February 20, 2012 - 6:02pm
BY NEAL ROTHSCHILD
The Michigan basketball team had just one game last week, but used it efficiently. With a 56-51 win over then-No. 6 Ohio State at the Crisler Center on Saturday, the Wolverines shot themselves up to No. 11 in the Associated Press poll and brought themselves up to a tie for second place in the Big Ten standings.
Freshman point guard Trey Burke scored 17 points and tallied five assists to give him his fifth Big Ten Freshman of the Week award. That total eclipses teammate Tim Hardaway Jr.'s count from last year, but Burke is still one shy of Indiana forward Cody Zeller.
The Wolverines' victory vaulted No. 6 Michigan State into sole possession of the conference lead. The Spartans beat No. 16 Wisconsin by 14 and then used a strong second half to overcome a halftime deficit and beat Purdue on Sunday, also by 14 points. For some additional symmetry, Michigan State forward Draymond Green notched 20 points and 10 rebounds in both games to earn his fourth Big Ten Player of the Week award of the season.
Both Illinois schools played games they'd rather forget last week. Looking for a marquee win in a bid for its first NCAA Tournament appearance, Northwestern found itself up five with ten minutes to play in Bloomington before faltering down the stretch and losing to Indiana, 71-66.
The same night, Illinois lost by five to Purdue and Fighting Illini coach Bruce Weber sounded off in his postgame press conference by questioning his team's talent and admitting that he had been coaching not to lose this season. How did his team respond three nights later? By getting blown out, 80-57, by bottom-dwelling Nebraska. Weber's job is in serious jeopardy and when the Wolverines visit Assembly Hall on March 1, it could be the last home game of his Illinois career.
Down one game in the standings with four conference games remaining, Michigan finds itself with the easiest schedule of the contending teams. The Wolverines will take on Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois and Penn State in the next two weeks and the average position of those teams in the conference is ninth. The Spartans have to travel to Bloomington next week and end their season with Ohio State, while the Buckeyes have the Michigan State game as well as a contest with Wisconsin to worry about.
Below are the Big Ten standings along with NCAA Tournament seed projections from ESPN's Joe Lunardi:
1) No. 6 Michigan State (11-3), 1-seed
2) No. 11 Michigan (10-4), 3-seed
2) No. 8 Ohio State (10-4), 2-seed
4) No. 16 Wisconsin (9-5), 4-seed
5) No. 23 Indiana (8-7), 5-seed
6) Purdue (7-7), 10-seed
7) Iowa (6-8)
7) Northwestern (6-8), 12-seed (last four in)
9) Minnesota (5-9), first eight out
9) Illinois (5-9)
11) Nebraska (4-10)
12) Penn State (4-11)