The TSX Files: Insider College Basketball
Mike Davis led the Big Ten in rebounding last year with 9.2 per game. Entering the week, Illinois' senior forward ranked just 10th on the league's rebounding list this year -- and that's after his season-high 14-rebound effort in a 69-61 home win over Wisconsin.
Why did the 6-foot-9, 225-pound Davis dominate the boards against the Badgers after managing just 12 in Illinois' 3 previous games? It seems that coach Bruce Weber's consistent threats to bench him have served as a motivator.
"I don't want to sit," Davis said in the Daily Herald. "I want to be on the floor helping the team win ... I want to go back to last year and have 15 double-doubles for the season. I want to get the Big Ten rebounding championship again this season. Those things are kind of fun."
Davis, who produced his third double-double of the season in the Wisconsin win, has a long way to get to get back to the top of the heap with his 6.9 average. Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger entered the week at 10.1 rebounds per game while Minnesota muscleman Trevor Mbakwe was at 9.9 per game.
"I've got to get double-figure rebounds probably every game," Davis said. "I know I can do it. I've just got to put my mind to it. Me and my dad talked, too. He told if I want to get drafted, it's going to be off rebounding. But, you know, I've got to get rebounds."
Weber hopes Davis has gotten the message, but he'll believe it when he sees it. A look at Davis' uneven performances during his career outweigh one massive game against the Badgers. For example, Illinois plays host to Northwestern on Thursday. In last year's split series against the Wildcats, Davis stacked up 20 points and 17 rebounds in Illinois' win ... but no points and two rebounds in Northwestern's win.
"You just wish he had consistency," Weber said. "Like I said, this will be a test to get 2-3 good games in a row. At Iowa (on Wednesday), he was OK. He wasn't great (15 points, three rebounds), but he was solid. He had a good game today. Now we'll see if he can do it (again)."
--Senior point guard Demetri McCamey continues to zoom up Illinois' and the Big Ten's career lists. With his 21 points Jan. 2 against Wisconsin, McCamey jumped over two former Illini into 11th place on the all-time scoring list with 1,465 points. If he maintains his 16.3-point scoring average the rest of the way, he should finish fourth on the school's all-time list.
McCamey's seven assists gave him 634 for his career. That's third on Illinois' list and seventh on the Big Ten boards. Through Jan. 2, he needed just 12 more to pass Michigan State alum Scott Skiles and appears to be on pace to break Bruce Douglas' Illini record (765). If he does so, he'll be second on the all-time Big Ten list to MSU alum Mateen Cleaves (816).
--Senior forward Bill Cole made just 4-of-18 3-pointers during Illinois' first seven games. Considering Cole made 38 percent of his 3s as a sophomore and junior, much of his offensive value to Illinois was AWOL. But in the last eight games, Cole drilled 15 of 25 3-pointers to give the Illini a heck of a fifth option on the floor and Bruce Weber has rewarded him with more time. Cole posted a season-high 14 points in a season-high 28 minutes on Dec. 29 at Iowa. He returned to the starting lineup in the 69-61 win over Wisconsin on Jan. 2 and contributed 11 points in 29 minutes.
--Senior forward Mike Davis became the 44th Illinois player to eclipse the 1,000-point barrier for a career. Entering the week, Davis owned 1,022 points in his 119-game career. He and fellow senior Mike Tisdale (1,048 points) ranked 41st and 42nd on the all-time list.
BY THE NUMBERS: 27 -- Senior forward Mike Davis leads all active Big Ten players with 27 career double-doubles, but he owns just three this season. He earned his third Jan 2 with an 11-point, 14-rebound performance against Wisconsin.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I learned something myself. I can't let up on these guys. I have to throw chairs. I've got to yell at them. Just do things. I hate that, but I learned you can't be nice to them. You guys can tell me I'm not nice to Demetri (McCamey), but you can't be. He just doesn't deal with it very well." -- Illinois coach Bruce Weber explaining in the Daily Herald that his team's tendency to relax after big wins has forced his hand the rest of the year.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Northwestern, Jan. 6
KEY MATCHUPS: This one might be as simple as which Mike Davis shows up for Illinois. The Wildcats don't have a natural matchup for this 6-foot-9 leaper. Davis piled up 20 points and a career-high 17 rebounds when the Illini beat Northwestern last season at Assembly Hall, but Davis went scoreless with two rebounds when the Wildcats returned the favor at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Meanwhile, the Illini will rotate defenders on Big Ten leading scorer John Shurna. The 6-foot-8 junior went off for 46 points in last year's series.
FUTURES MARKET: Illinois coach Bruce Weber keeps saying that the Illini need sophomore guard Brandon Paul if they're going to be special. Two years in a row, the uber-athletic 6-foot-4 Paul has gotten off to great starts. He faded badly last season and he's giving varying signs this year. Paul produced at least 12 points in five of Illinois' first nine games, but owns just 28 points in Illinois' last seven games entering the week.
A sprained ankle suffered in the Dec. 23 loss at UIC factors into that poor average, but Weber thought he saw some signs during the win over Wisconsin on Jan. 2. Paul scored seven points with three rebounds and two assists in 18 minutes, but Weber likes his actions as much as his stats. The first time he touched the ball, he faked a 3-pointer and drove to the rim rather than jacking up the 3.
"Brandon did a nice job off the bench," Weber said. "He's starting to listen."
--Freshman F Jereme Richmond didn't start the Wisconsin game Sunday due to a right Achilles' tendon issue. Richmond, who had started the two previous games, sat out two practices to give the injury a chance to calm down. Richmond played a season-low 10 minutes against the Badgers, but coach Bruce Weber thinks the injury is improving and he could return to the lineup for Thursday's home game with Northwestern.
--Senior G Demetri McCamey faces a fierce battle as he guns for second consecutive Big Ten assists crown. McCamey, who ranked second nationally last season with a 7.1 assists average, has kicked it up a notch to 7.3 per game this season entering the week. However, Michigan sophomore Darius Morris owned the lead with 7.6 per game.
--Senior C Mike Tisdale blocked two shots against Wisconsin on Sunday. That gave him 145 for his career, which ranked fourth on Illinois' all-time list. Entering the week, he needed 33 blocks the rest of the way to break Derek Holcomb's career mark. It's going to take a bit of effort because Tisdale has averaged 1.5 per game this season.
Indiana's defensive efforts have been inconsistent at best, and the Hoosiers spent the time leading up to their meeting with Minnesota concentrating on improving their awareness on "D." The effort paid off despite a loss to the Golden Gophers, but it could set the tone for how IU plays going forward.
The Hoosiers were much more disciplined vs. Minnesota, and that discipline will come in handy vs. Northwestern on Jan. 9. The Wildcats' patient offense can wear down the best of teams, and IU must build on the confidence it gained in Minneapolis.
How do the Hoosiers do that? By continuing to battle for every loose ball and play closer to their opponents when faced with one-on-one situations. IU plays a lot of zone to make up for its lack of size and athleticism, but when an opponent catches the ball on the perimeter, the Hoosiers need to get in his jersey and not give him much room to move.
Some of that defensive aspect can be learned in practice, as the Minnesota game showed. The rest has to come from the players themselves. It's up to the Hoosiers to look in the mirror and focus on being the best defenders they can possibly be. It also will be important for the Hoosiers to push each other to keep their intensity high on defense.
That said, IU's five-game losing streak can be a slippery slope. The Hoosiers have been through long losing skids before, and the players have to avoid falling into the trap of thinking, "Here we go again."
They can push through the pain of the losses by focusing on defense and realizing that if they take care of business on that end, great things can happen. Northwestern will present a challenge, but the Wildcats could also represent a launching point for the return of Hoosier basketball.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Sophomore Christian Watford is the Hoosiers' leading scorer at better than 16 points a game, but he has a nasty habit of falling into wicked shooting funks. As a freshman, Watford suffered through three shooting slumps -- one of four games, when Watford went 12-of-42 (26.8) shooting; one of three games, when he went 7-of-33 (.212);, and, finally, one of six games to close the season when he made just 16 of 59 (.271) shots from the field. Heading into the Minnesota game, Watford was shooting 42.1 percent from the field, but his 2-of-13 performance is the fourth game in another sorry shooting streak. He has made just 11 of 42 (.262) shots in his last four games, and the Hoosiers need him to snap out of his slump to have a shot vs. Northwestern.
--Indiana lost its third straight Big Ten game and its fifth straight overall Tuesday in a 67-63 loss to Minnesota. The Hoosiers got 25 points off the bench from Victor Oladipo and Maurice Creek, but they couldn't overcome a lack of size inside and were outrebounded 44-35. IU lost despite scoring 21 points off 12 Minnesota turnovers, but the Hoosiers allowed the Gophers to shoot 51.9 percent after halftime to let a six-point halftime lead slip away.
--Indiana's road losing streak through its Jan. 4 loss to Minnesota stands at nine overall and seven in the Big Ten alone. During the Tom Crean Era, IU is 1-18 away from Assembly Hall in conference play, which doesn't bode well for the Hoosiers' trip to Northwestern Jan. 9.
--Junior Verdell Jones III needed just 43 points heading into a Jan. 4 matchup with Minnesota to become the 42nd player in IU history to reach 1,000 points in his career. Considering the talent Indiana has boasted in the past, it's unlikely Jones would have been the scorer he has been had he been on teams with more talent. Instead, Jones is set to crack the 1,000-point mark just better than halfway through his junior season.
--Sophomore Jordan Hulls is becoming more of a vocal leader on the court, and head coach Tom Crean is giving him more responsibility with each passing game. Against Ohio State, he gave Hulls, a 6-foot guard, the responsibility of playing the center position because Hulls was the only remaining Hoosier (IU's big men were in foul trouble) who knew what it took to play the position.
--Freshman Victor Oladipo is finding his comfort zone. He has scored in double figures in his first two Big Ten games, and he has earned a spot in the starting lineup.
BY THE NUMBERS: 13 -- Indiana allowed Ohio State to tie an opponent record at Assembly Hall when the Buckeyes drilled 13 three-pointers in OSU's win Dec. 31. The record was set by Northwestern last year.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "My father-in-law equates it to third-and-one in football. Third-and-one on defense, it's the hardest play. Third-and-one on offense, it's the hardest play. Well, there are certain plays at the rim that are like that in the course of a game. But third-and-one or third-and-two, however you want to look at it, when it's 2:28 and it's a four point game, we still have to believe that we're going to win the game. And that's what we've got to grow through."?-- Tom Crean on the Hoosiers' reaction to crunch time vs. Penn State. Crean's father-in-law is Jack Harbaugh, former head football coach at Western Michigan and Western Kentucky.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--at Northwestern, Jan. 9
KEY MATCHUPS: The Hoosiers haven't enjoyed a lot of success on the road under Tom Crean, and they have especially struggled vs. a scrappy Northwestern squad. NU's John Shurna will be a handful for the Hoosiers thanks to his versatility, and the pressure will be on IU's Christian Watford to lock down on Shurna when the Hoosiers go man-to-man. Northwestern's Michael Thompson will give IU sophomore Jordan Hulls all he can handle, as well, and Hulls has to keep his feet moving to avoid getting beat off the dribble.
FUTURES MARKET: Freshman Will Sheehey hasn't played a big role for the Hoosiers so far this season, averaging just 9.3 minutes a game through Jan. 2. Although he appeared in all 15 games the Hoosiers had played through New Year's Eve, he has only seen time in limited stints. That, however, is about to change. Head coach Tom Crean has said it's time to start developing some depth, and he will start using Sheehey for longer stretches to build the foundation for the future.
Sheehey is athletic and does a lot of things well, but he has to find some consistency. That said, Crean likes Sheehey's dedication to defense, and even before the year started Crean said Sheehey and fellow freshman Victor Oladipo would see plenty of time thanks to their intensity. Sheehey is averaging 4.1 points and is shooting 55.8 percent from the floor.
--Sophomore G Jordan Hulls is shooting 55.8 percent from the field overall and a sizzling 51.6 percent from three-point range this season through Jan. 4. He has made 7 of 14 3-pointers in conference play this season.
--Senior G Jeremiah Rivers has twice had to be helped to the bench due to injuries in the past month, but he has managed to bounce back both times. The first incident seemed to be because of an ankle problem, but he didn't miss any time, and the second incident came when Rivers was hit in the face on a drive. He returned to that game as well. Rivers' toughness has been questioned by some, but he isn't hurting the Hoosiers by missing too much time.
--Junior F Tom Pritchard is averaging 14.6 minutes a game, but his lack of aggression on offense is a problem for the Hoosiers. He had taken just 19 shots on the season through IU's New Year's Eve game vs. Ohio State, and he is averaging just 1.4 points. He's a liability late in games due to his poor free-throw shooting (1-of-10 on the year from the charity stripe), but he's one of IU's few big men and needs to be on the floor to help defensively. After all, he's IU's leading shot blocker.
Fran McCaffery isn't big on moral victories.
While the Hawkeyes' first-year coach was pleased his team gave No. 2 Ohio State a battle before falling 73-68 on Tuesday night, McCaffery saw his team drop to 0-2 in the Big Ten.
"We're not satisfied, OK?" McCaffery said. "Am I proud of the effort? Absolutely. You know, did we get better tonight? We got better tonight. And we're getting closer and closer to being where we have to be to where we can beat a team of this caliber. So from that standpoint, it's good. But we're not satisfied."
Both losses have come at home. The Hawkeyes, who have fallen to Illinois and Ohio State, will play their third straight nationally ranked team Sunday when they visit Purdue.
McCaffery will be eager to see how his young team responds against the Boilermakers. The Hawkeyes, whose top eight consists of a sophomore and four freshmen, expended a lot of energy and emotion against the Buckeyes. It will be Iowa's first road contest in the conference, and Purdue has been at the top of its game even though Robbie Hummel is out of the season.
Injuries to forward Eric May (groin) and guard Cully Payne are creating another problem for McCaffery, who was forced to go with what amounted to seven players against Ohio State. An eighth player, Devon Archie, played but saw one minute of action, and only five players scored.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: For the Hawkeyes to be competitive, the young players must grow up quickly. Freshman forward Melsahn Basabe did exactly that against the Buckeyes in going toe-to-toe with Jared Sullinger, Ohio State's prized freshman. Basabe, who played only 12 minutes against Illinois because of the flu, scored a career-high 22 points, had 13 rebounds and blocked six shots. He was 7 of 13 from the field and converted when he got to the foul line, making 8 of 11. Basabe is showing the ability to hit the 15-foot jumper and score when he puts the ball on the floor.
--The Hawkeyes never backed down from Ohio State, which had beaten each of its first 14 opponents by double figures. Give Iowa's young players credit for not being intimidated by the nation's second-ranked team. The Hawkeyes led for most of the first 26 minutes but were finally done it by a 16-0 run that turned a 45-42 lead into a 58-45 deficit. Iowa cut the lead to three in the last 30 seconds but got no closer.
--Iowa allowed a season-high 87 points against Illinois. The Hawkeyes' defense was torched throughout the game. Illinois shot 66.7 percent from the field, making 32-of-48 and hit 13 3-pointers. This is obviously something that can't continue.
"I think what you have to do is you've got to chase them off of it," coach Fran McCaffery said. "Now you might run the risk of penetration dunk, penetration pull up. But I think once they started to get into a rhythm, I mean, seven in a row in the first, you've got to chase them off it, and that's what we were trying to do it, and obviously we were unsuccessful."
--The Hawkeyes have committed 191 turnovers to only 177 assists through 13 games. That's a bad trend, which will likely get worse as the competition gets tougher in the Big Ten.
BY THE NUMBERS: 13 -- The number of 3-pointers the Hawkeyes allowed against Illinois in the Big Ten opener. The Illini missed only five shots from behind the arc. Iowa must clean up its defense against the 3-point shot.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have shot more free throws than anyone in America, I guarantee you, and we are drilling them as a team. That's what's frustrating for all of us." -- Coach Fran McCaffery on the Hawkeyes' poor foul shooting.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--at Purdue, Jan. 9
KEY MATCHUPS: The Boilermakers don't have Robbie Hummel, but are still tough to beat anywhere, especially at home. This also will be the Hawkeyes' first conference game away from home so it will be interesting to see how the players react to playing in a hostile environment.
FUTURES MARKET: Shooting free throws has been a big problem so far. Iowa is shooting 64 percent from the foul line, which is next-to-last in the conference. The Hawkeyes will continue to struggle with wins and losses as long as that pattern continues especially now that conference play has started. Iowa was only 8-of-15 from the line in losing to Illinois in the Big Ten opener.
--Sophomore G Cully Payne's season could be over. He had surgery for a sports hernia on Nov. 30, but doctors also had to repair a torn oblique muscle. It was hoped Payne would return in mid-January, but that timetable has been pushed back. If he can't return next month, he might be shut down for the season.
"It doesn't look good for him this year," coach Fran McCaffery said on his weekly radio show. "If it's two months, the season is about over."
Payne, who has played in five games this season, would qualify for a medical redshirt. His play was obviously affected by the injury, considering that he averaged 3.8 points and 3.4 assists. Payne averaged 8.4 points in 32 starts last season.
--Sophomore F Eric May didn't play against Ohio State because of a groin injury that occurred late in the Illinois game. He's second on the team in scoring (11.2) and is the Hawkeyes' best shooter. May is shooting 46 percent from the field and is making 45.9 percent from 3-point range. He might be ready to play against Purdue on Sunday.
--Freshman F Darius Stokes is expected to redshirt this season unless the Hawkeyes are hit with injuries to their frontcourt players. Stokes is a walk-on.
If the schedule front-loaded with softies was designed to allow the Wolverines to build some confidence before immersing themselves in the Big Ten wars, then the jury is still out on how well that approach has worked.
But there is no question that Michigan coach John Beilein laid out a considerable cushion, hoping his team -- the Big Ten's youngest -- would emerge from December with a decent record and a bit of momentum as it moved into conference play.
One of the unexpected consequences of that early schedule that included South Carolina/Upstate, Gardner Webb, Concordia, and a school from Rhode Island called Bryant University, is that facing Big Ten level competition constitutes a shockingly drastic change. After beating Bryant with relative ease, the Wolverines got clobbered at home by Purdue.
Michigan had better hope the 11 wins it piled up in its first 14 games addressed at least some of the most pressing issues this team faced after losing nearly 70 percent of its scoring from last season. After bouncing Bryant, the Wolverines were looking at dates with Purdue, Penn State, Wisconsin, Kansas and Ohio State, all lined up in a murderer's row.
The Wolverines got by Penn State, but they do not appear to have the muscle or the scoring might to make a lot of noise in the Big Ten this season over the long haul. The starting lineup recently has featured three first-year players -- freshman G Tim Hardaway Jr., freshman F Evan Smotrycz, and redshirt freshman F Jordan Morgan.
The combination of youth, inexperience, lack of Big Ten type size, and the absence of a go-to type scorer does not leave Michigan's prospects in this season's Big Ten race looking too bright. This conference can be very unforgiving, especially when veteran leadership is essentially absent.
--The Wolverines had four players in double figures and shot nearly 60 percent from the field in their most-recent Big Ten win over Penn State, including a 5-of-6 performance by junior G/F Zack Novak.
--Michigan sophomore G Darius Morris had a career night with 26 points and 12 assists as the Wolverines beat a grossly overmatched Bryant University just before Christmas.
--When they took on Penn State to open 2011, the Wolverines were playing their eighth straight game at home. Michigan won the first six against lesser competition before falling to Purdue, but bounced back with a win over the Nittany Lions.
--Michigan held two of its non-conference opponents to less than 50 points, allowing USC/Upstate just 35 and North Carolina Central only 44 points.
BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- The number of fourth or fifth year players on the Michigan team. The Wolverines are the Big Ten's youngest team, with 11 of the 15 players on the roster either freshmen or sophomores in eligibility.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If you look ahead in the schedule there's gonna be games that you hope you have a better chance at winning than others, but you can't look at it that way. You just got to say, 'This is the game. This is the only game.'" --Michigan coach John Beilein on what lies ahead for his team in conference play
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--at Wisconsin, Jan. 5
KEY MATCHUPS: The Badgers will grind on you with the same physical style of play that has worked well for them in years past, and Michigan will struggle to defend the paint. Wisconsin's 6-10 senior F Jon Leuer is an early contender for conference player of the year honors, and the size-deficient Wolverines will need a huge effort from a pair of freshmen -- 6-9 F Evan Smotrycz and 6-8 F Jordan Morgan -- to have a shot at slowing down Leuer.
--vs. Kansas, Jan. 9
KEY MATCHUPS: The Jayhawks bring one of the most potent attacks in the nation to Ann Arbor, and Michigan's effort will be complicated with the physical play and brute strength down low of Kansas junior F Marcus Morris. He led the Jayhawks in scoring (15.3 ppg.) through Jan. 2 and also led the Big 12 with 60.2 percent shooting from the field. Michigan's 6-9 F Evan Smotrycz and 6-8 F Jordan Morgan, a pair of first-year players, will have their hands full just trying to keep Morris from owning the inside game.
FUTURES MARKET: The Wolverines are confident that help is on the way since Michigan recently signed a pair of top-notch recruits who should bolster next year's lineup upon their arrival. The backcourt will grow stronger with the addition of PG Trey Burke, who owns polished floor general skills and considerable court savvy. The Wolverines expect to get a boost in the scoring department from G Carlton Brundidge, a physical, attacking style player from the Detroit area. Both are looked at as strong enough to put the ball on the floor and finish at the basket.
--Junior G Stu Douglass reached the 500-point plateau in his career in a recent game, and his 19 points off the bench in a win over Harvard are the most by any Michigan reserve this season.
--Junior G/F Zack Novak recently reached 112 total three-point field goals for his career, and needed just seven more to move into the top 10 three-point scorers all-time at Michigan.
--Sophomore G Jordan Dumars, who transferred to Michigan from South Florida in the middle of last season, was eligible for the first time as a Wolverine in the late December Big Ten opener against Purdue.
Early in the season, opposing guards were having their way with Michigan State's backcourt -- pretty good guards, it should be noted, but it was still a pride hit for the Spartans to give up 30 points to UConn's Kemba Walker and 31 to Duke's Kyrie Irving the next week.
When Texas shooter Jordan Hamilton got loose for 21 in a Dec. 22 win at Michigan State, it was fair to wonder if the Spartans would ever locate the quick, stingy group of guards they supposedly brought into the season.
But time off seems to have done something for this group -- and just in time, with a game against Penn State star Talor Battle coming up on Saturday. The Spartans combined to stifle Minnesota scorer Devoe Joseph (five points) on Dec. 31, and they nullified the quickness of Northwestern's Michael "Juice" Thompson in a 65-62 victory on Monday night.
"For the most part we did a pretty good job on Juice," said Spartans coach Tom Izzo, whose team let Thompson get loose for a few late baskets to reach 12 points but still held him to 5-of-13 shooting.
Freshman Keith Appling might be the key here as a complement to Korie Lucious and Kalin Lucas. Appling has the quickness and the tenacity, and he showed his athleticism against the Wildcats with five blocked shots.
That included his leaping graze of Thompson's tying 3-point attempt with three seconds left to preserve the victory.
Izzo said Appling is on his way to being "one of the best defenders we've ever had," and with Lucas and Lucious beside him, the Spartans have the athleticism to defend the perimeter better if they keep communicating well. That was one missing piece at times in the season's early games.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: If there's one statistic to count on as a Michigan State success/failure indicator, it's turnovers. They've plagued this team, which averages 15.5 of them a game. After Monday's 65-62 win over Northwestern, the Spartans are 5-0 when opponents commit more turnovers and 5-4 when they commit more of them. Michigan State is 10th in the Big Ten in turnover margin, with (216) turnovers against 208 forced. The biggest offender is senior point guard Kalin Lucas, who has 37 turnovers in 14 games.
--Michigan State was cruising to its seventh straight victory at Northwestern, up 63-50 with three minutes on the clock. But the Wildcats went on a furious 12-0 run in a span of 2:33, and it took a Draymond Green putback with 12 seconds left, followed by a defensive stop, to hold on for a 65-62 win. Green led the Spartans with 15 points and 11 rebounds, but he also jeopardized them with two late turnovers and a miss on a front end of a one-and-one opportunity.
--If the Spartans are going to win a third straight Big Ten championship, they'll need to continue to thrive in the face of hostile crowds. Over the last two seasons, the Spartans were 15-3 in Big Ten road games, the best two-year stretch in school history. Michigan State was just 14-4 in Big Ten home games in those two seasons.
--The small forward experiment is over for junior F Draymond Green. Tom Izzo said Green will play power forward exclusively from now on, even though Green has improved his outside shot and has perimeter skills. The Spartans need him on the block more often, and as Izzo said: "Now we can run our offense through him more."
--There's still no word on Michigan State's planned game on an aircraft carrier, but AD Mark Hollis said an announcement "is forthcoming." MSU has 11-11-11 painted on the Breslin Center court, signifying Nov. 11, 2011 -- Veterans Day. On that day, the Spartans are expected to play North Carolina on an aircraft carrier in a place to be determined, with two service academies also playing. Stay tuned.
--Rebounding has been a surprising weakness for the Spartans so far -- they're seventh in the Big Ten with a rebounding margin of plus-3.6 -- but the Spartans edged Texas on the boards and hung with the massive Golden Gophers, losing just 36-34. Tom Izzo said he thinks increased energy from his wing players will be the key to continuing to progress on the boards.
BY THE NUMBERS: 10 -- The Spartans' rank in the Big Ten in turnover margin. MSU has 202 turnovers and has forced 198.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We had the wrong guy guarding him, I guess." -- Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, after Durrell Summers burned him with four 3-pointers in a second-half stretch to change the game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--at Penn State, Jan. 8
KEY MATCHUPS: It's another tough PG matchup for the Spartans, and it may take Korie Lucious and Keith Appling to contain Talor Battle. The Nittany Lions must come up with a way to deal with Draymond Green, who is more physical than their forwards.
FUTURES MARKET: As sparingly as he is playing now (9.5 mpg), freshman C Adreian Payne could be the key to the Spartans' hopes of turning into a true national title contender. Payne has been slow to pick up things on both ends of the floor, but his talent is undeniable. He's 6-10 with a tremendous vertical leap, a 7-1 wing span and shooting range out to the 3-point line. Payne is showing flashes of progress in recent games, but he still has a long way to go.
--Devoe Joseph, a junior combo guard who averaged 11.3 points per game this season, informed Tubby Smith of his decision to transfer Jan. 3. Smith didn't talk about the situation after the team's win over Indiana Jan. 4 but said he didn't see Joseph's departure coming. It's the second major blow to the shorthanded Gophers. Two weeks ago, freshman center Mo Walker suffered a season-ending knee injury.
--Trevor Mbakwe had recorded nine double-doubles through Jan. 4. The junior power forward has quickly become one of the Big Ten's best post players. And in Minnesota, he's already a crowd favorite. Fans now wear T-shirts bearing his image.
--Senior PG Kalin Lucas still hasn't regained all his speed after last March's Achilles' tendon rupture, but he's getting there. Lucas has admitted that his problem at times has been holding himself up, with fear of reinjuring himself lingering in the back of his head.
--Junior PG Korie Lucious had a horrific game in MSU's Dec. 22 loss to Texas, playing just 19 minutes on a bum right ankle, making 1 of 6 shots and committing three crucial turnovers in a 67-55 loss. The time off for break seems to have helped Lucious rediscover his quickness and his game. He had 11 points, six assists and no turnovers nine days later in the Big Ten opener against Minnesota. Then he delivered six points and a game-high five assists Monday at Northwestern, and the ankle appears to be close to 100 percent.
Both Jared Sullinger and Trevor Mbakwe have faced similar questions since the start of their productive seasons: Are they for real? The uncertainty exists because neither guy has faced the kind of inside threats that can seriously challenge them.
On Sunday, however, the two will face each other in Columbus, Ohio. Mbakwe, a 6-8, 250-pound power forward, is coming off an 11-point, 16-rebound, five-block performance in the Gophers' 67-63 victory over Indiana. Sullinger recorded 24 points and 12 rebounds in a 73-68 win over Iowa the same night.
Sullinger (10.1 rpg) and Mbakwe (9.9 rpg) are one and two, respectively, in the Big Ten in rebounding. They're both top-20 scorers. And along with Purdue's JaJuan Johnson, Michigan State's Draymond Green and Wisconsin's Jon Leuer, they're two of the Big Ten's -- the nation's? -- top inside players.
Their matchup Sunday will provide a major test for both players. At 6-9, 280 pounds, Sullinger has manhandled his opposition with his wide frame and mature skill set. But Mbakwe, who benches 340 pounds, has the strength to battle him in the paint.
Mbakwe hasn't faced a post threat like Sullinger. As an aggressive defender, foul trouble could quickly become a problem for him against Sullinger.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: With all of their offcourt drama, the Gophers need a leader. And this season, Al Nolen has stepped up multiple times to fill that role. But they needed him most against Indiana on Jan. 4. Devoe Joseph had just walked away from the team, a move that could affect team chemistry for the rest of the season. After making only 1 of 10 shots in the team's first two Big Ten road games, Nolen scored 14 points against the Hoosiers. And he was the vocal instructor keeping them in synch, even when Indiana took a big lead. He kept the team together despite its problems away from the floor.
--Al Nolen had one of the best all-around efforts of his career as the Gophers beat Indiana 67-63 Tuesday night at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. Nolen, who recorded 14 points, six rebounds, four assists, four steals and two turnovers, led a Gophers team that was emotionally drained after junior combo guard Devoe Joseph left the team over the weekend. The Gophers recorded a pair of 10-0 runs in the second half. Indiana took a nine-point lead in the first half before Minnesota's surge after halftime.
--Before the season began, NBA minds labeled sophomore wing Rodney Williams as a possible lottery pick. His YouTube clips prove that he has the athleticism to play at the next level -- check out the 360 from just inside the free throw line. But the second-year man hasn't found a rhythm on either side of the floor. Tubby Smith said he wants Williams to be his best overall defender and a contributor on offense. But he had seven steals and eight blocks through Jan. 2, not sufficient for top three on the team in either category. And offensively, he was 2-for-18 from the three-point line.
--Every season, Tubby Smith's name is mentioned when top jobs become vacant. But the fourth-year coach says he likes Minnesota and feels the program is headed in the right direction.
That didn't stop various reports from linking Smith to the Charlotte Bobcats vacancy recently. Team owner Michael Jordan and Smith are good friends. And although discussions started early last year, Smith has not signed an extension with the Gophers. Plus, the practice facility he's craved from Day 1 is still an idea without the funding to make it a reality. It also didn't help that Smith's desire to hire Jimmy Williams as an assistant in 2007 and athletic Joel Maturi's refusal resulted in a highly publicized court trial over the summer. Williams won a $1 million judgment against the university. With all of the extra static, Gophers supporters will probably endure another offseason of "What if?" when it comes to Smith's future.
BY THE NUMBERS: 63.4 -- The Gophers' shooting percentage from the free throw line this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know our team is more relaxed and I think they're playing that way. It's good to have guys doing what they're supposed to do and not have all the distractions." -- Tubby Smith on being more relaxed this year. Last year, he endured a variety of off-court trouble within his program.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--at Ohio State, Jan. 9
KEY MATCHUPS: The Gophers haven't won at Ohio State under Tubby Smith. And it's hard to imagine that anything will change this time. Jared Sullinger has gone from freshman to watch to National Player of the Year candidate. But Sullinger vs. Gophers forward Trevor Mbakwe is one of the most highly anticipated matchups in Big Ten play.
FUTURES MARKET: When Tubby Smith scored Memphis prep star Andre Hollins, he believed he'd found a gem. Hollins wasn't on many Top 100 lists, after playing on a very talented White Station squad. As the No. 1 guy on this season's team, however, he's sparkled and exploded onto the national scene. Hollins scored 46 points against Findlay Prep, the No. 1 team in America. Findlay Prep coach Michael Peck said Hollins is one of the best players in the country. "He is one of the best four players this program has ever faced, and I'd compare him to one of our best in Avery Bradley, who's now with the Boston Celtics," Peck told reporters. "Hollins moved, hesitated, got himself open for his shot -- and from 8-15 feet, he was money all night. If he's not considered Top 10 nationally now, he will be."
--Freshman C Mo Walker was officially diagnosed with a torn meniscus and PCL, an injury he suffered in the team's final nonconference game, last week. Walker, a Canadian prep who'd become a key part of the rotation, will have surgery in the coming weeks and will not play for the rest of the season.
--Junior F Trevor Mbakwe had eight double-doubles entering the week, one of the top marks in the nation thus far. In two other games, he was a rebound away from a double-double. His 10.0 rebounds per game in the first two weeks of the season put him atop the league's rebounding charts.
A team like Northwestern doesn't have much margin for error in its pursuit of the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats' weak non-conference schedule has forced them to earn their attention-getting wins in Big Ten play -- but that's not going to be easy as long as junior forward John Shurna remains less than 100 percent with a high sprain in his left ankle.
Shurna battled through 39 minutes in Monday's 65-62 home loss to No. 18 Michigan State, but his painful ankle affected him in ways big and small. Not only did he shoot 1 for 11 from the field -- an uncharacteristic number considering he entered the night making 62 percent of his 3-pointers and 60 percent overall. He also didn't have the explosiveness to box out Michigan State's Draymond Green down the stretch with the game on the line.
Green grabbed three offensive rebounds in the final two minutes, including Kalin Lucas' missed free throw with 13.7 seconds that he turned into a putback that short-circuited Northwestern's 12-0 run and forced the Wildcats to try (and miss) two long shots on their final possession.
When he's not on the court or getting treatment, Shurna wears a walking boot to protect his ankle. It's clear he's not going to be 100 percent soon, but the Wildcats need him to figure out a way to be better for Thursday's big road game with Illinois. The Wildcats already have used up two of their 10 games against the six Big Ten teams expected to be in the NCAA Tournament (Michigan State, Purdue, Illinois, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Minnesota) and they match up rather well with the Illini with a healthy Shurna.
Shurna looked uncomfortable from long range (1 of 5 on 3-pointers) against Michigan State but did show an ability to drive past aggressive Michigan State defenders. He went 8 of 11 at the line to finish with 11 points but also struggled to finish those drives.
"Watching him move early in the year and watching him move the last two games, I don't think he's quite there," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said in the Daily Herald. "And they need him. He's their best player."
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Northwestern will never be a great rebounding team. In fact, Wildcats coach Bill Carmody doesn't get too concerned when his team loses the rebounding battle by a few. It's just not the most critical factor for a Wildcats win.
On the other hand, Northwestern can't afford to get embarrassed on the boards ... and that's just what has happened during this 1-3 run starting with the Dec. 21 loss to St. John's. The Wildcats posted a minus-6 rebounding margin against the Red Storm, suffered a minus-14 margin on Dec. 31 at Purdue and lost by 12 on Jan. 3 against Michigan State.
Illinois, another team filled with wiry guys who don't carry much muscle, generally won't dominate the boards, either. That means Northwestern needs to take advantage and get its fair share on Thursday in Champaign to have a chance. Last year's games suggest the Wildcats can come close to breaking even and profit when doing so. When NU lost at Champaign in overtime last season, the Illini won the boards by 4. When the Wildcats defeated the Illini in Evanston, Illinois enjoyed a plus-3 margin. See, a manageable margin gives the Wildcats a shot.
--Each of the last three years, Northwestern has hosted a nationally ranked Michigan State squad in its Big Ten opener. While the Spartans ruined NU's home opener for the third straight early January night, at least the Wildcats fought back to make this one closer.
Northwestern shot a season-low 32 percent in its 65-62 loss at sold-out Welsh-Ryan Arena as Michigan State hounded the Wildcats with a physical man-to-man. Nonetheless, the Wildcats managed to rally after trailing 63-50 with 3:11 to go. Senior point guard Juice Thompson, who had been limited to 3 points to that juncture, carried the Wildcats on a 12-0 run as he scored 9 points and fed Davide Curletti for an open 3-pointer. NU got within 63-62 with 28.2 seconds left, but Draymond Green's putback of Kalin Lucas' missed free throw with 12 seconds stemmed the tide. The Wildcats again struggled with the Spartans on the boards as Michigan State won the battle 45-33.
--Junior center Luka Mirkovic (16 points) and freshman guard JerShon Cobb (12 points) tied their career highs in the Dec. 31 loss at Purdue. Both of Mirkovic's 16-point performances have come against Boilermakers all-American center JaJuan Johnson.
BY THE NUMBERS: 72 -- Northwestern has been excluded from all 72 NCAA Tournaments. The Wildcats are the only BCS conference school that has never played in the NCAA Tournament.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was amazing. It was very loud. A great atmosphere. That's why I came (to Northwestern). -- Freshman guard JerShon Cobb explaining to the Daily Herald why he enjoyed the Wildcats' visit to Purdue's sold-out Mackey Arena.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--at Illinois, Jan. 6
KEY MATCHUPS: Opponents are starting to figure out ways to exploit 5-foot-9 Juice Thompson on the baseline of NU's 1-3-1 half-court trap. The Illini did a terrific job feeding the post in last year's game at Assembly Hall when 7-foot-1 Mike Tisdale and 6-10 Mike Davis combined for 51 points on 20-of-28 shooting. NU will have to choose between helping in the post or allowing Illinois' shooters to take aim from 3-point range.
--vs. Indiana, Jan. 9
KEY MATCHUPS: When the Wildcats were in hot pursuit of their first NCAA berth last season, they suffered a crippling 88-80 loss at Indiana to close the regular season. NU needs to find sophomore sharpshooter Jordan Hulls on the perimeter. In that 88-80 loss, Hulls drilled 8 of 12 3-pointers. When the teams met five days later at the Big Ten tournament, Hulls went 1 for 3 on 3-pointers as the Wildcats won handily.
FUTURES MARKET: Senior PG Juice Thompson has been the Wildcats' indispensable player ever since he showed up on campus in the fall of 2007. While sophomores Alex Marcotullio and JerShon Cobb can handle the ball when necessary, the Wildcats are hoping that incoming freshmen David Sobolewski and Tre Demps can fill Thompson's role next year. Demps, the son of New Orleans Hornets' GM Dell Demps, has enjoyed a solid start to his senior year while Sobolewski was just named the MVP of the prestigious Proviso West (Ill.) High School Holiday tournament as he led his undefeated Benet Academy team to the title.
--Entering Big Ten play, John Shurna led the Big Ten and ranked No. 9 nationally with 23.3 points per game. After facing Purdue and Michigan State burdened by a high left ankle sprain, Shurna's average has dropped to 21.3 ppg through Jan. 3 as he scored a season-low 11 points against both the Boilers and Spartans. Shurna had been averaging 3.3 3-pointers per game and shooting 62 percent from behind the arc, but he has gone 2 for 7 on 3-pointers and shot just 5 of 19 overall. He doesn't have the lift on his jumper and the extra gear to finish his drives to the hoop.
--At halftime of Northwestern's Big Ten opener on Dec. 31 at Purdue, coach Bill Carmody jumped sophomore swingman Drew Crawford verbally and told him to stop being such a cutie-pie. Since that time, Crawford has stuck his nose in there for a team-high 15 rebounds in the last game and a half through the Jan. 3 loss to Michigan State. He also blocked 4 shots during that time frame, including 3 against Michigan State. Just as important, Crawford drilled 3 of 5 3-pointers to turn around a cold streak. He entered the game hitting 30 percent on 3s for the year, including 6 of 27 in the team's previous six games.
--Freshman G JerShon Cobb sat out the Dec. 23 game against Mount St. Mary's after suffering a back injury when he was intentionally fouled on a breakaway by St. John's on Dec. 21. Cobb returned to the lineup on Dec. 31 against Purdue and, though his back remains sore, he contributed a career-high-tying 12 points. The lanky 6-foot-5 Atlanta product has a nice pullup jumper in his arsenal.
--Senior G/F Jeff Ryan sat out the 2009-10 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee during the season opener. Ryan said he was 100 percent when NU began practicing in October, but his knee hasn't responded as well to the daily wear-and-tear as the coaches hoped. He sat out the Purdue game for his first miss of the year and averaged just 6 minutes in the four games prior to that. That's not a good sign because Ryan appeared to be the team's eighth man when the season began.
--Senior F Ivan Peljusic underwent an appendectomy in mid-December and wasn't cleared to return to the team until the Dec. 31 game at Purdue. Peljusic averaged 1.4 points in 5.2 minutes per game through Jan. 2.
The amount of talent assembled in Columbus was never questioned, but when the Ohio State team for the 2010-11 season was analyzed and dissected, there were some significant doubts about how the Buckeyes' youthful group would hold up when faced with adversity.
Ohio State had said goodbye to the national player of the year, Evan Turner, and welcomed in five freshmen. Certainly, it was believed, the younger players would struggle in foreign environments and in the hostile arenas of the Big Ten.
The first Big Ten road test came at Indiana, where the Buckeyes young and old thrived and routed the Hoosiers. Was it a fluke, or something Ohio State could sustain over the long haul?
In the most recent outing in Iowa City, Ohio State took its prized freshmen -- Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, Aaron Craft, Jordan Sibert and Lenzelle Smith Jr. -- and blended them with the four returning starters who were the set-up men for Turner last season -- Jon Diebler, David Lighty, Dallas Lauderdale and William Buford.
The combination worked to perfection, with the Buckeyes pulling out a five-point win after trailing early. The freshmen continue to play wise beyond their years and show no signs of quaking when faced with hostile environments. Sullinger had 24 points and 12 rebounds to lead the way in the win at Iowa.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: From the start of the season, Ohio State's opponents made no secret of their intention to crank up the pressure on the Buckeyes' freshmen and watch them fold. Florida tried it and failed. Florida State did the same. And when the Buckeyes went on the road early in the Big Ten season to face a scrappy Iowa team, the approach wasn't much different. Neither was the result as the Buckeyes got 24 points and 12 rebounds from freshman C/F Jared Sullinger, and some clutch play from freshman PG Aaron Craft. After Iowa had shaved the Ohio State lead to three points with less than 30 seconds to play, Iowa sent Craft to the foul line and he nailed both shots, then forced a turnover to close the door on the Hawkeyes.
--The Buckeyes might have fired the shots heard 'round the Big Ten when they opened the conference season with a 13-of-19 shooting performance from beyond the arc in a rout of Indiana. They hit 68.4 percent from three-point range in the Dec. 31 victory.
--Ohio State's victory over Indiana in the Big Ten opener gave the Buckeyes a 14-0 start, the fourth-best overall in OSU history.
--Senior G Jon Diebler's five made three-pointers in the rout over Indiana gave Diebler 304 for his career and gave him sixth place all-time in the Big Ten.
BY THE NUMBERS: 134 -- Ohio State senior G/F David Lighty, the sole remaining member of the team that reached the NCAA Tournament championship game in 2007, had played in 134 career games for the Buckeyes after they hammered Indiana in this season's Big Ten opener.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our defense is shaping up; I think one of the big things is building that. Seeing things before they happen, communicating on the defensive end and we've done a pretty good job on rebounding, those are things we can build on. We're trying to build how we want to play." -- Ohio State coach Thad Matta as his team prepared to move into conference play
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--vs. Minnesota, Jan. 9
KEY MATCHUPS: The Golden Gophers will most likely elect to defend Ohio State freshman sensation C Jared Sullinger by committee, and it will fall on F Trevor Mbakwe and 6-11 C Ralph Sampson III to try and sandwich Sullinger and slow his impact. Mbakwe has the more physical approach and will likely try to get his body between Sullinger and the basket, while Sampson uses his length to at least alter Sullinger's array of inside attacks.
FUTURES MARKET: The Big Ten season and the coming years look extremely bright for the Buckeyes, who have stockpiled more freshman talent than any team in the country. C Jared Sullinger is leading the team in both scoring and rebounding while creating tremendous match-up problems for the opposition down low. PG Aaron Craft has not shied away from the spotlight at all, and has shown defensive skills beyond his years. F Deshaun Thomas would be starting most places, while G Jordan Sibert has the skills to do the same. If the Buckeyes are able to keep this ultra-gifted class together for even a couple of years, the benefits will be huge.
--Senior C/F Dallas Lauderdale is a much more effective and confident performer now that freshman F Jared Sullinger is making such an impact down low. "He's going with fire in his eyes," OSU coach Thad Matta said about Lauderdale as the Buckeyes moved into conference play. "He's getting rebounds out of his area and he's clearing space. It does nothing but help our basketball team."
--Freshman C Jared Sullinger has owned the Big Ten's Freshman of the Week award, taking it a half-dozen times in just the first two months of the season. The 6-9 Columbus native led the Buckeyes in both scoring (17.5 points) and rebounding (10.1 rebounds) through Jan. 2.
--Junior G William Buford led Ohio State to a win over Indiana in the Big Ten opener with 24 points, which moved his career total at Ohio State to 1,088 points. Buford, who scored the first eight Ohio State points against the Hoosiers, is in 40th-place all-time in career scoring at Ohio State.
Penn State needs to get defensive, and in a hurry.
The Nittany Lions will face three of the Big Ten's top teams four times in the next five games, beginning Wednesday with a home date against No. 12 Purdue. They'll need to play better defense than they have in their five losses.
Penn State allowed Michigan to shoot 57 percent from the field in Sunday's 76-69 loss in Ann Arbor. Once again, the Nittany Lions allowed several open perimeter jump shots, this time to a team that lives and dies by the 3-pointer.
In a 69-60 win at Indiana, Penn State, which has predominately played man-to-man, had some early success with a 2-3 zone.
"We're trying to keep guys fresh but more importantly just trying to give people different looks and not let them get comfortable," Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said.
Purdue, Ohio State and Michigan State all rank in the top five in the Big Ten in scoring, as does Illinois, which also plays Penn State in the next two weeks.
The Nittany Lions lost one of their perimeter defenders when freshman guard Taran Buie was indefinitely suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules last week. Their other defenders have struggled to close out on perimeter shooters, particularly when the play breaks down.
--Penn State guard Talor Battle ranks second in the Big Ten in scoring and is currently shooting a career-best 39 percent from 3-point range.
--Senior F David Jackson leads the Big Ten in free-throw shooting at 89 percent.
--Freshman G Taran Buie has missed the last two games as part of an indefinite suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules. He had been averaging 5.8 points per game.
BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- Number of Penn State opponents that have shot better than 50 percent from the field against the Nittany Lions this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It is what it is ... we're going to play the guys that are here." -- Penn State coach Ed DeChellis on the indefinite suspension of freshman guard Taran Buie.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Purdue, Jan. 5
KEY MATCHUPS: Two of the Big Ten's top offensive guards will square off when Penn State senior Talor Battle takes on Purdue senior E'Twaun Moore. The two rank second and third, respectively, in the conference in scoring. Nittany Lion senior forward Jeff Brooks could find shots around the basket difficult to get off against Boilermaker forward JaJuan Johnson, one of the nation's top shot-blockers.
--vs. Michigan State, Jan. 8
KEY MATCHUPS: Undersized point guards Korie Lucious of Michigan State and Tim Frazier of Penn State must make good decisions with the basketball. The Spartans will look to push the ball in transition against one of the nation's most deliberate teams.
FUTURES MARKET: Penn State continues to struggle to find consistent scoring options in the backcourt other than leading scorer Talor Battle. Sophomore point guard Tim Frazier has improved as a passer and defender but averages fewer than five points per game. Freshmen Jermaine Marshall and Tre Bowman have been non-factors, and Battle's half-brother and the team's fourth-leading scorer, freshman Taran Buie, has missed the last two games due to an indefinite suspension for a violation of team rules.
--Senior F Jeff Brooks was averaging a career-best 13.3 points per game and reached double figures in 10 of 13 games through Jan. 2. He ranked among the top 10 in the Big Ten in both rebounding and field-goal percentage.
--Senior F Andrew Jones failed to reach double figures in the first 13 games this season and totaled only three points in Penn State's first two conference games. The Nittany Lions will need more from their most experienced post player in the future.
The Boilermakers enter the second week of the Big Ten season riding an eight-game winning streak that has been fueled by excellent man-to-man defense.
Through its Dec. 31 victory against Northwestern, Purdue ranks second in Big Ten scoring margin, third in points allowed and is first in opponents' overall field goal percentage and opponents' 3-point field goal percentage.
In the eight-game winning streak that began Dec. 1 with a victory at Virginia Tech, the Boilermakers limited their foes to 38.8 percent shooting (166-of-428) and an average of only 55.9 points a game.
While Purdue has Division I basketball's third-best scoring tandem in senior guard E'Twaun Moore (20.4 points) and senior center JaJuan Johnson (19.9), it has been defense that has allowed the Boilermakers to win 13 of their first 14 after losing All-Big Ten forward Robbie Hummel for the season to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
--After scoring only 50 total points in 12 non-conference games, junior guard/forward Ryne Smith opened Big Ten Conference play with a 17-point game at Michigan and 13 more against Northwestern, making 7-of-13 shots from 3-point range and 7-of-7 free throws.
--Heading into their Jan. 5 game at Penn State, Purdue is 42-7 beginning with the opening game of the 2009-2010 season, including only two losses in Mackey Arena -- last season to Michigan State and Ohio State, with whom the Boilermakers shared the 2010 Big Ten regular-season championship.
--Moore continues to enjoy great success against Northwestern, scoring a career-best-tying 31 points in the Boilermakers' Dec. 31 victory against the Wildcats. In seven career games against Northwestern, Moore is averaging 20.3 points, including 27.7 points in his three most-recent battles with Northwestern. Moore's overall career average is 15.1 points.
BY THE NUMBERS: 7 -- Consecutive Big Ten Conference road victories by Purdue heading in its Jan. 5 game at Penn State. The Boilermakers won six consecutive league road games to finish the 2009-2010 season and opened the 2010-2011 league schedule with an 80-57 victory Dec. 28 at Michigan.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Game-to-game, the scouting report is different, but we've really tried to keep good pressure on the basketball." -- Purdue coach Matt Painter said when asked why the Boilermakers' past eight opponents are shooting only a collective 38.8 percent from the field.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--at Penn State, Jan. 5
KEY MATCHUP: Purdue earned a share of the 2010 Big Ten regular-season championship by winning the final regular-season game at Penn State, where the Boilermakers usually play well. The Nittany Lions usually go as high-scoring guard Talor Battle goes, and Purdue seems to have had an answer recently for each opponent's leading scorer.
--vs. Iowa, Jan. 9
KEY MATCHUP: The Hawkeyes are in a rebuilding mode for first-year coach Fran McCafferey and have struggled badly at the defensive end of the floor. In Johnson and Moore, Purdue has the Big Ten's most prolific 1-2 scoring punch. If Iowa has no answer for Moore and Johnson, this game could get out of hand early.
FUTURES MARKET: Purdue is within a week to 10 days of welcoming back No. 3 scorer John Hart (8.4 points a game), who has missed the past six games because of a stress fracture in his right foot. While a certain return date has not been listed, coach Matt Painter has hinted that Hart may be ready for some playing time on Jan. 13 at Minnesota.
A redshirt sophomore guard, Hart will give Purdue an additional 3-point weapon. In the eight games in which he played, Hart made 16 of 35 attempts from beyond the arc (45.7 percent) and also is a strong defender.
--Senior guard E'Twaun Moore needs only five points to pass Walter Jordan (1975-78) and move into sixth place on Purdue's career scoring list. Through Jan. 2, Moore had scored 1,809 points. Jordan, a forward, scored 1,813 points in four seasons as a Boilermaker.
--Senior center JaJuan Johnson has scored 121 points in the Boilermakers' five most-recent game, an average of 24.2, including a career-best 31 in a Dec. 18 victory against Indiana State. Johnson's overall average through Dec. 31 is 19.9.
--Junior guard Ryne Smith doesn't get to the free throw line often, but when he does, Smith is lethal. During his career, Smith is 22-of-23 from the free throw line, including 7-of-7 in a Dec. 31 victory against Northwestern.
There aren't many, if any, better duos in the Big Ten than senior forward Jon Leuer and junior point guard Jordan Taylor. Senior center Keaton Nankivil is a solid, if unspectacular, third-year starter who'll provide eight points, five rebounds and solid defense on any given day. That trio has proven to be good enough to lead Wisconsin into the thick of the Big Ten title chase.
But as the Badgers are learning during the early stages of league play, they need a few inexperienced guys to accelerate the learning process if Wisconsin is to contend in this year's beastly Big Ten. They can't rely on Leuer and Taylor to carry them to the finish line.
During Wisconsin's Big Ten road opener Jan. 2 at Illinois, the Badgers' big three combined for 49 of the team's 61 points. Moreover, Leuer and Taylor combined for 22 of Wisconsin's 27 second-half points. The rest of the squad managed 12 points in 93 minutes during a 69-61 loss. Sophomore forward Mike Bruesewitz and freshman guard Josh Gasser, making their first of many road starts in conference play, combined for one point on 0-for-4 shooting in 34 minutes.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan was asked afterward whether the young guys' inexperience is going to be a factor going forward.
"If it is, nobody cares," Ryan said in the Daily Herald. "That's life. I don't see any violins out. You just tie your shoestrings a little tighter and play. Nobody's going to feel sorry for anybody in the Big Ten this year. The Big Ten's going to be crazy."
Ryan referenced the "wily veterans" that Wisconsin faced in its first two Big Ten games. Illinois started four seniors who combined for 130 minutes. Minnesota, which didn't succumb at Wisconsin until the final minute last week, started two senior guards and two juniors. In all, the Gophers' upperclassmen combined for 137 minutes.
Fortunately for the Badgers, their next game comes against a team that doesn't have any seniors on the roster. Michigan arrives at the Kohl Center on Wednesday with sophomore point guard Darius Morris as their leader.
--Senior forward Jon Leuer has made an early case for All-Big Ten and All-American honors. In Wisconsin's first 14 games, the 6-foot-10 Leuer averaged 19.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. He also established himself as one of the nation's top-shooting big men by going 34-of-73 (46.6 percent) from 3-point range. Leuer has scored in double figures all 14 games this year, which has run his streak to 21 consecutive games dating back to last year's Feb. 21 game against Northwestern.
--Freshman guard Josh Gasser is just the third rookie to start games during Bo Ryan's 10-year reign at Wisconsin. The other two? NBA first-round picks Devin Harris and Alando Tucker. Gasser started strong with 21 points in his college debut, but has posted just one double-figure game (12 points vs. Manhattan) since that night. Gasser's best trait to date is his ballhandling. He owns 33 assists versus just 12 turnovers in 365 minutes.
--Wisconsin is on its way toward leading the nation in fewest turnovers for the second year in a row. The Badgers coughed up just five turnovers in their first 80 minutes of Big Ten play, which dropped their turnover rate to just 8.1 per game heading into the Jan. 5 home game with Michigan.
BY THE NUMBERS: 80.2 -- That's Wisconsin's national-best free-throw percentage through the first 14 games. Every starter except sophomore Mike Bruesewitz shoots at least 81 percent at the line.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not reading too much into anything other than, you know, we've got to shoot it a little bit better." -- Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan assessing his team's opening-week split against Minnesota and Illinois, which featured 41 percent shooting against the Gophers and a season-low 35 percent success rate at Illinois.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Michigan, Jan. 5
KEY MATCHUPS: Depending on which day you watch the Big Ten Network, there's a new guy dubbed as the Big Ten's best point guard. In a league full of top floor leaders, Wisconsin junior Jordan Taylor gets the nod as often as not because he scores decently and doesn't turn over the ball. Taylor enters this game averaging 16.1 points per game with 69 assists versus 16 turnovers. Michigan sophomore Darius Morris isn't on the Bob Cousy Watch list, even though he leads the league with 7.6 assists per game and averages a team-high 15.6 points per game.
FUTURES MARKET: Wisconsin typically has two strong players in each class, but junior point guard Jordan Taylor is the only one in his class that coach Bo Ryan can count on. The Badgers hoped junior swingman Rob Wilson would step forward this season, but that hasn't happened to date. Through Jan. 2, he was averaging 2.5 points in just 7.5 minutes per game. Among other things, he needs to stretch the floor with his jumper to be an efficient part of the swing offense, but hit just 1-of-8 3-pointers entering the week.
--Senior F Jon Leuer scored 16 points against Minnesota on Dec. 28 to become the 36th Badger to break the 1,000-point barrier. Through Jan. 2, Leuer owned 1,028 points in 103 career games. If he maintains his 19.5-point scoring pace, he could finish among the school's top 10 scorers. Devin Harris is ninth with 1,425 points.
--Sophomore C Jared Berggren is developing into a solid option off the bench. The 6-foot-10, 235-pound sophomore stepped up with eight points, four rebounds and three blocks in the Badgers' Big Ten-opening win over Minnesota. He's the team's No. 6 scorer (4.4 ppg) and was providing 1.9 rebounds in 9.8 minutes per game entering the week.
--Senior G/F Tim Jarmusz started last season until Jon Leuer needed a spot late in the year. Jarmusz has been the Badgers' sixth man this year and cranked up his 3-point eye in recent games. He nailed 9-of-14 3-pointers in his last 3 games through Jan. 2 to improve to 40.5 percent for the season (17-of-42).
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Big Ten Recruiting NotebookA Big Ten wide receiver commit has a huge week and more in this week's notebook.
Vettorello seeing Cyclones, Hawkeyes soonIowa State became the first power-five offer for University of Detroit (Mich.) Jesuit junior offensive lineman Carlos Vettorello last week and he plans to see them and several…
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