard David Teague shot a combined 20-for-32 for 49 points on the night. Penn State managed to shoot just 31.5 percent in the match, while the Boilermakers landed 49.2 percent of their looks. Although, in all fairness, take away the two leading scorers and that number drops to 34.3 percent.

Sad figures considering Purdue (68.4 points per game) and Penn State (59.8) rank 10th and 11th in the conference defensively. Not too pretty.

So congratulations, Boilermakers; you have proved with hard work and determination that even a two-legged mutt can have its day … when the big dogs are at the vet.

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