Low scoring in the Big Ten shows power of excellent defensive play

By Jeremy Werner

Here we go again.

The Fighting Illini men’s basketball team’s performance against No. 8 Michigan State seemed like a replay of every game this season.

Some of the highlights: Seniors Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle combined for nine points on 3-of-13 from the field, an anemic 41 points and a miserable 7-of-19 from the free-throw line.

Although the lack of offense may have caused some fans to gag, the game was a classic, physical Big Ten showdown.

Big Ten basketball is often overlooked not only because of ESPN’s East Coast bias, but because many think it is just boring to watch.

While the East Coast features high-scoring, less defensive games (think the Phoenix Suns) the Big Ten plays old-school, defensive basketball (think the San Antonio Spurs).

Of the six BCS conferences, the Big Ten is last in points per game with 68.2. The Pac-10 is fifth with 72.2 points per game, while the ACC leads with 76.5 points per game, thanks in large part to North Carolina. The SEC averages 76.2 points per game, while the Big 12 and Big East both average 74.1.

In fact, only three Big Ten teams (Indiana, Michigan State and Minnesota) rank in the top 101 scoring offenses among Division I teams.

The Illini held the Spartans to their second-lowest offensive output all season – Michigan State was held to 43 points in a loss at Iowa – good for nearly 23 points below the Spartans’ season average.

While Wednesday night’s matchup with Michigan State was likely viewed as one of the ugliest, most boring games this season by most, I actually found it to be rather refreshing.

In an era where dunking is praised over a consistent mid-range shot, seeing two teams play amazing defense is a rarity. But not in the Big Ten.

Even though Illinois struggles to score more than 65 points most nights, it is able to compete against top-10 teams like Indiana and Michigan State because of intense defensive pressure. Bruce Weber’s team knows that if it allows a team to score more than 70 points, it really does not have a chance for victory. The team’s defensive effort is always impressive and will have to be with Purdue, Indiana and Wisconsin coming to the Assembly Hall in the next two weeks.

Great defense is not only a quality for Illinois but also the rest of the Big Ten. Michigan (5-16) is the only team in the Big Ten to allow more than 67.5 points per game.

This intense defensive effort is what is going to carry Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament this year.

Illinois’ defense limited Michigan State’s ability to find open shots, forcing it to find new ways to win such as playing equally tough defense and getting to the free-throw line.

Although Illinois shot itself in the foot by missing 8-of-10 free throws in the final five minutes of the game, the Spartans deserved to win because of their second-half adjustments.

Indiana, Purdue and Wisconsin have all faced the same challenges and will all benefit from these experiences.

Some nights, the ball just does not seem to go through the net, but it is a team’s ability to overcome these poor offensive nights that helps it win in March and early April.

It’s an old cliche, but sometimes the best offense is a good defense.

The Big Ten has added a lot of talent this year with a slew of standout freshmen led by Indiana’s Eric Gordon, Ohio State’s Kosta Koufos and Purdue’s trio of Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore and Scott Martin.

With this influx of talent and a hardcore defensive mindset, the Big Ten is set to show come March that its style of play is underappreciated and overlooked by fans and the media.

I, for one, will definitely have a couple of Big Ten teams as bracket busters in my tournament pools.

Jeremy Werner is a junior in Communications and can be reached at [email protected]