The TSX Files: Insider College Basketball
With Illinois traveling to Penn State on Jan. 11, now's as good a time as any to recall the Nittany Lions just might be responsible for the decline of Illinois' brief reign atop college basketball civilization.
On Feb. 4, 2006, Penn State rallied from a late 11-point deficit to knock off a sixth-ranked Illini team 66-65 at Assembly Hall. Officials had to watch and re-watch the courtside TV monitor to figure out Rich McBride released his game-winning 3-pointer a split-second after the buzzer, a result that left everyone in Champaign crushed.
Not only did Illinois lose its 33-game home winning streak -- built largely by the guys who took the Illini to the 2005 NCAA title game -- it never has owned such a lofty spot in the AP Top 25 poll and has won just one NCAA Tournament game since that defeat.
It'd be one thing if Penn State had knocked off Illinois just that one time, but Nittany Lions senior point guard Talor Battle has made a career out of disappointing Illinois. Penn State is 4-3 against the Illini during Battle's career, though the Illini beat the Nittany Lions in both meetings last year. With that in mind, along with the fact the Illini are atop the Big Ten and climbing in the national polls, the Jan. 11 game is crucial. An Illinois win, especially in the wake of Michigan State's loss at Penn State on Jan. 8, would re-assert this team as Illinois' best since 2004-05 and 2005-06.
"Here's the question: The maturity of our guys to go to Penn State," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said after his team crushed Northwestern by 25 points on Jan. 6. "Penn State, a team up until last year really controlled us ... tough, hard-fought games and low-scoring games. That, and you've got to go to Wisconsin. You've got to keep moving forward and improving. That's the biggest thing. If you stay stagnant, somebody's going to go by you."
Weber also is curious to find out how his players respond when they aren't shooting well. During Illinois' 3-0 Big Ten start, the team shot 64.7 percent from the field and 63.6 percent on 3-pointers.
--Through games of Jan. 8, Illinois paced the Big Ten and ranked fourth nationally in 3-point shooting with a 43.4 percent success rate (Portland led the country at 45.0 percent). The Illini are getting it done with four starters who are a threat to make a 3-pointer at any time.
Senior PG Demetri McCamey, a 33 percent 3-point shooter during his first three years, has become the team's biggest long-range threat. Entering the week he was hitting 54.3 percent of his 3-pointers, which ranked second in the Big Ten and seventh nationally through Jan. 8. Sophomore SG D.J. Richardson was shooting 46 percent from beyond the arc while senior SF Bill Cole was at 44 percent. Cole nailed 16 of his last 27 3s through Jan. 8.
Illinois' single-season school record is 46.1 percent -- set in 1986-87 during the first year the 3-point shot became a national rule. The Illini tried fewer than 8 3-pointers per game that season.
--Senior PG Demetri McCamey was named one of the 30 players on the midseason Wooden Award watch list. McCamey leads the Illini with 16.2 points and 7.3 assists per game and remains a leading contender for the Big Ten's Player of the Year award.
And with 1,479 career points, McCamey needed just three points to move into Illinois' top 10 all-time entering the week. He also needed six assists to supplant Michigan State alum Scott Skiles for sixth place on the Big Ten's career assists list.
--Illinois set a single-game school record when it shot 70.5 percent from the field in an 88-63 victory over Northwestern on Jan. 6. The Illini shot 82 percent in the first half, but needed late layups from backup guards Joseph Bertrand and Crandall Head to reach the record.
BY THE NUMBERS: 64.7 -- Illinois is shooting at this rate from the field during Big Ten play. Every player on the roster, with the exception of sophomore G Brandon Paul, is hitting at least 61 percent of his shots.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We came out a little more mature than we have in the past. We really stepped on their throats." -- Illinois senior center Mike Tisdale in the Champaign News-Gazette after the 25-point win over Northwestern. The Illini hadn't won a Big Ten game by so many points since a 31-point decision over Indiana on Jan. 10, 2009.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--at Penn State, Jan. 11
KEY MATCHUPS: While Penn State's Jeff Brooks went wild in the Nittany Lions' upset over Michigan State on Jan. 8, this game's all about how sophomore guards D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul can slow down Penn State senior PG Talor Battle. In last year's Illini sweep, Battle shot just 11-of-34 from the field with eight assists and two turnovers.
--at Wisconsin, Jan. 15
KEY MATCHUPS: The Illini knocked off the Badgers 69-61 on Jan. 2 at Assembly Hall ... and Illinois has done better at Kohl Center than any other Big Ten team during the Bo Ryan era. You can be sure Illinois won't shoot 56.1 percent again against the Badgers -- as they did on Jan. 2 -- so they need to cut turnovers. They're also willing to let Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor get their points as long as nobody else (such as Keaton Nankivil) gets going.
FUTURES MARKET: He probably won't pay off this year on a senior-dominated roster, but Illinois coach Bruce Weber said this week that redshirt freshman guard Joseph Bertrand has been making strides in practice. The 6-foot-5 Bertrand is a spectacular athlete that the Illini hoped could become a point guard. That isn't going to happen at this point, but Bertrand could become a defensive menace and an offensive slasher from the wing. Bertrand, who has scored 13 points in 40 minutes this season, also needs to improve his range if he's going to be a regular next year.
--Freshman F Jereme Richmond played the Northwestern game on Jan. 6 with his lower right leg tightly wrapped. Richmond, who's dealing with a right Achilles' tendon problem, scored 11 points in 16 minutes. He also committed a career-high four turnovers, though as least two of the passes were excellent looks that were too advanced for the intended recipient.
--Senior PF Mike Davis handed out a career-high seven assists with no turnovers in Illinois' 88-63 win over Northwestern. That came one game after a season-high 14 rebounds. In his next game, might Davis hit his first career 3-pointer?
--Senior PG Demetri McCamey has scored in double figures in 22 of his last 23 games. His only miss came Nov. 27 at Western Michigan, when McCamey managed just eight points because he was busy handing out 10 assists without a turnover.
Rebuilding the Indiana men's basketball program provides Tom Crean with challenges that other coaches simply don't face.
Yes, the losses hurt, but every coach has to deal with wins and losses. The lack of experience is an issue for coach Crean, but there are other young teams out there. The biggest challenge for Crean -- one that no other school in the country faces -- is that the veteran leadership that is so important to a program's success simply doesn't exist at IU.
We're not talking about the verbal leadership. Anybody can be a leader for a team, and the Hoosiers have a few players who are stepping into that role. No, the leadership IU is lacking comes from the roster Crean was left with in the wake of the purge of the Kelvin Sampson Era.
When Crean took over the Hoosiers in April 2008, IU had just a handful of players on the roster. By the time practice opened that September exactly two players on the roster had appeared in an Indiana game before -- junior walk-on Brett Finkelmeier and senior Kyle Taber. Taber was a former walk-on himself, and his playing time had been very limited under Mike Davis and Kelvin Sampson. Finkelmeier never saw much floor time. He was a practice body, someone who helped pump up IU's team GPA. Taber made himself valuable, but he was never more than a decent player in limited minutes. He wasn't exactly a crafty player who had learned the ins-and-outs of playing in the Big Ten.
With nobody around to do just that, the little tricks of the trade and leadership that comes to with experience hasn't existed at Indiana over the past two and a half years. The respect of officials that comes after years of playing in a conference has been tough to come by as well. Worst of all, finding that intangible knowledge and respect will be slow to come by.
Players will certainly pick up experience, and eventually they will pass on what they've learned in games and watched on film to younger players. Eventually players will spend enough time in the Hoosier program and produce at a high enough level to earn the respect of officials. But in the meantime, IU's roster is packed with players who are still finding their way, who don't have the luxury of being taught how to play in the Big Ten by teammates who have been through the wars and excelled.
As proof, consider that IU doesn't currently have a four-year player in the program. Jeremiah Rivers is a senior, but he spent his first two years at Georgetown and is still finding his own role with the Hoosiers. He helps a little, but he can't do it all in the mentoring department. IU won't have a four-year player in the program until next year when Verdell Jones III, Tom Pritchard, Matt Roth, Daniel Moore and Kory Barnett are seniors. Of that group, only Jones and Pritchard play major minutes, and Pritchard lacks confidence on the floor.
Until the Hoosiers can build that experience and start to pass down knowledge, IU will have to work extra hard to find success on the court. Like everything else in the Crean Era, it will take a bit more patience and a bit more time, and the Hoosiers have to keep the faith that someday the program will be stocked with savvy players who can serve as mentors to the younger players.
--Freshman G Will Sheehey is starting to see more playing time, and head coach Tom Crean has said he plans on giving Sheehey a heavy dose of minutes in the next few weeks to help build the team's depth. Crean, however, is balancing his desire to develop Sheehey with his desire to avoid throwing too many freshmen on the floor at once, something that has led to Sheehey seeing inconsistent minutes.
--Senior G Jeremiah Rivers is starting to earn some trust from the coaching staff by not trying to do too much on the floor and concentrating on filling his role as a defender and rebounder. Rivers freelanced too much with the ball last year, but this season he seems to have found his niche.
--Sophomore F Christian Watford may be inconsistent on the offensive end, but he is doing a good job of getting to the free-throw line and converting. Watford ranks among the top 10 in the conference in free-throw percentage and has been a stabilizing force at the line for a team that has struggled from the charity stripe at times this season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 9 -- Number of home wins collected by the Hoosiers this season, the highest number of victories at Assembly Hall for IU in the Tom Crean Era. Indiana is 1-1 vs. Michigan at home in the Crean Era, allowing a 20-point lead to slip away Jan. 7, 2009, and winning a 71-65 decision in Bloomington last season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You've got to make adjustments on the fly, and it can't just be when the coach calls time-out. It can't just be from a coach. It has to be from the players inside of the game. That's why having conversations, those hundreds of conversations that you need to have in the course of a game, that's what communication is. It's not just watch the pick or ball-screen left, it's the conversations you need to have and we need to do a better job of that."?-- Tom Crean on how his team needs to improve when it comes to communication on the floor during the flow of the game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Michigan, Jan. 15
KEY MATCHUPS: Indiana's shaky three-point defense will get a workout for the second-straight game when the Hoosiers take on the Wolverines in Assembly Hall. John Beilein's crew loves to fire up the long ball, and Michigan's Stu Douglass will test IU's Christian Watford on the perimeter. Guards Jordan Hulls and Maurice Creek will have to play tighter defense, as well, to harass Michigan's shooters. Indiana's big men will face a challenge in keeping UM's Zack Novak off the boards in this one.
FUTURES MARKET: Freshman Victor Oladipo has always impressed with his athleticism and passion for defense, but he also is making his presence felt on offense. Oladipo doesn't boast the smoothest shot, but he is aggressive and isn't afraid to take a shot with the clock winding down.
More importantly, Oladipo is learning to get to the free-throw line when his shot isn't falling. For instance, last week vs. Minnesota Oladipo went just 3-of-11 shooting, but he still finished with 13 points because he earned eight trips to the line. He converted seven of those attempts, a feat in and of itself considering his inconsistency at the line.
Oladipo has earned minutes late in games, and although he still makes mistakes, he clearly has earned the trust of Tom Crean, who believes Oladipo has a high ceiling if he stops trying to make great plays and just becomes a great player.
--Sophomore G Maurice Creek is coming off the bench after losing his starting job to freshman G Victor Oladipo. Tom Crean says he's just looking for energy from Creek, and Creek could thrive with the lowered expectations on him as part of the second unit.
--Senior G Jeremiah Rivers spent some time talking to his teammates about how to defend Northwestern's Princeton-style offense before the Hoosiers took on the Wildcats. Jan. 9. Rivers played in the same type of offense when he was at Georgetown, and he warned his teammates to continue to play with intensity in the last five minutes of the first half and the first five minutes of the second half because the offense is designed to take advantage of teams when they are tired and let their guard down.
Fran McCaffery knows his team isn't talented or experienced enough to compete with the big boys in the conference, especially on the road.
The Hawkeyes' first-year coach understands there will be several tough moments for his young squad, but he does insist on one constant as many of his players experience the rigors of the Big Ten schedule for the first time.
McCaffery wants his players to be tough-minded no matter the opponent or the location of the game. He didn't see that in the 72-52 loss at Purdue on Jan. 8 and he wasn't happy about it.
"We didn't play with the level of competitiveness that you need to play to beat the 10th ranked team on the road, plain and simple," McCaffery said. "That's something we need to learn and get better at."
After giving No. 2 Ohio State a battle before losing by five at home, it's no surprise the Hawkeyes came out playing tentative basketball in their first conference road game. Iowa, missed shots, committed turnovers and fell behind 11-0 before scoring.
The Hawkeyes trailed by 14 at halftime, but the second half was no better. Iowa never made a serious challenge and was outscored 41-32 in the second 20 minutes.
McCaffery isn't going to criticize his team for physical mistakes or for not being good enough. Not being able to compete, however, is unacceptable as McCaffery tries to rebuild a program that's been down for too many years.
--Freshman Melsahn Basabe's performance in the last two games best sums up the inconsistency of young players. The forward went head-to-head with Ohio State's Jared Sullinger on Jan. 4, scoring 22 points with 13 rebounds and six blocked shots. Basabe looked like a freshman against Purdue. He scored eight points, made only one field goal and had three rebounds.
--Bryce Cartwright, who went into the Purdue game averaging 10.5 points, had a bad day against the Boilermakers. The junior guard scored four points and committed four turnovers. Cartwright made two shots in 10 attempts.
BY THE NUMBERS: 14:38 -- Iowa didn't score against Purdue until that much time remained in the first half. The Hawkeyes trailed 11-2 by then and were never in the game. That's the mark of an inexperienced team playing on the road in the conference.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was disappointed in our turnovers in the first half. We came apart in the beginning and couldn't make a basket." -- Coach Fran McCaffery after Iowa's loss at Purdue.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Northwestern, Jan. 12
KEY MATCHUPS: This could be the Hawkeyes' best chance to win. The Wildcats were blown out at Illinois in their last road game. Iowa needs to account for forward John Shurma, who scores 20 points a game and shoots over 50 percent from the field.
--at Minnesota, Jan. 16.
KEY MATCHUPS: The Gophers' front line, particularly Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III, will cause big problems. Williams Arena is an old-time venue so the young Hawkeyes will have to keep their poise in a hostile environment.
FUTURES MARKET: Not only are the Hawkeyes inexperienced, they also lack depth. With starting point guard Cully Payne sidelined by a sports hernia, coach Fran McCaffery has been forced to go with a seven-man rotation. Eric May didn't play against Ohio State because of a groin injury and was limited in the Purdue game. The lack of options on the bench is going to hurt as the conference season evolves.
--Sophomore F Eric May, the Hawkeyes' second-leading scorer, returned against Purdue after missing the Ohio State game because of a groin injury. He scored three points in 17 minutes.
--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.
Early January seems a bit soon to be talking about the NCAA Tournament and enhancing your credentials for that prestigious affair, but that's where the Wolverines find themselves as the Big Ten schedule gets rolling.
While fattening themselves up on a pre-conference schedule loaded with lightweights such as Gardner Webb, Concordia, South Carolina/Upstate, and Bryant University, the Wolverines did nothing to enhance their resume for post-season consideration.
Reality came pounding on the front door of Crisler Arena, however, when Michigan came back home from a defeat at Wisconsin and had to prepare for No. 3 Kansas, followed by No. 2 Ohio State just three days later. The Wolverines pushed Kansas to the limit and beyond before falling in overtime by a 67-60 score.
"Any time you have home games with nationally-ranked teams, you have to look at it as a tremendous opportunity," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "I'm sure there's a lot of extra adrenalin that we're going to have to calm down ... one of our biggest obstacles is to channel that in the right direction. You're going to have extra energy, but you have to channel it correctly."
Michigan has had some history of success in bringing the big boys to Ann Arbor. The Wolverines bumped off Duke in Crisler Arena two years ago, and last season upended UConn in Ann Arbor. They had an opportunity to do it again against Kansas, but the more seasoned Jayhawks made most of the plays in overtime.
Beilein hopes life in the Big Ten will provide his youthful team with the mettle and the experience under fire to make Michigan's case for a place in the NCAA tournament field come March. A few well-timed wins against the competition Michigan will face over the next two months should advance that cause.
"When you're playing in the Big Ten, you've got six teams that were nationally-ranked last week, so that's a 60 percent chance you are going to play a nationally-ranked team," Beilein said. "We have a lot of pride in the Big Ten."
--The Wolverines went a perfect 8-of-8 from the foul line in their loss to Wisconsin, and continued a string of success at the line. Michigan had made 24 straight free throws dating back to the Purdue game, going a perfect 14-of-14 against Penn State in between.
--In a rugged back-to-back stretch, the Wolverines hosted No. 3 Kansas on Jan. 9, and three days later host No. 2-ranked Ohio State. When the Jayhawks visited Ann Arbor and bumped off the Wolverines in overtime, they were the highest ranked team to play in Crisler Arena since top-ranked Ohio State in March of 2007.
--It's no mystery that good shooting wins games. In a recent win over Penn State, Michigan shot a season-best 27-of-47 (57.4 percent) from the field, and was a perfect 14-of-14 from the free throw line.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- The Wolverines went through the first two months of the schedule -- 17 games -- playing only two true road games. They won at Clemson in late November, and then lost on the road to Wisconsin in the Big Ten opener Jan. 5.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have a lot of work to do. I think they realize that we're on the right path, but we have some things we have to shore up." -- Michigan coach John Beilein on what lies ahead for his team in conference play.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Ohio State, Jan. 12
KEY MATCHUPS: The Buckeyes bring the nation's No. 2 ranked team to Ann Arbor, and the potential conference Player of the Year in sensational freshman C/F Jared Sullinger. Michigan will have to counter the double-double machine that Sullinger is and try to collapse on him inside with a pair of its own freshmen -- 6-9 F Evan Smotrycz and 6-8 F Jordan Morgan. Their goal is to make everything Sullinger gets come with a lot of effort, hoping to wear him down as the game progresses.
--at Indiana, Jan. 15
KEY MATCHUPS: The Hoosier have a budding Big Ten star in sophomore F Christian Watford, who will come into the game sitting eighth in the conference in scoring at 16.4 points per game. Michigan will likely use 6-8 freshman F Jordan Morgan to counter Watford, and the key will be to defend without fouling, since Watford entered the week having made a league-high 82 free throws in 95 attempts.
FUTURES MARKET: On a roster with no seniors, the Wolverines have placed a premium on the contributions they get from the most experienced members of the team. Junior G/F Zack Novak is at the top of that list of reliable incumbents. The Indiana native has played an increasingly vital role for Michigan as Big Ten play starts. In the win over Penn State, Novak went 5-of-6 from the field and scored all 15 of his points in the second half. He followed that up with a 5-of-7 shooting performance from behind the arc in the loss at Wisconsin, and then posted a double-double in the overtime loss to undefeated Kansas, with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
--Sophomore G Darius Morris has already surpassed his assist total from his freshman season (84) and had 109 assists as the Wolverines prepared to meet No. 3 ranked Kansas. Morris had 10 or more assists in six games to date, and was leading the Big Ten with 7.27 assists per game.
--The foul line is the place where many games are won or lost, and Michigan has to like its chances when the Wolverines are sent to the stripe, especially if freshman G Tim Hardaway Jr. steps to the line. Michigan ranks second in the Big Ten in free-throw percentage with a 72.4 percent rating, and Hardaway is eighth in the Big Ten with his 80.4 percent accuracy from the line.
--Sophomore G Jordan Dumars transferred to Michigan from South Florida in the middle of last season, and became eligible to play for the Wolverines as of the Dec. 28 game against Purdue, although he has yet to take the court. He played in just six games at South Florida before deciding to transfer much closer to his Detroit area home.
--Freshman G Tim Hardaway Jr., a two-time first-team all-city player at Miami's Palmetto High, made a smooth and quick transition to Division I college basketball. Hardaway averaged a team-best 11.8 points per game during Michigan's European tour in August, and then scored 19 points in his regular season debut.
From No. 2 at the beginning of the season to, quite possibly, unranked by mid-January. That's where things have gone for Michigan State, which now has to start thinking about its NCAA Tournament resume after a 66-62 loss to Penn State.
That will overshadow all the talk of a third straight Final Four and third straight Big Ten championship if the Spartans continue to struggle in so many facets of the game.
"You want to win a championship, you've got to win games like this," MSU senior guard Kalin Lucas said after the upset loss.
"Any time a contender, the four or five that are supposedly contenders, loses, and it's not against another contender, it's a hit to that team," coach Tom Izzo said. "There's no question about that. But at the same time, there's a lot of basketball left and I just have no problem with the way we worked in practice. So this is different than most times I've been disappointed over a game.
"I just almost feel for the guys this time because of how they work. What we did and how we played today is almost unexplainable."
Michigan State's four previous losses were to teams currently holding prominent positions in the rankings -- Connecticut, Duke, Syracuse and Texas.
This one, five days after Michigan State had to hold on late for a 65-62 win at Northwestern, further exposed the Spartans' troubles rebounding, making free throws, and making key plays late in games. All against a mediocre team playing in front of a sleepy home crowd at Bryce Jordan Arena.
The Spartans insisted after the game that they aren't panicking, but with Wisconsin coming to Breslin Center on Jan. 11, they need some kind of spark to turn things around.
"Very important," junior guard Korie Lucious said of bouncing back with a win over Wisconsin. "If we come out and lose this game, that just makes the burden on our shoulders bigger."
--Free throws top the list of Michigan State's problems. The Spartans were shooting just 65.5 percent from the line entering the week, and that does not reflect the series of one-and-one front ends that have resulted in costly clanks. Michigan State made just 10 of 20 from the line in the Jan. 8 loss at Penn State, including Draymond Green missing the front end of a one-and-one and Durrell Summers missing a foul shot that would have tied the game with 48.8 seconds left.
--The 66-62 loss to Penn State continued a recent trend -- Penn State giving Michigan State big trouble. The Nittany Lions also upset the Spartans at Bryce Jordan Arena in 2008. And they scored a shocking upset at Breslin Center in 2009. Michigan State managed to pull out a 78-73 win at Penn State in 2009, and held on for a 67-65 home win over the Nittany Lions last season.
-- Blocked shots have not been a signature trait of Tom Izzo's team, but this one ranks second in the Big Ten with 5.2 per game. Draymond Green leads the way with 20 blocks. Freshman SG Keith Appling set a record for MSU guards by swatting five shots against Northwestern.
BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- Number of Big Ten road losses for Michigan State in the past three seasons. The Spartans went a school-record 7-1 in 2008-09 and were 5-3 last season. They've split their first two so far this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just almost feel for the guys this time because of how they work. What we did (in practice) and how we played today is almost unexplainable."-- Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, after the Penn State loss
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--vs. Wisconsin, Jan. 11
KEY MATCHUPS: Like most teams, the Spartans don't have anyone perfect to cover 6-10 Jon Leuer, who can put it on the floor like a SF. Michigan State's guards must be ready for physicality from brawny Wisconsin PG Jordan Taylor.
--vs. Northwestern, Jan. 15
KEY MATCHUPS: The Spartans just beat the Wildcats and did a good job of limiting quick PG Michael Thompson and SF John Shurna. But SF Drew Crawford had 17 points and got to the rim often. He's more of a focal point this time around.
FUTURES MARKET: Freshman SG Russell Byrd finally has his boot off after two surgeries since May to repair a broken bone in his right foot. Byrd was supposed to compete for minutes this season as a deadly 6-7 shooter, but the plan remains to redshirt him. He has the size and ability of a future standout. And he might be one injury away from taking off that redshirt.
--Junior PG Korie Lucious said he was back in the "high 80s" on the right ankle he initially sprained in November and re-aggravated on Dec. 22 against Texas.
--Entering the week, senior PG Kalin Lucas was just four assists from joining an exclusive club at Michigan State. He'd become the fourth Spartan to reach 1,500 points and 500 assists. The others are Mateen Cleaves, Scott Skiles and Drew Neitzel.
As they tussled with Ohio State on Jan. 9, the Gophers got desperate as the Buckeyes built up a lead.
Then, they started to play the style of basketball that they like most. They used fullcourt pressure to create transition opportunities.
Tubby Smith's known for that style of basketball but hasn't used it outside of desperation situations lately.
"When you're down, you press," he said after the game.
But his players believe the same strategy that helped them cut an 18-point deficit to three points by the final buzzer can assist them in upcoming Big Ten games.
The Gophers face Purdue Jan. 13.
"I think this team just really needs to get out and run," senior Al Nolen said. "We have a really athletic team. ... I think we're a better team when we get to running and halfcourt should be our secondary thing."
--The Gophers need more three-point shooters. But where will they find them? They're the worst three-point shooting team in the Big Ten. And sharpshooter Blake Hoffarber has made nine of their 14 threes in Big Ten play. Devoe Joseph, who left the team last week, hit 38.1 percent of his three-point attempts.
--Trevor Mbakwe continues to impress. His 16 points and 12 rebounds at Ohio State amounted to his 10th double-double of the season. That's the fourth-best mark in the nation.
--The Gophers are so desperate for big men that they recently utilized Dominique Dawson, a sophomore walk-on who redshirted last year and played in one other game this season. Tubby Smith said he thought about using Elliott Eliason, who most expect to redshirt this season, after the team lost freshman center Mo Walker to a season-ending injury last month.
BY THE NUMBERS: 14 -- The number of three-pointers that the Gophers have made in four Big Ten games, the lowest tally in the league.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Just bad coaching. I'm a terrible coach." -- Coach Tubby Smith said, sarcastically, when asked about his defensive switches in a loss at Ohio State Jan. 9.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Purdue, Jan. 13
KEY MATCHUPS: The last time Purdue faced the Gophers, they were embarrassed in a 69-42 whipping in the Big Ten tourney. JaJuan Johnson, however, scored 17 points. The wiry post player will have to contend with Trevor Mbakwe, who's leading the Big Ten in rebounding. Under Tubby Smith, the Gophers haven't had a player with Mbakwe's size (6-8, 250 pounds).
--vs. Iowa, Jan. 16
KEY MATCHUPS: Matt Gatens has excelled for the Hawkeyes, playing their first season under Fran McCaffery. He's a versatile scorer who's made 34 percent of his three-point shots. But Blake Hoffarber, who's made 40 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc this season, is having the best season of his career.
FUTURES MARKET: With Devoe Joseph transferring, the Gophers have another scholarship open. And they might be going big. Walter Pitchford, a 6-8 forward out of East Lansing, Mich., is on the Gophers radar. He's a very athletic player who could contribute immediately.
--Former junior G Devoe Joseph left the program last week without a word. His mother, however, said her son needed a change of scenery. Connie Joseph also said that her son had been considering a move all season.
--Sophomore G/F Rodney Williams is beginning to showcase his potential. Deemed an NBA prospect before the season started, the 6-7 wing has been inconsistent all year. But he's 10 for 17 in the team's last two games. And he's playing tight defense.
--Senior G Al Nolen is leading the Gophers on and off the floor. In the team's last two games entering the week, he recorded 25 points, six steals, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
Northwestern doesn't need to apologize for taking 41 percent of its shots from beyond the 3-point arc. Not only is the Wildcats' offense designed to spread the floor and shoot 3s, they're hitting 39.4 percent on 3-pointers heading into a Jan. 12 trip to Iowa. That ranks among the top 35 teams in the nation.
On occasion, though, the Wildcats get stuck in a rut where they try to rain in 3-pointers while neglecting to get the ball inside. When they fell behind early in a 25-point loss at Illinois on Jan. 6, the Wildcats kept chucking up out-of-rhythm 3-pointers in an effort to get back into the game. While they finished with a season-high 38 attempts, they only made their season-average of nine.
That's what made Northwestern's 93-81 home victory Jan. 9 over Indiana so important. Not just because the Wildcats earned their first Big Ten win and regained some NCAA Tournament hope, but because of the way they went about scoring those points. Junior center Luka Mirkovic scored a career-high 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting against the smaller Hoosiers. Most of his baskets were layups as the Wildcats kept feeding him on the low block.
"We say (throw it inside) before most games, I'd say. At least I tell that to Luka. We sort of stressed it tonight," NU coach Bill Carmody said in the Daily Herald. "Not necessarily because of the size thing, but because if we're going to be good and do anything, you have to have an inside presence."
"When Coach says we're going to get the ball down (low), it doesn't necessarily mean that I'm going to score," Mirkovic said. "At least I can get the ball and I can pass it back because Coach feels like if we have a good inside-out game, that's going to help us a lot."
Mirkovic scored so readily in the post against Indiana, the Hoosiers switched from a man-to-man to a zone defense for a few second-half possessions. Shortly thereafter, four different Wildcats drilled 3-pointers in a 2-minute, 31-second stretch.
Will Northwestern continue to play inside-out in its upcoming games. At the least, the 6-foot-11 Mirkovic will be the tallest guy on the floor against Iowa and NU's next four games as well.
--Junior forward John Shurna broke out of an injury-related slump to pour in a game-high 24 points during Northwestern's 93-81 win over Indiana on Jan. 9. Shurna, who suffered a high left ankle sprain on Dec. 23, scored just 29 points in his first three games after the injury and shot just 27 percent from the floor. Against the Hoosiers, Shurna drilled 6-of-9 shots overall, including 4-of-5 on 3-pointers. That boosted his season's 3-point percentage back to 58 percent.
--With eight assists against Indiana on Jan. 9, senior point guard Michael "Juice" Thompson moved within eight assists of Patrick Baldwin's school record. Thompson owns 444 career helpers in his 109-game career. With his five 3-pointers at Illinois on Jan. 6, Thompson moved into second place on NU's all-time 3-pointers list. He owns 215 for his career.
--Northwestern owns 130 3-pointers in its first 14 games through Jan. 9. That's 9.29 makes per game, which ranks among the nation's Top 15 teams and just a smidge behind last season's record-setting pace when the Wildcats converted 9.32 3s per game.
BY THE NUMBERS: 93 -- With 93 points against Indiana on Jan. 9, Northwestern recorded its highest point total in a Big Ten game since March 12, 1994. The Wildcats' previous best during Bill Carmody's 11 seasons at the school was 85 in a double-overtime game against Penn State in 2003.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's an excellent player. He's the leading 3-point shooter in the country for a reason. You can't give him any space. He's going to be a pro for a long time." -- Indiana coach Tom Crean talking about NU junior forward John Shurna in the Daily Herald.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--at Iowa, Jan. 12
KEY MATCHUPS: The Wildcats have lost their last five visits to Carver-Hawkeye Arena and 12 out of 13 dating back to 1995, so one might say they're due. NU suffered a crippling 78-65 loss at Iowa last February as a lack of initial energy allowed Iowa to make open 3-pointers early and often. The Hawkeyes' systems have changed under new coach Fran McCaffery, but they still have shooters Matt Gatens and Eric May. NU will try to stay in its matchup zone as long as possible to limit Iowa's 3-point looks.
--at Michigan State, Jan. 15
KEY MATCHUPS: Just 12 days after NU suffered a 65-62 loss to the Spartans at Welsh-Ryan Arena, these teams meet again at the Breslin Center. Not enough time has passed to forget about the first game, which Michigan State controlled until Juice Thompson's last-minute outburst gave NU a chance to win in the final minute. John Shurna's ankle figures to be much healthier than the first meeting, so look for him to make up for lost time against the Spartans. He still feels responsible for Draymond Green's offensive rebound and putback in the final seconds that gave the Spartans their 3-point edge.
FUTURES MARKET: Northwestern's 88-63 whipping at Illinois on Jan. 6 wasn't a total loss because freshman guard JerShon Cobb looked healthier and better than he has all year. Cobb contributed a career-high 18 points in that game, then returned three days later against Indiana and provided 11 points, five rebounds and two assists. Cobb hit 3-of-4 3-pointers, too, as he looked smoother stepping into those 3s than ever before. The Wildcats have been expecting a lot of this four-star recruit and the 6-foot-4 Atlanta product is starting to deliver.
--Junior F John Shurna was named one of the 30 players on the Wooden Award's midseason watch list. The junior remains less than 100 percent after suffering a high left ankle sprain on Dec. 23 against Mount St. Mary's, but he scored a game-high 24 points against Indiana on Jan. 9. He also, however, grabbed no rebounds in Northwestern's last two games. He's averaging just 4.3 rebounds this season, which doesn't approach last year's team-high 6.4 per game.
--Junior C Luka Mirkovic delivered a career-high 20 points along with a season-high 12 rebounds on Jan. 9 against Indiana. That marked Mirkovic's second double-double of the year and sixth of his career. All six of those double-doubles have occurred at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
--Senior G/F Jeff Ryan has missed the last three games due to back spasms. After being in street clothes for two games he dressed for the Jan. 9 win against Indiana, but did not play.
Nobody was sitting around feeling all fat and happy after the Buckeyes completed the non-conference portion of their schedule with a spotless 13-0 record, and a tight grip on the nation's No. 2 position behind perennial power Duke.
A 100-40 disassembly of Tennessee-Martin on one of the last days of 2010 was Ohio State's final foray into non-Big Ten competition, and even a 60-point win did not inflate the egos or soften the resolve as the Buckeyes scanned ahead and saw the 18-game grind of the Big Ten schedule facing them.
"I'm glad we went 13-0 in non conference, but now we need to stay on our game and get ready," junior guard William Buford said, well aware of how the league schedule has historically humbled many a program that finished the first two months of the season with a glitzy record.
Buford, one of Ohio State's vital core of veteran players who returned hungry after last season's Big Ten championship and NCAA Sweet Sixteen run, said that after a detailed self-analysis, the Buckeyes see room for advancement across the board.
"I think we can still get a lot better in every aspect of our game," Buford said after Ohio State shot nearly 60 percent from the field in the rout of Tennessee-Martin. "I think we shot the ball well tonight, but we've been working on a lot of shooting in practice."
Buford, a former Ohio high school player of the year and Ohio State's leading returning scorer from last season, said that when they opened Big Ten play with road games at Indiana and Iowa, the Buckeyes took the approach that the first two months of the season did not matter.
"The Big Ten -- that's a whole new season," he said. "When you get to the Big Ten conference schedule, your record starts 0-0 again so you have to be focused and ready. Our confidence is pretty high. When you're No. 2 in the country ... you have to have a bit of confidence in you."
The Buckeyes opened their 99th season of men's basketball in the Big Ten with road wins over Indiana and Iowa, and then got pushed to the wire by Minnesota at home before prevailing 67-64. That was an indication of the challenges that lie ahead in the Big Ten.
--There must be something to that "home, sweet home" way of thinking. The Buckeyes went 10-0 at Value City Arena in November and December, and outscored the opposition by almost 32 points per game in those victories. Ohio State finished 17-1 at home last season, which was the second-highest home win total in a season in Ohio State history.
--The Buckeyes entered Big Ten play with the top two freshmen in the conference in terms of offensive production. C/F Jared Sullinger was leading Big Ten rookies with 18.1 points per game and 10.2 rebounds per game. F Deshaun Thomas was averaging 10.9 ppg. and 5.0 rpg. In addition, freshman PG Aaron Craft was leading all Big Ten rookies with 1.73 steals and 4.9 assists per game.
--Head coach Thad Matta has had a lot of success in his years at Ohio State, but the 2010-11 season has provided the best start in Matta's seven years in Columbus. Matta had the Buckeyes sporting a 16-0 record after narrowly getting past Minnesota on Jan. 9, and that easily bested the 11-0 start he put together with OSU in the 2005-06 season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 16 -- That's how many years it had been since a Big Ten player scored 40 or more points in a game, before Ohio State freshman C/F Jared Sullinger exploded for 40 in a win over IUPUI. The last time a Big Ten player scored 40 or more points came back in January of 1995 when Michigan State's Shawn Respert turned the trick. The last Buckeye to do so was G Dennis Hopson when he scored 41 in a win at Dayton in the 1986 season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't know if you can sum them up. They're about as solid of a basketball team as there is, in my opinion. I think they're as good as it gets in the Big Ten, and maybe in the whole country." -- Tennessee-Martin coach Jason James after the Buckeyes beat his team by 60 points in late December.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--at Michigan, Jan. 12
KEY MATCHUPS: The Buckeyes will test Michigan's considerable youth on the inside with the potent combination of senior C/F Dallas Lauderdale and freshman C/F Jared Sullinger. No team has yet been able to neutralize the pair, and Michigan will throw a pair of freshmen -- 6-9 F Evan Smotrycz and 6-8 F Jordan Morgan -- into the fray and let them earn their stripes. Ohio State's track record indicates this will be an area of vulnerability when they visit Ann Arbor, and the Buckeyes should enjoy a considerable advantage.
--vs. Penn State, Jan. 15
KEY MATCHUPS: The Nittany Lions have a senior-dominated lineup and as of late F Jeff Brooks has been at the top of that class. His double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds in a win over Michigan State served notice that the Buckeyes and senior C/F Dallas Lauderdale will need to make things difficult for Brooks when Penn State comes to Columbus. Lauderdale's reach and defensive acumen should be the difference in this head-to-head bout.
FUTURES MARKET: Developing point guards seems to be a strong suit for Ohio State coach Thad Matta. He had the services of the brilliant Mike Conley Jr. for just one season, and last year Matta stunned the nation by converting high-scoring wing Evan Turner into the national player of the year as a point guard. This season the duties go to true freshman Aaron Craft, and despite the big leap up the ladder in competition, Craft has been superb against top-flight Division I opponents. With more than three full seasons of eligibility left, Craft has OSU looking sound long-term at the point.
--Senior G/F David Lighty has twice come back from serious injuries and is putting together a history-making career with the Buckeyes. Lighty entered the current season with 110 Ohio State victories on his resume, and will likely put the career win record out of reach before he finishes his career.
--Freshman C/F Jared Sullinger has been added to the list of 30 elite players who made the mid-season cut for consideration for the John R. Wooden Award, which goes to the top player in the nation. Former Buckeye Evan Turner won the Wooden Award last season.
--As part of his preparation for this season, junior G William Buford spent a week this past summer on the practice squad that worked out against the U.S. National team in Las Vegas. Buford started all 37 games for the Buckeyes last season, and entered 2010-11 as Ohio State's top returning scorer at 14.4 points a game.
Penn State's senior quartet of forwards Andrew Jones, David Jackson and Jeff Brooks and guard Talor Battle have played a lot of minutes and scored a lot of points during the last three and a half seasons.
But the Jan. 8 defeat of Michigan State marked just the second time in that stretch in which all four players notched double-figure scoring in the same game. The last time game in Feb. 2010 against Northwestern.
The Nittany Lions are hoping for more of that balance as they continue a brutal stretch of games against the conference's top opponents.
Penn State hosts Illinois on Jan. 11 before visiting Ohio State and Purdue. All three teams are capable of piling on points in a hurry, so a Penn State team that has been shaky on defense for much of the season knows it will likely need consistent scoring from players other than Battle, who leads the team with 20.5 points per game.
The seniors' contributions will be needed considering Penn State coach Ed DeChellis has played a seven-man rotation since the start of conference play and sophomore guard Tim Frazier and freshman forward Billy Oliver have struggled to get involved in the scoring throughout the season.
"When our four seniors play well defensively and offensively we give ourselves a great chance to win," Brooks said.
--Senior F Jeff Brooks blocked four shots in the win over Michigan State and had 27 of his team's 47 blocked shots (57 percent) entering the week.
--Penn State has won just six of 34 games against Michigan State, but three of those wins have come in the teams' last seven meetings.
--Freshman G Taran Buie has missed the last four games as part of an indefinite suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules, and there is no timetable for his return. He had been averaging 5.8 points per game.
BY THE NUMBERS: 17.5 -- Points-per-game average of senior forward Jeff Brooks in four Big Ten games. He had never averaged in double figures in any of his first three conference seasons.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This just lets us know that if we can play with them and beat them, then we can play with anybody." -- Penn State forward David Jackson on the Nittany Lions' 66-62 upset of No. 18 Michigan State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Illinois, Jan. 11
KEY MATCHUPS: Penn State senior guard Talor Battle has moved off the ball for stretches at a time this season but is still his team's chief playmaker. Senior point guard Demetri McCamey fills a similar role for the Fighting Illini. Whichever guard gets their teammates involved with the most frequency should have the edge.
--at Ohio State, Jan. 15
KEY MATCHUPS: Penn State's thin front line needs senior forwards Andrew Jones and Jeff Brooks to stay out of foul trouble, which will be a tough task against Ohio State freshman big man Jared Sullinger.
FUTURES MARKET: Redshirt freshman guard Jermaine Marshall has come on strong during the last two games, pouring in a career-high 18 points in a loss to Purdue and adding eight points in the upset defeat of Michigan State. Marshall still has a tendency to get lost or give up buckets on defense but his ability to get to the basket and ability to knock down an outside shot could give the Nittany Lions a needed scoring option on the perimeter.
--Senior G Talor Battle leads the Big Ten in minutes played per game (36.6) and has played all but two minutes of the Nittany Lions' last six games.
--Senior F Andrew Jones tied a career-high with 16 points in the Nittany Lions' upset defeat of Michigan State. Jones is averaging just 5.9 points per game and hadn't scored more than eight in Penn State's 14 previous games but made 7-of-10 shots from the field against the Spartans.
Those who were concerned about the Purdue basketball team's ability to locate a third scorer need worry no more.
As the Boilermakers head to Minnesota for a Jan. 13 game that will be televised by ESPN, junior guard Ryne Smith is averaging 17 points a game in Big Ten Conference play, including making 18 of 27 shots from 3-point range (66.7 percent).
Through four Big Ten victories, senior center JaJuan Johnson had 72 points, Smith has 68 and senior guard E'Twaun Moore has 67. Johnson and Moore are among the 30 finalists for the John Wooden Award, given annually to the nation's best player.
Through the Boilermakers' first 12 non-conference games, Smith had 50 total points. Entering the week, he had 118 in 16 games, an overall average of 7.4. He had a game-best 18 points in Purdue's 75-52 victory against Iowa on Jan. 9 in Mackey Arena.
In one sequence that began in the Boilermakers' Jan. 5 victory at Penn State and ended in the second half of a victory against the Hawkeyes, Smith made 10 of 11 shots from 3-point range.
--When Purdue lost 6-8 senior forward Robbie Hummel for the season on Oct. 16 with a torn ACL, the Boilermakers were concerned about their rebounding. However, through 16 games, Purdue was outrebounding its foes 38.3 to 32.9. Purdue is even better in the Big Ten, averaging 40.2 rebounds to 29.3 for its opponents.
--Until scoring only 75 points in the Iowa game, the Boilermakers had scored 80 points or more in three consecutive Big Ten games for the first time since the 1997-98 season, when NBA players Brad Miller and Brian Cardinal were in the Purdue starting lineup. That Purdue team scored 80 points or more in seven consecutive conference games.
BY THE NUMBERS: 8 -- Consecutive Big Ten Conference road games won by the Boilermakers. That's a school record. The streak began Jan. 19, 2010 with a victory at Illinois.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Unless he gets hurt, that's a Joe DiMaggio-like number, one that never will be broken," Purdue coach Matt Painter said after Moore set the school career record for minutes played on Jan. 9. He has played 3,877 minutes. The old record of 3,859 was set 23 years ago by former Purdue guard Troy Lewis.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--at Minnesota, Jan. 13
KEY MATCHUPS: With Ralph Sampson III, Minnesota has the potential to give the 6-10 Johnson problems on the low post. That's why it will be important for the Boilermakers to get solid play from 6-9 freshman Travis Carroll, who had six rebounds in Purdue's victory Jan. 9 against Iowa.
--at West Virginia, Jan. 16
KEY MATCHUPS: Purdue's ability to maintain its focus with a non-conference game after five Big Ten Conference games. The Boilermakers defeated 2010 Final Four participant West Virginia in West Lafayette, but this rematch is set for Morgantown, where the Mountaineers are tough to beat.
--Senior guard E'Twaun Moore has been playing well defensively and has rebounded well, but the school's No. 6 career scorer has made only 7-of-25 field goal attempts in consecutive victories against Penn State and Iowa. Overall, Moore was averaging 18.8 points and is shooting 46.2 percent from the field entering the week.
--Junior point guard Lewis Jackson made 11 of 13 field goal attempts in Purdue's three most recent games entering the week -- victories against Northwestern, Penn State and Iowa -- averaging 10.6 points in those three games. Overall, Jackson is averaging 5.6 points for the 15-1 Boilermakers.
--Sophomore redshirt guard John Hart, who was averaging 8.4 points a game, has missed eight consecutive games with a stress fracture in his right foot. Hart is expected to return either for the Minnesota game on Jan. 13 or the West Virginia game on Jan. 16.
Before Bo Ryan's arrival at Wisconsin, the Badgers lost their last eight games against Michigan State. Since Ryan showed up in Madison in 2001, the Badgers are 12-5 against the perennially Final Four-bound Spartans. That remarkable run of success adds an edge to this rivalry that resumes Jan. 11 at MSU's Breslin Center.
Previous success, of course, does not guarantee future results. And what's more germane to conversation about this year's game is the fact the Spartans won two of three over the last two years, which would be the timeframe for most of the players on the current rosters.
Wisconsin has prepped for this showdown by trying to find the right players to fit around its core of Jon Leuer, Jordan Taylor and Keaton Nankivil. When the Badgers bounced Michigan 66-50 on Jan. 5, Ryan gave senior swingman Tim Jarmusz his second start of the year and junior guard Rob Wilson the first start of his career. He also gave senior walk-on guard Brett Valentyn a bigger role than ever before.
How much do the changes help the Badgers? Perhaps that will be answered more fully when Wisconsin faces Michigan State and Illinois this week. Jarmusz contributed two points, four assists and solid defense in his 35 minutes against Michigan, but Wilson committed three fouls for his only counting stats in his 11-minute stint. Valentyn contributed four points in his 11 minutes.
Displaced starters Mike Bruesewitz (six points, no rebounds in 13 minutes) and Josh Gasser (two points, two rebounds in 12 minutes) didn't do anything to force their way back into the lineup, but Ryan apparently will tailor his rotation on a game-by-game basis -- if not a moment-by-moment basis as he seeks the right combinations and matchups.
"All the individuals on the team are trying to contribute," Ryan said. "There are so many things in the course of the game that you have to be cognizant of that involve all five players at the same time. When opportunities arise, when you have guys that are always ready to help, you will always have guys come off the bench and make an impact."
--Senior C Keaton Nankivil went to the offseason with a mandate to improve his post offense. While he got a little better with his back to the basket, Nankivil's bread-and-butter always will be his ability to face up and hit jumpers. Now Nankivil's in the middle of the most consistent run of his career.
In the wake of his 13-point night against Michigan on Jan. 5, Nankivil has delivered double figures in six of his last seven games. Nankivil has averaged 10.9 points during that run while hitting 14 of 23 (61 percent) on 3-pointers. That makes him a legitimate threat to offset all the attention given to Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor.
--Junior PG Jordan Taylor gets plenty of recognition for his assist-to-turnover ratio (72 to 17) and his scoring average (16.4 ppg through games of Jan. 5). But he's also developing into an excellent rebounder. With his eight rebounds against Michigan, not to mention his career-high 11 rebounds against south Dakota on Dec. 4, Taylor improved to 4.1 rebounds per game. That's third on the team.
--Nobody is close to Wisconsin when it comes to fewest turnovers per game. The Badgers, who led the nation in the category last season, are committing just 8.1 miscues per game this season. That's so far ahead of second-place Pacific through games of Jan. 8, the Badgers could commit 44 turnovers in this week's game at Michigan State and still lead the country.
BY THE NUMBERS: 80.4 -- Wisconsin improved its free-throw percentage last week to this success rate, yet fell out of first place in the national race. Harvard jumped all the way to 81.3 percent.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "At times when you start trying to force things, which I've done at times, it can end up bad. So I kept trying to find my teammates, especially with Jon (Leuer) and Keaton (Nankivil) playing the way they were. They were both being aggressive, being assertive. If I get one point and we win by 20, I don't really care. I'm just trying to take what comes to me." -- Wisconsin PG Jordan Taylor discussing his 20-point night against Michigan in the Wisconsin State Journal.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--at Michigan State, Jan. 11
KEY MATCHUPS: Wisconsin owns a 12-5 record against the Spartans during Bo Ryan's tenure, but the Badgers have lost their last five trips to Breslin Center. This suggests Wisconsin needs to withstand the Spartans' emotion-fueled runs, but the more important matchup comes at the "4" spot. Michigan State has decided to keep Draymond Green there after an early-season flirtation with the small forward position. Green and Jon Leuer are offensive threats anywhere on the floor, which forces them to play each other honestly (and physically) wherever they go.
--vs. Illinois, Jan. 15
KEY MATCHUPS: The Illini got the best of the Badgers 69-61 on Jan. 2 in Champaign. Not only did Wisconsin shoot a season-low 35 percent, those misfires led to a 34-25 deficit on the boards. In the teams' last four meetings starting with Illinois' 63-56 win at Kohl Center last Feb. 9, Illini PG Demetri McCamey has produced slightly better numbers than Wisconsin PG Jordan Taylor. McCamey owns 72 points and 26 assists (with 13 turnovers) in those four games compared to Taylor's 55 points and 14 assists (with two turnovers).
FUTURES MARKET: Fifth-year senior walk-on Brett Valentyn has essentially been a victory cigar during his career ... until now. Bo Ryan rewarded his practice efforts with a late run in the Illinois loss on Jan. 2, then gave him a career-high 11 minutes in the Jan. 5 win over Michigan. Valentyn played when the game mattered and helped to clinch the game with his 3-pointer at the 3:12 mark. Entering the week, all 15 of Valentyn's shots this year were from 3-point range. He hit five.
--Senior F Jon Leuer earned a place on the Wooden Award's Top 30 midseason list. Through games of Jan. 8, Leuer ranked fourth in the Big Ten in scoring (19.3 ppg), sixth in rebounding (7.3 rpg), seventh in free-throw shooting (80.6 percent) and seventh in 3-point shooting (46.8 percent).
--Senior G/F Tim Jarmusz earned his second start of the year and played a season-high 35 minutes in Wisconsin's 66-50 win over Michigan. Jarmusz set the game's tone by drawing an offensive foul from Michigan stalwart Darius Morris in the opening moments. Jarmusz has taken 44 of his 50 shots beyond the 3-point arc. That includes all 11 shots in Big Ten play.
--Junior G Rob Wilson received his first career start against Michigan on Jan. 5, but didn't make much of it. Wilson picked up 2 fouls in the opening 4:15 and wound up going scoreless in 11 minutes.
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