It has been an interesting week in Big Ten basketball. The Big Ten/ACC Challenge and all of the preseason tournaments are now in the past. Conference play starts in under three weeks and there are still some good games before that. This is the time where teams are jockeying for position, before they are swept in to the violent storm that is the Big Ten conference schedule. So, let’s see who had a good week and who did not.
Wow, was that a big win over Gonzaga, on Saturday night. The Illini went in to one of the toughest places to win, against a top 10 team, and earned an 85-74 win. Brandon Paul was sensational, and Illinois has now emerged as a real team to look out for. Paul is looking like an All-Big Ten player, averaging 20 points a game. They sit at 10-0, with a ton of confidence in their new coach, John Groce. If you told me over the summer that this is where the Illini would stand on December 9th, I would not have believed it. But, here they are, undefeated. Illinois fans should be circling December 22nd on their calendar. That is when they travel to play rival no. 12 Missouri, in what will be an enormous game nationally. Until then, they can get their John Groce portraits painted and framed.
Beilein earned his 100th win at Michigan, Saturday over Arkansas. This is the best team he has had yet in his tenure, and all that young talent must be fun to coach for Beilein. Michigan is no. 3 in the country and undefeated. They have an All-American in Trey Burke, one of the best scorers int he country in Tim Hardaway Jr. and two of the best freshmen in the country in Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. Beilein has it pretty good right now.
Purdue is very bad. This has to be the worst team of the Matt Painter era. It has been a coaching tenure highlighted by consistency, having made it to the NCAA Tournament all of the last six seasons. Barring an incredible turnaround, that will end this year. Purdue’s most recent loss was as ugly of a game involving a Big Ten team as I can recall in the last few years. They lost to Eastern Michigan 47-44, with both teams making under a third of their shots. For the most part the Big Ten is pretty solid throughout, but Purdue is looking like a definite bottom feeder.
It was not all good news for Indiana after their thrashing of Central Connecticut State. Reserve forward Austin Etherington, a sophomore forward, fell to the ground, writhing in pain after his knee collided with a driving Central Connecticut State player. Etherington stayed down, and it was later reported he will miss the rest of the season with a fractured patella in his left leg. Etherington had surgery Sunday morning, on an injury that takes 3-4 months to recover from, on average. This will be tough on the whole team. Head coach Tom Crean said, “Anytime you lose a valued member of your program it not only hurts the team, but also everyone’s hearts.”
Things will have to move on without Etherington, as no. 1 Indiana plays Butler on Saturday.