Purdue 68, #11 Illinois 61
There's a common myth that homecourt advantage is significantly different in one place versus another. That you have to be afraid of playing at Duke, but not at playing at Texas Southern. And that statement is true, but deceptive. On average, Duke will play 8 points better at home than on the road, but so will Texas Southern. The teams that run off huge winning streaks at home will tend to be the teams that also win a lot of games on the road. You should be much more afraid of Duke on the road than Texas Southern, too. Las Vegas recognizes this - they set their spreads based on the computer ratings. Every team gets the same homecourt advantage, despite the myth you hear in the media all the time that some teams get more respect because they "never lose at home".
The reason I went on that long tangent was because of a common theme that was all over the internet after this game - the idea that "there will be no easy road games in the Big Ten". And that's more or less true, but there also won't really be many easy home games in the Big Ten. It's because there are no bad teams in the Big Ten (other than maybe Nebraska). There will be no large road favorites simply because there isn't that big of a gap between the top third and bottom third of the league. Purdue could finish as low in the 10th in the Big Ten, but they're at least an NIT-quality team. They're feisty, and they're going to be good at home and, honestly, not that bad on the road. Top teams are going to lose games because there are no bad opponents in the Big Ten. The conference has absurd depth this season.
What stood out in this game more than anything was poor Illinois defensive rebounding, which has been a problem all season. Purdue lacks an efficient point guard or good shooters (even DJ Byrd hasn't shot well this year.. presumably because his teammates can't get him the ball with as much space to shoot as he had last season), so they struggle to score when they can't get a lot of rebounds. Four of their five most efficient offensive performance this season have featured an offensive rebounding percentage of at least 40%. Meanwhile, seven of their eight least efficient offensive performance this season have featured an offensive rebounding percentage under 40%. Here? They were at 43.2%, and scored an efficient 1.07 PPP.
Illinois can't dwell on this loss. They will get an immediate chance to atone on Saturday, when Ohio State comes to town. After that they'll get Minnesota, and then will head on the road to play Wisconsin. So the next two weeks could feature some really nice wins, or it could feature something like a 1-3 start to the season. Purdue will head on the road next, at reeling Michigan State on Saturday. They'll then play Ohio State back in Mackey Arena on Tuesday.
Auburn 78, Florida State 72
Florida State can complain about the reffing (41 free throws for Auburn vs 15 for FSU), but the reality is that they were badly outrebounded (16 offensive rebounds for Auburn vs 8 for FSU) and were very sloppy (20 turnovers for FSU vs 9 for Auburn). And regardless, there's no excuse for even allowing a team like Auburn to be close. Auburn came into this game 1-6 against the Pomeroy Top 200, with the one win coming against the College of Charleston. They're not a good team at all.
Defending rebounding and turnovers have been a problem for the Seminoles all season. They are now 251st in the nation in DR% and 272nd in offensive TO%. Okaro White has been the lone bright spot, but he was taken out of this game (8 points on 3-for-7 shooting). Leonard Hamilton is turning more and more of his team's offense over to freshmen like Devon Bookert (8 points and 6 assists in 31 minutes off the bench here). I'm not sure it's paying off in the short term. At this point, making the NCAA Tournament is looking like a real long shot for this Florida State team that isn't even a good defensive team anymore.
The Seminoles will enter ACC play at 8-5 with decent wins over BYU and St. Joseph's, along with bad losses to Mercer, South Alabama and Auburn. They'll have to get to at least 11 wins in ACC play to have a chance of being considered on Selection Sunday, and they'll have to play dramatically better to get even close to that. They'll open ACC play with a pair of road games, at Clemson on Saturday, and at Maryland on Wednesday. Auburn will open SEC play on Wednesday, against LSU.
#16 Creighton 79, Illinois State 72
Both of these teams are among the top ten in the nation in eFG% (Creighton is actually tops in the nation at 59.5%), and both teams were knocking down jumpers here. The teams combined to hit 50% of their three-point attempts, with Creighton shooting just a little bit better (13-for-25). The offenses also combined for 38 assists, to only 19 turnovers, and for 1.14 PPP. With the Illinois State crowd rocking, it's the type of fun Missouri Valley game that we're going to see a lot of this season. It's a shame that the Valley can't get more games on national television. Casual basketball fans would love these games if they got a chance to watch more of them.
Ethan Wragge is such a frustrating player to try to stop, because he never, ever dribbles the ball. He stands in the corner and if he's open he takes threes, and rarely misses. He was 6-for-9 behind the arc here, and for the season he's hit 34 three-pointers and 2 two-pointers. That's not a typo. A lot of credit for this win also has to go to Grant Gibbs, who has been promoted this year from "glue guy" to "really good player". He had 16 points, 7 assists and only 1 turnover here.
This was a really big missed opportunity for Illinois State. They came up just short against Louisville and Northwestern, and then opened Missouri Valley play with a narrow loss at Indiana State. With this loss they not only fall to 0-2 in conference play, but they lose their best remaining chance for a quality win. With their at-large chances slipping away a little bit, they really need to just win some games. They will play Northern Iowa on Saturday, and then at Missouri State on Tuesday.
With this win, I think Wichita State is the only team left standing between Creighton and the Missouri Valley title. Those two play in their regular season finale, on March 2nd, so keep that game marked on your calender. The Bluejays will next play on Saturday, against Indiana State.