TSX Files: Big Ten Insider Report
Freshman forward Jereme Richmond is back in the fold, sophomore swingman Brandon Paul is riding a roll and No. 23 Illinois appears as ready as it can be for Saturday's visit by top-ranked Ohio State.
Paul (20 points) and Richmond (14 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) posted season-high point totals off the bench Tuesday night to lift the Illini to a 71-62 Big Ten home win over No. 17 Michigan State.
Paul and Richmond are crucial components to Illinois' efforts going forward for several reasons. Aside from senior point guard Demetri McCamey, they're the only guys who can create shots for themselves or others. They have live bodies that help on the boards. Paul has a wingspan that lends itself to defensive prowess while Richmond, a McDonald's All-American, has a high basketball IQ to go with his own athleticism.
Because Ohio State has so many talented athletes surrounding superstar freshman Jared Sullinger, it seems likely Illinois coach Bruce Weber will try to use his new smaller rotation as much as the matchups allow.
"We lose a little bit on defense as far as rebounding and beef inside," McCamey said in the Daily Herald. "But on the offensive end, it's scary because you've got me, Brandon and D.J. (Richardson) out there. Three good guards that can shoot the ball. And you have Mike Davis and Jereme out there that can hit the mid-range and get to the basket and score layups or dunks. So it's going to be real tough. You've got five guys that can score."
While Richmond was coming back after sitting out Saturday's road loss to Wisconsin (he missed the two practices before that game because of "personal issues"), Paul has been good for three games in a row. He's averaging 14.0 points in 26.0 minutes during this run.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Sophomore shooting guard D.J. Richardson got off the schneid during Illinois' 71-62 home win Tuesday night over Michigan State. Richardson hadn't made a basket since late in the first half of the Jan. 6 win over Northwestern, but he drilled a 3-pointer with 5:54 left in the first half against MSU. That snapped a streak of more than 115 minutes without a hoop. Richardson added another 3-pointer early in the second half as he went 2-of-5 for the night.
--Sophomore swingman Brandon Paul came off the bench and poured in 17 of his game-high 20 points in the first half Tuesday to stake No. 23 Illinois to a lead it never relinquished in a 71-62 Big Ten home victory over No. 17 Michigan State. The Illini's first win over an AP Top 25 team this season happened with big efforts from two starters and two reserves. Paul and freshman Jereme Richmond (season-high 14 points) outscored MSU's bench 34-22 while seniors Demetri McCamey (15 points, 11 assists) and Mike Davis (11 points, 11 rebounds) contributed double-doubles in the same game for the first time since the 2010 NIT second-round win over Kent State.
--Freshman forward Jereme Richmond sat out the Jan. 15 loss at Wisconsin after missing Illinois' final two practices leading up to the game. According to coach Bruce Weber, Richmond didn't play because he didn't prepare for the Badgers and "hopefully" will play Tuesday against Michigan State.
Big Ten Network analyst Jimmy Jackson wrote on Twitter that Richmond could be considering a transfer, but he retracted the tweet while Illinois and Wisconsin played. Weber said Richmond, who went to his home in north suburban Chicago, left due to "personal issues." The McDonald's All-American averages 7.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 20.2 minutes per game.
--Senior guard Demetri McCamey, one of the 30 players on the Wooden Award's midseason watch list, won't face Wisconsin again unless Illinois faces the Badgers in the Big Ten tournament. He's going to miss spending so much time at the free-throw line.
In Illinois' first meeting with the Badgers on Jan. 2, McCamey shot a season-high 11 of 15 from the free-throw line. During their rematch on Jan. 15 at Wisconsin, McCamey made 17 of 21 free-throw tries as Illinois' offense basically became "Let McCamey attack the lane, draw contact and get to the line." His 17 makes tied the single-game record for a Wisconsin opponent while his 21 attempts fell 1 shy of the Wisconsin opponent's record.
To reinforce how extreme McCamey's efforts against Wisconsin happen to be, Illinois has played 18 games through Jan. 15. McCamey shot 36 free throws in the split with Wisconsin; and 51 free throws in the other 16 games combined.
--Sophomore guard D.J. Richardson scored 10 points in the first half of Illinois' blowout win over Northwestern on Jan. 6. Since that time -- a stretch of five halves -- Richardson has just three free throws to show for his efforts. He entered the week shooting 47 percent overall and 46 percent on 3-pointers, but Richardson went 0 for 8 against Penn State and Wisconsin. That included 0-for-5 marksmanship from 3-point range.
When he went scoreless on Jan. 15 at Wisconsin, it marked his first zero in his 53-start career.
BY THE NUMBERS: 14/1 -- In Illinois' 69-61 home win over Wisconsin on Jan. 2, senior power forward Mike Davis grabbed a season-high 14 rebounds in 37 minutes. In Illinois' 76-66 loss Jan. 15 at Wisconsin, Davis grabbed a season-low-tying one rebound in 27 minutes. Davis is the defending Big Ten rebounding champ who averaged 9.2 per game last year, but just 6.4 per game this year.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we're really excited and happy." -- Illinois coach Bruce Weber in the Chicago Tribune, when asked to describe his team's mood after losing at Penn State and Wisconsin.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--vs. Ohio State, Jan. 22
KEY MATCHUPS: Illinois' first game against a top-ranked team since the Wake Forest game on Dec. 1, 2004, gives the Illini their first glimpse of freshman star Jared Sullinger. The Illini don't have anyone who can muscle the Player of the Year candidate, but perhaps 7-foot-1 Mike Tisdale and 7-foot backup Meyers Leonard can wall up and force him to shoot over the top. Well, it's a thought, anyway.
FUTURES MARKET: Seven-foot freshman center Meyers Leonard ranked as the No. 29 player in the Class of 2010 according to the Recruiting Services Consensus Index. Leonard has provided a slew of highlight-reel dunks, but he has struggled to find his way in the motion offense and to learn what he can and can't do defensively in the post. In 46 Big Ten minutes through the Jan. 15 loss at Wisconsin, Leonard has provided 14 points, six rebounds, seven turnovers and one block. Alas, 11 of Leonard's 14 points came in the blowout win over Northwestern.
Illinois coach Bruce Weber thinks Leonard has been making some strides in practice, but the Illini need some strides in games. In each of the last two games, he has tried 17-foot jumpers out of the offense's context. Neither shot had a chance.
--Senior PG Demetri McCamey said after Illinois' loss Jan. 15 at Wisconsin that the team's offense is better when his shot attempts go down and his assist numbers go up. While McCamey still tied for the team lead with 11 shots in Tuesday's 71-62 win over Michigan State, he handed out a season-high 11 assists. With Michigan's Darius Morris getting just 4 assists Tuesday at Northwestern, McCamey regained the Big Ten lead in assists (7.2 apg).
--Senior PF Mike Davis recovered from his 6-point, 1-rebound effort at Wisconsin to produce his 28th career double-double. Davis delivered 11 points and 11 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the year. In his last game against Ohio State (at the 2010 Big Ten tournament), he piled up 13 points and a career-high 18 rebounds.
Sometimes a long break between games can do wonders for a team.
Indiana went six days between its 93-81 loss to Northwestern and its 80-61 win over Michigan, and the difference in the Hoosiers' approach was obvious. After going without a victory since Dec. 19, Indiana dominated Michigan on both ends of the floor, was patient on offense and owned the glass, outrebounding the Wolverines by a 37-18 margin.
The win was critical for two reasons.
First, Indiana needed something to feel good about, and the victory certainly put a hop in the players' collective steps. Maybe more important, the win provided proof-positive that the hard work the team has been putting in during practice can pay off if the Hoosiers simply stick with their gameplan.
IU has had a nasty habit of letting up on defense when its offense isn't getting the job done. Players start to freelance, and the Hoosiers' entire attack breaks down on both ends of the court. Head coach Tom Crean, meanwhile, has been working hard to convince his team that defense is the key to everything, and a strong defense will provide confidence for his ballclub on the offensive side of the ball. Quality "D" will lead to transition baskets, and those easy baskets will take the pressure off late in games.
The message hasn't always gotten through, or at least it hasn't been heeded for a full 40 minutes. During IU's six-game losing streak, had fallen behind by double figures only to battle back late in four of the games. Against Minnesota, IU held a lead in the second half, but the Hoosiers let up defensively and allowed the Golden Gophers to ultimately walk away with a win. Even against Ohio State the Hoosiers fell behind big but managed to make the game respectable.
Crean maintained that his club was close to getting over the hump, and he believed that one win could snowball into many if only his players would put together a full game. They did just that vs. Michigan, and with road tilts vs. Wisconsin and Iowa coming up, the Hoosiers will be tested when it comes to playing with intensity from the opening tip.
One thing is certain. The Hoosiers have a little swagger in their step after easily handling the Wolverines, and the win could lead to a renewed sense of urgency on both ends of the court in the coming week.
--Indiana sits at 10-8 on the season following the Hoosiers' win over Michigan Jan. 16. The 10th victory ties the number of victories posted by IU all last season, and Indiana hasn't been above .500 this late in the season since the 2007-08 campaign.
--Junior F Tom Pritchard made his first start for the Hoosiers in more than a month, and he made his presence felt by setting solid screens, finding his open teammates and grabbing seven rebounds. Pritchard still isn't demanding the ball in the post, but the outing vs. a long Michigan squad could bode well for the future.
--Junior G Matt Roth played just three minutes vs. Michigan, but he went 2-of-3 from beyond the arc and finished with six points. Roth's first three came just seconds after he entered the game, and it seems his role with the team going forward will be as instant offense off the bench. Roth isn't much of a defender and is basically a pure shooter, and it looks like he will be asked to play short stints, with the thought being that he can come in games, fire up a couple of threes and head back to the bench before he gives up too much on the defensive end of the court.
BY THE NUMBERS: .364 -- Michigan's shooting percentage vs. IU, the lowest shooting percentage by a Big Ten opponent in Tom Crean's two-plus years at Indiana. IU's increased attention to defense paid off, and Crean hopes his team will remain tenacious at the defensive end in the coming weeks.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We knew we didn't play well (Jan. 9) against Northwestern, and it's a week to either sit in here and stew about it or it's a week to get better. That's exactly what we did. I think (the players) were very confident going into the game. I know I was." -- Tom Crean on how his team spent its week off leading up to the Jan. 15 Michigan game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--at Wisconsin, Jan. 20
KEY MATCHUPS: Indiana can be rattled into committing turnovers, and few teams are better at upsetting opponents than the Badgers. IU's guards have to take care of the ball and can't suffer through wasted possessions by committing silly turnovers. Indiana also has to work hard on the glass and must contain UW's Jon Leuer, who is the kind of hard-working, long forward who gives IU nightmares.
--at Iowa, Jan. 23
KEY MATCHUPS: Indiana hits the road again for a battle with an Iowa team that has struggled mightily this season. IU actually matches up well with the Hawkeyes, and it will be up to Christian Watford and Verdell Jones III to play hard on both ends of the floor. Watford has to be a presence on the defensive end while still working hard in the paint on offense, and Jones must turn up his defense, as well. The Hoosiers must be physical vs. an Iowa squad that makes a lot of mistakes.
FUTURES MARKET: Junior G Verdell Jones III has been one of IU's primary scorers during his two and a half years at IU, but this season he is being asked to run the offense, as well, most of the time. Balancing the role of distributor and scorer hasn't been easy for Jones, but he seems to be getting the hang of it.
He led the Hoosiers with 24 points vs. Michigan, going 9-of-10 shooting and handing out four assists. More importantly, he didn't attempt a single 3-pointer, and he didn't force any shots. That's good news because he's not a great outside shooter -- he makes just 34.5 percent of his shots from beyond the arc -- and he is smooth enough to get to the basket without having to force things.
The Hoosiers desperately need him to continue to build on the role he played vs. Michigan, and his output in that victory may have taught him that he can still make a major impact without trying to do too much on the floor.
--Junior G Verdell Jones III needs just 11 points to become the 42nd player in IU history to score 1,000 or more points in his career. Coming on the heels of a nine-assist outing vs. Northwestern Jan. 9, Jones is starting to become the balanced player Tom Crean envisioned when he arrived on campus in 2008.
--Sophomore F Christian Watford posted a double-double vs. Michigan, scoring 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. It was his third double-double of the season and the seventh of his career. Crean praised Watford after the game, saying that Watford does a great job of applying lessons learned in practice to games. Crean, however, said that Watford has to continue to focus on improving every day to reach his potential with the Hoosiers.
Having gone through some of the Big Ten heavyweights with no success, the Hawkeyes need a win, preferably the sooner the better.
That opportunity could come Jan. 23 when Indiana visits Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hoosiers are 1-4 in the Big Ten and have yet to win on the road this season.
"I think we need to get back home," coach Fran McCaffery said. "We need to regroup. We're looking forward to Sunday's game. We have some work to do between now and then."
While McCaffery knew his team would be in for some long nights, he is concerned by some of the blowout losses the Hawkeyes have suffered. The latest came Jan. 19 in a 70-48 loss at No. 1 Ohio State.
"I felt that our energy level was not what it needed to be," McCaffery said. "We were a little bit tentative. Our defense was not what it needed to be, our intensity level, ball pressure, all of those things were a little less than we needed."
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: For the most part, coach Fran McCaffery has tried to put a positive twist on his team's struggles. Forward Jarryd Cole is the lone senior getting significant playing time, and he's averaging only 21 minutes a game. On a team whose core consists of freshmen and sophomores, McCaffery has to stay upbeat or risk his young players losing confidence. The schedule hasn't helped. Five of Iowa's last six games through Jan. 19 had come against nationally ranked teams (Ohio State twice, Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota). The schedule eases up a bit as the Hawkeyes move forward.
--The Hawkeyes didn't flinch in their 73-68 loss to Ohio State on Jan. 4 at Iowa City. Their visit to Columbus on Jan. 19 ended with a much different result, a 70-48 blowout. Iowa had a rough start and trailed 40-23 at halftime. The lead reached 22 points early in the second half, and the Hawkeyes were finished.
The numbers told the story. Iowa shot 40 percent from the field, made one 3-pointer in seven tries, only got to the foul line four times and committed 23 turnovers.
--The Hawkeyes, who were averaging 14.6 turnovers a game coming in, committed 10 for the game and only two in the second half against Minnesota on Jan. 16.
--Iowa finally had some success in stopping the 3-point shot against Minnesota. The Gophers were only 2-for-10 from behind the arc. The Hawkeyes gave up 14 3-pointers to Northwestern in their previous game. Iowa allowed 13 3-pointers to Illinois in the conference opener.
BY THE NUMBERS: 16 -- Shots missed by Matt Gatens against Minnesota. The junior guard scored 13 points, but it took a 5-of-21 shooting night for him to do it. Gatens was 3-for-10 on 3-pointers. Iowa's leading scorer, averaging 13.2 points through Jan. 16, needs to do a better job with his shot selection.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Best big man on the floor today without question, and that's saying a lot considering who they have up front." -- Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, on freshman F Melsahn Basabe, who scored 20 points and grabbed 13 rebounds against Minnesota.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--vs. Indiana, Jan. 23
KEY MATCHUPS: The Hoosiers were winless on the road through Jan. 16. Those struggles away from home could give the Hawkeyes a chance for a victory if they can control Indiana's top two scorers, forward Christian Watford and guard Verdell Jones.
FUTURES MARKET: Depth has been a problem for the Hawkeyes all season. That was never more clear than against Minnesota, when Iowa's bench was outscored 25-0. The combination of freshmn Roy Devyn Marble and Zach McCabe, redshirt junior Devon Archie and junior Andrew Brommer played a combined 42 minutes and didn't score. Coach Fran McCaffery knows he must find some productive minutes from his bench, but that hasn't happened so far.
--Seeing his first extended playing time, F Andrew Brommer took advantage of the opportunity against Ohio State. The junior, playing a career-high 30 minutes, scored 12 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked three shots -- all team highs.
--Freshman F Melsahn Basabe battled Ohio State's Jared Sullinger on even terms on Jan. 4. Basabe scored 22 points and 13 rebounds while Sullinger had 24 points and 12 rebounds. Basabe had a tougher time in the Jan. 19 rematch. He had 11 points and four rebounds, while Sullinger had 13 points and nine rebounds.
--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 be back 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 and take a redshirt year.
When you are attempting to sculpt a basketball program that you hope will be able to press for supremacy in the Big Ten in a short period of time, it pays to start with the best of ingredients.
In Michigan's case, the Wolverines and head coach John Beilein figured good genes are worth as much as a good jump shot or a good cross-over move. The current Michigan team, while being the youngest in the Big Ten, also possesses the deepest NBA pedigree.
Three current members of the Michigan team can trace their father's roots to the NBA.
Sophomore forward Jordan Dumars, who transferred in from South Florida and became eligible late in December, is the son of former Detroit Pistons great Joe Dumars, a six-time All-Star.
Freshman guard Tim Hardaway Jr. is the son of five-time NBA All-Star guard Tim Hardaway Sr., who spent 14 years in the NBA with six different teams.
Freshman forward Jon Horford is the son of Tito Horford, the first player in the NBA who was born in the Dominican Republic.
The Wolverines' pool of NBA offspring will grow by one in the future since Glenn Robinson Jr., the son of the former Purdue star of the same name who was the first pick in the 1994 NBA draft and an All-Star in the league, has given Beilein an oral commitment to join the program once he completes high school in 2012.
Michigan's use of its NBA heirs is still developing. Hardaway has started every game this season and is the team's second-leading scorer, while Horford has been a steady contributor off the bench, Dumars has not yet seen action since becoming eligible at the recent start of the Big Ten season.
Recruiting the sons of former NBA stars won't guarantee Michigan anything, but few can argue that it's not a good way to start assembling a team. If Beilein finds a means to mesh all of these players into his system, that can only translate into good things for the Wolverines in the future.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: The Wolverines lost a fifth straight game when they came up on the short end of a 74-60 score at Northwestern. The inconsistent contributions that have haunted this team in its recent rash of down moments continued to plague the Wolverines. While sophomore G Darius Morris went 6-of-13 from the field for 16 points and junior G Stu Douglass hit 7-of-9 from the field for 17 points, the rest of the Wolverines were dreadful. Michigan shot just 23-of-58 from the field (39.7 percent) as a team. As Michigan is learning, the better teams in the Big Ten thrive on balance and scoring from numerous players. Michigan (11-8, 1-5 Big Ten) has yet to demonstrate the maturity to be able to call on that resource on a regular basis.
--The Wolverines shot just 28 percent from outside the arc (6-21) in their 14-point loss at Northwestern, a defeat that dropped Michigan to 1-5 in the Big Ten.
--Michigan continued its meticulous care of the basketball despite coming up on the losing end on the road at Northwestern. The Wolverines committed just seven turnovers. The Wolverines had only six turnovers in a recent road loss to Indiana.
--In Big Ten play, Michigan was on a tear through games played Jan. 15, shooting an impressive 89 percent from the foul line (33-of-37, and is at 73 percent overall on the season).
--Michigan's lack of a potent post presence was very evident in the Big Ten loss at Indiana as the Wolverines had a season-low of just 18 rebounds, and did not block a single shot. It marked the second Big Ten game this season where the Wolverines went without a block.
--Michigan has started a lineup of three freshmen, one sophomore and one junior in the majority of its games this season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 73 -- With 11 freshmen and sophomores, Michigan has 73 percent of its roster made up of underclassmen. The Wolverines have four juniors and no seniors.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It is part of playing on the road. It's a tough game on the road. When you get in to these situations and things don't go your way, it can just roll on you so quick and get you down by eight, 10, 12. I feel, we'll go in, we'll practice, and we have another road game on Tuesday. We will be as ready as we can be, given the travel, etc." -- Michigan coach John Beilein on the rigors of playing on the road in the Big Ten
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--vs. Minnesota, Jan. 22
KEY MATCHUPS: Minnesota has the size, strength and athleticism to go head-to-head with many of the Big Ten's best, but when senior G Blake Hoffarber lights it up, the scales tip significantly in the Golden Gophers' favor. Hoffarber scored 26 points in a recent win over No. 8 Purdue, hitting 10-of-15 from the field. Michigan's junior G/F Zack Novak will likely be matched up with Hoffarber for periods of this game, and the Wolverines will need every bit of defense they can get from Novak to keep Hoffarber from deciding the outcome.
FUTURES MARKET: The growing pains would be many on this, the Big Ten's youngest team, but Michigan has been surprisingly mature in some aspects of the game, thanks in large part to the steady hand of sophomore PG Darius Morris. The Los Angeles product has been one of the Big Ten's leaders in assists, and has helped Michigan to be one of the leaders nationally in protecting the ball. The Wolverines average just 11 turnovers per game through Jan. 16. With Morris running the show for the next two-and-a-half seasons, things are looking much brighter, and sooner than expected, for Michigan.
--Junior G/F Zack Novak had 16 points in the narrow loss to No. 2 Ohio State, hitting double figures for the ninth time this season. Novak went 4-of-5 from outside the 3-point arc.
--Junior G Stu Douglass has played in every game in his Michigan career (85), and set a personal-best with 10 rebounds in the recent loss to Kansas.
--Sophomore PG Darius Morris is tied for the Big Ten lead with 7.3 assists per game, and is fourth nationally in assists. He had seven assists in the overtime loss to No. 3 Kansas, playing 43 minutes.
One year ago, Michigan State just missed on a chance to win at Illinois, with sophomore forward Draymond Green pounding the Fighting Illini inside for 17 points and 16 rebounds.
On Tuesday, it was a similar near miss for the Spartans, but this time Green did most of his work (12 points) outside. That's part of his role as a junior, to give this team more on the perimeter -- but it's clear the Spartans need more help inside.
"We've got to do a better job of getting it in there," Izzo said after his team struggled again to shoot from the outside (37.5 percent from the floor, 26.9 percent from 3-point range).
The Spartans are in a weeks-long shooting slump, which explains why they continue to lose despite improving in former areas of struggle -- turnovers, rebounding, defense and free throws.
Now the focus, at Purdue on Saturday and beyond, is to find a way to get Green, Delvon Roe and the Spartans' seldom-used centers more touches inside.
"When you're not shooting well, you have to find other ways," senior point guard Kalin Lucas said. "We've got to get the ball inside."
And Izzo has made it clear recently that he wants Green to post up more and look to do more work in the post.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: It's been a long road for Michigan State sophomore C Derrick Nix, who missed the team's trip to Maui and gained nearly 20 pounds in November after getting down to 267 early in the fall. But Nix is losing weight again, and his six-point, six-rebound effort Tuesday at Illinois was a big step forward. Nix has the hands and post moves to help this team on offense, but on Tuesday he showed enough defensive aptitude to keep himself on the floor for 11 minutes. A regular 10-minute stint from Nix would help this team be more physical inside.
--Illinois did not score a basket in the final 11:01 of the game Jan. 18, but the Spartans didn't score at all in the final 4:02, and the Fighting Illini held on with late free throws. Reserve sophomore G Brandon Paul burned the Spartans with 20 points. Michigan State got 15 points from Kalin Lucas, but the Spartans made just 9 of 32 shots (28.1 percent) after halftime.
--The Spartans have won the last two Big Ten championships by playing well on the road. Michigan State was 8-1 in league road games in 2009, a school record, and went 7-2 last season. But the Spartans are 1-2 in Big Ten road games this season and staring at 1-3 unless they can pull off a Saturday upset at Purdue.
--Draymond Green talked at length recently about how much he has been struggling of late, but he responded with two huge games -- making several key plays late for the Spartans. Green had 26 points against Wisconsin, including the first eight points of overtime. His pass set up Korie Lucious for the game-tying 3-pointer with 47 seconds left in regulation. Green scored Michigan State's final six points of regulation -- all at the foul line -- to send that game to overtime. He was 10 of 10 from the line, where he has struggled (58.9 percent) all season.
--The Spartans used some full-court pressure in both comebacks, and Tom Izzo is now considering using it as a regular element. He hasn't done that since the 2004-05 season. But Michigan State's half-court defense seems to benefit from cranking up the intensity earlier in possession.
"That's when we really get into teams," Draymond Green said.
--Junior F Delvon Roe is taking aim at Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and his campaign had a great week. He held Wisconsin F Jon Leuer to 10 points, 9.3 below his average. Then Northwestern's John Shurna scored just six on Roe, 14.1 below his average.
Roe has worked hard to be able to guard perimeter-oriented players, going so far as to challenge all of Michigan State's guards after practice. He has promised that if any of them can score two out of five times against him, he'll fill their gas tank.
"Haven't filled up one," Roe said Thursday.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1,500 -- Number of victories for Michigan State as a program after Saturday's victory over Northwestern. The Spartans have 1,012 losses.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's been rough on me. I'm a competitor and to be playing like I've been playing, it was just eating me alive." -- Michigan State junior F Draymond Green, on his recent struggles
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--at Purdue, Jan. 22
KEY MATCHUPS: Delvon Roe wants to be Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and he'll get a chance to prove himself against Purdue F JaJuan Johnson. The Spartans' guards, most likely Korie Lucious, must keep Lewis Jackson out of the lane.
FUTURES MARKET: Sophomore C Derrick Nix put on about 15 pounds in November, while pouting about early playing time and missing MSU's trip to the Maui Invitational. Nix is cutting into that weight, though, trying to get back to the low 270s. His hard work is going to earn him more playing time in the future, Tom Izzo vowed last week. Nix saw seven minutes of action Saturday against Northwestern, scoring five points. He gives this team a physical presence it doesn't have with any of the other post players on the roster.
--Durrell Summers was the latest Spartan on the hot seat entering Tuesday's game at Illinois, after he scored seven points in two games last week. A week earlier, Draymond Green broke out of his slump with 42 points in wins over Wisconsin and Northwestern. Summers was benched for the final 3:57 of regulation plus overtime against Northwestern. Summers was then benched to start the Illinois game, with freshman C Adreian Payne starting in his place. Summers responded by scoring 13 points off the bench.
--Junior F Delvon Roe, coming off a huge week in his quest to be Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, faced a different challenge against Illinois. Roe held perimeter-skilled forwards Jon Leuer and John Shurna to 16 combined points last week -- about 23 points below their combined averages. He faced Illinois bigs Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale at various points Tuesday, and those two combined for 16 points, five below their collective average.
--Freshman SG Keith Appling had a scary moment during his 19-point outburst against Northwestern, coming down hard in the second half and hurting his elbow and backbone. Appling stayed on the ground in obvious pain for a few minutes, but he was able to return to the game a few minutes later.
--Senior PG Kalin Lucas scored 18 points against Northwestern, his best scoring game since he had 25 against Oakland on Dec. 11. However, Lucas didn't score a point in the final eight minutes of regulation plus overtime.
He's a 6-foot-11 question mark who holds the keys to the Gophers' future. Perhaps that's a bit dramatic, but Ralph Sampson III changes everything when he influences the game with his length, energy and skills.
But when the junior center scales back his intensity level, the whole team feels it.
In his last two games, he's hustled for loose balls. He's blocked shots with ferocity.
There have been other stretches, however, when he's appeared to be listless and admittedly was out-of-sync. Instead of utilizing his size inside, he sometimes takes himself away from the rim, shooting 3-pointers instead of hooks.
Sampson was averaging 10.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game through Jan. 16, but he could produce even more if played the game with consistent energy.
His teammates and coaches believe he can take his game to another level. Tubby Smith, a coach who's tutored numerous future pros throughout his career, said Sampson can evolve into an NBA player.
"That's why he'll be playing at the next level for a long time," Smith said after Sampson recorded seven blocks in the Gophers' victory over Iowa on Jan. 16.
Sampson seems to understand that his defensive prowess could lead to greater production and future paydays.
"Defense wins championships," he said.
--Senior G Blake Hoffarber scored 26 points in the Gophers' Jan. 13 win over eighth-ranked Purdue but went 2-for-10 and scored nine points in the team's next game, a victory over Iowa. That was after Tubby Smith said he wanted to get Hoffarber more touches. The Hawkeyes, however, employed the same harassing defensive pressure that's frustrated Hoffarber in the past. The career 42 percent 3-point shooter missed all four of his attempts from beyond the arc against Iowa.
--The Gophers continued to struggle in their half-court set, but they'd been solid in transition. They pressure teams with tough defense and race up the floor for quick baskets. Athletes like Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe excel in that style. The dunkers are difficult to stop. It's also easier for Hoffarber to get open. The problem for the team is its limited depth. Playing on the run demands more bodies and oxygen, so the Gophers will employ that strategy, but only in spurts.
--Junior F Trevor Mbakwe is on pace to become the first Gophers player to lead the Big Ten in rebounding since Kris Humphries did it in 2004. He was averaging 11.7 boards per game in league play through Jan. 16.
BY THE NUMBERS: 28.2 -- The Gophers' shooting percentage from the 3-point arc in conference play through Jan. 16. They led the Big Ten in 3-point shooting last season, but they lost Lawrence Westbrook and Devoe Joseph, a pair of sharpshooters who anchored last season's team. Westbrook graduated, and Joseph transferred to Oregon earlier this month.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We knew Iowa was going to come in and play tough. It's been the story of the year. We play in spurts, and that's something we gotta get better at. ... This is the Big Ten. Every opponent is going to be tough, regardless of if you're at home or away." -- Gophers F Trevor Mbakwe, after Iowa went on a 13-2 run to start the second half during Minnesota's 69-59 victory Jan. 16.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--at Michigan, Jan. 22
KEY MATCHUPS: Darius Morris has become one of the best young point guards in the country. Through Jan. 16, he was leading the Big Ten in assists (6.8 apg), and he was in the top 10 in scoring (15.4 ppg). But he's never faced a defender like Gophers point guard Al Nolen, who led the Big Ten in steals (2.33 spg).
FUTURES MARKET: Before the year began, Rodney Williams was called a potential lottery pick by NBA pundits. He's a potential highlight reel every time he touches the ball. The 6-foot-7 athlete has the size and athleticism to play at the next level, but he's still developing the skills necessary to excel in the Big Ten. He was 2-for-23 from the 3-point arc through Jan. 16. However, his defense was improving, and he finally understands that he's most effective when he attacks the basket. He recorded three dunks in his team's win over Iowa.
--Junior F Trevor Mbakwe didn't start against Purdue or Iowa after a Jan. 10 arrest for allegedly violating a harassment restraining order filed by a former girlfriend two years ago. Coach Tubby Smith did not suspend Mbakwe, but he said the standout forward would be punished internally. Mbakwe missed last season while awaiting trial for a felony assault charge. He never pleaded guilty but entered a pretrial intervention program to resolve that case.
--Freshman F Maurice Walker underwent successful surgery to repair a torn PCL and meniscus, an injury he suffered in the team's last nonconference game Dec. 23. The rehabilitation process could last up to eight months.
For some schools, it's not a lofty goal. But Northwestern's thorough 74-60 home win Tuesday night over Michigan puts the Wildcats into position to get to .500 in the Big Ten.
If Northwestern knocks off Wisconsin on Sunday (in a game moved up 30 minutes to accommodate the NFC Championship being held 15 miles south at Soldier Field), then the Wildcats (12-5, 3-4) will be at the .500 mark this late in the season for the first time since finishing 8-8 in 2003-04. More important, a win over the Badgers would represent NU's first victory over an NCAA Tournament-caliber team.
Of course, the Wildcats first must face SIU Edwardsville on Thursday. It will be interesting to see how coach Bill Carmody uses his best players against a 5-15 Cougars squad that lost to Iowa and Indiana by a combined 95 points.
Junior forward John Shurna, who has endured ups and downs since suffering a high left ankle sprain on Dec. 23, looked strong Tuesday against Michigan as he scored 22 of his game-high 24 points in the first half. He's still less than 100 percent and might see little action against SIU Edwardsville so he can be primed for Sunday's matchup against fellow all-Big Ten forward Jon Leuer.
Junior center Luka Mirkovic (13 points, 8 rebounds vs. Michigan) has the other critical matchup against Wisconsin. While NU's matchup zone means that Mirkovic won't have to chase Wisconsin center Keaton Nankivil everywhere, everyone must be aware when Nankivil drifts beyond the 3-point arc -- he's shooting better than 50 percent in Big Ten play.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Before Northwestern's 74-60 home win Tuesday over Michigan, junior forward John Shurna had shot just 38 percent from the field and 38 percent on 3-pointers in the Wildcats' six Big Ten games. Shurna regained his shooting touch against the Wolverines as he drilled 4 of 7 3-pointers as well as 4 of 7 2-pointers en route to 24 points. Those are the numbers he put up regularly during non-conference play, when he ranked among the nation's top 10 scorers and top two 3-point shooters.
Now, through games of Jan. 18, Shurna averages 19.5 points while shooting 54 percent from the floor and 55 percent on 3-pointers (46 of 84).
--Northwestern jumped on Michigan from the start in a 74-60 Big Ten home triumph Jan. 18 as the Wildcats shredded Michigan's defense for 8-of-16 shooting on 3-pointers. Junior forward John Shurna nailed half of those 3-pointers as he scored 22 of his game-high 24 points in the first half to stake the Wildcats to a 44-31 halftime lead. NU built its margin to 22 in the second half before cruising to its third win in the last four games. Junior center Luka Mirkovic added 13 points and 8 rebounds for the Wildcats.
--Senior point guard Michael "Juice" Thompson became Northwestern's all-time leader in assists and minutes last week. Thompson broke Jim Stack's 28-year-old minutes record during NU's win Jan. 12 at Iowa, then broke Pat Baldwin's assists record during NU's overtime loss Jan. 15 at Michigan State. Thompson owns 454 assists for his career. He also jumped into ninth place on the school's lifetime scoring chart. He owns 1,377 career points.
--Junior forward John Shurna continues to suffer from the effects of a high left ankle sprain. Shurna, who made the Wooden Award's 30-man midseason watch list, didn't score until the second half of Saturday's overtime loss at Michigan State and finished with a season-low 6 points on 2 of 10 shooting. On the plus side, he grabbed 8 rebounds for his finest performance on the boards since he suffered his injury on Dec. 23. Shurna came into the week averaging 12.5 points in Big Ten play after averaging more than 22 in non-conference games.
--Through games of Jan. 15, Northwestern ranks 24th nationally in 3-point-shooting percentage (39.7). That's good for third in the Big Ten behind Illinois and Ohio State. The Wildcats lead the league, however, in 3-pointers per game. They're averaging 9.4 3-pointers per game.
BY THE NUMBERS: 36-25 -- When Northwestern outrebounded Iowa by that margin on Jan. 12, it represented the only time in the Wildcats' last 15 Big Ten games that they won the battle of the boards. They're the only Big Ten team (all games considered) with a negative rebounding margin. The Wildcats get beat on the boards by an average of 2.8 per game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They made plays and we didn't make plays in the end. They stopped us, which is OK. Their defense tightened up. They stopped us a few times." -- Northwestern coach Bill Carmody in the Chicago Tribune after his team lost a 3-point lead in the final 30 seconds and again in overtime during Saturday's overtime loss at Michigan State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--vs. SIU Edwardsville, Jan. 20
KEY MATCHUPS: Northwestern needed one more non-conference game to fill out its schedule and this future Ohio Valley squad (in its third year of the Div. I transition process) stepped forward. The Cougars lost by 61 at Iowa and 34 at Indiana earlier this year, so NU shouldn't need to play its regulars close to 40 minutes.
--vs. Wisconsin, Jan. 23
KEY MATCHUPS: Not only are Northwestern "4" man John Shurna and Wisconsin "4" man Jon Leuer similarly named and blessed with similar games, they became buddies while rooming together on the Las Vegas Strip last summer as part of the U.S. Select team asked to prepare the National team for the World Championships. Watch for Leuer to try to take Shurna into the post a little more, while Shurna likely will try to stake an advantage while shooting 3s and driving to the hoop.
FUTURES MARKET: When junior center Davide Curletti accepted his Northwestern scholarship three years ago, the rumor mill said Curletti turned down the chance for a Michigan State scholarship (after serving one year as a walk-on). Curletti, a Detroit area native, showed the Spartans a little bit of what they're missing with a solid 22-minute performance off the bench Saturday. Curletti provided a big lift in the first half when NU was struggling and finished with 6 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. As he grows more comfortable in his role as Luka Mirkovic's backup, he makes NU that much better.
--Northwestern committed a season-low 5 turnovers on its way to a 74-60 victory over Michigan as senior PG Michael "Juice" Thompson handed out 7 assists with only one turnover. He's returning to the form that has characterized his career. During NU's first 3 Big Ten games -- all of them losses to Top 25 teams -- Thompson posted 7 assists versus 10 turnovers. During NU's last 4 Big Ten games -- three of them wins -- Thompson has delivered 25 assists versus 7 turnovers.
--Sophomore F/G Drew Crawford didn't build on his huge efforts last week. Nor did he continue his remarkable play against Michigan. Crawford, who provided 35 points and 10 rebounds in last week's road trip through Iowa and Michigan State, scored a team-high 42 points in last year's two-game sweep of the Wolverines. Alas, he posted just 8 points and 1 rebound Tuesday against Michigan as he played just 18 minutes because of foul trouble.
If the Buckeyes feel as if a load has been placed on their shoulders, they are not imagining things. The target Ohio State now wears doesn't get any bigger, and the pressure does not weigh any heavier.
After previous No. 1 Duke lost to Florida State, the Buckeyes took over the nation's top spot, making Ohio State the king of the college basketball mountain.
The Buckeyes got there by winning their first 18 games, and they took over No. 1 for the third time in school history. Ohio State was No. 1 throughout the 1960-61 and 1961-62 seasons during the era of Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek, and for a three-week period at the end of the 2006-07 season behind Greg Oden and Mike Conley.
"This is big for our program and for The Ohio State University," Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said about reaching No. 1. "At Ohio State, we're trying to be the best program we can be, and this is part of that. I don't know if the players will wear it as a target. I think we know how tough it will be to keep it."
On its previous runs as the No. 1 team in the land, Ohio State lost the title game to Cincinnati in 1961 and 1962, and the 2006-07 team lost to Florida in the championship game.
The ever-pragmatic Matta knows the significance of reaching No. 1, but his concerns are more immediate and in the moment.
"I'd trade it right now for better defense," Matta said. "But it's great for our program."
In their first official test as the new No. 1, the Buckeyes easily dispatched Big Ten bottom-feeder Iowa within the friendly confines of Value City Arena in Columbus. The exams get tougher from here on out, and the No. 1 spot more difficult to hang onto the longer the Buckeyes wear that giant target.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: The Buckeyes demonstrated their depth and versatility in a 70-48 romp over Iowa. While senior G Jon Diebler, Ohio State's career 3-point leader, had a very poor night shooting, making just one of eight shots from outside the arc, it was hardly noticeable since this team has so many weapons. On the same night that Diebler was struggling from the field, senior G/F David Lighty led the Buckeyes with 18 points, junior G William Buford added 15, and sensational freshman C/F Jared Sullinger had a relatively quiet double-double by his standards with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Not many teams in the Big Ten or in the country can have one of their regulars experience such an off night as Diebler did, and not have it impact the outcome one iota.
--At 19-0 through Jan. 19, the Buckeyes were off to their best start since the 1961-62 season. The teams led by Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek started 27-0 in 1960-61, and then 22-0 in the following season.
--When he takes the floor in an upcoming game against Illinois, Ohio State senior G/F David Lighty will tie former Buckeye Jamar Butler for the OSU record by appearing in 139 career games for Ohio State.
--Ohio State is one of the few teams in the country to have two players, junior G William Buford and freshman C/F Jared Sullinger, make the watch list for the Naismith Award, which is given annually to the national college player of the year. Former Ohio State standout Evan Turner won the award last season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- One key to Ohio State's success this season has been its versatility on the offensive end. By mid-January, five different Buckeyes had scored 20 or more points in a game 13 times in the first 17 games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The thing that excites me the most is that it is the second time that we have been there in a couple years. It is great for the program. Not too many schools end up in the position that we are in and I am proud for OSU and the basketball program." -- Ohio State coach Thad Matta on the prospect of being ranked No. 1 in the nation following a Big Ten victory over Penn State
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--at Illinois, Jan. 22
KEY MATCHUPS: The Illini will present Ohio State with a different type of challenge since 7-1 senior C Mike Tisdale is comfortable taking the ball outside and shooting from beyond the arc. Ohio State freshman C/F Jared Sullinger and senior C/F Dallas Lauderdale will likely take turns shadowing the wispy Tisdale, and if he pulls them away from the basket regularly, the rest of the Buckeyes will have to take up the slack in the rebounding department.
FUTURES MARKET: While the Buckeyes have flourished this season with their unique blend of veterans -- seniors Jon Diebler, David Lighty and Dallas Lauderdale along with junior William Buford -- and sensational freshmen Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft, the talent they hold in reserve is significant, as well. Freshman F Deshaun Thomas has been outstanding in certain situations, while freshman G Jordan Sibert has hit some big shots and shown plenty of court savvy. The Buckeyes might not need to call on them on a regular basis this season, but the duo should be expected to play huge roles in the coming years.
--Freshman PG Aaron Craft, who had originally committed to Tennessee but changed his mind when that program came under NCAA scrutiny, has continued to make a huge impact coming off the bench. Craft had an Ohio State freshman-record seven steals in the win over Iowa, and he added four assists.
--Freshman C/F Jared Sullinger scored 19 points and hit a crucial 3-point play with 13 seconds left to carry the Buckeyes over Penn State in a recent Big Ten game.
--Ohio State senior G Jon Diebler has moved into the top-10 all-time in the Big Ten in made 3-pointers. Diebler has 315 career triples, ranking fifth on the all-time list. The Big Ten's all-time leader is Pete Lisicky of Penn State (1994-98) with 332 made 3-pointers, and Diebler should pass him later this season.
--Experience does have its value. Following the Big Ten win over Penn State, Ohio State's four returning starters -- G Jon Diebler, G William Buford, G/F David Lighty, and C/F Dallas Lauderdale -- had combined for 364 starts in their 469 career games played with the Buckeyes.
The team that lost 13 consecutive conference games last season is the team that no one in the Big Ten wants to play right now.
The Nittany Lions lost 63-62 at No. 14 Purdue on Jan. 19, four days after losing 69-66 to then-No. 2 Ohio State in Columbus and a week after home upsets of Michigan State and Illinois.
Penn State was just 3-4 in conference play but had played at the level of four of the Big Ten's top five teams and was doing so with balance. Role players Tim Frazier and Andrew Jones had stepped up their offensive play to support the scoring of Talor Battle, Jeff Brooks and David Jackson, which had made the Nittany Lions difficult to defend. Coach Ed DeChellis had mixed his defenses, which had prevented opponents from getting into a rhythm and masked some of his players' individual deficiencies.
The Nittany Lions weren't getting any help from their bench, which could be a factor later in the season.
After just missing out on what would have been two big road upsets, the Nittany Lions will look to protect their home floor on Jan. 26 against struggling Iowa. Penn State must maintain its offensive balance and, given that it wants to limit the number of possessions for both teams, make sure that it takes better care of the basketball after committing 13 turnovers against Purdue and 14 against Ohio State.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Senior F Andrew Jones has developed confidence in his jump shot, which is making him a viable scoring option for the Nittany Lions.
Jones has had some trouble defensively with two of the country's best big men (Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and Purdue's JaJuan Johnson), but his ability to connect on the 10- to 12-foot jump shot -- which most teams have been giving him this season -- has helped ease some of the scoring load on teammates Talor Battle and Jeff Brooks and opened up the interior for the Nittany Lions.
--Penn State had connected on 34 of 35 free throws over the past three games through Jan. 19.
--The Nittany Lions' bench did not score a point in the 63-62 loss to Purdue, and the reserves had totaled only five points in Penn State's last three games combined through Jan. 19. Freshman F Billy Oliver had all five of those points.
--Penn State senior F David Jackson was averaging 8.3 points per game at home and 15.6 points per game on the road through Jan. 17.
--Freshman G Taran Buie had missed the last six games through Jan. 17 as part of an indefinite suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules, and there was no timetable for his return. He had been averaging 5.8 points per game.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Total of Penn State points off the bench in a 69-66 loss at No. 2 Ohio State. The Nittany Lions got three bench points in their previous game, a 57-55 defeat of Illinois.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It ends up being a possession game, and the possessions are somewhat decreased during the games." -- Penn State coach Ed DeChellis, on the defensive feel of Big Ten games compared to non-conference games.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--vs. Iowa, Jan. 26
KEY MATCHUPS: Penn State, which will be coming off a full week's rest, must look to slow versatile Iowa G Matt Gatens. Senior F David Jackson, who has stepped up his offensive game in recent weeks, is likely to receive that defensive assignment.
FUTURES MARKET: Penn State sophomore point guard Tim Frazier is finally starting to take the ball to the basket, which is leading for scoring opportunities for not only himself but open shots for his teammates as well. Frazier's defense and decision-making has been solid for most of the season but if he can become a consistent offensive option, opponents might have to give Penn State G Talor Battle, the Big Ten's leading scorer, less attention.
--Sophomore G Tim Frazier was 8-for-9 from the field in his last two games through Jan. 19 after shooting 33 percent from the field in his first 16 games of the season.
--Senior G Talor Battle had 100 of Penn State's 314 free-throw attempts this season through Jan. 17, more than twice as many as any of his teammates except for David Jackson, who had 51 attempts.
--Since scoring a career-high 18 points in a Jan. 5 loss to Purdue, freshman G Jermaine Marshall totaled only eight points in his next three games and was held scoreless in limited minutes in each of his last two games.
With ESPN's "College GameDay" crew and Michigan State coming to Mackey Arena on Jan. 22, No. 14 Purdue needed some momentum after dropping back-to-back decisions at Minnesota (70-67) and at West Virginia (68-64).
Thanks to 6-foot-10 senior center JaJuan Johnson, the Boilermakers seized that momentum Jan. 19 with a 63-62 victory against Penn State in West Lafayette.
Johnson, who finished with a game-best 25 points, sank the game-winning shot with two seconds remaining, rallying Purdue to its fifth Big Ten Conference victory in six games.
The Boilermakers missed potential game-tying shots in the final 10 seconds of the losses at Minnesota and West Virginia, but Johnson got it right against Penn State.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Purdue's goal each game is to make no more than six turnovers a half and no more than 12 in a game.
The Boilermakers compensated for being outrebounded 30-19 by Penn State by making only three total turnovers against the Nittany Lions. Purdue picked up 10 extra possessions, as Penn State was guilty of 13 giveaways.
Through 19 games, Purdue opponents had turned the ball over 307 times, 98 more than the Boilermakers.
--Beginning with the 2009-2010 Big Ten season opener, Purdue was 19-5 in league contests through Jan. 19.
--Junior point guard Lewis Jackson has picked up his scoring during the past two weeks, averaging 11.4 during the past five games through Jan. 16, including a 17-point game at Penn State and a 15-point game at Minnesota. Overall, Jackson is averaging 6.5 points entering play this week.
--After missing nine games because of a stress fracture in his right foot, redshirt sophomore guard/forward John Hart returned to action Jan. 19 at West Virginia, playing four minutes. Hart missed a pair of shots and had a rebound and a steal.
--The halftime score has been the perfect indication of how Purdue will fare this season. The Boilermakers are 15-0 in games during which they led at halftime and are 0-3 in games when they have trailed after 20 minutes through games of Jan. 16.
BY THE NUMBERS: 10 -- Consecutive road-game victories by Purdue from Jan. 19, 2010 at Illinois until losing Jan. 13, 2011 at Minnesota by three points.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We simply have to find ways to get JaJuan Johnson more touches in the second half, even if he doesn't end up scoring or shooting." -- Purdue coach Matt Painter said in noting that when Johnson went long stretches without getting the ball at Minnesota and at West Virginia, Purdue was outscored 13-6 and 20-8, respectively.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
--vs. Michigan State, Jan. 22
KEY MATCHUP: Rebounding. The Boilermakers and Spartans are two of the Big Ten's best rebounding teams. The one who wins the glass usually wins the game. Last season, Purdue won in East Lansing but lost at home three days after Robbie Hummel was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his right knee.
FUTURES MARKET: Purdue received some bad news Sunday when it was learned that 6-8 recruit Jacob Lawson from Oak Ridge Military Academy in North Carolina suffered a torn Achilles during the weekend while playing in a basketball game in Chicago. Lawson is expected to add rebounding and interior defense to a lineup that will lose 6-10 JaJuan Johnson after this season.
--After making 17 of 57 field goal attempts in a four-game sequence, senior G E'Twaun Moore broke out of his slump against Penn State, sinking seven of 15 shots and scoring 16 points. Moore is Purdue's No. 2 scorer at 17.6 points a game.
--Senior C JaJuan Johnson, Purdue's leading scorer at 20.5 points a game, had 29 in the Jan. 13 loss at Minnesota, 26 in the Jan. 16 loss at West Virginia and 25 in the Jan. 19 victory against Penn State.
--Junior G Ryne Smith continued to be Purdue's most accurate 3-point shooter at 48.6 percent (34 of 70) through Jan. 19. In Big Ten play, Smith was at 60.6 percent from beyond the arc (20 of 33).
When the regular season ends, senior forward Jon Leuer and point guard Jordan Taylor are going to be voted to the Big Ten's all-league team. But if Wisconsin intends to make a run at the Big Ten title, other guys are going to have to approach that level of play more often than not.
Senior center Keaton Nankivil seems like the most likely candidate to provide such a boost. With his recent 3-point shooting spree, Nankivil is causing even more grief for opponents' defensive schemes that already are stretched to the limit against the Badgers.
In Saturday's 76-66 home win over No. 16 Illinois, for example, Nankivil helped turn a 27-25 halftime edge into a 37-25 bulge by swishing a pair of 3-pointers. Even though the Illini defenders had been warned not to leave Nankivil alone on the perimeter -- or to pretend to collapse against a driver and then jump back into his face -- Nankivil kept getting open.
Point guard Jordan Taylor penetrated and kicked to Nankivil on the wing for two of his three second-half 3-pointers, while big man Jared Berggren fed him for the other. In Big Ten play leading up to Thursday's home game with Indiana, Nankivil is shooting 57 percent (16 of 28) from beyond the arc and averaging 13.2 points per game.
"Taylor and Leuer are obviously your two main guys," said Illinois coach Bruce Weber, "but Nankivil, he's a great spot-up shooter. He knows the system. He's older. He knows how to play off of Leuer, play off of Taylor, play off of the system to get open shots. If he's open, you kind of know, you have a feeling, it's going to go in. When that's your big guy doing that, that really spreads your defense."
Now, if only Nankivil shoot as well when he has an unimpeded dunk. Late in the the second half against Illinois, Nankivil took advantage of a drawn-out defender and drove past him for a monstrous dunk. But as quickly as Nankivil threw it down and shook the rim, the ball flew out of the hoop. It was the second time this season that Nankivil couldn't get a dunk to go.
"You see that once in a lifetime," said Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan. "I am hoping he can't do it three times."
--In all five of Wisconsin's Big Ten games this season, three players have scored in double figures. In all five games it was the same three guys: senior forward Jon Leuer, junior point guard Jordan Taylor and senior center Keaton Nankivil.
They've teamed up for 243 of Wisconsin's 332 points (73.2 percent) during the team's 3-2 league start. In fact, Taylor enters Week 4 of Big Ten play as the league's scoring leader. He's averaging 20.4 points per game, which says plenty about his consistency because his season-high is 22 points.
--Redshirt sophomore Jared Berggren earned his first career start Saturday against Illinois. Part of it had to do with matchups as the 6-foot-10 Berggren fit nicely alongside Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil against Illinois' tall front line of Mike Tisdale, Mike Davis and Bill Cole. Part of it had to do with Bo Ryan's continuing search for the right fit of players.
"A lot of times maybe it's an initial matchup," Ryan said. "Maybe it's just some guys need to get on the bench and watch from the bench. And maybe some guys just need games where they need to get their psyche back."
--Wisconsin continues to be the nation's runaway leader in fewest turnovers per game. Despite committing a Big Ten-worst 11 miscues in their overtime loss Jan. 11 at Michigan State, the Badgers are averaging just 8.2 turnovers per game.
BY THE NUMBERS: 16.9 -- This year's Wisconsin edition hasn't been getting to the free-throw line anywhere near as frequently as the usual Bo Ryan squad. But the Badgers' per-game free-throw average jumped from 15.4 attempts to 16.9 in one afternoon as Wisconsin made 34 of 41 free throws in Saturday's win over Illinois. The Badgers' previous FTA high this season was 26.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If it was 'The Gong Show,' they would have hooked us all. There wouldn't have been anybody left. Players. Coaches. But I told the officials, I really wouldn't want that job. I think he thought he was being funny, but I was being honest. How would you like to have to officiate that?" -- Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan talking about the Illinois contest that featured 54 fouls and 77 free-throw attempts. The Badgers and Illini combined to shoot 48 free throws in the final 10 minutes and 26 in the final two minutes.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Indiana, Jan. 20
KEY MATCHUPS: The Hoosiers will roll into the Kohl Center with a head of steam after earning their first Big Ten win of the season. Sophomore power forward Christian Watford will be a tough matchup for the Badgers. While he has the size and the athleticism to score inside, he tends to prefer to drift outside and drill 3-pointers. Depending on whether the Badgers go big or small with their lineup, Jon Leuer could be responsible for taming Watford (16.4 points per game).
--at Northwestern, Jan. 23
KEY MATCHUPS: Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon used to love to shoot against Northwestern's zones, but the guard tandem is long gone from Madison. This game could turn on the battle between high-scoring forwards Jon Leuer and John Shurna. They roomed together in Las Vegas during the summer while working against the U.S. National team, so they're familiar with each other on and off the floor. Both love to shoot 3-pointers, but have improved their ability to put the ball on the floor.
Redshirt sophomore Ryan Evans looks like he should be a solid reserve at a few spots on the floor, but the 6-foot-6, 210-pound swingman is working on a short leash these days. He played a season-low 1 minute on Saturday against Illinois as he came in, didn't do the right thing immediately in the first half and came out of the game.
--Senior F Jon Leuer rebounded from a subpar effort Jan. 11 at Michigan State (10 points on 3 of 9 shooting) by going off for a game-high 26 points in Saturday's home win over Illinois. Leuer, who also grabbed 9 rebounds, showed his intentions early when he ripped the game's first rebound away from Illinois' Bill Cole. He also spent a little more time scoring on the post as he kept hitting jump hooks over 6-foot-9 Mike Davis.
--Junior G Rob Wilson started and played 32 minutes in Tuesday's loss at Michigan State, then didn't get off the bench on Saturday against Illinois. Sophomore center Jared Berggren started for Wilson, who might have been Bo Ryan's target audience when he said that "some guys need to get on the bench and watch from the bench."
--Freshman G Josh Gasser might not be in Wisconsin's starting lineup anymore, but he's in Bo Ryan's good graces. Gasser, who has come off the bench in the last three games after making 13 starts, earned 23 minutes against Illinois for his solid defense and floor play. He didn't shoot from the field, grab a rebound or hand out an assist, but he made 2 free throws and drew a crucial fourth foul from 7-foot-1 center Mike Tisdale when he got caught guarding him in the post.
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