Dec. 22, 2010
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The preliminaries are over; the basketball season now begins in earnest! There are 19 games left on the regular-season schedule, and not a single game is a gimme. Gone are the days when you could pencil in at least four or five guaranteed conference victories. Don't forget, we still have one non conference game left on the road at West Virginia. How's that for an easy road trip?
When the season began, it appeared that Michigan would be a soft touch this year. As of this writing, the Wolverines are 9-2, including a three point loss at Syracuse. Michigan went on the road and won at Clemson in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Enough said.
What can we expect from our team as the Big Ten begins?
If any fans were worried about such things as RPI or schedule strength, it is a moot point. The remaining schedule is so difficult that building an NCAA Tournament resume shouldn't be an issue. Go a couple of games over .500, and I think you are lock for the NCAA.
Winning the Big Ten is determined by how successful you are on the road. Purdue enters conference play with an eight-game road winning streak, in itself an impressive mark.
Of the conference teams, only Michigan State was tested with a difficult schedule, so at this point, I discount their early-season difficulties. I still would take the Spartans over Ohio State, although the Buckeyes are unbeaten and ranked second in the country.
The other thing about conference play is that all your opponents know your tendencies. By the time the conference tourney rolls around, there are no surprises.
Where can we expect improvements?
The defense, which has been good, can get better with time. An upgrade in opposition make defending harder, but also makes you better.
I think we go into the league action with some reasonable questions. Do we need a consistent third option scoring, or is that not necessary? I really can't give you an answer to that. Against certain teams, we most likely will have to play bigger. Can Sandi Marcius and Travis Carroll respond despite their lack of experience? To be effective offensively, we must be able to hit perimeter jump shots on a more consistent basis.
The other night, when IPFW decided to take JaJuan Johnson, away D.J. Byrd and Terone Johnson made them pay with three-point accuracy. You can't live and die with jump shots, but hitting open looks sure does neutralize some zones we'll see.
The fact of the matter is what it will all come down to is how tough you are. It is true that times change, but winning this league is first and foremost about toughness. Oh, and a little luck. Injuries are part of the game, but they've been a little too prevalent lately to anything that resembles a Boilermaker athletic team.
It's going to be a test every night out for the rest of the season. Take a night off and you guarantee yourself a loss.
Let the Big Ten season begin!