For the second year in a row, No. 20 Illinois has jumped out to a 3-0 Big Ten start. As the Illini prepare for Tuesday's trip to Penn State -- a program that has given Illinois fits over the past five years -- it's harder to decide whether to give more credit to the Illini's offensive or defensive prowess.
In its first three league games, including Thursday's 88-63 home victory over Northwestern, Illinois shot 65 percent from the field and 64 percent on 3-pointers. At the same time, Bruce Weber's bunch allowed opponents to shoot just 39 percent overall and 29 percent from beyond the arc.
While point guard Demetri McCamey (16.2 points per game 7.3 assists per game for the year) continues to be Illinois' leading man, it seems clear that the senior-dominated group has reached a new level of unselfishness. For example, senior power forward Mike Davis didn't have an assist in Illinois' first two Big Ten games. But against Northwestern, Davis needed less than nine minutes to tie his career high for assists (five). He finished with seven.
"We've got to give credit to all the guys who made shots and making all the right plays and sharing the sugar, like everybody says," McCamey told the Daily Herald.
The Illini handed out 25 assists on 31 baskets against Northwestern while holding the Wildcats to 12 assists on 23 baskets. Considering Northwestern is usually closer to Illinois' ratio, that's a sign the Illini are in synch offensively while knowing how to disrupt their opponents' sets.
However, Penn State senior point guard Talor Battle doesn't need to run a set in order to score. He has a knack for scoring on the Illini early and often ... and he also has a last-second buzzer-beater over Illinois (64-63 on March 5, 2009). Can sophomore guards D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul take turns slowing down Battle?
That's the key factor if the Illini want to move to 4-0 for the third time in seven seasons -- joining last year's underachievers and the 2005 group that zoomed all the way to the NCAA title game.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: It's impossible to shoot 60 percent from the field for an entire Big Ten season, isn't it? Illinois doesn't seem to care, as almost everybody on the team is absurdly hot. Everybody except sophomore Brandon Paul is hitting at least 61 percent from the field through the 88-63 win over Northwestern on Jan. 6.
Moreover, three starters are teaming up to shoot 71 percent from beyond the arc. Senior PG Demetri McCamey has made nine of 11 in league play and 54 percent for the season. Senior F Bill Cole has made eight of 11 in the Big Ten and 59 percent over his last nine games. Sophomore shooting guard D.J. Richardson is the slacker of the trio. He's hitting just seven of 12 in the conference and 46 percent for the year.
--Illinois swished 3-pointers on its first three possessions to set the tone for a record night at Assembly Hall on Jan. 6. The 20th-ranked Illini crushed Northwestern 88-63 as they shot a school-record 70.5 percent from the field. They made 18 of 22 shots in the first half to build a 23-point halftime lead and cruised from there.
The Illini, who placed six players in double figures, didn't care whether the Wildcats played their 2-3 matchup zone or their 1-3-1 half-court trap that has caused problems in the past. They simply moved the ball quickly until they found an open 3-point shooter (going 9-for-14 for the game) or a big man underneath for a dunk. Seven-footers Mike Tisdale and Meyers Leonard each took advantage of the smaller Wildcats for a pair of first-half slams.
Northwestern entered the game shooting 41 percent from 3-point range, but the Illini pushed the Wildcats beyond their comfort zones and limited them to 24 percent (9-for-38) as they forced more long shots than usual.
--If there's any reason to be cautious about Illinois' 3-0 Big Ten start, it's the alarming disparity in turnovers. The Illini committed a season-high 22 turnovers on Jan. 6 against Northwestern, though many came after they built a big lead. Nonetheless, they were averaging 17 turnovers per Big Ten game while forcing just 8.3 per game. There'll come a day when their shooting eyes fail them and they'll need to force some turnovers in order to get transition baskets.
--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
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."
--Senior PG Demetri McCamey is the reigning Big Ten assist king, but he figures to battle Michigan sophomore Darius Morris for this year's crown the entire way. They entered Jan. 6 tied for the conference lead (and fourth in the country) with 7.3 assists per game, but McCamey fell percentage points behind Morris by "only" delivering sseven assists in 28 minutes against Northwestern.
McCamey also scored 14 points to give him 1,479 for his career. He needs three points to jump into 10th place on Illinois' all-time list. He also needs five assists to pass Scott Skiles for sixth on the Big Ten's all-time list.
--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 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
--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
--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.
There are a lot of valuable lessons that take place throughout the course of the Big Ten season. Michigan expects to do a lot more of the learning than the teaching in the 2010-11 conference season.
Michigan went to school in its recent loss at Wisconsin, and the results amounted to a decent grade in effort, but a failing one in the product. There will be more of these experiences before the Wolverines are the mature, seasoned team they need to be in order to be competitive with the Big Ten's big boys.
The Wolverines struggle when they let their guard down and get careless with the basketball. The veteran teams in the Big Ten pounce on such opportunities, and Michigan has presented a few too many when facing the likes of Purdue and Wisconsin from the Big Ten's upper echelon.
Michigan has also suffered from episodes of freelancing, and that has contributed to the Wolverines averaging about 18 turnovers per game. Wisconsin, a team notorious for its stingy approach with the basketball, was a study in contrast when going up against Michigan. The Badgers presented the model on how ball smarts work.
Beilein has hammered home how important it is for his young team to be basketball smart, and to place a premium on each possession. The Wolverines need to skip the momentary lapses and the spells of sloppy play. Michigan is not strong enough to recover from such folly, especially when the opposition is the likes of veteran-laden Big Ten teams.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: The 11-3 record the Wolverines were sporting when they traveled to Madison to face Wisconsin for a Jan. 5 affair was more than a little bit deceiving. The wins were many but the quality wins were few, and after leading by two at the half, the young Wolverines hit a lull that was induced in large part by the Badgers' defensive effort. Wisconsin sculpted a 13-0 run and assumed control of the game on its way to handing Michigan a 66-50 Big Ten loss. The Wolverines (1-2 Big Ten) got 15 points from junior G/F Zack Novak on his 5-of-7 shooting from the field, but Michigan has had a tendency to rely too much on him, and it has been stung a couple of times when it has. What Michigan's early Big Ten games have demonstrated is that the growing pains are real, and they are many. It has not been men against boys when the Wolverines have faced the likes of Purdue and Wisconsin, but certain stretches in those games have sometimes tilted in that direction.
--Despite the abundance of youth and the shocking lack of experienced players, Michigan coach John Beilein appears to have settled on the lineup he expects to carry the Wolverines through most of the Big Ten season, and it is the youngest in the conference. The Michigan core five includes G/F Zack Novak as the only junior, G Darius Morris as the only sophomore, and three freshmen: G Tim Hardaway Jr., F Evan Smotrycz and G Jordan Morgan.
--The Big Ten recently honored Michigan sophomore G Darius Morris as its conference player of the week after he scored a career-high 26 points and matched his career-best with 12 assists in an 87-71 win over Bryant University. Morris led the Big Ten with 7.5 assists per game through Jan. 3 and was also the top scorer for the Wolverines with 15.8 points per game.
--The Wolverines had four players in double figures and shot nearly 60 percent from the field in their 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
--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
--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
--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.
In Northwestern's first two Big Ten games, you could look at the team's consistent effort with a hobbled John Shurna and conclude the Wildcats could have beaten nationally ranked Purdue and Michigan State if the Big Ten's leading scorer had been healthy.
But in the wake of Thursday's 88-63 loss at No. 20 Illinois -- in which the Wildcats were all but out of the game by the second media timeout -- it's clear there are more issues that need to be solved before Sunday's home game with Indiana.
"I don't know if it was effort or energy," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody told the Daily Herald. "It just didn't seem like we had the energy that was necessary to win, especially on the road in a tough place against a tough team. It's three days (until Indiana), and we have to change. We have to change our mentality. Some different guys have to step up to fill in, to help out until Shurna can get back to where he's playing better ... or closer to 100 percent."
With the Wildcats trailing Illinois by 23 at halftime, Carmody pulled Shurna with 17:29 to go to avoid further pounding on his sprained left ankle. Shurna scored seven points during his 21 minutes, which was enough time to be part of the team's worst 3-point shooting of the year.
The Wildcats entered the night hitting 41 percent of their 3s, but they made just nine of 38 (23.7 percent) against Illinois. Drew Crawford missed all six of his 3-pointers, while freshman JerShon Cobb hit just one of eight.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Northwestern coach Bill Carmody had big plans for freshman JerShon Cobb from the moment he signed him. Unfortunately, Cobb has spent most of his first season injured. A hip flexor ailment slowed him during preseason practice and kept him out of the opener. When he was intentionally fouled on a breakaway against St. John's on Dec. 21, he injured an already tender back.
Cobb's back continues to get better, according to Carmody, and the freshman proved it during Thursday's 88-63 loss to Illinois with a career-high 18 points. Cobb needed 19 shots to get those points, but he was active and hitting his drives as well as his customary pull-up jumpers. He also contributed four rebounds, three assists and two steals in his 32 minutes.
--Northwestern surrendered 12 points on Illinois' first four possessions and never came close to catching up in an 88-63 Big Ten road loss Thursday night. Not only did the Wildcats allow the 20th-ranked Illini to shoot a school-record 70.5 percent from the field, but Northwestern got pounded 40-17 on the boards by the taller and more active hosts. The Wildcats trailed by double figures for the final 33:28 to lose to Illinois for the 20th time in the last 22 meetings.
--Each of the last three years, Northwestern has hosted a nationally ranked Michigan State squad in its Big Ten opener. While the Spartans ruined Northwestern'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
--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.
--Senior PG Michael "Juice" Thompson continues to be one of the leading iron men in the nation. Though the Wildcats suffered a 25-point blowout loss at Illinois on Thursday -- a game in which they trailed by 32 with 15 minutes to go -- Thompson played 38 minutes. He made just five of 17 shots (including five of 13 from 3-point range) and his teammates were cold enough that he managed a season-low one assist. He's averaging 39 minutes per game in Big Ten action through Jan. 6, which is right in line with last year's 38.4 mpg in league play.
--Junior F John Shurna hasn't been anywhere near the same player since he suffered a high left ankle sprain on Dec. 23 against Mount St. Mary's. With his season-low seven points in a season-low 21 minutes against Illinois. Shurna was averaging 9.7 points in the last three games through Jan. 6. He was shooting 7-for-26 from the field (27 percent) and 3-for-11 (27 percent) from 3-point range.
--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
--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 hasn't had trouble identifying which shooter it needs to focus on stopping. It's the actual stopping that's been the problem.
A team that has been burned by the 3-point shot throughout the season was hurt by it again during Wednesday's 83-68 home loss to Purdue. The Nittany Lions did a solid job on Purdue senior guard E'Twaun Moore, holding one of the Big Ten's most prolific scorers to four points on 2-of-10 shooting, but Penn State could not find Ryne Smith, who scored a career-high 20 points and made all five of his 3-point attempts.
Smith drilled three 3-pointers as Purdue built a 31-27 first-half lead, then drilled back-to-back 3s to push an eight-point Boilermakers lead to 14 midway through the second half.
"Guys just stepped up tonight," Penn State forward Jeff Brooks said, tipping his hat to the Boilermakers. "And that's what good teams are supposed to do."
The Nittany Lions will need to continue practicing their close-out drills. Michigan State, which visits State College on Saturday, has two of the conference's top 15 3-point shooters in Durrell Summers and Draymond Green.
Rebounding is also a big focus for Penn State coach Ed DeChellis after the Purdue grabbed 46 rebounds to Penn State's 31 on Wednesday. The Spartans were leading the Big Ten in defensive rebounding.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Penn State senior guard Talor Battle scored 18 points in Wednesday's loss to Purdue but needed 22 field-goal attempts to do it. Battle connected on just six of those 22 attempts and did not connect on a 3-pointer until the final five minutes. Purdue alternated defenders on the Big Ten's leading scorer and collapsed on him when he drove to the basket. Battle has been able to get his points against the Big Ten's tougher defenses but has been far less efficient against them.
--Purdue sent Penn State to its second straight conference loss with its typical physical game, posting an 83-68 decision Wednesday at the Bryce Jordan Center. The Boilermakers enjoyed a comfortable 46-31 edge in rebounding and marching to the free-throw line 41 times.
--Penn State guard Talor Battle ranked second in the Big Ten in scoring and was shooting a career-best 39 percent from 3-point range through Jan. 2.
--Senior F David Jackson led the Big Ten in free-throw shooting at 89 percent through Jan. 2.
--Freshman G Taran Buie had missed the last three games through Jan. 5 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 -- Opponents that had shot better than 50 percent from the field against the Nittany Lions through Jan. 2.
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
--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.
--G Tim Frazier continues to be a playmaker for his teammates but has been unable to contribute much in the scoring column. Frazier handed out eight assists in Wednesday's loss to Purdue but went 1-of-6 from the field for two points in 22 minutes.
--G Jermaine Marshall scored a career-high 18 points in the Jan. 5 loss to Purdue. The redshirt freshman had scored a total of 12 points in seven previous games this season.
--Senior F Jeff Brooks had reached double figures in 11 of 14 games through Jan. 5. 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 14 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 11th-ranked Boilermakers have discovered their offense heading into Sunday's Big Ten Conference home game against rebuilding Iowa, which is winless thus far in league play.
Purdue, which won its ninth straight with an 83-68 victory Wednesday night at Penn State, is 3-0 in the Big Ten and is averaging 81.7 points in triumphs against Michigan, Northwestern and now the Nittany Lions.
Co-leading scorers E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson each is averaging 18.7 points in conference action, but junior guard Ryne Smith has come out of nowhere and is averaging 16.7 in the Big Ten, including a career-best 20 Wednesday at Penn State.
Smith, who has made 12 of 18 shots from 3-point range in the Big Ten, was a perfect 5-for-5 from beyond the arc against the Nittany Lions.
Even junior point guard Lewis Jackson is scoring more frequently in conference action, averaging 9.7, including a career-best 17 at Penn State.
The Boilermakers are 25 of 55 collectively from beyond the arc in their three Big Ten victories.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Having lost 6-foot-8 senior forward Robbie Hummel to a torn ACL before the season began, Purdue was concerned about its ability to rebound, especially in the Big Ten.
Including outrebounding Penn State 46-31 on Wednesday, the Boilermakers are averaging 41.7 rebounds in league action, while their opponents are averaging 29.3.
JaJuan Johnson had 15 boards at Penn State and is averaging 10.7 in Purdue's three conference triumphs. The Boilermakers are averaging 12.7 offensive rebounds a game.
--Penn State senior guard Talor Battle, the Big Ten's co-scoring leader, struggled again against Purdue on Wednesday, making only six of 22 field-goal attempts while scoring 18 points, a bit under his 21.3 average.
In eight career games against the Boilermakers' tenacious man-to-man defense, Battle is averaging only 12.5 points, and his team is 1-7 vs. Purdue.
--With Wednesday's 83-68 victory at Penn State, Purdue has won eight consecutive Big Ten Conference road games. The Boilermakers haven't lost a league road game since Jan. 16, 2010 at Northwestern (72-64).
The eight-game league winning streak began with an 84-78 victory on Jan. 19, 2010, at Illinois. The streak also includes triumphs at Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota, Penn State (twice) and Michigan.
Purdue's next Big Ten road game is Jan. 13 at Minnesota.
--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: 8 -- Consecutive Big Ten Conference road victories by Purdue after the Jan. 5 win 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
--vs. Iowa, Jan. 9
KEY MATCHUP: The Hawkeyes are in a rebuilding mode for first-year coach Fran McCaffery 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.
--While senior G E'Twaun Moore was only 2-for-10 from the field for four points at Penn State, he did manage to move into a tie for sixth place on Purdue's career scoring list with former Boilermaker forward Walter Jordan, who played at the school from 1975 through 1978.
Moore and Jordan each had 1,813 career points.
--Senior C JaJuan Johnson has scored 136 points in the Boilermakers' six most recent games through Jan. 5, an average of 22.7, including a career-best 31 in a Dec. 18 victory against Indiana State.
--Junior G Ryne Smith doesn't get to the free throw line often, but when he does, Smith is lethal. During his career, Smith is 27-for-30 from the free throw line, including 7-for-7 in a Dec. 31 victory against Northwestern.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan has never placed much importance on starting lineups, but that didn't stop him from shaking up his starting five Wednesday night as the Badgers beat Michigan 66-50 at the Kohl Center.
Ryan replaced freshman guard Josh Gasser and sophomore forward Mike Bruesewitz with junior guard Rob Wilson and senior forward Tim Jarmusz. Gasser (5.9 points per game) and Bruesewitz (5.1 ppg) were not providing much offensively, and Wilson and Jarmusz have a little more experience.
Jarmusz has 29 career starts. Wilson battled through a hamstring injury early in the season and has been largely inconsistent. Wednesday marked the junior's first career start.
Whether or not the move the paid off is up for debate. Wilson battled foul trouble all night and failed to score a point in only 11 minutes. Jarmusz provided a spark on defense and added four assists, but he only managed two points in 35 minutes.
The Badgers (12-3, 2-1 Big Ten) now have five days to prepare for a Jan. 11 trip to Michigan State, where they haven't won since 2004.
Wisconsin is only 3-3 away from the Kohl Center this season, and the team is only shooting 39.1 percent away from home as opposed to the 48.7 percent mark the team boasts at home.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Wisconsin's six turnovers in the first half Wednesday night were one more than they had in their first two Big Ten games combined. Not to worry though, as the Badgers only had two in the second half. Through Jan. 4, the Badgers led the nation with an average of just 8.1 turnovers a game.
--Wisconsin won its ninth consecutive game over Michigan on Wednesday as Jordan Taylor scored 17 of his 20 points in the second half to turn a two-point halftime deficit into an easy 66-50 win. The Badgers held Michigan to just 22 second-half points on 33.3 percent shooting.
--The Badgers have now won 17 straight games coming off a loss. The last time Wisconsin lost back-to-back games was January 2009, when the team endured a six-game losing streak.
--Senior forward Jon Leuer (17 points) has now scored at least 16 points in 14 of Wisconsin's 15 games this season. He has scored in double-figures in every contest and leads the team with 19.3 points per game.
--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
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).
TSX Files: Insider College Basketball Report
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