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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mid-Week Basketball Thoughts

-Is the East as bad as we all think it is? The first third of the season was marred with contenders hitting .500 or below and the freaking Knicks easily becoming the #2 team in the conference. Couple that with the West housing the Thunder, Spurs, Clippers, the surprising Warriors, and the fiesty Grizzlies... and the East went right back to where it was three years ago. But lately the East has been having a bit of a resurgence. The Bulls and Pacers have settled into life without their stars (Rose and Danny Granger) and now sit at 19-13 and 21-14 respectively, with both of them notching wins over the Heat this week. Atlanta and Brooklyn are falling back to where they should be after hot starts, and Boston is on a 3 game win streak. Could the East have simply gotten off to a poor start because three of the five best teams in the conference had to get used to a very different life (the Celtics lost Ray Allen)?

-Derrick Rose is taking contact in practice now. For other players, that normally means their return will come within two weeks. For Rose? That's highly doubtful. The organization saw what happens when you push a guy who plays like Rose back from injury too quickly, and it's what got them into this mess. Look for the Bulls to give him several weeks of extra practice before he steps onto the court, and when he does come back, don't expect him to play anything over 25 minutes per game for a while. The Bulls have won 3 in a row and 4 of 5, so there's no reason to rush the former MVP into anything. The All-Star game is on February 17. The Bull's first game after is February 19 at New Orleans, but the first home game back is February 21... against the Heat. That would give Derrick 6 weeks of contact practice to heal, maybe get back to regular practice in two to three weeks, and make his debut, at home, to a raucous crowd, against the hated Miami Heat. Sounds perfect to me.

-Illinois had one hell of a bounce-back game against OSU on Saturday. After taking a difficult to swallow loss against Purdue, Brandon Paul continued his high efficiency play, shooting 6/12 from the field, scoring 19 points, and grabbing 7 rebounds, eventually throttling the Buckeyes 74-55. The humorous thing to take away from this game is that Illinois forced OSU to become Illinois from last year. They took away every scoring option OSU had but DeShaun Thomas, and he was more than happy to take 21 shots on the day and score 24 points (that's some bad efficiency). Aaron Craft scored 11, but no other OSU player had more than 8. Groce has really made the most of what he has, and Brandon Paul has emerged as a premier player in the B1G. I would expect a lot of hype for him as a late first rounder in the draft. He has a smooth stroke, takes great shots, and even has some dribble-drive moves. I'm sure the Bulls would love someone like him to fall into their lap.

-One other interesting B1G note, Wisconsin continues to look extremely unimpressive. After surviving mighty Penn State, Wisconsin managed to beat Nebraska 47-41 on Sunday. Before you defend the Badgers by saying they're a defensive team anyway, remember that Nebraska is a mighty 320th in points per game this year... and that was against their weak non-conference schedule. Wisconsin has played 4 good teams. They lost all four games. In those four they scored over 56 points ONE TIME, losing 84-74 to Creighton. The first time Creighton gave up less than 70 points to a quality team this year was literally Saturday, against Indiana State, and they scored 66. Creighton beats you with offense, not defense. Wisconsin will be tested in the B1G in the next couple weeks with games at home against Illinois, at Indiana, at Iowa, home for MSU, home for Minnesota, at OSU, at Illinois... the beat goes on. If they get lucky, do they get one win out of those? Two? Joe Lunardi has this team in the tourney right now... let's see how he feels in two weeks.