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Give me Moore, Give me Moore… (with Power Rankings)

Welcome to the game, E'Twaun Moore. That is all I can say after the best performance I was able to see during my self-imposed basketball orgy on Saturday. Because of high school games being rescheduled due to weather, I found myself covering the Noblesville-Lafayette Harrison game for the Noblesville Ledger around noon. Later Saturday night I had to cover the Kokomo-Lebanon game for both the Kokomo Tribune and Lebanon Reporter, so I took advantage of the lull between games and the fact that Buffalo Wild Wings had wireless internet and the Big Ten Network to watch the Purdue game. What transpired was the coming out party I have been waiting for Mr. Moore. It is clear now, after Saturday's victory, that the Boilers will be going to the NCAA Tournament barring a completely unexplainable collapse in these last nine games. We are also going to be right there in the hunt for the conference championship.

We are now at the halfway point in that championship race. Because of the schedule, the second half will be much more difficult than the first half, but few imagined that we would have handled the first half with the aplomb that did. Let's take a step back and look at what these kids have accomplished. They lost at home to Wofford. They nearly lost to Lipscomb. They struggled in the Big Ten opener against Michigan. At that point we were still looking like a fringe NCAA team at best if we could scrounge enough wins out of the Big Ten schedule. Trips to Illinois, Iowa, and Penn State (pre-Claxton injury) looked like games that would be natural stumbling blocks for a young team on the road. Something happened though, and I think it was that game in East Lansing.

In that game I think the young Boilers really woke up. Michigan State had played some of the best teams in the country hard during the non-conference schedule, yet we hung right with them and even had a chance to win late. We learned more from that 3 point loss than you would think a team could learn. It gave them confidence, especially since Robbie Hummel was sick and could have been the difference had he played. We learned that anyone can be our lead guy that night, as Calasan stepped forward for the first time and Chris Kramer had the type of game we need from him as a leader. We showed we still couldn't close like in the Missouri or Clemson games, but we showed that we would eventually learn that. Now we find ourselves at 17-5, 8-1 in the Big Ten and our worst loss is by 10 points to a good Missouri team where we completely collapsed in the final seven minutes. Honestly, I will take it and run.

Positives from the Illinois game:

Co-Big Ten player of the Week E'Twaun Moore – I have been waiting and waiting for him to take a game over and he finally did it. Now we have yet another weapon to throw at teams. My favorite shot during his second half run was the little jab step 3-pointer he absolutely nailed with a hand in his face. That is simply a shooter knowing he is on having the confidence to take that shot. It also had to be demoralizing to Illinois since he was guarded so well, and you could see it in E'Twaun's eyes that he was going to take that shot even before he did the jab-step. He had total confidence simply rotating the ball just right in his hands before the step. It was a thing of beauty.

Marcus Green – Marcus has been in the shadows of late with everyone else's play, but he came up big on Saturday. His 15 points signified his best outing since the Ohio State game when he had 22, and it was only the second time he has been in double figures this season. Since that Ohio State game Marcus had only scored 8 points in five games, and all of those came in the blowout at Penn State. Marcus kept us afloat in the first half when everyone else was struggling.

Terrance Crump – Here is another guy that gave us some unexpected scoring, and shows why we will be in the hunt this season for a Big Ten championship. Championship teams have guys step up when the expected stars struggle. Since Calasan, Hummel, and Grant couldn't get anything in the first half guys like Crump and Green stepped forward to fill the void. We have eight proven guys that can fill that scoring void at any time, with JuJuan Johnson showing signs of being the ninth. Crump is the only guy who won't be back next year, and Saturday he played like a guy making the best of his last chance.

Rebounding – Illinois dominated the glass in Mackey Arena the first time around, but in Champaign we won the rebounding battle. It was rebounding by committee since no one had more than five rebounds, but as long as the job gets done I don't care. We also shot 49% from the field, which is much better than we have all season.

Winning in a hostile environment – Illinois is probably the best road win we have had in a long, long time. We did a great job of silencing the crowd, keeping the lead the entire second half, and had a season high in points during a road game. Every time Illinois had a run going we would have an answer, and that answer for most of the second half was E'Twaun Moore. We also hit enough free throws down the stretch to put it away.

Negatives from the Illinois game:

Fouls – I actually kind of liked our strategy of sending the Big Ten's worst free throw shooting team to the line 41 times, but until late in the game they were knocking them down like Reggie Miller. Since Illinois hits only about 50% of their free throws, their 73% effort on Saturday kept them alive and made our strategy backfire a bit. If they shoot their average we win by 20.

Interior defense – This was part two of what kept Illinois in the game. They kept missing open 3-pointer after open 3-pointer, but Brian Randle and Shaun Pruitt were killing us in the paint. It didn't help that Calasan was battling foul trouble and that JuJuan was not doing a lot on defense either. We will need better interior defense against Wisconsin next Saturday and Michigan State next week in what will be critical games for our title hopes.

Settling for the 3-pointer – We hit enough threes to justify some of the shots, but I felt there were too many possessions where we took the ill-advised long range shot. I think we need to learn a little more patience and attack the basket more. Moore and Crump did this and found a ton of success, but players like Grant settled too much. Of course, when you score 83 points on the road you have little to complain about.

Up next:

With Penn State's shocking upset of Michigan State suddenly the Nittany Lions don't look to be as much of a pushover at home. This will be another game where we must not look past them to Wisconsin. We have to take care of business at home, where a win would put us just two wins short of 20. Since we still have two games left against lowly Northwestern it would be very difficult for us to avoid 20 wins. The Bubble Watch says we still have work to do, which we do, but I think we are a tournament team right now. A loss to Penn State on Tuesday, even though they just beat Michigan State, would be a step back since we dominated them in their own gym. We must do the same at home and set up a showdown for first place on Saturday in Madison.

Big Ten Power Rankings:

I have done Bands of the 90's and The Simpsons Villains as a theme for Power Rankings, so I was at a bit of a loss for a theme this week. Then last night's Super Bowl happened. Since there were some pretty big upsets in the Big Ten this weekend I decided to do my rankings with a theme of the Greatest Upsets in Sports History.

  1. (2) Purdue (17-5, 8-1) – USA 4, USSR 3 – The greatest upset of all-time is reserved solely for the number one team at this time in the Big Ten: my Purdue Boilermakers. I didn't want to put them at #1 this week, but they have the tiebreaker with the head-to-head win over Wisconsin and they are playing the best basketball right now. Of course, I probably just jinxed them in the process. Purdue got one #1 vote in last week's poll, but it wasn't from me.
  2. (4) Wisconsin (18-3, 8-1) – Appalachian State over Michigan – I really want to consider the Badgers team 1A at this point, just like how the Appy State win is up there as an upset out of sheer unexpectedness. Regardless of what happens tomorrow night with Penn State I will pick the Badgers to win the return match in Madison, but we have already guaranteed at least a split and that is fine with me.
  3. (1) Indiana (18-3, 7-1) – Duke over UNLV in the 1991 Final Four – The Hoosiers take a step back this week with the loss to Wisconsin, but they are still very dangerous. Of course, if you talk to any IU fan their two game losing streak (to very good teams) is the end of the world and they would be better off with Mike Davis. It is similar the UNLV's loss because they were the last team that had a chance at being undefeated, but it's not as bad as it seems because it came in the final and Duke wasn't exactly a terrible team.
  4. (3) Michigan State (19-3, 7-2) – Giants over Patriots – I considered punishing the Spartans by knocking them out of the top four after the loss to Penn State, but neither Ohio State or Minnesota asserted themselves enough to move up to #4. Much like the Patriots after choking the game away the game to the Giants, the Spartans really have to think about what they have done with now two losses that shouldn't have happened.
  5. (5) Ohio State (15-7, 6-3) – Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson – The Buckeyes are clearly at the back of the line in the top half of the conference after losing to Iowa, but I still think they are solidly in place for an NCAA bid. Like Tyson in that Buster Douglas fight, the Buckeyes were a little over confident at Iowa and it may signal their downfall. We'll know more if they get facial tattoos and start losing uninspired games to Northwestern.
  6. (7) Iowa (11-12, 4-6) – Villanova over Georgetown in 1985 – Thank God we are done with these guys! Of course, they always get hot in the Big ten tournament and as hard as they play, they could possibly steal that automatic bid. At the very least they are an NIT threat right now, and no one wants to play them. The Villanova parallels are there because the Wildcats got walloped by Georgetown in the regular season like Ohio State thumped Iowa in Columbus.
  7. (6) Minnesota (13-7, 3-5) – Chaminade over Virginia – Minnesota is now 0 for 3 in chances to grab a signature win at home, meaning they are likely headed to the NIT unless they start pulling some upsets on the road. Though many rank this as a great upset, it's not like that Virginia team went on to accomplish much that season. Unfortunately for the Gophers, their 2007-08 season is shaping up to be much like that on a smaller scale. An NIT bid is still a very good step for them, and they should make it.
  8. (10) Penn State (11-10, 3-6) – 1998 Women's NCAA tourney 16-seed Harvard over 1-seed Stanford – With the way Penn State had been playing since the Claxton injury and the way the Spartans had played of late absolutely no one saw this one coming. The same is true for the only 16 over 1 victory in NCAA tournament history. Even then Stanford had the game at home. Penn State now has an outside chance at the NIT as well, but they have a ton of work to do.
  9. (8) Illinois (10-13, 2-8) – Denver Nuggets of Seattle Sonics in 1994 NBA Playoffs – The Nuggets were a flawed team that barely made the playoffs and knew they had little chance to win the title. They instead took the attitude they were taking everyone with them by knocking off the highly favored Sonics and nearly taking out the Jazz in round 2. This is the attitude Illinois will have on Thursday when Indiana and Benedict Gordon come to town.
  10. (9) Michigan (5-16, 1-8) – 1969 Mets – Because baseball season is so long I really don't consider anything there an upset. The same can be said for Michigan in basketball this year, as it appears any loss to them by the top 5 teams in the league would be like the Cubs choking away the division title in 1969. This team is clearly at least a year away.
  11. (11) Northwestern (7-12, 0-8) – Florida State beating Miami on a last second field goal – Like Northwestern getting a Big Ten win this season, Florida State actually making a game-winning field goal against Miami will likely never happen. If it does everyone would be shocked.