So much for my thinking that Michigan State would be the team most likely to knock off the Badgers at the Kohl Center. Led by Jason Bohanon's 19 points Wisconsin controlled the game from start to finish in their 67-49 win over the Spartans, and the visitors suffered a crucial loss in the second half when Kalin Lucas went down with a sprained ankle. It's unknown how long the point guard will be out and with games against Illinois and Purdue coming up Lucas' health is critical. But by the time he went down in Madison the game was about over despite Michigan State going on a run to close to within nine early in the second half.
Wisconsin was that good on both ends of the floor, making fifteen of twenty-seven shots in the first half to take a 38-23 lead into the locker room despite Trevon Hughes playing just four minutes due to foul trouble. Bohanon and Jordan Taylor stepped up in Hughes' absence, scoring twelve points apiece while defensively the Badgers limited Michigan State to 9-for-22 from the field. "If Pop (Trevon Hughes) and Jon (Leuer) are out, you need to go to what's next and someone else needs to step up and make plays," said Taylor. "We just try to stay aggressive and see what happens (quote courtesy of UWBadgers.com)."
For the game the Badgers tallied seventeen assists to just five turnovers and shot 50.9% from the field, finishing with an efficiency rating of 124.1. On the season Wisconsin averaged an efficiency of 110.4 while Michigan State allowed an average rating of 93.9 on the season (efficiency stats courtesy of statsheet.com). Wisconsin didn't play the "perfect game" but they weren't far off, and if they can build upon this performance with Jon Leuer out (especially on the road) Coach Ryan's team has a chance at playing their first two NCAA Tournament games in Milwaukee.
Three Key Happenings
1. Northwestern picks up a big win...but not in regards to their tournament resume. Drew Crawford led four Wildcats in double figures with seventeen as Northwestern took care of Michigan 67-52 in Evanston. But while the game doesn't do much for NU's resume it does give them a boost in regards to getting into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. Why? Now 4-6 in Big Ten play with a more manageable final eight league games (two games each against Indiana, Iowa and Penn State) Northwestern needs to keep moving up the standings, at least until they sit ahead of conference members with little or no chance of dancing.
The selection committee may say that they don't pay attention to where you finish in your league, focusing on your resume and its credentials, but to finish behind teams lower on the board is a strike you're well-served to avoid. One aspect of the Wildcats' win that shouldn't be overlooked is their defense on Manny Harris (4-14, 11 points) and DeShawn Sims (2-9, 4 points), and as a team Michigan shot just 32.7% from the field. By comparison Northwestern made 54.3% of their shots while also outrebounding the Wolverines 25-16. Definitely a good start to the month for Northwestern.
2. Kentucky continues their run through the SEC with a win over Ole Miss. DeMarcus Cousins led the way with his fifth straight double-double (18 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks) while John Wall added 17 points and seven assists as the Wildcats moved to 21-1 overall and 6-1 in the SEC. Those who made a big deal about Wall's frustration received quite the message that they were making a mountain out of a molehill; those kinds of things happen throughout the course of a season. As a team the Wildcats shot 50% from the field and the frontcourt of Cousins and Patrick Patterson outplayed the Rebel tandem of Murphy Holloway and DeAundre Cranston (30 points, 19 rebounds compared to 14 points, seven rebounds).
Yet despite finishing with 21 assists on 31 baskets there is still the issue of turning the ball over that Kentucky must remedy before the results make legends in March. The Wildcats turned the ball over seventeen times on Tuesday night, and in their seven conference games they're averaging almost fifteen turnovers per game (no fewer than fifteen in any of their last five games). This is an extremely talented team that can beat any team in the country. But when that final weekend rolls around turning the ball over at their current rate could prove costly if not take care of.
3. Yet another guard steps up for Villanova, who deals Seton Hall's tourney hopes a blow. While Scottie Reynolds makes the headlines for becoming the eighth player in Villanova history to eclipse the 2,000-point mark, it was Corey Stokes who hit a pair of big threes in the second half to help the Wildcats move to 9-0 in Big East play. Stokes' two three pointers sparked an 11-0 Wildcat run that spanned just over three minutes and gave Villanova a 73-62 lead that the Pirates couldn't erase. Four Wildcat starters reached double figures with Antonio Pena's 16 leading the way and all ten who played scored.
On the other side it was essentially the "Jeremy Hazell Show", with the junior scoring 32 points while no other Pirate scored more than nine (Hazell was benched with four minutes to go for taking a bad shot). Villanova's balance (and Seton Hall's lack of it) underlined the difference between these two teams and programs. On any given night someone unexpected can step up and make plays for the Wildcats, and while some teams may be trying to pare down their rotation in anticipation of March Jay Wright has the ability to count on a number of players. That's a trait that Villanova rode to the Final Four last season and it could very well pay off again this year.
Top Three Games
1. Bradley 67, Drake 65 A Will Egolf hoop with just under two seconds left in the game gave the Braves the win in Peoria. Josh Young led the Bulldogs with 19 points while Bradley's Sam Maniscalco led all scorers with 21 points.
2. Rhode Island 90, La Salle 83 The Rams picked up their eighteenth win of the season in Philadelphia with Will Martell leading six Rhody players in double figures. Rodney Green led the Explorers with 22 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.
3. Longwood 70, High Point 66 The Lancers came back from a ten-point deficit in the final 4:18 to knock off the Panthers. High Point's Nick Barbour led all scorers with 20 points while Longwood was paced by Antwan Carter, who finished with nineteen.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Mike Rosario and C Hamady Ndiaye (Rutgers) In the Scarlet Knights' 84-72 win over St. John's these two had outstanding games. Rosario scored 33 points and grabbed five rebounds while Ndiaye accounted for 19 points, nine rebounds and nine blocked shots.
2. G Rodney Green (La Salle) Green accounted for 22 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in the Explorers' 90-83 loss to Rhode Island. If you have yet to see this senior play be sure to do so; he's an outstanding talent.
3. F Kris Joseph (Syracuse) Joseph scored 23 points and grabbed seven rebounds off the bench in the Orange's 85-68 win over Providence.