Keeping up the theme from Mike's post this morning, in today's review of the Big Ten, I'm comparing Big Ten teams to prominent characters and teams from everyone's favorite sports movie: Hoosiers.
Before we get there, though, a quick review of what we saw this weekend. All the home teams covered the spread, as did every underdog, except Penn State. In other words, the games, except the Saturday evening massacre, we're all quite competitive. Illinois stayed with Ohio State, Minnesota and Northwestern each played equally badly, Michigan State beat an over-ranked Wisconsin team despite losing the turnover battle by 3, and Indiana and Michigan played a first-to-40-wins-barn-burner that was as entertaining as advertised.
Given that most of the games were closer than anticipated, you might be tempted to argue that there's not a big difference between the top and the bottom of the conference. You would be wrong. Ohio State is still head and shoulders above everyone else in the conference until they are in real danger of losing. Playing a tight game in their first road contest against a mercurial Illinois team that never led in the second half doesn't count. The last third of the conference-Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois-is still pretty bad. But they can also upset anyone on any given Saturday, except Ohio State and, probably, Iowa. Everyone else is certainly susceptible to a playing a bad game against a bad team at the wrong time, but I don't expect it to happen regularly.
Onto the comparisons:
Ohio State is South Bend Central, the team Hickory High plays in the state finals. Ohio State is bigger, stronger, and faster than everyone else and will be expected to win every game they play. They can lose, but it's going to take a great game from the opponent, with a dramatic pre-game speech, a great performance from the underdog's best player, and it will likely come down to the last minute.
Illinois is Buddy, the solid defender who leaves the team to play for Terhune early in the season only to mysteriously return later and become a solid contributer. We don't know what to expect from Illinois, maybe they'll show, maybe they won't. But they can play defense.
Michigan is George, the ex-coach who hates discipline, defense, passing, fundamentals and common courtesy. They play the villain well in plenty of good sports movies -- Dan Devine in Rudy, Harris in Major League -- and could do so again this Big Ten season, particularly Halloween weekend in Happy Valley.
Indiana is Rade, the intemperate son of George who likes to throw up Hail Mary's from anywhere on the court. They're exciting to watch, but they lack the defense and fundamentals to be really good.
Northwestern is Shooter, the town drunk that knows everything there is to know about the greatest game ever invented. Admittedly, the connection here is tenuous, but I love Shooter--he's my avatar--and I'm a big fan of Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats. Moreover, Shooter was good way back when--Clete, you tell ‘em about sectionals of '33?--just like Northwestern, who last were great in 1936 and 1962. No one really knows just what to think of Northwestern, but they are poised to become big players late in the season.
Minnesota is Ollie, the last man on the bench. They're small and shoot free throws like your grandmother, but they could play out of their minds at the right moment to pull an unbelievable upset.
Iowa is Cedar Knob, whose players play like a bunch of gorillas. It's bad enough you have to play in that purgatory they call a stadium, they beat the good guys and no one likes it. But a bad lose on the road there can help a team come together to achieve greatness later.
Michigan State is Everett, the son of the town drunk who plays with a chip on his shoulder. Like Everett, Michigan State isn't flashy, but they're fundamentally sound, play good defense, and are solid contributors. But there are also some psychological issues lurking in the back, and when you least expect, they could start a fight in the lobby, break a trophy case, and kill their season. Also, their leader/coach/father, is in and out of the hospital with some medical issues.
Wisconsin is Myra Fleener, the wet-blanket girlfriend that has a lot of power, even though no one knows why and no one is happy about it. They have the potential to take down the star of the show (i.e. they could beat Ohio State) at the big town meeting over the basketball coach (the most ridiculous part of the movie by the way; I know that people in Indiana love basketball, but it's absurd to imagine every person in a town coming out to vote in a referendum on a coach mid-season). While they have the potential to take down the star, they don't do it.
Purdue is Cletus, the school principal, because no one knows why they dragged Danny Hope's bones in to replace Joe Tiller. They also are constantly nagged by health problems that are seriously affecting their ability to perform.