If Bruce Weber was looking to find an identity in his first year as head coach of Illinois, he did it in Illinois' recent win over Illinois State.
Playing in Champaign shortly before the start of the Big Ten season, Illinois found itself tied at halftime against Illinois State.
Normally, Illinois takes apart non-conference opponents when playing at home. Especially in-state rivals from conferences like the MAC or Missouri Valley.
But that was not the case on this day, as Illinois came with less than its best effort. So Weber got demonstrative. He took a chair and smashed it at halftime to get his players' attention. He took some markers and threw them at the board where he normally draws up plays. He screamed at players.
His idea was to get their attention.
Weber's show was not all that effective. Illinois played poorly in the second half and found itself trailing by nine points before rallying to tie it and win the game 80-73 in overtime.
Illinois rode the shooting of Deron Williams and the clutch play of Nick Smith to climb back in and win in the extra session. Smith had been the object of Weber's tirade at halftime.
Illinois guard Dee Brown understands why Weber went off in such an emotional way.
"There are so many teams around that get upset because they overlook somebody," Brown said. "Look at Missouri losing to Belmont (on Dec. 30) and there are so many just like that. He doesn't want us overlooking anybody."
With the Big Ten season about to begin, Illinois has to play as consistently as possible or they may not live up to their status as one of the Big Ten co-favorites.
KEY EARLY-SEASON CONFERENCE GAME: at Wisconsin, Jan. 24 — After Michigan State's disappointing non-conference performance this season, Illinois and Wisconsin appear to be the teams to beat in the Big Ten. Bo Ryan's team is deep and consistent and if the Illini can't control Devin Harris, it could be a long day for the Illini
TOP CONFERENCE RIVAL: The Illini are usually among the stronger teams in the Big Ten, but they have no true traditional rival in basketball. During various time frames, the Illini have had true dislikes for Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue. Whomever stands highest on the conference food chain usually stands as their main rival. As a result, it is now Wisconsin. The key to beating the Badgers is patience. Wisconsin is a great defensive team that will normally play for the great shot. If the Illini can't match their patience, they could struggle.
LAST YEAR'S CONFERENCE RECORD: 11-5, second place in Big Ten
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES: The Illini depended on Frank Williams in 2001-02 and Brian Cook in 2002-03. They don't have superstars any more, so they must be more team oriented. Through the non-conference portion of the schedule, that's just what they have done. As a result, opponents don't know whether it will be Nick Smith, Dee Brown or Deron Williams causing the damage. That strength also may be a weakness. Who is the go-to guy when they trail by six points with three minutes to go? Until that answer is determined, this could hold Illinois back.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Forward James Augustine, forward Roger Powell, center Nick Smith, guard Dee Brown, guard Deron Williams
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We play as a team. We are very unselfish. We don't have the superstars, but we have a lot of good players." — Bruce Weber on the makeup of the Illini.
With a record that is barely over .500 as the Big Ten season gets underway, there are a lot of signs that Hoosier fans won't get the type of season they want from their beloved team.
In their Jan. 3 59-50 loss at home to Temple, they saw evidence that the Hoosiers are going to have problems shooting the ball effectively in the Big Ten this season.
Like any team, the Hoosiers can have problems putting the ball in the hole when they go on the road. But put them in the friendly and comfortable surroundings of Assembly Hall and it's usually a different story. Lights-out shooting efforts led them to the NCAA finals two years ago and to a 21-win season a year ago.
However, the Hoosiers came through with a sick effort against John Chaney's Owls. They connected on just 8-of-39 shots from beyond the arc and were never able to establish any effective offensive rhythm.
Head coach Mike Davis has much to worry about. Bracey Wright appears to be Indiana's only consistent offensive option. He takes twice as many shots as any other Indiana players and his 22.2 ppg average is nearly three times higher than the Hoosiers' second-leading scorer Marshall Strickland (8.9 ppg).
Just one game after scoring 39 points against North Texas, Wright was 3-of-17 from the field, including 2-of-10 from 3-point range. He led IU with 15 points. "Our margin of error is so thin if Bracey is not making shots," Davis said. "But as bad as we played, the whole game we were only down four to seven points."
That was because Temple also struggled from the field, shooting just 26.8 percent. Davis knows that the kind of offensive effort he saw against Temple will not get it done for the Hoosiers during the regular season.
"We need the team to play defense, gets loose balls, allow just one opportunity on the defensive end, and execute on the offensive end," Davis said.
The Hoosiers know the formula for winning — now it becomes a matter of getting it accomplished during the Big Ten schedule.
KEY EARLY-SEASON CONFERENCE GAME: vs. Purdue, Jan. 27 — While the Hoosiers open the Big Ten schedule with two tough games on the road against Wisconsin and Michigan, Indiana must show it can come through with a winning effort on its home floor against one of its main rivals. Head coach Mike Davis wants his team to have a true home-court edge and they could go a long way toward establishing one with a win over the Boilermakers.
TOP CONFERENCE RIVAL: Even though Bob Knight has not coached the Hoosiers in four years, nearly every team in the Big Ten loves to get a little piece of Indiana. Finding one team to serve as its main rival is difficult, but Indiana needs to beat Purdue consistently in order to get an edge on local recruiting.
LAST YEAR'S CONFERENCE RECORD: 8-8, tied for sixth place in Big Ten
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES: The Hoosiers should get better as they get healthier. Center George Leach should be able to return shortly after recovering from a torn tendon in his knee. His current status is day-to-day. Once he is back in the lineup, the Hoosiers could have a nice inside-outside combination. Until he gets back, they will be a one-dimensional team that looks for star Bracey Wright on almost every possession.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Forward Sean Kline, forward A.J. Moye, guard Bracey Wright, guard Donald Perry, guard Marshall Strickland.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The coaches prepared us wonderfully and we just didn't bring it today. It's not one person, it's all of our fault. It may be some more than others, but this is horrible." — Forward A.J. Moye after his team's nine-point loss at home to Temple.
The Hawkeyes failed miserably in their quest to begin the Big Ten season with some momentum.
Iowa lost recent games against Texas Tech and Missouri prior to the start of the Big Ten season. The loss to the Tigers was especially painful. After remaining in contention throughout the first half, the Hawkeyes were outscored by 15 in the second as they looked off balance and out of sync.
Head coach Steve Alford has to get this team back on track quickly as the Hawkeyes open the Big Ten season Jan. 7 against a solid Purdue team.
The main problem against Missouri — a 76-56 loss — was a lack of ball movement that led to poor shooting. The 56-point effort was a season-low and so was the Hawkeyes' 36 percent shooting.
"We have to move the ball around," Iowa guard Jeff Horner told the Iowa Press-Citizen.
"When we practice we get excellent movement. (Against Missouri) I thought we didn't reverse the ball at all, and we didn't really have any drive and kicks. We've got to get that into our offense because we have a lot of guys who can drive."
If the Hoosiers are going to make a move in the Big Ten this season, they need to see some improvement from Jared Reiner, Sean Sonderleiter, Glen Worley and Brody Boyd. Along with Horner and Pierre Pierce, they represent the core of Steve Alford's team and they need to step up during the gauntlet that is the Big Ten schedule.
KEY EARLY-SEASON CONFERENCE GAME: at Minnesota, Jan. 13 — The Gophers are the kind of team that generally plays its best and most explosive basketball at home. But Steve Alford usually finds a way to rally his team to one or two significant road games during the Big Ten season. By playing hard defense and focusing on every possession, they could come up with a key win.
TOP CONFERENCE RIVAL: The Hawkeyes have tremendous border wars with Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, but can you guess which school Alford wants to beat more than any other? Of course, it's Indiana, the team he once led to a national championship as a player for Bob Knight. The Hawkeyes and Hoosiers usually have great battles and each has won recent games on the other's home court.
LAST YEAR'S CONFERENCE RECORD: 7-9, tied for eighth place in Big Ten
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES: The Hawkeyes have the kind of depth needed to make some real noise. While Pierre Pierce is their go-to guy, he should be able to get plenty of help from a supporting cast that includes Jeff Horner and Brody Boyd. If Alford can get the other guys to contribute consistently, Pierce will not feel the need to dominate on the offensive end.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Guard Brody Boyd, guard Jeff Horner, C Jared Reiner, guard Pierre Pierce, forward Greg Brunner.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm anxious to see where we're at, our resolve, our resiliency, bouncing back after a very difficult loss. Getting beat is one thing, but getting beat 20, I hope that hurts a little bit." — Steve Alford after his team dropped a 76-56 decision to Missouri prior to the start of the Big Ten season.
The Wolverines have a goal. A basic goal and a simple goal — make the NCAA tournament.
They are well on their way with a 9-2 start after getting the word that they would be eligible for the Big Dance shortly before the start of the season. Head coach Tommy Amaker has his team playing sharp and efficient basketball and the team is quite confident as it heads into the Big Ten schedule.
The good news does not stop there. Even with that fine record, Michigan could be even better as the season progresses. Point guard Daniel Horton has plenty of room to improve. While he is second to Bernard Robinson Jr. in scoring at 12.6 ppg, Horton is shooting just 38.1 percent from the field. He should be able to raise that number to 42 or 43 percent by the end of the Big Ten season.
Horton handles the ball well and knows how to shoot it, but everything has just been a tad off at the start of the season.
Robinson has been a fine all-around player for the last two years. He can take the ball inside and also stroke it from the outside. As long as he remains consistent, Amaker knows the Wolverines have a chance most nights.
While Michigan beat Fairfield 66-43 on Jan. 3, the Wolverines lost earlier at home to Boston University. That loss indicated a lack of respect for their opponent and Amaker can't allow that to happen during the Big Ten schedule.
KEY EARLY-SEASON CONFERENCE GAME: at Michigan State, Jan. 17 — Much to be gained with a win in this game. Not only can Michigan open eyes around the conference, they can do it around the country with a win at East Lansing. In the past, Michigan has been blown out in trips to Michigan State.
TOP CONFERENCE RIVAL: The Wolverines have one of the top rivalries in all of sports on the football field with Ohio State. However, little of the juice from the classic gridiron battle carries over to the basketball court. While a win over Ohio State is nice, it doesn't compare with a football win. As a result, there is nothing Michigan wants more than a win over Michigan State in basketball.
LAST YEAR'S CONFERENCE RECORD: 10-6, tied for third in the Big Ten
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES: The attitude on this team might be its best attribute. While the loss to Boston University was an exception, this team generally plays with focus and intensity. Head coach Tommy Amaker has seen his team do an excellent job of passing the ball and working it around. They also have several scoring options as four players are averaging nine points per game or better.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Guard Daniel Horton, forward Bernard Robinson, forward Graham Brown, center Courtney Sims, guard Lester Abram.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a good feeling for our team because we haven't played a complete game in a while. I thought we closed out the game in the right way and handled the pressure very well. They made a run and got it down to around 14 or 15 points, but we stayed solid and attacked in transition. I thought we had a good solid all-around team effort." — Head coach Tommy Amaker after his team beat Fairfield 66-43 Jan. 3 following a disturbing home loss to Boston University.
While many elite programs around the country spend the offseason looking for soft non-conference opponents on which to feast and fatten up the won-loss record, Michigan State takes on all comers. That bravery should count for something.
This season, head coach Tom Izzo had Kansas, Duke, Oklahoma, Kentucky, UCLA and Syracuse on the schedule. A 3-3 record in those six games would not have been too much to ask for ... and even a 2-4 mark would have been acceptable.
Nobody thought the Spartans would go 0-6.
But that's what happened, and it raises the question of whether this team has what it takes to make a run at the Big Ten title.
There is time for this team to improve — and certainly Izzo is as capable as any coach in the country at getting the most out of his team — but Michigan State might lack the overall skill level at the guard position to make significant noise in the conference and at the end of the season.
Center Paul Davis is leading the team in scoring and rebounding and looks to be the key player during the Big Ten season. However, despite his fine early numbers — 15.4 ppg and 7.2 rpg — Davis needs to play with more aggressiveness. If he turns up the intensity level a bit, the Spartans will have some nights where they play very impressive basketball.
Guards Chris Hill and Maurice Ager might both be somewhat overmatched. The one consistent aspect to the six losses has been that the guard play has been disappointing. Hill, Ager and Kelvin Torbert must all step it up during the regular season.
The teams also needs a way to start better — especially when they go on the road. In the 96-83 loss at Syracuse Jan. 3, the Spartans were trailing 9-0 in the early stages of the game and were never able to make up that deficit.
KEY EARLY-SEASON CONFERENCE GAME: at Purdue, Jan. 25 — The Spartans should be able to win three of their first four Big Ten games and then they go to Purdue. The Boilermakers have been one of the more impressive teams in the Big Ten so far this season and will provide an excellent litmus test for Tom Izzo's team. The coaching matchup between Izzo and Gene Keady is one of the better ones in the conference.
TOP CONFERENCE RIVAL: The Spartans always like to get the best of Michigan any time the teams meet in any sport. In addition to giving their "big brother" a black eye on the court, the Spartans can turn victories over the Wolverines into major recruiting tools.
LAST YEAR'S CONFERENCE RECORD: 10-6, tied for third place in Big Ten
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES: Center Paul Davis gives the Spartans a major presence in the post. He is a skilled player who is leading the team in scoring and rebounding. His numbers have been good to this point in the year, but many Spartan observers believe they could be a lot better if he got more aggressive.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Guard Chris Hill, center Paul Davis, guard Kelvin Torbert, forward Alan Anderson, guard Maurice Ager.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I never thought we would lose all six of those games. I knew it was a tough schedule and there was a possibility of losing a few, but I never thought we would lose all six." — Head coach Tom Izzo on the six non-conference losses to Kansas, Duke, Oklahoma, Kentucky, UCLA and Syracuse.
Have you heard this one before:
Head coach Bill Carmody has a very hard working team in Evanston that should be able to come up with a notable upset or two when the team plays at home.
However, when the team goes on the road in the physical Big Ten, the Wildcats will have trouble staying in contact.
If it sounds familiar, that's because it has been the case throughout Carmody's run at Northwestern — as it was even before he got there.
Jitim Young, T.J. Parker and Vedran Vukusic are all legitimate talents who bring offensive proficiency to the table. However, Young and Parker are both 6-2, while the 6-8 Vukusic virtually has no help on the front line.
As a result, depth is the key issue for Carmody. After his big three, he really doesn't have any significant scoring options.
Guards Evan Seacat and Mohammed Hachad are the next options and both players are guards who are not likely to provide a lot of defensive pressure or rebounding help.
But Carmody is an excellent game-planner and a fine teacher. He will get as much out of this Wildcat team as any coach in the Big Ten, and it would not be a complete shocker if this team rose to seventh place in the Big Ten.
KEY EARLY-SEASON CONFERENCE GAME: vs. Illinois, Jan. 14 — None of the better teams in the Big Ten take Northwestern seriously. So, when the Illini go to Evanston they may not think they will be in for much of a game. However, if Northwestern can play tough defense and keep the Illini off balance early, the Wildcats could cause problems with their screen game in the second half. A win over Illinois would simply be huge for the program.
TOP CONFERENCE RIVAL: While Northwestern wants to beat Illinois more than any other team in the conference, it's hard to consider this a major rivalry. Let's face it. The Illini treat the Wildcats like a pesky little brother and usually swat them away in the second half.
LAST YEAR'S CONFERENCE RECORD: 3-13, 10th place in Big Ten
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES: Jitim Young and T.J. Parker form an excellent combination in the backcourt. Not only are these players legitimately talented, they also play smart and tough as well. Young will rebound as well as any guard in the league, while Parker is not afraid to take the ball into the paint and then dish it out. He is truly a great ballhandler. On the downside, this club lacks strength and depth in the front court. They can't compete with the more muscular teams in the league and they will also struggle on the road.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Guard Jitim Young, guard T.J. Parker, C Davor Duvancic, forward Vedran Vukusic, guard Mohammed Hachad.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They are going to surprise some people this year. They play hard and they play smart." — Arizona State head coach head coach Rob Evans, whose team lost at Northwestern on Dec. 17.
The Buckeyes were more than hospitable in welcoming Bob Knight back to Columbus with his Texas Tech Red Raiders.
Ohio State struggled in the second half after taking a 37-33 at halftime. Texas Tech's interior defense caused problems; the Buckeyes had a ton of opportunities, but they made just 26-of-79 shots from the field.
Terence Dials, Velimir Radinovic and Shun Jenkins combined for 14 offensive rebounds and managed 16 combined points.
"We got a lot of great looks under the basket," Radinovic told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "At the start of the game, we just shot horribly. We shot 33 percent from the floor. You can't do that against a top-level team like Texas Tech and expect to win."
Coach Jim O'Brien was impressed with his team's effort. If the Buckeyes play as hard as they did against Texas Tech during the Big Ten regular season, O'Brien may be happier more often than not — especially if his players can hit just a few more shots from the field.
"We did a lot of things pretty well," O'Brien said.
"But what is this game all about — making shots and stopping the other guy from making shots. All the other things are nice, but those are the two biggest components, and those are the two areas that we were deficient in."
KEY EARLY-SEASON CONFERENCE GAME: vs. Indiana, Jan. 20 — The Hoosiers might not be a great team this year, but this would still be a win that would allow the Buckeyes to feel good about themselves. The Buckeyes are looking for something to build on and a win over Indiana would be a great jumping off point.
TOP CONFERENCE RIVAL: The Buckeyes have a sensational rivalry on the football field with Michigan, but that matchup is just "OK" on the basketball court. The Buckeyes want to beat Indiana and gain an edge on the Hoosiers in hoop recruiting.
LAST YEAR'S CONFERENCE RECORD: 7-9, tied for eighth place in Big Ten
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES: The Buckeyes are just playing ordinary basketball on the defensive end of the court. They are allowing 67.2 ppg, which ranks eighth in the Big Ten. While they struggled from the field against Texas Tech, the Buckeyes are normally a pretty good three-point shooting team. They rank third in the Big Ten, shooting 35.2 percent from beyond the arc.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Guard Tony Stockman, guard J.J. Sullinger, forward Terence Dials, center Velimir Radinovic, guard Brandon Fuss-Cheatham
QUOTE TO NOTE: "My loyalties run very deep with (Knight). I personally like the guy. Does he have issues? Absolutely. But I've got a lot of issues myself. ... And he's been very good to me. I know there'll be snickering because there's an element doesn't care for him. But he's done a lot more for the game than his foibles. The guy's been nothing but a star. ... I'll be loyal to him as long as I possibly can." — Ohio State head coach Jim O'Brien on Texas Tech head coach Bobby Knight.
The Nittany Lions go into the Big Ten portion of the schedule with a winning record, but head coach Ed DeChellis knows he does not have a powerhouse on his hands.
When the wins come against the likes of Bucknell and Buffalo and the losses come to schools like Rutgers and New Mexico, indications are that it might be difficult to come up with more than a couple of wins in the Big Ten.
The Nittany Lions are not the kind of team that can compete with Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan State. They play hard and can push an opponent for a period of five or 10 minutes, but they lose contact after a while.
That's just what happened in the Dec. 29 loss at New Mexico. The Nittany Lions were in the game for the entire first half and trailed by nine at the break. The Lobos immediately stretched the margin to double-digits and Penn State ended up losing 82-63.
Quite simply, DeChellis simply does not have enough weapons. Jan Jagla is a powerful force inside and he led the way against New Mexico with 22 points and eight rebounds. He got some help from guard Marlon Smith — who had 17 points — but there's just not enough offense on this team to be competitive.
Finding a consistent attack will be even harder during the Big Ten season since guard DeForrest Riley-Smith is seeking a release from his scholarship so he can transfer.
KEY EARLY-SEASON CONFERENCE GAME: vs. Northwestern, Jan. 28 — The Nittany Lions have a chance to register an upset any time they walk out on the court. That's just theory, of course. But when Northwestern goes to Penn State, the Nittany Lions have a legitimate chance to win. If Penn State can't win this game, they might struggle to win just once in the conference.
TOP CONFERENCE RIVAL: The Nittany Lions have no real rival. They are late-comers to the conference and a win over Penn State only means their opponents avoided embarrassment.
LAST YEAR'S CONFERENCE RECORD: 2-14, 11th place in Big Ten
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES: The Nittany Lions are playing moderately better under Ed DeChellis than they did a year ago. But how well has he prepared his team for the Big Ten race? That will soon be determined. They have a legitimate power player in Jan Jagla, but they don't have a lot of depth or overall talent.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Power forward Jan Jagla, guard Marlon Smith, guard Ben Luber, forward Ndu Egekeze, center Robert Summers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: " I feel like I need a change. This is not a good fit for me as far as the environment goes." — Guard DeForrest Riley-Smith on his decision to ask for a release from his scholarship so he can transfer.
The Boilermakers won 10 of their first 13 games and they did it the way most Big Ten observers expect a Gene Keady team to play.
Which is to say, with defense, hard work and team play.
But in the Boilers' 76-65 win over Baylor on Jan. 3, they might have found themselves a scorer.
Guard Brandon McKnight moved from the point to the shooting position and lit up Baylor for 23 points. McKnight got in the flow very easily and he gives Keady a scoring option he did not have in the past.
"I don't have to worry about running the show," McKnight told the Indianapolis Star. "The (shooting guard) can look to score. That's really my role."
McKnight still plays some point guard, but it is in the shooting role that he can really be a difference maker. He connected on 9-of-15 shots from the field and made 3-of-5 three-point shots.
"The difference was his 3-for-5 on 3-point shooting," said Baylor coach Scott Drew. "Brandon is a real good player, but he hasn't hit those kind of 3s. For our team to come back with limited numbers, we need to have a closer game so we don't have to expend all that energy to come back."
Keady is hoping he'll be hearing the same kind of talk from opposing Big Ten coaches this season.
KEY EARLY-SEASON CONFERENCE GAME: vs. Michigan State, Jan. 25 — The Boilermakers have played well so far this season, while the Spartans have had a difficult time against elite competition. Still, Gene Keady will get a barometer of where his team stands when they host Michigan State.
TOP CONFERENCE RIVAL: The Boilermakers have good rivalries with Michigan State and Illinois, but they need to beat Indiana for pride, self-respect and a recruiting boost.
LAST YEAR'S CONFERENCE RECORD: 10-6, tied for third place in Big Ten
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES: The Boilermakers play with toughness, heart and determination. They have confidence and they believe in themselves. However, they are not usually a top shooting team and that aspect of their game bears watching.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Guard Kenneth Lowe, guard David Teague, guard Brandon McKnight, forward Brett Buscher, center Ivan Kartelo.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We didn't block out on free throws. We got a lane violation for the fourth game in a row. If you don't block out and you don't take care of the basketball, and if you foul 40 or 50 feet from the basket, you're not playing with your head. We've got to learn how to play the game right." — Head coach Gene Keady on the things he disliked in Purdue's Jan. 3 win at Baylor.
Wisconsin has gradually gone from being a surprise team in the Big Ten to one of the most consistent squads in the conference. Nobody in the Big Ten would be surprised to see the Badgers win their third straight title.
This is a complete team that is not afraid to play out of its element. Yes, the Badgers are a team that will play defense to the end and will milk the clock to make sure it gets a good shot, but Wisconsin will also run on occasion. The Badgers have a team of solid athletes who can get up and down the court — even if it is not their game of choice.
Devin Harris was the Big Ten preseason choice as the player of the year, and he has done nothing to change that opinion. Harris leads the Badgers with a 17.0 ppg mark and knows how to find his shot when the game is on the line.
All is not roses for the Badgers, however. Alando Tucker missed the first five games of the season with a foot injury and then returned to average 14.0 ppg and 4.5 rpg. However, he reinjured his foot in the Dec. 27 win over Ohio and there is no clear timetable when he will be back.
But head coach Bo Ryan has a solid and capable team, one that has won 20 straight at home. While they will be challenged by Illinois, Michigan State and Purdue, don't be surprised if the Badgers rule the Big Ten.
KEY EARLY-SEASON CONFERENCE GAME: vs. Illinois, Jan. 24 — The Badgers should dominate at home this season, but they will be tested. The Illini have athleticism and talent and should push Bo Ryan's team to the limit.
TOP CONFERENCE RIVAL: The Badgers are coming of age as a basketball power in the Big Ten, but it still means a lot to their fan base when they can handle Iowa and Minnesota. They should be able to contain both of those teams this year.
LAST YEAR'S CONFERENCE RECORD: 12-4, first place in Big Ten
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES: The Badgers are talented, deep and play with a nasty streak. They put their opponents through the ringer and don't give up easy shots. However, they can still go through shooting slumps and find themselves struggling to score from time to time.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Guard Devin Harris, guard Freddie Owens, forward Mike Wilkinson, forward Andreas Helmigk, center Dave Mader.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We definitely have a bull's-eye on our back winning the last two years." — Guard Devin Harris on how the rest of the Big Ten will be shooting for the Badgers this season.
Big Ten basketball report
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