Failure to meet high expectations in Big Ten

By Etheria Modacure

During Big Ten Media Day on Oct. 28, 2010, expectations were high for seven conference teams that could play in the NCAA tournament. The University of Illinois was hailed as a team with Final Four potential, Michigan State University was looking to claim a national championship and Northwestern University was on the verge of making its first tournament appearance.

A month before the tournament begins, the outlook for these teams isn’t what they expected. The Fighting Illini lost close road games to Indiana University, Penn State University, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Northwestern has dealt with the nagging left ankle sprain of their leading scorer, John Shurna, since conference play started. The Wildcats lost seven of their first 10 Big Ten games. The team experienced deflating defeats by Purdue University, Wisconsin, Michigan State twice, Illinois and the University of Minnesota.

The Spartans, however, were ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press’ preseason polls but have surpassed their loss total from last season with 10 as of Feb. 9.

After losses on the road against the University of Iowa and Wisconsin, Head Coach Tom Izzo reflected on what a tough stretch it was for his team.

“[It was] definitely one of the most disappointing weeks in my coaching career,” Izzo said.

Michigan State lost to Iowa 72-52 on Feb. 2 and was routed by Wisconsin 82-56 on Feb. 6. The Spartans have more than five losses in Big Ten conference play and recently suspended Korie Lucious for

detrimental behavior.

The Spartans were looking to make their third consecutive Final Four appearance this season but have put their NCAA tournament chances in jeopardy. Michigan State has a Ratings Percentage Index of 48, according to, which measures a team’s quality wins and losses.

The NCAA tournament will consist of 68 teams this March, so the Spartans could sneak in. But they will have to play better defense, according to Izzo.

“The concern with me, for some ungodly reason the last five games we’re giving up a terrible defensive field goal percentage,” Izzo said.

Currently, the Spartans have the worst scoring defense in the Big Ten, giving up 68.3 points per game. They allow their opponents to shoot 43 percent from the field, which ranks seventh in the conference for defensive shooting.

Michigan State’s offense hasn’t been inspiring either, ranking seventh in the Big Ten with 70.8 points per game. Izzo said with the loss of Lucious, their offense is limited with scoring options.

Northwestern has been unable to use their best offensive weapon proficiently in conference play. Shurna recently sat out a game against Ohio State University because of a concussion he suffered against the University of Minnesota.

Without Shurna being the player he was on the USA select team this past summer, the Wildcats have been limited on offense. For Northwestern, it’s been up to senior guard Michael “Juice” Thompson and sophomore guard Drew Crawford to carry the load.

The Wildcats have never made an NCAA tournament appearance although their home court, Welsh-Ryan Arena, hosted the first tournament in 1936.

At the beginning of the season, there were hopes that this could be the season things turned around for Northwestern with Sports Illustrated picking them to make the field of 68. After a 9-1 start, the Wildcats began losing momentum.

Northwestern had eight conference losses by Feb. 11. The Wildcats are ranked No. 81 in the current RPI ratings with two quality wins – one coming from beating in-state rival Illinois on Feb. 5, in Evanston, Ill.

Head Coach Bill Carmody said it was nice for the team to get a quality win and after tough losses to Purdue, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Illinois in Champaign. He hopes the team can get over the hump and start to win games consecutively.

“If we’re going to compete and make a run in this [conference] race, we’re going to have to go on a run here,” Carmody said.

For Illinois, this season has been an underachievement. The Illini have been upset on the road by the University of Illinois at Chicago, Penn State University, and Indiana University. They were the 16th ranked team in the country in the preseason but dropped out of the top 25 polls after their lost to Northwestern.

Head Coach Bruce Weber said after the loss to the Wildcats, the Illini need to play better consistently and on the road.

Their schedule doesn’t get easier with two of their final three road games against Ohio State and Purdue.

Illinois passed a tough road test on Feb.10 defeating No. 25 ranked Minnesota, 71-62.

“If we’re going to win on the road, we’ve got to get off to better starts,” Weber said. “We’ve spotted [teams] double-digit leads in the first half…. In gut-check time, you’ve got to get stops.”