Big Ten report
The streaking Illini are doing everything better now than they were two months ago. After beating Northwestern on Feb. 28, Illinois has an eight-game winning streak and is hitting on all cylinders.
Not only is Bruce Weber's team doing all the fundamental things better than it was earlier in the year, the preparation level is much better as well.
In the 66-56 victory over the Wildcats, Illinois was serious about studying Northwestern's plays and tendencies, and the result was a fully prepared team that rolled to victory. That was just the opposite of the first meeting, when Illinois took the Wildcats lightly and lost in Evanston.
"In the last game, we did not show them enough respect," said Illinois guard Roger Powell. "We didn't prepare for them the way we should have."
It's a good thing Illinois did not take the same approach, because Northwestern came up with another solid game. The Illini couldn't shake the Wildcats for the better part of the game. Northwestern trailed by three at halftime and hung in for a while in the second half until the team's lack of depth took its toll.
Not only is the Illini shooting the ball better — they made 26-of-48 from the field against Northwestern — they play with much more focus and are making each possession count.
Much of the credit has to go to point guard Dee Brown, who has scored 20 or more points in three straight games. Brown connected on 7-of-10 shots from the floor against the Wildcats and has put his team in a great position to come away with at least a share of the Big Ten title.
Illinois' eight-game winning streak is its longest since winning eight games to open the 2002-03 season.
— Illinois has dominated Northwestern over the years. The Illini leads the all-time series 117-34 and has won 59-of-72 games played in Champaign.
— Illinois' victory also guarantees the Illini of at least a top-three finish in the Big Ten, and a bye in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. This will be the fifth consecutive season in which Illinois has had a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Forward James Augustine, forward Roger Powell, center Nick Smith, guard Dee Brown, guard Deron Williams
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I see the big picture. I see we have a chance to win the Big Ten championship." — Illinois guard Dee Brown on the motivation for his recent hot streak that has seen him average 20.7 ppg over his last three games.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: at Purdue, March 3; at Ohio State, March 7
KEYS: The Illini can win at least a share of the Big Ten title by beating Purdue and Ohio State. If Michigan State loses to Wisconsin, the Illini can win the league title outright with a sweep. Winning at Purdue will be tough but not impossible. The Boilermakers have struggled after a good start. Ohio State does not have the bodies to matchup with Illinois.
— Guard Dee Brown has averaged 20.7 points over his last three games. The key to that hot streak has been his outside shooting. Brown has made 13-of-22 three-point attempts over that span.
— Forward James Augustine is averaging a team-high 7.5 rebounds per game.
— Guard Luther Head had a team-high eight rebounds against Northwestern and has led Illinois in rebounding two games in a row.
The heat is unmistakable — and Indiana head coach Mike Davis feels it every time he turns on his computer or listens to his radio.
The Hoosiers have made 18 straight appearances in the NCAA tournament, but only a miracle run in the Big Ten tournament would save them this year. Nobody around the conference views the Hoosiers as a threat to win more than a game there.
Davis is now in his fourth year since replacing Bob Knight and has started to build some impressive credentials. He has been to the tournament three times and even urged his team to the final two years ago. He is of the belief that his team will be much better next year. However, that potential fails to satiate the masses.
The problem this year has not been a lack of talent. Davis' players often seem to lack basketball intelligence.
"We've had some really, really smart players before," Davis told the Indianapolis Star.
"Maybe not as talented, but smart players. And right now, we have really good athletes, and you see the difference. It's nothing but a lack of understanding situations, things we work on all the time. But I guess you just have to go through those things with young guys."
The Hoosiers have one of the best players in the conference in Bracey Wright — but one star is not enough. His teammates often seem content to stand around and let Wright hoist threes on an all-game basis.
The Hoosiers are no longer doing the little things that lead to wins. Defensive players are not blocking out. On the offense, the screens are not being set with the same tenacity as in the past. Until that happens, the Hoosiers will continue to suffer — and Davis will continue to hear about it.
After losing at Northwestern on Feb. 25, the Hoosiers found themselves with a 12-13 record. That marked the first time in their history that they were below .500 after 25 games.
— Indiana connected on just 38.2 percent of its shots in its 63-59 loss at Northwestern. The Hoosiers are 0-10 when they shoot less than 40 percent.
— Indiana finds itself a game behind Northwestern in the Big Ten standings. The Hoosiers have not finished below Northwestern since the 1969-70 season.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Center George Leach, forward A.J. Moye, guard Bracey Wright, guard Donald Perry, guard Marshall Strickland.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I thought our guys fought to the end. They hit some big shots and were able to knock down some clutch free throws, but our guys never gave up and that's good to see." — Indiana head coach Mike Davis on the effort against Northwestern — even though it resulted in a four-point loss.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Michigan, Feb. 3; vs. Wisconsin, Feb. 6
KEYS: The Hoosiers won at Ann Arbor earlier this season, so they should have some confidence against the Wolverines. However, there has been too much standing around and not enough toughness shown by Mike Davis' team this season. The Wolverines are fight for a spot in the NCAA tournament and could be tough. Wisconsin is still fighting for the Big Ten title, and if the Badgers beat Michigan State earlier in the week, they will be difficult to beat.
— Guard Bracey Wright is really struggling with his shot. He has made just 16-of-64 shots in his last four games.
— Forward Patrick Ewing Jr. had a career-high 12 rebounds in the loss at Northwestern.
— Forward A.J. Moye leads the Hoosiers with an average of 5.8 rebounds per game. That figure is the lowest for the top rebounder on any Big Ten team.
The Hawkeyes are on track for a major accomplishment this season if they can win one of their final two games this week.
That would give them a winning Big Ten record.
Steve Alford has been seeking a winning record in the league since coming to Iowa City five years ago. With both games on the road — at Northwestern and Purdue — it won't be very easy to accomplish.
"We're facing the two teams right there in the thick of the battle with us for fourth," Alford told the Des Moines Register. "We have a tremendous opportunity in front of us."
While this is considered a down year for the Big Ten, Alford said he would be shocked if the fourth-place team in the Big Ten does not get an opportunity to go to the Big Dance.
Iowa split two home games last week, losing to Illinois and hanging on to edge Minnesota. The Hawkeyes had a 19-point lead with 10 minutes to go and the Gophers were playing without star freshman Kris Humphries (foot tendon), but they clawed back into the game with a 16-1 run.
Iowa appeared to be on the verge of a huge choke job, but the Hawkeyes held on in the final minutes. The key play was a charging foul that Glen Worley drew with 1:15 left. Free throws by Brody Boyd and Jeff Horner sealed the deal for the Hawkeyes.
It wasn't a pretty finish, but it's another "W" in the standings and a step closer to a winning conference record.
Iowa struggled on the offensive end last week and its scoring average dipped to 72.8 ppg — second to Illinois in the Big Ten.
— Iowa trails the all-time series with Minnesota 92-83, but the Hawkeyes have won four of the last five meetings at Iowa City.
— During a 16-1 run by Minnesota late in the second half, the Hawkeyes went more than seven minutes without a field goal.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Guard Brody Boyd, guard Jeff Horner, forward Greg Worley, guard Pierre Pierce, forward Greg Brunner.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "What happened was that we had that big lead, then I think we got a little too comfortable. We got too passive." — Guard Brody Boyd after Iowa hung on to beat Minnesota 66-62.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: at Northwestern, March 3; at Purdue, March 6
KEYS: The Hawkeyes are extremely motivated, but their lack of depth may hurt on the road. Iowa lost at home to Northwestern earlier in the season and winning at Evanston could prove to be very difficult. The Boilermakers are in a bit of disarray after a hot start, but they should be at their best in their home finale.
— Forward Greg Brunner leads the Hawkeyes in rebounding with 7.9 boards per game.
— Guard Jeff Horner is second on the team in scoring with 12.8 ppg and is shooting 45.7 percent from the field.
— Guard Pierre Pierce had 12 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists against Minnesota and called the performance the "best all-around game" of his career.
The Wolverines are hoping that their victory over Ohio State on Feb. 29 was their last home game of the year.
The Wolverines have two road games this week — at Indiana and Northwestern — and will then play in the Big Ten tournament. After that, the Wolverines are hoping for an NCAA bid. Failing that, they most likely will be back at Crisler Arena for an NIT game or two.
"This will be my last home game," Robinson told the Detroit Free Press. "We know what we need to do, more than ever. We put ourselves in good position. We want to make sure we give ourselves every chance possible to get in that tournament."
The Wolverines put themselves in position to have a shot at an NCAA bid by taking care of business against the Buckeyes. Michigan built a nine-point lead by halftime and was much too sharp for the Buckeyes. Michigan turned the ball over 16 times but played solid defense, found the open man and shot well.
The Wolverines got a big lift from Brent Petway off the bench. Petway scored 12 points, blocked three shots and grabbed eight rebounds — seven off the offensive glass. He brought great energy to the floor and impressed his teammates.
"He was all over the place, blocking shots and dunking," Robinson told the Free Press. "He was definitely big for us today, and we needed every minute of it."
Petway was sharp and so were the rest of the Wolverines. With the improved focus and consistency, the Wolverines have a chance of sweeping Indiana and Northwestern and earning a spot to the NCAA tournament.
Michigan leads Ohio State in the all-time series at Ann Arbor 43-33. Michigan has won four of the last six meetings at home.
— The Wolverines were very strong on the boards against Ohio State with a 36-28 advantage.
— Michigan is shooting 31.8 percent from beyond the arc — ranking 10th in the Big Ten.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Guard Daniel Horton, forward Bernard Robinson, forward Graham Brown, center Courtney Sims, guard Lester Abram.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We definitely have to come out and play the way we've been playing the last couple of games. We need to run, rebound, get out on the break and defend well." — Forward Bernard Robinson on what Michigan has to do over the final two games of the season. The Wolverines are hoping to earn an NCAA invitation.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: at Indiana, March 3; at Northwestern, March 6
KEYS: The Wolverines rebounded from a tough home loss with Michigan State to beat Ohio State. They need to take the momentum from that game to Bloomington. Indiana won at Michigan earlier this season, so the Wolverines must return the favor.
— Guard Lester Abram had four three-pointers against Ohio State and he leads Michigan in scoring with 12.8 ppg.
— Center Courtney Sims is becoming a major factor in the middle by connecting on 22 of his last 28 shots over a four-game span.
— Forward Bernard Robinson scored 13 points against Ohio State and has 1,412 for his career — ranking 18th on the all-time Michigan scoring list.
Prior to the start of the Big Ten season, Michigan State was viewed as one of the most disappointing upper-echelon teams in the country.
The Spartans played a hellacious non-conference schedule, and they lost all of their high-profile games — Kentucky, Kansas, Oklahoma, Duke. The Spartans and head coach Tom Izzo were left to pick up the pieces at the start of the Big Ten season.
Michigan State has done just that.
While the Spartans were hammered in an early-season game at Wisconsin, they are in first place in the Big Ten heading into the final week. If Michigan State can get revenge on Wisconsin in a home matchup March 2, the Spartans will do no worse than tie Illinois for the conference regular-season title.
Michigan State is a well-oiled machine going into the final week. While the Spartans are not the kind of body-banging team they have been in previous years, this group can shoot the lights right out of the gym. They beat Michigan and Penn State last week, and the Spartans continued to shoot beautifully in both of those games.
In the win over Penn State, Michigan State connected on 28-of-55 shots from the field — including 11-of-27 from beyond the arc. Amazingly, Michigan State defeated Penn State by 25 points — even though they did not go to the free-throw line once.
While that raises questions on how the Spartans are not really attacking the glass, it also points out how well they can shoot it. Not only are they getting open shots, but they are also screening and blocking out. They are doing the little things that win games — and perhaps conference titles.
Michigan State has been overwhelmingly successful against Penn State, winning 20 of 23 games in the series.
— The Spartans are clearly the best shooting team in the Big Ten, connecting on 49.4 percent of their shots.
— The Spartans are averaging 72.1 ppg — third in the Big Ten behind Illinois and Iowa.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Guard Chris Hill, center Paul Davis, guard Kelvin Torbert, forward Alan Anderson, guard Shannon Brown.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think the biggest change in our play has been confidence. It's been a long year, but it's good to be playing your best basketball at the end of the year." — Head coach Tom Izzo on Michigan State's win over Northwestern.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Wisconsin, March 3.
KEYS: The Spartans can do no worse than tie for the Big Ten title if they beat the Badgers. While Wisconsin has slipped a bit in recent weeks — four conference losses — the Badgers are coming off a rout of Purdue. Michigan State was beaten badly in an earlier meeting at Wisconsin. Tom Izzo noted that his team was outfought and outhustled in that game and he should be able to get a better effort this time around.
— Center Paul Davis made 8-of-9 shots from the field in the Feb. 27 win at Penn State. Davis is averaging a team-high 15.6 ppg.
— Guard Chris Hill is averaging 14.0 ppg and leads the team with 4.9 assists per game.
— Guard Kelvin Torbert continues to sizzle from beyond the arc. He was perfect in three attempts in the win over Penn State.
The Wildcats are becoming one of the most predictable teams in the Big Ten. Not in terms of wins and losses — but in terms of the effort that Bill Carmody sees from his players on the floor on an every-week basis.
Northwestern split games against Indiana and Illinois last week — beating the Hoosiers at home and losing at Champaign. Carmody saw his team play with maximum effort in both games and that was good enough against an Indiana team that does not execute extremely well, but it wasn't enough against a very talented and deep Illinois squad.
However, the 66-56 loss at Illinois was quite notable.
The Wildcats were not intimidated about playing on the road against a superior opponent. Northwestern played Illinois on fairly even terms into the second half, but Illinois' athleticism eventually took over the game.
Despite the loss to Illinois — in which Jitim Young and Vedran Vukusic both scored 16 points — Northwestern still has a chance to finish with a winning record in the Big Ten. A 9-7 conference record would give the Wildcats a bye in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. That has never happened before. The Wildcats' best previous seeding was seventh.
"It's a great opportunity," said Young. "Our energy has been there on the floor and we need to bring it at home this week."
The Wildcats close out the Big Ten season with home games against Iowa and Michigan.
— The Wildcats have lost 10 of their last 11 meetings with Illinois in Champaign. Northwestern trails the all-time series 117-34.
— A sweep in the final week of the season would give Northwestern a 9-7 Big Ten record. Northwestern has not had a winning conference record since 1967-68.
— The Wildcats are shooting 45.1 percent from the floor — ranking them fourth in the Big Ten.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Guard Jitim Young, guard T.J. Parker, center Davor Duvancic, forward Vedran Vukusic, guard Mohammed Hachad
QUOTE TO NOTE: "In the second half, we were down a little bit. They seemed faster than they were in the first half and we couldn't match that." — Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody on his team's play in the second half against Illinois.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Iowa, March 3; vs. Michigan, March 6
KEYS: The Wildcats have a lot to play for. A sweep will put them over the .500 mark in conference for the first time in 36 years. It would give them a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament and give some much-needed momentum to a program that appears to be making progress. A spot in the NCAA tournament still seems a bit out of reach.
— Forward Vedran Vukusic had 16 points in the loss to Illinois, but he made just 2-of-8 three-point attempts.
— Guard Jitim Young leads the Wildcats with an average of 18.0 ppg and is also the team's leading rebounder with 6.2 boards per game.
— Guard Evan Seacat has missed three straight games because of a concussion. He may also miss the Iowa game, but he has a chance to return against Michigan. Seacat is an important outside shooting option for the Wildcats.
Road wins are not to be taken lightly for the struggling Ohio State basketball program. Even if they come at the expense of lowly Minnesota.
That's because the Buckeyes played consistently and hard against the Gophers. Minnesota may be a last-place team in the Big Ten, but it has offensive firepower and can cause problems at home. Since the Buckeyes had already lost at Penn State, they knew that no road game could be considered a piece of cake.
The Buckeyes did not start out well — they found themselves trailing 10-0 in the early minutes. However, the Buckeyes quickly switched from man-to-man to zone and that made life miserable for the Gophers. Minnesota shot just 35.7 percent from the field and made 3-of-25 shots from beyond the arc.
"They missed some shots they probably could have made," Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien said. "But when we played man-to-man we gave them a little extra space on the perimeter and we were a lot more aggressive in our zone."
J.J. Sullinger had 15 points and he got help from Brandon Fuss-Cheatham, who added 12 points. The Buckeyes did a good job of holding their poise in the second half and ran off with a 70-59 victory.
The Buckeyes tried to complete a sweep on the road at Michigan, but the Wolverines are fighting for an NCAA berth and were too tough for the Buckeyes. Once again it was a poor start that impacted Ohio State's ability to win the game. Michigan jumped out to a nine-point halftime lead and was able to keep the pressure on Ohio State for 40 minutes. The Wolverines had no problems solving the defense that caused so many problems for Minnesota.
Despite losing at Michigan on Feb. 29, Ohio State leads the all-time series 82-69.
— The Buckeyes are shooting 64.1 percent from the free-throw line — dead last in the Big Ten.
— The Buckeyes could not control the boards against Michigan. They were outrebounded 36-28 and generally outhustled and outworked.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Guard Tony Stockman, guard J.J. Sullinger, forward Terence Dials, center Velimir Radinovic, guard Brandon Fuss-Cheatham
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We just decided to get aggressive. We didn't care about going down 10-0, we just played hard." — Guard Tony Stockman on the effort in the Feb. 25 win over Minnesota.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Penn State, March 3; vs. Illinois, March 7
KEYS: The Buckeyes should have a little something for Penn State. Ohio State was beaten at Happy Valley early in the Big Ten season and head coach Jim O'Brien will not take it lightly if his team loses twice to Penn State in the same season. Stopping Illinois does not seem likely, but the Illini may be looking ahead to the Big Ten conference tournament.
— Forward Terence Dials leads the Buckeyes with 6.7 rebounds per game.
— Guard Tony Stockman had one of his better games in the loss to Michigan. He scored 22 points and connected on four three-point attempts.
— Center Velimir Radinovic connected on 5-of-7 shots against Michigan and continues to lead the Big Ten in shooting accuracy.
The Nittany Lions can't stop the avalanche. Despite a 2-0 start in the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions have won just one of their last 11 Big Ten games.
While effort was not a question earlier in the season, the Nittany Lions have lost three of their last four games by 20 points or more. That's not what head coach Ed DeChellis was hoping to see at this point in the season.
DeChellis and his coaching staff are also preparing for the 2004-05 season, and they may not have power forward Jan Jagla mixing it up. Published reports indicate that Jagla is being pursued by several European professional teams. Jagla has given an indication that he is ready to sign and not return to Penn State for his senior season.
While Jagla is Penn State's leading scorer and rebounder, he has faded a bit during the Big Ten season. He has not always been as aggressive on an every-game basis in late January and February as he was earlier in the season. As a result, he is not as bright a light for the Nittany Lions as he appeared to be at the start of the year.
Look for the Nittany Lions to go after big men as they get into recruiting season. Jagla is still a solid player despite his recent difficulties and life for the Penn State basketball program will be more difficult without him.
Penn State has been bombarded by Michigan State, losing 20 of the 23 games played between the two teams.
— Penn State's offense has struggled all season — and it's getting worse and not better. Penn State is averaging 58.2 and shooting 39.3 percent from the field
— The Penn State defense got clobbered by Michigan State's outside shooting, but nobody can accuse the Nittany Lions of giving the game away at the free-throw line. Michigan State did not take a single free throw in the game.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Power forward Jan Jagla, guard Marlon Smith, guard Ben Luber, forward Ndu Egekeze, center Robert Summers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think you can always overcome a sluggish start. We had it to 10, but we just couldn't score a basket. And then we go down to the other end, and they really score easily and make open shots." — Ed DeChellis on Penn State's inability to overcome an early deficit against Michigan State. Penn State ended up losing by 25 points to the Spartans.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: at Ohio State, March 3; at Minnesota, March 6
KEYS: The Gophers and the Nittany Lions likely will be playing for last place in the Big Ten. If Minnesota can beat Penn State and the Nittany Lions also lose to Ohio State, Minnesota and Penn State will share the cellar.
— Freshman guard Marlon Smith is rapidly becoming the Nittany Lions' best player. In the 67-42 loss to Michigan State, Smith scored 16 points.
— Forward Jan Jagla is averaging a team-high 14.0 ppg but has not played with the same effectiveness that he did earlier in the season. Published reports indicate Jagla may sign a contract with a European professional team and not return to the Nittany Lions next year.
— Freshman guard Ben Luber had eight points and two assists in the loss to Michigan State. He was looking to create, but he was frustrated by the Spartan defense.
The Boilermakers hoped to go to Madison and hang close with the Badgers for 37 or 38 minutes before finding a way to upset the Badgers.
Those hopes were not the least bit realistic. Injuries left the team shorthanded and Wisconsin was not about to let Purdue sneak out of the Kohl Center with a win. Purdue hung fairly close for 20 minutes — Wisconsin led by eight at the break — but the Badgers scored on 24 of 32 possessions in the second half and rolled to an 82-46 win.
Purdue head coach Gene Keady does not bear defeat well and he is especially ornery after a blowout.
"I'm surprised after that performance you would invite me in here," Purdue coach Gene Keady said as he began to answer questions at the postgame news conference.
Forwards Matt Carroll (shoulder) and Matt Kiefer (foot) missed the game with injuries while center Ivan Kartelo did not play in the first half as a result of disciplinary action following a bar fight last week.
As a result, the Boilermakers simply did not have the strength up front to compete with the hungry Badgers.
Keady now has to find a way to turn the team around in the Big Ten Tournament. Purdue has home games this week with Illinois and Iowa and can finish no better than 9-7 in the Big Ten. That would allow the Boilermakers to finish in a fourth-place tie. Purdue finished third in the conference a year ago with a 10-6 mark.
The Boilermakers played one of their worst second halves in recent memory at Wisconsin. Trailing by eight points at the break, Purdue was outscored 53-25 in the final 20 minutes.
— Purdue has been beaten by an average of 16.2 ppg in five losses to Wisconsin at the Kohl Center.
--Purdue's defense is viewed as the team's strength, but the Boilermakers allowed Wisconsin to score on 24-of-32 possessions in the second half.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Guard Kenneth Lowe, guard David Teague, guard Brandon McKnight, forward Brett Buscher, center Ivan Kartelo.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Once we got down, guys started to do what they wanted to do and didn't do what coach wanted. We started to break down offensively and we started to break down defensively." — Guard David Teague on the Boilermakers' implosion at Wisconsin Feb. 29
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Illinois, March 3; vs. Iowa, March 6
KEYS: The Boilermakers must step it up to beat Illinois, the hottest team in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes are desperate for a winning record in the Big Ten and will push Purdue hard.
— Forward Matt Kiefer was unable to play against Wisconsin as a result of a foot injury.
— Forward Matt Carroll, who injured a shoulder against Minnesota in late February, could not line up against Wisconsin.
— Purdue center Ivan Kartelo was suspended for the first half of the Wisconsin game Feb. 29 as a result of bar fight that he was a week earlier. Kartelo was harder on himself than Keady was. He felt the punishment was not strong enough. "I think I should have sat a minimum of a whole game," Kartelo said. "I made the mistake that probably cost us this game. I should pay more than I did." Kartelo scored three points in 10 minutes of second-half action.
There's no team in the Big Ten that takes advantage of home cooking the way Wisconsin does.
Head coach Bo Ryan puts a tremendous machine on the court when his team plays in Madison. The Badgers easily dispatched Penn State and an undermanned Purdue team last week as they attempted to get back on track in the Big Ten.
With two games left in the season, the Badgers are 1.5 games behind Michigan State and a game behind Illinois. If the Badgers win out, they will tie Michigan State in the conference, but to gain at least a share of the conference title for the third straight year, Wisconsin needs to beat Michigan State and Indiana while Illinois loses at Purdue or Ohio State.
Ryan knows he can't count on Illinois losing, but his team needs to come up with a great game to beat Michigan State on the road. The Spartans have become one of the best shooting teams in the country and they are especially comfortable at home. However, they will have a difficult contending with the Badgers if Wisconsin can slow the pace and turn it into a game where every shot is contested.
The Spartans used to love to play that kind of basketball, but Tom Izzo does not have the personnel to play an extremely physical brand of basketball any more. In fact, he admires the physical style the Badgers employ.
"I remember when we used to play that way," Izzo said when the Badgers took the Spartans apart in January.
Doing the same thing on the road will be much harder. Wisconsin plays decent basketball on the road, but all four of its conference losses have been away from home.
The Badgers hammered Purdue 82-46 Feb. 29, but that victory does not change the one-sided nature of the series. Wisconsin trails the series 103-53.
— Wisconsin buried the Boilermakers by making 31-of-60 shots from the field. Wisconsin scored on 24-of-32 second-half possessions.
— The Badgers have a 28-game home winning steak following wins over Penn State and Purdue.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Guard Devin Harris, guard Zach Morley, forward Mike Wilkinson, guard Boo Wade, center Dave Mader.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's always hard to play on a short turnaround. We've just got to play through the aches and pains now. People are going to be a little sore. People are going to be a little tired. That's when you have to be mentally tough." — Mike Wilkinson on defeating Purdue and getting prepared to play Michigan State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: at Michigan State, March 2; at Indiana, March 6
KEYS: The Badgers have been dominant at home but just average on the road. Wisconsin needs to win at Michigan State just to have a chance to get a share of the Big Ten title. If the Badgers don't overlook the Hoosiers, they should have enough to beat Indiana away from home.
— Guard Devin Harris is averaging 19.0 ppg and shooting a razor-sharp 80 percent from the free-throw line.
— Forward Zach Morley is asserting himself on the boards — averaging 5.2 rebounds per game.
— Forward Mike Wilkinson was aggressive against Purdue with 23 points and 12 rebounds.
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