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Three Top 50 Wins For The Price Of One

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Sorry for the late game wrap. I didn't get back from Cincinnati last night until 1am and I am just now getting a chance to see some highlights from this win. Apparently all that needs to happen for things to break our way in the Big Ten is have me away from a TV. We earned a convincing win over a ranked team for the second straight week, Ohio State nearly got upset by Northwestern without John Shurna, and Penn State upsets Wisconsin. The last part was the best bonus of the day, as the boost it gave Penn State moved them into the top 50 of the RPI at #47. That gave us two additional top 50 wins, including one on the road at the suddenly formidable Bryce Jordan Center.

Of course, our third top 50 win yesterday was over Minnesota. This was big because we turned around a result that went against us in Minneapolis. We even did so with E'Twaun Moore not doing a lot. As usual, JaJuan Johnson was JaJuan Johnson, but we got solid contributions from everyone else. This now sets up a huge game in Madison on Tuesday. Win it, and I honestly think an undefeated run through the remainder of the schedule hinges on Ohio State's visit to Mackey Arena.

Think about it. Illinois and Michigan State are looking pretty awful at the moment. Indiana and Iowa should be wins if we're as good as we think we are. That represents six of the eight games after our trip to Madison on Tuesday. The other two are home games, where we play amazing basketball in Mackey Arena. Therefore, if we beat Wisconsin we separate ourselves by two full games over everyone in the conference except the Buckeyes. Even if we don't catch Ohio State, a solid #2 still gets us a good seed in March.

Let's not get too far ahead, however. Let's look at this win first.

Positives from the second Minnesota game:

Ryne Smith - Welcome back, Rayne Man! Yes, the three 3-pointers were big, but I enjoyed his 6 for 6 effort from the free throw line more. We need a closing performance like that from the line. If Ryno can be the guy that goes to the line and cools the other team in close games in the final minute that replaces another key aspect that was lost with a certain knee injury. Ryne was key in breaking open yesterday's game with a huge second half. I think it is safe to say we need at least something from him if we're going to win. In our four losses he has eight points total, with an 0-fer at West Virginia. All six of his double figures scoring games (Austin Peay, Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State, Iowa, and Minnesota) have been double-digit wins. A couple of his threes were even contested threes.

Patrick Bade - Where the hell has this guy been? One of the reasons I love coach Painter is that he is a coach who makes you earn your playing time. If you don't work hard, you don't play. One of the bright spots of the debacle in Columbus is that Patrick saw some extended minutes. Even though it was garbage time, he played hard and earned himself a look yesterday. Even though many fans, including several in the OpenThread, were shocked that he got in, Patrick delivered yesterday.

The only explanation for this is hard work. If you keep putting in effort behind the scenes you will get your chance. Think about John Hart last year, who barely played before delivering one of the biggest wins of the season at Illinois. If we can get this Patrick Bade this rest of the year, along with continued improvement from Travis Carroll and a few minutes here and there from Sandi Marcius, we finally have the Hanson Brothers we've been wanting. Who cares if it took until game #22 for it to happen? As long as we get it during the most important stretch is all that matters.

Lewis Jackson - Dare I say, 3-Jack? The man has really picked up his scoring to (gasp!) become a third scorer. Of course, no we'll be asked to find a third scorer, as if we can pick up scorers in a 12-pack like the following I saw at the famous Jungle Jim's yesterday:

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I don't think LewJack is going to become a regular threat from beyond the arc. If he does, great. The point is that as long as he is a threat to score on the drive or with a jumper he becomes the infamous Something Else for teams to worry about. As I keep saying: We know what we're going to get with E'Twaun and JJ. It is up to everyone else to become threats so the game opens up for them. Yesterday's second half, with LewJack, RayneMan, and the Byrdman all wrecking havoc is a prime example.

D.J. Byrd - I like what we see from D.J. in games like these. His line in the box score doesn't look like much, but he is working on the defensive end and hitting shots when he is called. Sometimes it is not how many you score, but when you score that makes a difference. Think about Hart last year in the Minnesota game in Minneapolis last year. He didn't score much, but he hit the 3-pointer that broke their big run after The Injury. That gave us a confidence boost. Byrd is hitting some shots like that of late.

Perimeter defense - Welcome back, and it is about f*&%ing time. We are not going to beat teams if we don't switch on the perimeter. I would rather guard the perimeter like mad bastards and dare Jared Sullinger to score 65 and beat us personally than see what we saw in Columbus on Tuesday. in the first game Blake Hoffarber killed us in the first game of our perimeter defense slide, but yesterday we shut him down until the game was decided. We let guys like Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III do their thing inside, but it didn't kill us. Perimeter defense doesn't only take away jump shots, it denies entry passes and makes teams work for their points. This is Purdue-style basketball. We win when we play it and lose when we don't. It is that simple.

Rebounding - Amazingly, we outrebounded a much bigger Minnesota team again. Bade, LewJack, and Smooge were the leading rebounders. That, my friends, is effort.

Negatives from the second Minnesota game:

Ed Hightower - Only because it sounds like he was rare form yesterday.

Up next:

The Wisconsin game is absolutely huge because it either separates us as the only team that can catch Ohio State or it basically hands the Buckeyes the conference title. If we lose and the Buckeyes beat Michigan this week Ohio State will be three games ahead of everyone with eight to play. Even if we win in Mackey Arena, I don't think they are losing two more with the way they finish. If we win, and they beat Michigan, everyone except us will be four games back with eight to play. We need that separation from the pack in order to get a good seed regardless of if we catch OSU or not. We're good enough to win in Madison. We've won two of our last three there. Let's go do it again.