Bracketography at the 2006 Big Ten Tournament
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by Chris Mackinder
Conseco Fieldhouse - Indianapolis
Penn State 60, Northwestern 42
The patrons were sparse in the stands at Conseco Fieldhouse for this noon tip-off. But the people there were definitely fans as this was the only game in the 10-game Big Ten Tournament that was basically meaningless.
Neither the Nittany Lions nor Wildcats are NCAA Tournament bound – unless they win the conference tournament and those chances are as realistic as Duke turning down a bid for the Big Dance
That said, the game displayed intensity by both teams, each trying to build momentum for '07 and impress the NIT's selection committee.
Thanks for hot outside shooting, Penn State took leads of 9-0 and 12-3 – four triples from four different players – and enjoyed a 31-21 cushion at halftime. That was much in part to the Nittany Lions' offense as it was to their defense. Northwestern's best player Vedran Vukusic did score until 18 minutes into the game. By that time, Penn State held a 29-14 lead.
Northwestern (14-15) followed up a poor shooting performance in the first half (37.5 percent) with an even worse one in the second (26.9 percent). The result was a blowout that isn't completely represented with the 60-42 final score.
Geary Claxton led Penn State with 17 points and 10 boards while Travis Parker and Mike Walker each added 10. Penn State also dominated the boards (39-26) and completely dominated free-throw shooting by going 14-for-25 compared to Northwestern's 3-for-6 performance. Mohamed Hachad paced the Wildcats with 16 points while Vukusic finished with 10.
While the Wildcats are the team people have been waiting for to make a move upward in the Big Ten, don't sleep on Penn State (15-13). Ed DeChellis is building a program and his monster is quickly ascending.
Not only did the Nittany Lions with six conference games this year, they did what many teams attempt to do but fail miserably: win at Illinois. None of the Big Ten's "big boys" could come close to doing it.
The win might not look like much, and most people can't say they saw it, but Penn State is on the path back to respectability. Don't be shocked if Penn State catches Ohio State thinking about the NCAA Tournament today and pulls the upset.
"We have had a lot of first this year," DeChellis said after the game. "We hadn't won a road game in several years and I think we won three. We hadn't had a winning record in a few years and now we have a winning record… So there positive things you can look at, including being the eighth seed instead of the eleventh seed…You can just look at the numbers and see that this thing is going in the right direction. I think we've built a foundation and now have to put the sides up. We just have to keep moving. I feel great about our kids and where we're going."
Minnesota 59, Michigan 55
Right now, the Wolverines hate Syracuse. They hate George Washington. They hate California. In reality, the only team they should hate is their team.
Having the chance to guarantee an NCAA Tournament bid for the first time since 1998, Michigan choked it away. The only thing missing was Chris Webber's phantom timeout. Michigan was on the bubble, but – if there is such a thing – they were on the "high" bubble with many other teams in more danger than the Wolverines.
But Syracuse upended Uconn (thanks to another Gerry McNamara prayer) to secure an at-large bid and George Washington losing to Temple in the Atlantic 10 Tournament means the league – which was only going to get one bid – is guaranteed two. The fewer at-large spots left in the Field of 65, the more Michigan will be sweating from now until Selection Sunday.
How did the Wolverines (18-10) get in this predicament? It started in the second half. Despite leading 27-23 at halftime, and leading for the entire game up to that point, Michigan wasn't playing solid ball. The Wolverines, despite holding an eight-point lead at 20-12 midway through the first half, shot just 35.5 percent including 2-for-12 from 3-point range.
But the lackluster effort caught up to Michigan in the second half. Minnesota tied the score at 31 – in the middle of an 8-0 run – and the Wolverines never took the lead again. At one point, the Wolverines had eight turnovers in 11 possessions, looking more like a team struggling to have a winning record than a team fighting for an NCAA bid.
"I'm certainly disappointed in us," Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. "We have not played a good stretch of basketball as of late. It was a winnable game for both teams, the way the game was structured possession by possession."
Dion Harris and Daniel Horton led the Wolverines with 16 and 14 points, respectively. However, each had five turnovers. Maurice Hargrow led Minnesota (15-13) with 15 points, Vincent Grier added 11 and Dan Coleman dropped in 10. Zach Puchtel scored just three points but grabbed 15 rebounds – five on the offensive end.
As much as Michigan looked as if it was trying to lose the game, Minnesota kept things close until the final buzzer. After the Wolverines took their last timeout with a minute to play, trailing 54-48, the Gophers missed four straight free throws. Lester Abram, who returned to the Wolverines from an injury hit a floater with 19.5 seconds to play to bring Michigan within 56-54 but it was waived off and Abram was slapped with his fifth foul. The Gophers finally hit some free throws and the Wolverines were buried.
They could get fully covered Sunday evening.
Michigan State 70, Purdue 58
Purdue landed punch after punch. Even an elbow, which sliced open MSU big man Paul Davis above the left eyebrow. Using all they could muster, the Boilermakers were swinging haymakers in the closing minutes.
But a team with Final Four aspirations swung back and the punch was slightly more powerful, thrusting the Spartans into the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. There, the Spartans will take on third-seeded Illinois at 9 p.m. tomorrow, looking to avoid a third loss to the Fighting Illini this season. Illinois is also the defending champion and has been to the title game the last three years (winning in 2003 and 2005).
"We're not looking at it like they're here and we're here," MSU coach Tom Izzo said, gesturing with his hands. "We're looking at it as they've our number lately and we've got to find a way to get that corrected."
For Purdue, its 9-19 season – the first under head coach Matt Painter – is over but the future seems bright. For Michigan State, the future is now. The Spartans will look to pick up steam during the rest of their stay in the Big Ten Tournament and hoping to make another stop in Indianapolis – the site of this year's Final Four – before the season is done.
MSU (21-10) got it's usual scoring punch from Maurice Ager (20 points), Shannon Brown (11) and Paul Davis (11) but freshman forward Goran Sutton dropped in a career-high 12 points off the bench (well, technically he started the game but Izzo said he considered Suton to have brought a spark off the bench). Forward Matt Trannon, who has been sidelined for the last few weeks with a broken jaw, not only played 19 minutes (far more than Izzo expected him to play) but he delivered the missing toughness the Spartans needed.
With a mask covering his face – giving him the nickname Tran-i-ble Lecter – Trannon scored six points, grabbed four rebounds and even dove out of bounds for a loose ball, plowing over a pair of photographers. Arguably, MSU's only weakness on offense is the power forward position and while Trannon doesn't drop in J.P. Batista-type numbers, his presence in the post takes some of the burden off Davis – allowing the senior to just play without having to carry the team.
Gary Ware, a Detroit native, led Purdue with 20 points in just 21 minutes. His playing time was limited because of three first-half fouls. Matt Kiefer added 16 points while Bryant Dillon dropped in 13 and four assists.
Other than an early dry spell where Purdue turned a 14-9 deficit into a 19-14 lead, the Spartans didn't have too much trouble with the Boilermakers. While the Spartans didn't pull away at any point during the contest, the end result was never in doubt.
"I thought we played well in stretches and yet did not make the decisions necessary when we were up by eight at one point and 12 at another point. I think we can play a lot better, but in clutch times, each one of these guys (Davis, Brown, Ager) came through for different reasons."
In the Big Ten Tournament's eight-year history, the lowest seed to ever win the title is sixth-seeded Iowa in 2001. The Spartans, playing on the first day of the tournament for the first time, are looking to match that feat. MSU isn't concerned with winning four games in four days. The Spartans' main goal is to win six games in three weeks and March – a time when Izzo is at his best – is when MSU gets things figured out.
The Spartans might not win another game in the tournament, as Illinois was the overwhelming favorite in the minds of sports writers, but if MSU gets everything clicking, they're a team no one wants to face.
"I will say playing on the first day of the tournament is different," Izzo said. "It's the first time we've played in it. It's not the big crowd. It's not this or that, but we found a way to win and that's what you have to do when it's one and done time."