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January 19, 2007
Big Ten Breakdown: Hoosiers climbing Big Ten ranks
Best matchup: Indiana at Connecticut. An intriguing matchup of a Hoosiers team that is on the rise against traditional Big East power UConn. Indiana is 4-1 in Big Ten play and has won eight of its past nine under first-year coach Kelvin Sampson. The Huskies (13-4, 2-3) are one of the youngest teams in the country, but talent abounds. Their starting lineup consists entirely of sophomores and freshmen, including Jeff Adrien (13.0 ppg, 9.4 rpg) and 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet (fourth in the country in blocked shots per game at 4.06). UConn leads the nation in blocked shots per game, which will put a premium on getting good looks and knocking them down. The Hoosiers have played tougher competition to this point. The Huskies, who started 11-0 against a very weak non-conference schedule, have stumbled recently. UConn is just 2-3 in Big East play.
Worst matchup: Northwestern at Minnesota. The game itself may be competitive, but it's doubtful you'll see any highlights on SportsCenter. The Golden Gophers (7-11) are the only team in the conference with an overall losing record. But at least they've won a conference game (they're 1-3). The Wildcats are last in the league at 0-5. Minnesota is 10th in the league in scoring offense; NU is 11th. The teams may not combine to score 100 points.
The pressure is on: Illinois coach Bruce Weber. The Illini are off to a rough start in league play at 2-3, which is well below expectations. They have a big chance to make up ground with three of their next four games at home against teams ahead of them in the standings. It's a make-or-break stretch that starts with conference leader Wisconsin on Saturday. Second-place Indiana visits Champaign on Tuesday. A pair of victories would garner a lot of attention; a pair of losses would be disastrous for a team the league's media picked to finish third in its preseason poll.
Upset alert: Iowa at Ohio State. Since a shocking 16-point loss at Drake, the Hawkeyes have played much better. They're 2-2 in the Big Ten, with two home victories. Their losses have been by only four and seven points. It's unlikely they'll win in Columbus, but if they can keep it close they might be able to pull off the shocker.
Who's hot: Indiana forward D.J. White has registered consecutive double-doubles. He had 14 points and 11 rebounds against Penn State and followed that up by tying his career highs in points (23) and rebounds (12) against Iowa. He's shooting 70 percent (28 of 40) over the Hoosiers' past four games. Ohio State center Greg Oden has blocked 22 shots in his past five games. Iowa guard Adam Haluska has topped the 20-point mark in each of the past three games.
Who's not: Wisconsin forward Alando Tucker is shooting just 37 percent (23 of 62) over the Badgers' past four games, including 1-for-8 from 3-point range. Michigan State isn't hot on the road. The Spartans are 1-4 outside the state, including 0-2 in the Big Ten. They're at Penn State on Saturday.
Must see TV: Indiana at Connecticut, 2:45 p.m., CBS. Gus Johnson and Clark Kellogg have the call.
Key stat: Five Big Ten teams are undefeated at home thus far this season: Wisconsin (14-0), Michigan State (13-0), Ohio State (12-0), Purdue (11-0) and Indiana (10-0). Only the Buckeyes play at home over the weekend.
Bench bonus: Michigan's bench outshot its starters .571 to .444 and chipped in 24 points in Wednesday night's rout of Penn State. The Wolverines' role players were 8-for-14.
They said it: "We've gotta get back to running and putting some pressure on the ball and get back to executing offensively and not turning the ball over so much." Michigan State coach Tom Izzo
Injury report: Michigan State will be without the services of guard Isaiah Dahlman for its game against Penn State. The 6-6 freshman suffered a mid-foot sprain in practice on Tuesday and will not dress. Northwestern's leading scorer, forward Kevin Coble, has missed the past two games because of a sprained ankle. Minnesota center Spencer Tollackson, the team's leading rebounder, is out with a broken bone in his hand. He isn't expected back for another couple of weeks.
Worth noting: Five Big Ten teams are holding opponents to fewer than 60 points per game. No other league in the country has more than three. Wisconsin is the only team in the nation that boasts victories over two top-five teams (Pitt was No. 2 when beaten by the Badgers; Ohio State was No. 5). Badgers guard Kammron Taylor is just four points shy of the 1,000-point mark for his career. He'll give the Big Ten nine active players with more than 1,000 points, including teammate Alando Tucker - who is closing in on 2,000. Nine players have started multiple games this season for Indiana, and seven of them have led the team in scoring. Purdue has lost 28 consecutive road games, including 19 in the Big Ten. With its 73-41 loss at Ohio State on Wednesday night, Northwestern now has dropped 24 in a row in Columbus. The Wildcats last beat the Buckeyes on the road in 1977. Illinois' Wednesday night victory was its 16th in a row over Minnesota, including seven on the Golden Gophers' home floor.
Freshman to watch: Indiana guard Armon Bassett, a true freshman from Terre Haute and a former three-star prospect by Rivals.com, has scored in double figures in his past three games and in seven of nine. He has hit at least one 3-pointer in each of his past nine games, and his outside shooting will be a key to opening things up on Saturday against UConn.
Something you may have missed: Purdue completed sloughed off defensively on the perimeter against Wisconsin, choosing to pack things in inside. The Boilermakers virtually left the Badgers wide open behind the 3-point line to prevent any penetration and easy baskets. The result was a near upset as UW managed to go only 3-for-17 from beyond the arc. "We had to take a couple of risks in our game plan if we were going to have a chance to beat Wisconsin here on its home floor," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "One of the risks was not guarding a couple of people, just flat out leaving them open." The Badgers prevailed 69-64 after trailing at the half.
RPI watch: The conference still sits fifth in the RPI, though Wisconsin has climbed from 12th to sixth in the past week. Ohio State also made a nice jump, going from 22nd to No. 13. Indiana checks in at No. 21 and Michigan State is 25th.