Michigan 81, #4 Duke 73
If you are ranked fourth in the nation, you do not want to have to play Michigan. After taking down #4 UCLA a few weeks ago, Michigan's newest victim is the new #4, Duke. I absolutely loved Michigan's team defense here. Duke players would have been forgiven for thinking that Michigan had 8 guys on the floor, because nobody could touch the ball without being surrounded by at least two defenders. In fact, Michigan sometimes got in trouble by pursuing too much, as they would occasionally leave themselves vulnerable to the cross-court pass and an open three pointer in the corner. And while you'd expect Duke to struggle to shoot with this defense, they also failed to hit a bunch of those open three-pointers. But we all know that Duke playing its best is going to beat Michigan at its best. But what we've learned is that Michigan is good enough that if they are at their best, and you're not at your best, they're probably going to knock you off. In addition to Manny Harris, Michigan had three other players show up big here, and each in different aspects of their games. DeShawn Sims had a monster game inside (28 points and 12 rebounds), Zach Novak was lights out for a little while there behind the arc (4-for-7 three-point shooting for the game), and Kelvin Grady was pure energy off the bench (9 points, 4 assists, 0 turnovers, and led nearly every Michigan break while he was in the game). I strongly doubt that Michigan can seriously contend for a Big Ten title, but how can you not put them in your bracket at this point?
Ohio State 67, #7 Notre Dame 62
This win was even more impressive when you note that Notre Dame had won 39 straight at home. Now, I don't know if this technically counts as an end to that winning streak, since the game was actually held at Lucas Oil Stadium (where the Indianapolis Colts play), but it was certainly a hostile crowd that this young Ohio State team faced and defeated. Luke Harangody was back on the floor, and was pretty good with 25 points and 16 rebounds, but I still felt like he's not all there after his illness. With right around one minute to go in the game, Harangody had two relatively easy shots on consecutive possessions that he missed. If he made both, they'd have tied up the game. I think he still has a way to go. And Ohio State could write a textbook on shutting down Kyle McAlarney, who didn't have an inch of space to maneuver when he had the ball within 30 feet of the basket. It all put a lot of pressure on the Notre Dame bench, where they are just not that good. Notre Dame is about their Big Three, and if you can control those three (as Ohio State did as well as just about any team has this year) then the Irish are in trouble. A win like this is important for Ohio State, because they need to stay a step ahead of all of the new bubble teams in the Big Ten. We know that Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin are looking pretty safe for Tournament bids, but Ohio State needs to stay grouped in close to those guys, rather then falling back into the bubble discussion with the likes of Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Penn State, Northwestern and others.
Northwestern 63, DePaul 36
Speaking of Northwestern, how about this below-the-radar win? Once again, Kevin Coble was the star for the Wildcats (25 points and 6 rebounds), but once again Northwestern won because of a team effort: great passing and great defense. It's all in the stats: 18 assists on 26 made baskets, with only 9 turnovers. They also held their own on the boards against a larger DePaul team (37 rebounds vs 33 for Depaul). And of course, anytime you hold your opponent to 24% shooting you did a pretty good job of team defense. Northwestern now moves to 6-1 with wins over Florida State and DePaul, and their only loss on the road to a good Butler team. They have one more tough opponent before the Big Ten starts (at Stanford, two weeks from today), but the real test will be how they start conference play. Northwestern really gets thrown in the deep end, starting out the Big Ten with this schedule: at Penn State, vs Michigan State, at Wisconsin, vs Purdue, vs Minnesota, at Michigan State, at Michigan. I mean, my goodness. They could play pretty darn good and still come out of that 1-6. If Northwestern is going to be a serious at-large contender, they've got to find a way to win a minimum of two of those. The second half of their schedule is much easier, but I still can't see them going any better than 7-4 over that stretch. Assuming that they need to go 9-9 in the Big Ten to even be in the at-large discussion, that means that the 2-5 start would be a minimum. We'll get a good sense of how they will play on the road during that Stanford game.