========= ILLINOIS =========
So which team does Illinois plan to be? The me-first group that couldn't handle neutral-court assignments against Georgia and Missouri to close out non-conference play? Or the group that understood how it needed to attack Northwestern on Wednesday night and did it enough to pull off an 89-83 overtime triumph over the 25th-ranked Wildcats?
The Illini trailed by nine points at halftime and by 10 with 17 minutes to go on their home court. Not long after that, even though they'd cut their deficit to 50-47, the team bickered enough at the start of a timeout that Illinois coach Bruce Weber spiked his greaseboard and marker in the huddle and then really lost his temper yelling at his guys.
But all's well that ends well -- Illinois got the ball to its big guys like never before this season, and the big guys responded. Seven-foot-1 Mike Tisdale and 6-9 Mike Davis combined for 51 points and 28 rebounds against Northwestern.
When the Illini return to the court on Saturday afternoon for a CBS-TV showdown with No. 26 Gonzaga at the United Center in Chicago, they won't be facing a defense that offers up as many looks near the basket (the Bulldogs start 7-foot, 247-pound Robert Sacre in the middle and bring a 7-5 fella off the bench).
But based on Illinois' obvious success against Northwestern -- and the lessons Weber has tried to impart since the team began its post-holiday practices on Dec. 27 -- it should be clear the Illini ought to at least try to pound the ball inside to Tisdale and Davis again.
"The last couple days in practice, we've been focusing on getting an inside touch," Tisdale said in the Daily Herald. "Whether we get a shot or not, just moving the ball, getting it inside and making the defense collapse. ... Obviously, me and Mike Davis got the post touches we need."
What's the downside? Tisdale, who delivered a career-high 31 points, shoots 62.5 percent from the field and 87.2 percent at the line.
ILLINOIS 89, NORTHWESTERN 83 (OT): For the ninth time in 11 years, the Illini opened Big Ten play with a victory as 7-foot-1 junior center Mike Tisdale poured in a career-high 31 points and 6-9 junior forward Mike Davis added 20 points and 17 rebounds. But this one wasn't easy against the 25th-ranked Wildcats.
The Illini trailed by nine points at the break because they kept giving Northwestern open 3-pointers. The Wildcats nailed 11 of 23 3-pointers in the first half but made just 5 of 24 after halftime as the Illini stopped trying to help out on dribble penetration and leaving guys alone on the 3-point arc.
Illinois couldn't protect a six-point lead with 3:36 left in regulation, but Davis' rebound basket on the first possession of overtime gave the Illini the lead for good. Davis and Tisdale took turns scoring on Illinois' first five overtime possessions. They also combined for 28 rebounds on the night.
--Few teams play defense as aggressively as Missouri, but look for some Big Ten teams to highlight their quickness when they face the Illini. Illinois' 22 turnovers against Mizzou represented the team's worst total since March 2008 -- a stretch of 47 games -- and the Tigers generated 25 of their 81 points off those turnovers. By the way, those 81 points represented the fifth-highest total against a Weber team (in regulation) since he arrived at Illinois prior to the 2003-04 season.
JANUARY AT A GLANCE: Considering Illinois went 1-4 away from Assembly Hall during pre-conference play, the Illini can't take any game for granted at this point. Nonetheless, there are a few games sure to be highlighted on the team's personal schedule. On Jan. 2, Illinois and Gonzaga meet at the United Center in Chicago with a CBS-TV audience looking on. Then, on Jan. 16, Illinois tests itself at Michigan State. Three days later, undefeated Purdue comes to Assembly Hall.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When the game first started, I was rushing. Coach kept telling me to slow down, slow down. It's kind of like a freshman thing when you get into a big game like this. It's probably the most amount of fans I've ever played in front of and it was Illini fans and Missouri fans. (My adrenalin) was pumping a lot, but it's just a learning process." -- Illinois freshman guard D.J. Richardson assessing his struggles against Missouri in the Daily Herald. Richardson, who entered the game shooting 54 percent on 3-pointers, committed three turnovers and airballed a 3 during the game's first 5 minutes.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Illinois went 7-0 at home against a series of underwhelming non-conference foes (though unheralded Wofford and Boise State both played the Illini tight. Illinois lost all four of its neutral-site games, even though it had the bigger crowd at all four events. The saving grace of the pre-conference season? Rallying from a 20-point halftime deficit to win at Clemson, which hadn't lost a non-conference home game in close to two years.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Mike Davis, C Mike Tisdale, G Brandon Paul, G D.J. Richardson, G Demetri McCamey. Key Subs -- F Bill Cole, F Dominique Keller, PG Jeff Jordan.
Illinois 88, Western Michigan 53
Georgia 70, Illinois 67
Missouri 81, Illinois 68
Illinois 89, Northwestern 83 (OT)
vs. Gonzaga (at Chicago), Saturday, Jan. 2
vs. Iowa, Tuesday, Jan. 5
at Indiana, Saturday, Jan. 9
vs. Penn State, Tuesday, Jan. 12
IN FOCUS: Illinois coach Bruce Weber likes to play neutral-court games in big venues because, among other reasons, he thinks they serve as dress rehearsals for the NCAA Tournament experience. This year, the neutral games with Georgia, Missouri and Gonzaga also will help determine whether Illinois gets into the NCAA Tournament for the 10th time in 11 years. The power trio boasts a combined record of 18-9 through Dec. 16, which doesn't sound great except that Mizzou and the Zags have played some brutal early schedules. Illinois needs to take at least two of the three to remain on the right side of the NCAA Tournament line.
ON THE SPOT: For the second consecutive game, Illinois allowed an opponent to get red hot from the 3-point arc from the start. Missouri went 6 for 11 in the first half on Dec. 23, and Northwestern made that look puny by hitting four 3's in the opening three minutes and drilling 11 of 23 bombs in the first half. On both occasions, the Illini were guilty of trying to help out and contain dribble-penetration -- only to watch a pass sent right to the deserted shooter for an open look. Northwestern cooled off to hit just 5 of 24 3-pointers after halftime, but the Wildcats missed several open looks. Gonzaga shoots 37 percent on 3-pointers and might not be as kind to the Illini.
--Junior center Mike Tisdale enjoyed a career night in Illinois' 89-83 overtime victory against No. 25 Northwestern. Tisdale, who hadn't gotten more than 10 shot attempts in a game this year, hit 11 of 14 field goals and 9 of 11 at the line for 31 points. The skilled 7-foot-1 veteran also battled for 11 rebounds, which gave him back-to-back double-doubles for the first time in his career.
--Junior forward Mike Davis missed an easy two-hand jam with 14 minutes left in regulation on Wednesday. While that seemed like a huge blooper at the time -- the Illini could have chopped a one-time 10-point deficit to one on the play -- Davis didn't hang his head, as he might have done on another night. Davis scored 10 of his 20 points after the miss and also contributed a career-high-tying 17 rebounds. The Big Ten's leading rebounder (10.4 rpg) own seven double-doubles this year and 16 for his career.
--Junior point guard Demetri McCamey failed to score in double figures for just the third time this season, but that was just fine with the Illini as he focused on solving Northwestern's confusing matchup zone and 1-3-1 trap. McCamey finished with nine points on just nine shots, but he handed out eight assists with just two turnovers. The league's leader in assists and turnovers hadn't enjoyed such a nice ratio since going for 10 assists and two turnovers against hapless Presbyterian on Nov. 21.
--Freshman guard Brandon Paul injured his right ankle or foot during the opening minute of the Dec. 23 loss to Missouri. Paul needed training-room treatment, but returned eventually and played 19 minutes. The team hit the Christmas break assuming Paul would be good to go for the Big Ten opener against Northwestern on Dec. 30.
--Forward Dominique Keller, the lone senior on Illinois' roster, averaged 15.1 minutes in Illinois' first 11 games but played just six minutes against Missouri. That had more to do with matchups against the quicker Tigers than Keller's status. He continues to be an instant-offense threat off the bench. He averages a point every 2.2 minutes while shooting just over 50 percent from the floor.
--Freshman guard Joseph Bertrand (knee) remains on target to redshirt.
No. 25 Northwestern knew its early Big Ten journey would be brutal. But after an exhausting 89-83 overtime loss at Illinois on Wednesday night to open league play -- a back-and-forth affair that stopped NU's winning streak at nine games -- the Wildcats have no time to lick their wounds as No. 11 Michigan State comes to Welsh-Ryan Arena on Saturday.
And, yes, this will be the first meeting between Northwestern and last year's NCAA runner-up since the Wildcats stunned the Spartans on Jan. 21, 2009 at the Breslin Center. There's approximately zero chance the Spartans won't be at their most intense for this rematch.
Then again, it's just as important to be intelligent as intense when it's time to play Northwestern. The Wildcats will mix up their 2-3 matchup zone and their 1-3-1 trap against MSU -- and they'll hope the Spartans either forget to get the ball into the corner for open 3-pointers or they'll hope the visitors miss them.
Northwestern's best players must recover quickly after giving everything they had during an uptempo game in Champaign. Junior point guard Michael "Juice" Thompson limped off with an injured hip in the final seconds of overtime. Those were the only 13.7 seconds he sat out of the 45-minute game. Sophomore John Shurna played a career-high 44 minutes, and senior guard Jeremy Nash ran for a career-high 43 minutes.
Presuming the Wildcats regain their legs, they'll use them to put up a ton of 3-pointers. Northwestern tied its Big Ten single-game record with 47 3-point attempts, but the team might have worn down as they hit 11 of 23 before halftime and 5 of 24 3-point attempts after the break. The Spartans are limiting opponents to just 32 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
ILLINOIS 89, NORTHWESTERN 83 (OT): In their first game as a nationally ranked team in 41 seasons, the 25th-ranked Wildcats led by 10 points early in the second half but couldn't secure their first win in Champaign since 1999.
Northwestern set an Assembly Hall single-game record with 16 3-pointers and tied the Big Ten record with 47 3-point attempts, but the Wildcats' outside prowess couldn't quite match the inside might of Illinois big men Mike Tisdale (31 points, 11 rebounds) and Mike Davis (20 points, 17 rebounds).
"I didn't weigh it that way," NU coach Bill Carmody said in the Daily Herald, "but I knew we weren't stopping those guys in there and I didn't know what to do about it."
Sophomore forward John Shurna paced the Wildcats (10-2) with 27 points and seven rebounds, but he hit all four of his 3-pointers before halftime. Senior guard Jeremy Nash added 16 points, and freshmen Drew Crawford and Alex Marcotullio delivered 13 points apiece in their first Big Ten game.
--Northwestern's Princeton-style offense is best-known for its willingness to rely on 3-point attempts. And, to be fair, it's hard to shake that noticed when the Wildcats do such things as set the Big Ten records for 3-pointers (20) and 3-point attempts (47) as they did on Dec. 13 against North Carolina A&T. NU cashed 9.5 3-pointers per game entering Big Ten play and shot 37 percent from long range.
But here's Northwestern's big secret: It doesn't miss from 2-point range, even though it shoots a few more 3s than 2s. In the Wildcats' first 11 games, they hit 55.6 percent of their shots inside the arc. Sophomore F John Shurna shows the biggest disparity between his short- and long-range touch. Shurna made USA Basketball's U-19 national team in large part due to his outside prowess, but he's hitting just 25 percent on 3-pointers (14 of 56) and 60 percent on 2-pointers (50 of 83).
--According to Ken Pomeroy's web site, junior point guard Michael "Juice" Thompson ranked No. 3 nationally through games of Dec. 20 in percentage of minutes played. Thompson played 410 of a possible 440 minutes (93.2 percent) in Northwestern's first 11 games. Thompson leads the Big Ten in minutes per game (37.3 mpg).
JANUARY AT A GLANCE: Northwestern proved it could handle a lot of major-conference hurdles in a short period of time when it knocked off Notre Dame, Iowa State and North Carolina State in a five-day stretch. While all of those teams are generally among the nation's top 100, the Wildcats haven't proven they can beat a Top 50 team. That opportunity will come early and often in Big Ten play. Five of NU's first six Big Ten opponents rank among the nation's Top 50 teams according to Ken Pomeroy's rankings and Jeff Sagarin's Predictor rankings.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You can't look back. Kevin (Coble) is a great player, but we have to continue to move forward, continue to work hard. The season's still going to continue on, so we have to continue. Our goals haven't changed. We have confidence in everyone on the floor." -- Northwestern F John Shurna.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Northwestern headed into Big Ten play riding a nine-game winning streak -- the program's best run since the late Ricky Byrdsong led the 1993-94 Wildcats to a 9-0 start. Along the way, NU picked up its first non-conference win over a Top 25 team when it knocked off Notre Dame 72-58 on Nov. 27 at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago. The Wildcats flunked their biggest test of the year, though, when No. 11 Butler came to Welsh-Ryan Arena on Nov. 18 and earned a 67-54 win. To be fair, that game happened just eight days after NU lost senior forward Kevin Coble to a season-ending foot injury.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Drew Crawford, F John Shurna, C Luka Mirkovic, G Michael Juice Thompson, G Jeremy Nash. Key Subs -- G Alex Marcotullio, C Kyle Rowley, F Ivan Peljusic.
Northwestern 84, North Florida 54
Northwestern 70, Stanford 62
Northwestern 74, Central Connecticut State 54
Illinois 89, Northwestern 83 (OT)
vs. Michigan State, Saturday, Jan. 2
vs. Texas-Pan American, Thursday, Jan. 7
at Michigan, Sunday, Jan. 10
vs. Wisconsin, Wednesday, Jan. 13
ON THE SPOT: Northwestern flip-flopped between its 2-3 matchup zone and 1-3-1 zone trap but never figured out a way to keep the ball out of the hands of Illinois' post players. Seven-foot-1 center Mike Tisdale, for example, hadn't tried more than 10 shots in a game this season, but he wound up hitting 11 of 14 on his way to a career-high 31 points. Michigan State has its share of power-oriented players (Delvon Roe and Draymond Green), so the Wildcats need to figure out schemes to hold them down while simultaneously limiting the Spartans' open 3-point looks. It's a hard line to ride.
--Sophomore forward John Shurna finished within two points of his career high as he piled up 27 points to go with seven rebounds and four assists in 44 minutes at Illinois. Shurna, who had been hitting just 25 percent of his 3-pointers, drilled two bombs in the opening three minutes and finished 4-of-9 from beyond the arc.
--Junior point guard Michael "Juice" Thompson entered the night as the Big Ten's No. 4 scorer (16.7 ppg), but he didn't look much for his shot against Illinois' aggressive defense. He finished with just seven points on 2-of-10 shooting -- many of those shots coming late in the game as the Wildcats rallied -- but he handed out a season-high-tying eight assists without any turnovers.
--Senior guard Jeremy Nash entered the night having never made more than two 3-pointers in a game. Nash tied that by the 10:54 mark of the first half and went on to nail four 3-pointers in the first half and five for the game. Nash finished with 16 points and four assists in 43 minutes.
--Sophomore center Davide Curletti, who played key minutes down the stretch in several of Northwestern's early season victories, hasn't played since Dec. 1 because of an injured left foot. He has been using a walking boot to get around.
--Senior forward Kevin Coble (Lisfranc fracture in his foot) and senior swingman Jeff Ryan (torn ACL in his knee) are out for the year. Coble, a second-team all-Big Ten pick last year, intends to use his redshirt and return next season, while Ryan has a redshirt year available as well.
Indiana won six games all of last season. It took the Hoosiers a total of 13 games this year to earn their seventh win.
Granted, it isn't much progress, but the Hoosiers' win over Michigan on New Year's Eve gave IU a boost, especially after losing freshman Maurice Creek to a fractured knee during the final non-conference game. Indiana moves on to face a whole new set of challenges when it heads on the road for the first time to take on Ohio State on Jan. 6.
The young Hoosiers haven't played a true road game so far this season. That said, the fact there will be six days between games should allow IU to avoid any semblance of a letdown, and it will give head coach Tom Crean a chance to bring his squad back to earth following the big win.
The bottom line, however, is that the Hoosiers showed plenty of heart against the Wolverines and haven't shown the same uncertainty they suffered from last year. This is far from a seasoned squad, but at least IU seems ready to go from just hoping to be competitive to expecting to be competitive.
The key for Indiana will be to continue to receive plenty of help on the boards from the guards. With the Hoosiers lacking length inside, it is imperative for Verdell Jones III, Jordan Hulls and Jeremiah Rivers to hit the glass and help trigger transition baskets.
IU's defense vs. Michigan showed that the team is getting better at playing with full-time intensity as the Wolverines were forced to work hard on just about every possession.
Indiana still won't be making a run at the Big Ten title this year, but the home win to close out 2009 certainly will serve as a boost for a young squad that has struggled with consistency over the past few months.
INDIANA 71, MICHIGAN 65: Indiana got 20 points from Verdell Jones III, and 19 from Christian Watford, to open the Big Ten season 1-0. The Hoosiers also managed to convert their free throws down the stretch to pick up their seventh win of the season.
IU was aggressive early in the second half and managed to get into the bonus less than five minutes after halftime. That allowed Indiana to be aggressive with the ball and helped stem any Michigan rallies.
The Hoosiers committed just one turnover during the final 28 minutes and held the Wolverines to 32.1 percent from 3-point range. IU also managed to outscore the bigger Michigan squad in the paint and was out-rebounded by just four boards.
--Maurice Creek, who was lost to a season-ending knee injury, against Bryant University on Dec. 28, was leading all Big Ten freshmen in scoring with 17.6 points a game at the time. He ranked fourth overall among Big Ten players in points per game.
--Indiana's 71 points in a conference-opening win against Michigan were the most scored by the Hoosiers in a conference game since Jan. 31, 2009, vs. Ohio State.
JANUARY AT A GLANCE: Indiana faces its first road trip of the season Jan. 6 when the Hoosiers travel to Ohio State. IU has played games in Puerto Rico and at Madison Square Garden in New York, but the Hoosiers have yet to play in a true road environment. On the bright side, one of IU's best all-around games came away from Assembly Hall when the Hoosiers knocked off Pittsburgh. Indiana has to pull together as a team and be ready to play its best basketball of the season vs. the Buckeyes, and how the Hoosiers do in their first foray into an opposing arena will be a good measuring stick for the toughness of the team.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When I come in here and tell you we don't have that leadership hand-me-down quality teams have, this is what I'm talking about. Everybody wants it back as soon as possible. Man, I know I do. But there is no secret formula, there is no magic wand. We are in a restoration project and we learned a hard lesson tonight, and that's part of it." -- Indiana head coach Tom Crean on the lessons his team is learning through losses such as the one to Loyola (Md.).
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Indiana's non-conference season was up-and-down, but the Hoosiers showed definite progress since the start of the year and have been far more competitive than they were at the same point last year. For IU, that has been the key as the Hoosiers gain experience. Indiana's freshmen have shown plenty of promise, and Maurice Creek has quickly become IU's go-to guy. The team still features a lot of weaknesses, including a lack of athleticism in the frontcourt, but the players are learning lessons with each game, which they then are taking to other matchups.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Derek Elston, F Christian Watford, G Maurice Creek, G Verdell Jones III, G Jeremiah Rivers. Key Subs -- C Tom Pritchard, G Devan Dumes, G Jordan Hulls, F Bobby Capobianco.
Loyola (Md.) 72, Indiana 67
Indiana 90, Bryant University 42
Indiana 71, Michigan 65
at Ohio State, Jan. 6
vs. Illinois, Jan. 9
at Michigan, Jan. 14
IN FOCUS: Indiana's battle with Illinois have been heated over the past couple of seasons ever since the Eric Gordon drama exploded, and the Hoosiers have done a good job of raising the level of their game in the matchups. The Hoosiers will host the Fighting Illini Jan. 9, and the crowd figures to be intense even though IU will have a tough time pulling off a victory. The bottom line is Indiana will just be getting into the swing of things in the Big Ten and could make a statement if the Hoosiers take care of business at home by concentrating on turning up the intensity on defense.
ON THE SPOT: Jeremiah Rivers converted a key three-point play in the closing minutes vs. Michigan, but he finished 2 of 5 from the free-throw line in the game and is shooting 53.4 percent (31 of 58) from the line overall. Rivers needs to find his confidence from the foul line to avoid becoming a liability late in games.
--Freshman G Jordan Hulls made all eight of his free throws and finished with 11 points in a career-high 35 minutes against Michigan.
--F Christian Watford scored a career-high 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting against Michigan, besting his old mark of 18 points. He has scored in double figures in four straight games.
--The Hoosiers are thrilled with their academic performance during the first semester. No fewer than 10 players recorded GPAs of 3.0 or better, quite a turnaround from Tom Crean's early days when the players he inherited posted the worst overall GPA in program history.
Michigan's chances of making the NCAA tournament -- heck, any postseason tournament -- grow slimmer by the day, but coach John Beilein said his team isn't feeling any extra pressure to turn its season around entering Sunday's Big Ten home opener against 15th-ranked Ohio State.
"This is the Big Ten," Beilein said after losing to Indiana 71-65 on Thursday. "It's an 18-game schedule. Game No. 1, Game No. 2, Game No. 3, there's not different pressures. It is 18 separate games and you got to address it that way."
Michigan enters 2010 with a 6-6 record, with not one win of any significance. The Wolverines lost two of three games in the Old Spice Classic and dropped non-conference games against Boston College, Kansas and Utah.
Thursday's loss to Indiana didn't do anything to help Michigan's tournament profile. The Wolverines, with a game coming up against UConn and a win over Division II Northern Michigan, likely need a winning conference record just to make the NIT.
But Beilein said playing in the strong Big Ten is reason to believe his team still can make the tournament.
A win Sunday would look good on Michigan's resume come March, even though Ohio State is without star guard/forward Evan Turner.
Still, the Buckeyes, coming off a road loss at Wisconsin, present a formidable challenge as the best shooting team in the Big Ten (52.4 percent). Michigan is 10th in the conference in field-goal defense (43.7).
INDIANA 71, MICHIGAN 65: Zack Novack broke out of a season-long shooting slump with 18 points, but it wasn't enough as Michigan lost for the 16th time in its last 19 games against Indiana.
Novack made a big 3-pointer and three free throws in the final minutes, but Jeremiah Rivers' three-point play with 1:12 to go gave the depleted Hoosiers the lead for good. Indiana was playing without leading scorer Maurice Creek, who fractured his kneecap earlier this week and is out for the season.
Stu Douglass added 16 points for the Wolverines, who have dropped six of their last nine overall. Manny Harris scored 13, but spent most of the first half in foul trouble.
Verdell Jones scored 20 points to lead Indiana, which held Michigan to 39 percent shooting.
--He won't have much of a shot unless Michigan improves its record, but Manny Harris is on the short list of contenders for Big Ten Player of the Year. A returning first-team all-conference selection, Harris led the Big Ten in scoring as of Christmas Day and was the only player in the country averaging more than 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game.
--While poor shooting has been Michigan's biggest downfall this season, it's far from the Wolverines' only concern. Michigan also ranked last in the Big Ten in rebound margin as of Dec. 27 and was out-boarded in eight of its first 11 games. To stress the importance of rebounding, Michigan spent part of one mid-December practice working with a lid on the rim.
"Coach is really emphasizing that right now," guard Darius Morris said. "He's not really worried about the offensive end, just if we do our part on the defensive end everything else will fall into place."
JANUARY AT A GLANCE: To make the NCAA Tournament, Michigan will have to reverse the current trend and start winning on the road. The Wolverines won at Minnesota in the final game of the regular season last year, but overall they're just 5-13 in conference road games under coach John Beilein. This year, they've played their worst basketball away from Crisler Arena, losing at Utah, Kansas and dropping two of three games in the Old Spice Classic. With winnable road trips upcoming at Indiana and Penn State, there's no reason Michigan can't start the conference 5-0 heading into a tough seven-day stretch against Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan State.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we were overrated in the beginning. We finished seventh in the Big Ten (last year). There's 11 teams in the Big Ten. We finished seventh. Teams that should be in the top 20 are teams that finish first or second in the Big Ten, third, and they got everybody coming back. So it wasn't like we were a juggernaut last year." -- Michigan coach John Beilein on his team's preseason No. 15 ranking.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Coming off its first NCAA Tournament berth in 11 years, Michigan will be lucky to make the NIT this year. The Wolverines have lost to every halfway decent team on their schedule and have one tough non-conference game remaining against UConn. With an RPI in the 200s and a win against Division II Northern Michigan weighing down its NCAA resume, Michigan might need 11 wins in a good Big Ten to go dancing again.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- G Manny Harris, G Laval Lucas-Perry, G Zach Novack, G Stu Douglas, F DeShawn Sims. Key Subs -- C Zack Gibson, G Darius Morris, F Anthony Wright.
Kansas 75, Michigan 64
Michigan 76, Coppin State 46
Indiana 71, Michigan 65
vs. Ohio State, Sunday, Jan. 3
at Penn State, Thursday, Jan. 7
vs. Northwestern, Sunday, Jan. 10
vs. Indiana, Thursday, Jan. 14
ON THE SPOT: As Michigan's offense continues to struggles, it becomes more important for Manny Harris to get to the line. Harris, the Big Ten leader in made free throws, was a regular at the foul line through Michigan's first nine games, averaging more than eight attempts per outing. But in the Wolverines' last three games -- against Kansas, Coppin State and Indiana -- he's taken eight total foul shots (with seven makes). Harris needs to regain his aggressiveness.
--Sophomore G Zack Novack made his first three 3-point attempts Thursday against Indiana after hitting just one of his previous 18 tries. He finished with 18 points, making 4 of 9 3-pointers, and grabbed a season-high nine rebounds.
--Stu Douglass, coming off a career-high-tying 20-point effort against Coppin State, continued his hot ways with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting against Indiana. Douglass played all 40 minutes and may turn into the reliable third scoring option Michigan has lacked most of the year.
--Redshirt freshman C Ben Cronin will miss the rest of the season with continued complications from hip surgery. The 7-foot Cronin played 16 minutes in five games this year and walked with a noticeable limp. He underwent hip surgery last January. Michigan coach John Beilein said Cronin's injury is most likely a career-ender.
Michigan State started the season No. 2 and has not played like it -- not that anyone familiar with Michigan State basketball is terribly surprised. Tom Izzo's teams typically take some time to put things together, and this one was stymied early by injuries.
The Spartans have a decent win over Gonzaga, competitive losses at North Carolina and Texas, and a neutral-site loss to Florida that is looking worse by the day.
Better defense and better play from a super-hyped backcourt are the tangible needs as the Big Ten season approaches. But coach Tom Izzo is more worried about the intangibles.
"We've got a lot of work to do, we've got a lot of growing up to do," Izzo said after Tuesday's 79-68 loss at No. 2 Texas. "We still -- forget about all the other things -- our leadership and our chemistry are still what's got to improve."
Izzo knew he'd need junior PG Kalin Lucas and senior F Raymar Morgan to become more vocal this season to help make up for the loss of three-year captain Travis Walton. Neither is especially outspoken by nature.
But sophomore forward Draymond Green is, and he is demonstrating it more and more. At this point, it appears the Spartans are still in the "defining roles" stage, and after the loss to Texas, Lucas had an interesting comment regarding some players' apparent resistance to Izzo.
"We need to just stop trying to talk back to him and we need to listen to him," Lucas told the Lansing State Journal. "Coach knows how to win, he does know how to win and right now the team is kind of fighting him a little bit. We don't need to be doing that."
For the record, Izzo is one coach who doesn't mind -- and sometimes loves -- to see players bark back at him in the huddles. He also loves to see his players communicating with each other on the court, and that isn't happening enough so far.
--Tom Izzo was very happy with the physical, confident 12 minutes he got from freshman C Derrick Nix against Texas and its massive big man, Dexter Pittman. Nix has progressed nicely in the first few weeks and appears ready to be an asset off the bench in Big Ten play. He certainly thinks so.
"Now I've just got to get in better shape so I can stay in the game more and kill all the big men in the Big Ten," Nix said. "I always have confidence. Confidence is something I never have a problem with, I'm not that kind of player. I build on it, but my confidence never drops."
--Foul shooting was a problem early in the season -- especially in the case of Derrick Nix, who started 2 of 20 from the line -- but the Spartans are improving in that area. They have hit 36 of 45 from the line in the last two games, raising their accuracy on the season to 67 percent. That's still below the 70 mark that Izzo teams usually exceed.
Nix continues to struggle, at 3 of 28. Take him out of the equation and MSU is shooting 73.6 percent.
JANUARY AT A GLANCE: The Big Ten schedule will give the Spartans a chance to start fast. It opens with a tricky game at Northwestern on Jan. 2, but four of the next five games are at home -- and the road game is at lowly Iowa. It's very possible that Tom Izzo's team will be 6-0 in the league entering a Jan. 23 road showdown with Tubby Smith's Minnesota Golden Gophers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That is a good team. Right now that's a team that's better than we are. But we can play with them and we're gonna get better." -- MSU coach Tom Izzo after a loss to Texas in which the Spartans led by as many as eight points
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: The season began with ailments for Raymar Morgan (both ankles), Chris Allen (groin), Delvon Roe (concussion) and Korie Lucious (ankle), but all healed quickly and successfully. The Spartans have played four marquee games, winning just one -- Gonzaga at home. A loss to Florida in Atlantic City, N.J., was disappointing because MSU turned it over 23 times and still led for most of the game. Road losses to North Carolina and Texas featured plenty of competitive fire from the Spartans, but not enough heady play.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- G Kalin Lucas, G Chris Allen, F Raymar Morgan, F Delvon Roe, C Garrick Sherman. Key Subs -- F Draymond Green, G Durrell Summers, G Korie Lucious, C Derrick Nix, G Austin Thornton
Michigan State 88, Oakland 57
MSU 80, IPFW 58
Texas 79, MSU 68
Michigan State 87, Texas-Arlington 68
at Northwestern, Saturday, Jan. 2
vs. Wisconsin, Wednesday, Jan. 6
at Iowa, Saturday, Jan. 9
vs. Minnesota, Wednesday, Jan. 13
IN FOCUS: The Big Ten opener looks a lot more dangerous than it did a few weeks ago. Michigan State must travel to Northwestern, which is the story of the Big Ten so far. When the Wildcats lost their best player, Kevin Coble, to a season-ending foot injury, it appeared their NCAA Tournament hopes were shot. But G Michael Thompson and F John Shurna have led the Wildcats to a 10-1 start, with a lone loss to Butler and decisive wins over Notre Dame, Stanford and at N.C. State. This is one the Spartans should give proper attention.
--Junior G Durrell Summers may be coming out of his early-season funk, but he still has a way to go before he can be declared funk free. Summers took 13 shots against Texas, hitting five, and was a bit more active than in recent games. After a hot start, Summers has been struggling, and he said some undisclosed personal issues are part of the problem.
"Up until now, he's not doing very well," Izzo said of Summers after the Texas loss. "I thought tonight he started to come out of it a little bit. He looked more aggressive, he looked more into it. So hopefully that's gonna be a start for him. At least he caught the ball ready to shoot it. ... Took a little step, hopefully we'll get more from him."
--Junior G Kalin Lucas did not have a good night at Texas, hitting just 3 of 11 shots and committing six of MSU's 22 turnovers. Lucas was limping late in the game, but it did not appear he was seriously hurt. It did appear Texas put everything into stopping him.
"From jump ball they were trying to take me out of the game," Lucas said.
--Rebounding is typically strong under Tom Izzo, and turnovers are often an issue. That's partially because Izzo emphasizes fast-break basketball, his teams push the ball relentlessly and mistakes are natural. Also, Michigan State's halfcourt sets require precision that often isn't quite there early in the season. But some inexcusable sloppiness marked losses to Florida and Texas. MSU turned it over 23 times against the Gators, 22 times against the Longhorns.
"It just got out of control," Raymar Morgan said of the flurry of giveaways in the Texas game.
The Hawkeyes can build upon their 11-point loss to No. 4 Purdue in the Big Ten opener, but they certainly must improve upon that effort if they are to beat Minnesota, which brings a deep roster to Iowa City on Saturday.
The Golden Gophers, who had 10 players averaging at least 11.5 minutes at the beginning of conference play, will challenge an Iowa defense that allowed Purdue to shoot 49 percent from the field. Minnesota rolled through the latter portion of its non-conference schedule, scoring at least 89 points in five consecutive wins before settling for 75 in its Big Ten opener vs. Penn State. Guards Blake Hoffarber and Lawrence Westbrook are accurate shooters capable of giving the Hawkeyes fits if they don't tighten their defense.
The Hawkeyes are not as deep as the Golden Gophers, and they could again be without sophomore guard Anthony Tucker (11.9 ppg), who was suspended on Dec. 21 after being arrested for public intoxication. He reportedly pled guilty to the charge on Dec. 28.
One positive for the Hawkeyes has been the play of freshman guard Eric May, who scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds vs. Purdue. The 6-5 May has scored in double digits in three consecutive games, and he's improving at just the right time for an Iowa club that needs all the scoring punch it can get.
Of course, the Hawkeyes also must fare better on the other end of the floor. Purdue racked up 41 second-half points en route to victory. To make the most of starting conference play with four of five games at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the Hawkeyes will need to be sound in all facets.
PURDUE 67, IOWA 56: The Hawkeyes gave the fourth-ranked Boilermakers all they could handle in the first half in the Big Ten opener for both clubs, but Purdue (12-0) proved far too much for Iowa to handle. Iowa (5-7) led 27-26 at halftime, but the Boilermakers, who led for most of the second half, simply had too much offensive firepower. After Iowa cut the Purdue lead to 43-38 with 12:09 left, the Boilermakers started to pull away, securing the game with a 16-5 run in the next 5:41, and the Hawkeyes never seriously threatened thereafter. Junior guard E'Twaun Moore paced Purdue with 21 points, while sophomore forward Aaron Fuller led Iowa with 15.
--The Hawkeyes' patience might be growing thin with troubled sophomore Anthony Tucker.
The top recruit from last season was indefinitely suspended for his second public intoxication charge in 13 months. He also missed the second half of last season as an academic casualty, leaving coach Todd Lickliter to wonder if he'll ever be able to count on his second-leading scorer this season.
"Right now the only thing I expect is he's on a leave of absence," Lickliter said. "He needs to get things settled, as far as his situation with the arrest. Then we can talk about the rest after that."
According to an Iowa City police report, Tucker was arrested after a heated altercation with a cab driver, whom Tucker accused of stealing his cell phone. The cab driver called 911 after Tucker began beating on the side of his cab.
The timing is particularly crushing, since Tucker was arrested hours after a big win against Drake. It marked the first time Iowa won consecutive games in more than a year.
Along with a mandatory suspension, school policy requires a full alcohol evaluation and 30 hours of community service for student-athletes who have a second incident with alcohol. Tucker was arrested last December after he was found unconscious behind an Iowa City bar.
"You hurt for people who make mistakes," Lickliter said. "When they make a second one, you hurt for them and you worry about them."
--They may not have come against the most glamorous opponents, but Iowa's wins against Drake and South Carolina State on Dec. 19 and 21 marked the team's first winning streak since Iowa won three straight from Dec. 5-12 of last year. The win against Drake was particularly important. Iowa has never lost to in-state schools Northern Iowa, Iowa State and Drake in the same season. The Hawkeyes have already lost to the Panthers and Cyclones.
--Guard Matt Gatens' value just increased. Gatens closed the pre-conference schedule on a hot streak, averaging 19 points over the last four games. Even more impressive has been his assist/turnover ratio of 18/8 over the same span. Gatens is Iowa's leading scorer this year, averaging 13.4 points.
JANUARY AT A GLANCE: Four of the first five games of the month are at home, which is good, since Iowa is lugging a 13-game losing streak on the road. With the way Iowa is playing right now, it's difficult to find any winnable games before it plays Indiana on Jan. 24. The down side? That game is in Bloomington, Ind.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Some of them don't make mistakes. Some of them make more than one. You have to figure out how you're going to help them. It's not always clear cut. But people have to help themselves, too. You can be there to help them, you can be supportive. But people have to help themselves as well." -- coach Todd Lickliter, on dealing with suspended sophomore Anthony Tucker
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Iowa concluded its pre-conference schedule 4-7 and lacking any credible wins. The one bright spot is the two-game winning streak the Hawkeyes take into conference play. It's the first winning streak in more than a year, but it was built on shallow victories against Drake and South Carolina State. Leading scorer Matt Gatens is averaging 13.4 points and will have to carry an even larger role now while Anthony Tucker is away from the team.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- G Cully Payne, F Devan Bawinkel, G Matt Gatens, F Brennan Cougill, C Jarryd Cole. Key Subs -- G Eric May, F Aaron Fuller.
Iowa State 81, Iowa 71
Iowa 71, Drake 67
Iowa 82, South Carolina State 69
Purdue 67, Iowa 56
vs. Minnesota, Jan. 2
at Illinois, Jan. 5
vs. Michigan State, Jan. 9
vs. Tennessee State, Jan. 12
ON THE SPOT: If the Hawkeyes are to compete in the Big Ten, they must take care of the basketball. Iowa committed 16 turnovers against Purdue while forcing just eight. Cutting down on mistakes figures to be a point of emphasis for head coach Todd Lickliter as the Hawkeyes prepare to face Minnesota.
--The Hawkeyes got a spark Tuesday from freshman guard John Lickliter, the son of head coach Todd Lickliter. Lickliter scored six points, and he electrified the crowd with a behind-the-back pass on a fast break that led to Eric May being fouled and converting two free throws.
--F Aaron Fuller has scored in double digits in back-to-back games. The 6-6, 230-pound forward came within one point of equaling his career high of 16 points, set last season at Penn State. He also pulled down seven boards vs. Purdue, which tied his career best.
--G Matt Gatens was held by Purdue to just six points, which equaled a season low. He attempted just six points in 40 minutes and committed five turnovers.
--Sophomore Anthony Tucker was suspended indefinitely following an arrest for public intoxication. Tucker, the top recruit last season, missed the second half of his freshman season as an academic casualty. It is his second public intoxication charge in the last 13 months.
--Senior Devan Bawinkel stepped into the starting lineup in place of Tucker. He failed to score in 22 minutes against South Carolina State, missing all three of his shots (all 3-pointers) while grabbing a pair of rebounds. Bawinkel hasn't attempted a shot inside 3-point range this season. He is 12 of 32 from the floor -- all on 3-pointers.
--Bawinkel's move into the starting lineup would seem to open more opportunities, but Iowa isn't very deep. Eric May and Aaron Fuller are the only two regulars off the bench now, forcing May to play a whopping 33 minutes in the win against South Carolina State. That type of workload will quickly burn out a team that is already young and struggling.
Last season, the Gophers went to Iowa expecting an easy win.
Instead, they got a wakeup call in a 52-49 victory. The Hawkeyes led by as many as 13 points in the first half as the Gophers couldn't get their offense going against Todd Lickliter's sluggish, grinding system.
They were able to turn on their defense in the second half of that game, holding Iowa scoreless for a 12-minute stretch. Lawrence Westbrook sealed the win with four straight free throws in the final seconds.
The Gophers are in a similar position this season as they prepare to face Iowa on Saturday in Iowa City. Iowa once again isn't expected to finish in the top half of the Big Ten, especially with standout guard Anthony Tucker suspended indefinitely because of an alcohol-related arrest.
But the Hawkeyes gave undefeated Purdue fits Tuesday by dictating the pace of the game. All three of Minnesota's losses were by five points or less.
The Gophers' NCAA tournament hopes can't really afford a loss. Minnesota faces Purdue, Michigan State (twice) and Ohio State (twice) in January. It will need signature wins in conference play to prove that it belongs in the Big Dance.
With so much tough competition ahead, however, it won't be easy to build a resume.
MINNESOTA 75, PENN STATE 70: Talor Battle nearly carried Penn State to a victory in its first conference game. But his 23 points weren't enough to hold off the Gophers.
Lawrence Westbrook tied a career-high with 29 points, including an 11-point scoring flurry in a three-minute stretch after halftime. Blake Hoffarber scored 11.
Minnesota (10-3, 1-0 Big Ten) led 34-27, but the Nittany Lions (8-5, 0-1 Big Ten) began the second half with a 10-3 run. Battle gave his team a 53-50 edge midway through the second half with a deep three. But Westbrook matched his offense, while the Gophers forced turnovers, including four after Battle hit that bomb.
Minnesota hit 49.1 percent of its shots, forced 16 turnovers and registered 23 fast-break points.
--Minnesota has become reliant on its 3-point shooting during the winning streak. The Gophers have attempted 20 3-pointers in each of their last three games and are shooting 40 percent on 3s for the season.
--The depth and balance continue. Minnesota has nine players averaging at least 17 minutes a game. Lawrence Westbrook is the leading scorer at 12.9 points, but three others are averaging at least 9.8. Seven players average 5.8 points or better.
JANUARY AT A GLANCE: The Gophers better get used to the road, since four of their first five league games are away from the Barn. Minnesota will immediately get an idea of where it stacks in the Big Ten with a three games in eight days stretch against Purdue, Ohio State and Michigan State. Those are arguably three of the best teams in the league, and only the game against the Buckeyes is at home.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We need a signature win." -- Lawrence Westbrook, on Minnesota's unimpressive wins during the pre-conference season
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: A three-game losing skid early in the year is all that is keeping Minnesota from a second consecutive 12-0 mark entering Big Ten play. The Gophers tightened their defense after the skid and concluded the pre-conference schedule by blowing out five nondescript teams by an average of 30 points.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Damian Johnson, F Ralph Sampson III, G Al Nolen, G Lawrence Westbrook, G Blake Hoffarber. Key Subs -- F Paul Carter, G Devoe Joseph, F Rodney Williams, C Colton Iverson.
Minnesota 97, St. Joseph's 74
Minnesota 89, Northern Illinois 48
Minnesota 92, South Dakota State 62
Minnesota 75, Penn State 70
at Iowa, Jan. 2
at Purdue, Jan. 5
vs. Ohio State, Jan. 9
at Michigan State, Jan. 13
IN FOCUS: The Jan. 5 game at Purdue could be a real benchmark to measure Minnesota's progress. The Gophers should win their first two league games, setting up a big clash against the Boilermakers that will tell if Minnesota is ready to be an elite team or not. Minnesota only played Purdue once last season, losing by eight at home.
ON THE SPOT: The big question entering conference play involves three-point shooting. In the past, the Gophers didn't maintain the success they'd had in non-conference play. In the first half against the Nittany Lions, they went 2-for-10 but finished with a 36.4 percent success rate.
--Junior guard Blake Hoffarber, who scored 11 points Tuesday, failed to lead the team in scoring for the first time in six games. He went 3-for-7 from the three-point line.
--G Lawrence Westbrook tied a career high that he established last season at Wisconsin when he had 29 points. Westbrook also scored 29 in an overtime win over the Badgers.
--G Al Nolen copied Talor Battle's mini-mohawk in time for Tuesday's game. He had six assists and two steals.
--Coach Tubby Smith said Royce White is still with the program even though White posted a YouTube video to announce he was leaving school. Smith acknowledged he hasn't talked to White recently but said he remains suspended until the legal matters are resolved. White pled guilty in December to disorderly conduct and theft for an incident at Mall of America. He has also been part of an investigation in a computer theft on campus, but White has maintained his innocence.
--Coach Tubby Smith attended one of high school senior Cory Joseph's games before the Christmas holiday. Joseph is the younger brother of Gophers guard Devoe Joseph and one of the nation's top recruits. He still hasn't committed anywhere, but has Minnesota on his short list of contenders.
The Buckeyes have played two legitimate NCAA tournament teams since losing Evan Turner to a back injury. They lost both times.
Ohio State will try again Sunday when it travels to Michigan for another road test against another possible tournament team.
Turner recently sounded hopeful of returning shortly after the new year, but he was re-examined after Christmas break and the team did not update the official prognosis that had him back around the end of January at the earliest.
That means Ohio State figures to have at least another six or seven games without its best player.
That's nothing new for coach Thad Matta, who has dealt with crushing injuries in each of the last four years. First it was Matt Sylvester's creaky back, then Greg Oden's broken wrist, followed by David Lighty's broken foot last season and now Evan Turner's broken back.
Matta has refused to let his players make excuses for all the injuries, though, and has managed to win the Big Ten twice, advancing to the NCAA tournament three times.
"Like Coach says, no matter what happens, the train keeps moving," Lighty said. "You don't have time in a college season to hang your head and feel sorry for yourselves. We're all sad and mad about it, but we can't control it, so we've just got to keep going out there and getting wins."
WISCONSIN 65, OHIO STATE 43: William Buford scored 14 points, but leading scorers Jon Diebler and David Lighty were held to a combined 18 points in a crushing loss at Wisconsin. It was Ohio State's eighth straight loss at the Kohl Center, and it remains the only Big Ten arena in which Thad Matta has failed to win. Matta is 0-5 at Wisconsin.
The Buckeyes struggled through scoring droughts in both halves, falling victim to a 14-0 run by Wisconsin in the first half and 16-5 run in the second half.
--Ohio State's rebounding problems could get exposed once the conference season begins and the play begins to slow down. The Buckeyes entered conference play ranked seventh in the league in rebounds (34.8).
--The Buckeyes entered conference play third in the country in shooting (.524), 10th in 3-pointers made (109) and 12th in scoring (81.6).
JANUARY AT A GLANCE: Right now he sounds like an anxious kid scrambling to return, but if Evan Turner truly can return around the start of 2010 as he expects, it dramatically changes the Bucks' chances the first time through the conference. The Bucks have consecutive road games at Minnesota and Purdue on Jan. 9 and 12 that will dictate the month. Both are difficult venues and both are against upper-echelon teams in the Big Ten. Even a split that week will be considered a moderate success.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Evan would have taken it upon himself. We would have looked at him and he would have looked at us and told us to give him the ball." -- PG P.J. Hill, comparing Lighty's 30-point night against Cleveland State to Evan Turner's ability to take over a game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: As the Bucks entered conference play, their only signature win was a 77-64 victory against Florida State (although West Virginia still looms on Jan. 23). Ohio State lost its other key non-conference games against North Carolina and Butler. Little is known about this team, partly because of Evan Turner's broken back. They are ranked third in the country among Big Ten teams, behind Purdue and Michigan State, but five teams in the league were ranked ahead of OSU in RPI as of Dec. 27.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F David Lighty, C Dallas Lauderdale, G P.J. Hill, G Jon Diebler, G William Buford. Key Subs -- G Jeremie Simmons, F Kyle Madsen, C Zisis Sarikopoulos.
Ohio State 60, Delaware State 44
Ohio State 72, Cleveland State 59
Wisconsin 65, Ohio State 43
at Michigan, Jan. 3
vs. Indiana, Jan. 6
at Minnesota, Jan. 9
at Purdue, Jan. 12
ON THE SPOT: Ohio State struggled with scoring droughts during both halves against Wisconsin, and coach Thad Matta felt his team was pushed around at both ends of the floor. The Buckeyes must get off to quicker starts and perhaps need to get into their sets a little quicker in order to get better looks at the basket. If the Bucks could get more production out of Dallas Lauderdale and the post players, it could make life a little easier for perimeter shooters like Jon Diebler, who has struggled to adjust to the added attention since the absence of Evan Turner.
--G Jon Diebler's slump continues. Diebler has scored in double figures just once since Evan Turner's back injury, averaging 8.8 points in five games. He averaged 17.1 points prior to Turner's injury.
--F David Lighty followed up his 30-point performance against Cleveland State on Dec. 22 by going just 2 of 7 from the floor against Wisconsin on New Year's Eve. The 10 points were his fewest since he was held to five in a victory against Florida State on Dec. 2.
--C Dallas Lauderdale missed all four of his shots and finished with one point vs. Wisconsin. Lauderdale has never been a proficient scorer, but it was the first time the junior was held without a field goal this season.
Slow offensive starts have cost Penn State this season. The Nittany Lions are averaging only 31.2 first-half points per game as opposed to 38.6 points in the second half.
Every possession will count Sunday, when the Nittany Lions (8-5) are home against Wisconsin. The Badgers are allowing only 61.6 points per game and make opponents work for every field-goal attempt. The Badgers (8-2) are averaging 37.1 points in the first half versus 33.3 in the second.
The Nittany Lions had some improved offensive balance in their 75-70 loss at Minnesota. Leading scorer Talor Battle led the team with 14 field-goal attempts (and 23 points), but six of his teammates took at least five shots and gave Battle plenty of offensive help during a 15-3 second-half run that gave the Nittany Lions a late five-point lead.
Penn State hasn't beaten Wisconsin since 2003, and the Badgers are the only Big Ten team to defeat the Nittany Lions in the Bryce Jordan Center in Penn State's last six conference games there.
MINNESOTA 75, PENN STATE 70: Talor Battle scored 23 points for the Nittany Lions (8-5), who led by as many as five points midway through the second half, but Penn State couldn't get any sustained scoring over the last four minutes, making just two field goals, and couldn't stop Golden Gophers guard Lawrence Westbrook, who scored 29 points.
Andrew Jones scored 12 points and David Jackson added 11 for Penn State, which made 9-of-18 3-pointers and shot 48 percent from the field. The Nittany Lions had 19 assists on 26 baskets but also committed 16 turnovers, many while trying to break a tough Minnesota press.
--Freshman forward Bill Edwards, who missed Penn State's first four games with a sprained knee, is beginning to look sharper on both ends of the floor as he regains his conditioning. Edwards averaged 12.5 points and four rebounds in the Nittany Lions' last two games before the start of conference play, hitting seven of his 11 field goal attempts and six of his nine 3-point tries. Edwards is one of the few Nittany Lions with the ability to create his own shot and Penn State will need continued production from him off the bench.
--Junior guard Talor Battle, who played an astounding 1,422 minutes in 38 games last season, continues to log heavy minutes. Battle leads Penn State with 421 minutes played (35.1 per game). He's also hoisted twice as many field-goal attempts (173) as any of his teammates and twice as many free-throw attempts (70) as everyone but fellow guard Tim Frazier.
JANUARY AT A GLANCE: Penn State has plenty of players -- Talor Battle, Chris Babb, Bill Edwards, even Tim Frazier -- who are capable of stringing together several 3-point makes in a row. But they're just as capable of missing several in a row, which means the Nittany Lions must not become too reliant on the long ball in Big Ten play. Forwards Andrew Jones, David Jackson and Jeff Brooks, who are three of the team's most experienced players, have all been disappointing this season in terms of offensive production and will be called upon to balance out the perimeter scoring, particularly in what should be grinding games against Wisconsin (Jan. 3) and Illinois (Jan. 12).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're trying to build some confidence in some of these younger kids. We threw them into the fire earlier in the season and I'm not sure they were ready for that." -- Penn State coach Ed DeChellis.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Last year, Talor Battle constructed his own personal highlight reel late in games. His buzzer-beating layup led Penn State to a huge win over Illinois, and his buzzer-beating 3-pointer tied the Nittany Lions' first-round NIT game with George Mason, the first of six straight victories that gave Penn State the championship. This season, Battle has had two chances to pull a game out of a fire -- but he couldn't get off a last shot in a three-point loss at Temple and his game-tying layup attempt against Virginia Tech came up just short. So has it gone for the Nittany Lions, who have battled themselves as much as the opposition and are still looking for a complete team performance.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F David Jackson, F Jeff Brooks, F Andrew Jones, G Talor Battle, G Tim Frazier. Key Subs -- F Bill Edwards, G Chris Babb, F Andrew Ott, F Sasa Borovnjak.
Virginia Tech 66, Penn State 64
Penn State 104, Gardner-Webb 57
Penn State 76, American 57
Minnesota 75, Penn State 70
Vs. Wisconsin, Sunday, Jan. 3
Vs. Michigan, Thursday, Jan. 7
At Illinois, Tuesday, Jan. 12
At Iowa, Saturday, Jan. 16
ON THE SPOT: Freshman point guard Tim Frazier, who started eight of Penn State's first 12 games before losing his spot to sophomore Chris Babb, has scored only 39 points in his last six games. He had five assists but three turnovers in just 13 minutes in Penn State's 75-70 loss at Minnesota. The Nittany Lions will need more playmaking from Frazier as they negotiate the rest of the Big Ten season.
--Junior guard Talor Battle is averaging 23.0 points and shooting 52 percent from the field over his last four games.
--Junior forward Andrew Jones has scored 32 points over Penn State's last three games after scoring just 61 points in the season's first 10 games.
--Six-foot-eight junior forward Jeff Brooks hasn't initiated a lot of contact around the basket this season. Brooks has attempted just 14 free throws in 13 games.
--Scoring help for junior guard Talor Battle should be on the way next season. His half-brother, Taran Buie, signed a letter of intent in November and was off to a strong start during his senior season at State College Area High School, leading the Little Lions to an early 5-1 start.
--Penn State is still a few weeks away from the return of reserve guard Adam Highberger, who broke a finger on his right, shooting hand last month. The Nittany Lions expect to have Highberger available by the end of January.
When Purdue and West Virginia agreed to play on New Year's Day, each team believed it would have a lot of potential for growth by facing the other.
But little did either know just how significant this game would become on a national scale.
Including conference victories for each on Tuesday, No. 4 Purdue is 12-0 and No. 6 West Virginia is 11-0 as they brace for the showdown at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins' team features an excellent collection of rebounders, while Purdue's man-to-man defense has given Tennessee, Wake Forest and Alabama fits.
This will be the second consecutive season in which Purdue has played host to a marquee non-conference game. In 2008-09, then-fourth-ranked Duke defeated the No. 9 Boilermakers 76-60 in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge contest in Mackey Arena.
PURDUE 67, IOWA 56: The Boilermakers dug themselves into a 10-2 hole to begin the game Tuesday night and trailed the Hawkeyes (5-8) by a point (27-26) at halftime before rallying for an 11-point victory, outscoring Iowa 41-29 during the final 20 minutes.
Purdue junior guard E'Twaun Moore scored 15 of his game-best 21 points during the final 20 minutes, sinking 6 of 7 field goal attempts after intermission. Junior forward Robbie Hummel added 16 points, eight rebounds and three steals.
The Boilermakers' tenacious defense limited Iowa offensive threats Matt Gatens and Cully Payne to a combined 4-of-17 field-goal shooting to go with nine turnovers.
It's Purdue's third consecutive victory in Iowa's Carver-Hawkeye Arena, but the average winning margin is only 6.7 points.
--When coach Matt Painter began to assemble his player rotation for this season, 6-foot-9, 261-pound freshman center Sandi Marcius figured to be one of the first post players off the bench. Then, Marcius broke his right foot in a late October practice and has not yet returned to action.
While Marcius has returned to practice, Painter said after a Dec. 22 victory against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville that Marcius could redshirt if he is unable to play soon.
--At 93.3 percent (42 of 45), the 6-foot-8 Robbie Hummel leads the Big Ten in free throw shooting. Entering the Dec. 29 Big Ten opener at Iowa, Hummel had made 31 consecutive free throws. Plagued by a back injury last season, Hummel was a 75.5-percent free throw shooter, which he describes as "completely unacceptable."
JANUARY AT A GLANCE: While Purdue has beaten Wisconsin two consecutive seasons in the Badgers' Kohl Center, the Boilermakers' Jan. 9 trip to Madison could have a significant bearing on the Big Ten Conference race.
The Boilermakers could be 14-0 going to Wisconsin. The last time Purdue was 14-0 -- 1993-94 -- it went to Madison and was beaten.
Wisconsin already has beaten Duke in the Kohl Center and will present a difficult backcourt challenge for Purdue senior defensive specialists Chris Kramer and Keaton Grant. Wisconsin's Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon are experienced, heady players.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We can't get any better than 11-0, but we all know that coach Painter will find something to keep us on edge, which I think is a good thing. We all know we can get better." -- Purdue junior center JaJuan Johnson when asked about his assessment of the Boilermakers' 11-0 start.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Big Ten 2008 Defensive Player of the Year Kramer describes it as "imposing our will on our opponents."
In a nutshell, that's how Purdue's smothering man-to-man defense has been at the heart of almost all of the Boilermakers' first 11 victories. While some critique Purdue because it lacks the future NBA talent that stocks the rosters of some unbeaten teams, the Boilermakers point out that they are not trying to win an NBA championship.
This Purdue team's only concern is advancing to the Final Four in Indianapolis and vying for an NCAA title.
Purdue is a different kind of undefeated, Top 5 team. It thrives on old-fashion team play, defense and fundamentals. It will be interesting to see how far this carries the Boilermakers.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual starters -- F Robbie Hummel, C JaJuan Johnson, G Chris Kramer, G Keaton Grant, G E'Twaun Moore. Key subs -- C/F Patrick Bade, F/G DJ Byrd, G Kelsey Barlow, G Mark Wohlford, G Ryne Smith.
Purdue 73, Alabama 65
Purdue 69, Ball State 49
Purdue 90, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville 63
Purdue 67, Iowa 56
vs. West Virginia, Friday, January 1
vs. Minnesota, Tuesday, January 5
at Wisconsin, Saturday, January 9
vs. Ohio State, Tuesday, January 12
IN FOCUS: In what could be one of the non-conference season's best games, unbeatens Purdue and West Virginia, led by colorful coach Bob Huggins, will clash in West Lafayette's Mackey Arena on New Year's Day. The Mountaineers remained unbeaten on Dec. 26 by holding off Big East foe Seton Hall 90-84 in overtime. This matchup should be an excellent duel of West Virginia's powerful offense vs. Purdue's in-your-face, man-to-man defense.
--By sinking his first four free throws in Tuesday night's victory, F Robbie Hummel extended his streak to a school single-season record 36 in a row before missing a pair late in the second half. Hummel's record 36 straight breaks the record of 34 set during Purdue's 1978-79 season by former NBA guard Jerry Sichting, who played most of his significant pro seasons with the Boston Celtics.
--Beginning with a 23-point, nine-rebound game on Dec. 12 in a Purdue victory at Alabama, Hummel is averaging 17.5 points and seven rebounds in the Boilermakers' four most recent contests.
--G E'Twaun Moore's 21-point game Tuesday night at Iowa just missed his season high of 22, which he has achieved three times -- South Dakota State, Tennessee and Wake Forest. After scoring only nine in a season-opening victory against Cal-State Northridge, Moore has reached double figures 11 consecutive times.
--Sophomore point guard Lewis Jackson (broken left foot) still is expected to be out until at least the end of February and may end up redshirting. Purdue has been very fortunate that seniors Kramer and Grant, along with freshman Barlow, have done a terrific job as a point guard by committee.
Wisconsin has never struggled to win at home, but if the surprising Badgers are going to contend in the Big Ten, they'll have to do better on the road.
They'll get another chance on Sunday when they travel to Penn State, kicking off a gruesome week that includes a road game at Michigan State and a home game against Purdue.
Wisconsin was stunned by Wisconsin-Green Bay, 88-84 on Dec. 9. That was both the Badgers' last road game and the last time they lost. Wisconsin has won five straight by an average of 25 points, including a 65-43 smashing of Ohio State at the Kohl Center on New Year's Eve.
Jordan Taylor has provided a big spark off the bench, averaging 12 points during the winning streak. Taylor has scored in double figures in five of the last seven games.
The Badgers are 9-0 at home this year, but 2-2 away from the Kohl Center.
The game against the Nittany Lions is the easiest of the first four to start league play. Wisconsin swept the series against the Nittany Lions last year, winning by four at home and 10 on the road.
WISCONSIN 65, OHIO STATE 43: Trevon Hughes scored 16 points and Wisconsin stretched a 34-25 halftime lead to 20 early in the second half to blast the Buckeyes. It was Wisconsin's eighth straight win over the Buckeyes at the Kohl Center.
Leading scorer Jon Leuer was held to 11 points -- all in the second half -- after falling into foul trouble and playing sparingly in the first half. A 14-0 run in the first half and 16-5 run in the second put the game away for the Badgers.
--If you're itching to see a helter-skelter game, then Wisconsin might not be the best place to look. Prior to its nonconference finale against UIC, Wisconsin ranked 330th out of 347 Division I teams in adjusted tempo according to Ken Pomeroy. The Badgers averaged 63 possessions in their first 11 games, which is roughly six possessions shy of the national norm.
This doesn't mean the Badgers play stall-ball. It's partially a reflection of Wisconsin's ability to take care of the ball and the lack of turnovers forced by its packed-in man-to-man defense. The Badgers committed just 10.5 turnovers per game through Dec. 23 and forced just 12.3 miscues. Among Big Ten teams, only Michigan has committed fewer turnovers and only Iowa has forced fewer.
--Wisconsin wrapped up nonconference play as the Big Ten's leader in scoring defense. The Badgers, who led the nation in scoring defense in 2007-08, allowed just 58.4 points per game in their 12-game pre-conference slate. Opponents shot just 39.7 percent from the field and 32.2 percent from 3-point range.
JANUARY AT A GLANCE: In Wisconsin's only game in front of a hostile crowd, the Badgers came up short in overtime at Green Bay. After opening Big Ten play with a win against Ohio State at the Kohl Center, four of the next five games find the Badgers at Penn State, Michigan State, Northwestern and Ohio State. The Badgers lost at MSU and NU (and didn't play at OSU), so it'll be a big feather in their cap if they can split those four or somehow take 3 of 4.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He takes what the defense gives him, knows how to hunt down separation and contact when it's needed, how to read the angles in the post, when to put it on the floor, when not to put it on the floor." -- Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan talking about junior F Jon Leuer on madison.com.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Wisconsin wrapped up its non-conference schedule with a 10-2 record. The Badgers' only stumbles were a seven-point loss to Gonzaga at the Maui Invitational and a 4-point overtime loss at Wisconsin-Green Bay in what served as the team's only true road game. Wisconsin earned three wins that ought to be beneficial when it comes time to seed the NCAA Tournament: A 4-point home win over Duke, a 9-point home win over Marquette and a 9-point win over Maryland at Maui.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Jon Leuer, F Keaton Nankivil, G Trevon Hughes, G Jason Bohannon, G Tim Jarmusz. Key Subs -- G Jordan Taylor, F Ryan Evans.
Wisconsin 68, Milwaukee 58
Wisconsin 79, UIC 43
Wisconsin 65, Ohio State 43
at Penn State, Sunday, Jan. 3
at Michigan State, Wednesday, Jan. 6
vs. Purdue, Saturday, Jan. 9
at Northwestern, Wednesday, Jan. 13
IN FOCUS: Wisconsin lost its only pre-conference road game (the overtime loss at Green Bay on Dec. 9). That means the Badgers will have something to prove to themselves when they head to Penn State and Michigan State to start the new year. Wisconsin has two seniors and three juniors in its starting lineup, so hostile crowds shouldn't be an issue. It's important to remember, though, that the Badgers lost six of their nine Big Ten road games last year, so there aren't a lot of positive memories on which to draw.
ON THE SPOT: The Badgers have struggled with 3-pointers in their two road losses, shooting a combined 12 of 43 against Gonzaga (in the Maui Classic) and at Wisconsin-Green Bay. Wisconsin must shoot the ball better away from Kohl Center in order to be effective.
--Reserve G Jordan Taylor scored 12 points off the bench against Ohio State and remains the Badgers' top reserve. He has connected on 7 of 14 3-pointers over Wisconsin's last four games.
--Leading scorer Jon Leuer's 11 points against Ohio State marked the third time in 13 games he failed to score at least 15 points. On the plus side, the 6-foot-10 forward has passed for five assists in each of the past two games as defenses shift coverages his way.
--Junior G Tim Jarmusz remains in the starting lineup despite not scoring in either of Wisconsin's last two games. He has missed all four of his attempts in 44 minutes over that stretch.
--Senior Trevon Hughes made the initial list for the Bob Cousy Award that goes to the nation's best point guard. Hughes headed into Big Ten play as the league's No. 6 scorer (16.4 ppg), but he doesn't have the gaudy assists total or assist-to-turnover ratio that excites the voters. He averaged 2.8 assists during non-conference play and had 33 assists vs. 27 turnovers.
Going In-Depth and Inside the Big Ten
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