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February 2, 2007
Big Ten Breakdown: Big game for the Spartans
Best matchup: Ohio State at Michigan State. The Spartans are in dire need of a victory after dropping their last two Big Ten games to fall to 4-4 in the league. One of those losses was last Saturday in Columbus, when the Buckeyes allowed them to sneak back into the game after MSU trailed by 20 at the half. Ohio State prevailed 66-64, but ultimately it has to have boosted the confidence of Tom Izzo's squad. Drew Neitzel scored 29 points, 24 in the second half to help spark the comeback. You can bet Izzo and a fired-up home crowd won't allow the Spartans to dig such a big hole this time. Neither, though, will the Buckeyes be intimidated. They're tied with Wisconsin atop the conference and will have to win to keep pace with the Badgers. Ohio State struggled mightily from the floor (just 5-for-21) in the second half of the last meeting, and will have to shoot better than that to avoid the upset.
Worst matchup: Northwestern at Wisconsin. The Wildcats are last in the Big Ten in scoring (57.2 points per game). The Badgers are third in scoring defense (57.5 ppg). NU is 1-7 in conference play. UW is 7-1. The Badgers are coming off a road loss to Indiana, which will have them in a foul mood. The game is in Madison, and the Badgers will likely take out their frustrations on the Wildcats.
The pressure is on: Michigan State guard Drew Neitzel. Neitzel is unlikely to duplicate his 29-point output against Ohio State on Saturday. But he'll need something close for the Spartans to spring the upset. He was way off at Illinois on Tuesday, going just 2-for-12 from the field and scoring 10 points in a critical 57-50 loss to the Illini.
Upset alert: Indiana at Iowa. The Hoosiers are riding high after knocking off second-ranked Wisconsin on Wednesday. IU must guard against a letdown in Iowa City. Indiana won the first meeting this season with the Hawkeyes, 71-64. D.J. White had 23 points and 12 rebounds to lead the way. Indiana hasn't won at Carver-Hawkeye Arena since 2003. Iowa comes in on a high note, having won its first conference road game of the season at Michigan on Wednesday.
Who's hot: Illinois junior post Shaun Pruitt has picked up his play over the past four games. He has averaged 16.3 points and 10.7 rebounds during the stretch, including three double-doubles. His season averages are 11.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. After a drought of seven games in which he didn't score in double figures, Michigan center Courtney Sims has bounced back. He has topped double figures in the Wolverines' past three games, including a season-high 29 against Iowa on Wednesday.
Who's not: Michigan senior guard Dion Harris missed all 11 of his shots against the Hawkeyes. He has hit just seven of 29 shots over the Wolverines' past three games. Northwestern hasn't reached the 60-point mark in a conference game this season. It is averaging fewer than 50 points per game in Big Ten play.
Must see TV: Ohio State at Michigan State, 3 p.m., CBS.
Key stat: Indiana is shooting 52.4 percent from the floor in the second half of its past five games.
Bench bonus: Indiana junior guard A.J. Ratliff provided the spark for the Hoosiers' upset of Wisconsin. He came off the bench to score 20 points in just 25 minutes. He was 7-for-9 from the floor, including 4-for-6 on 3-pointers. Iowa sophomore guard Tony Freeman came off the bench and played a career-high 34 minutes in the big win at Michigan. He responded to the coaches' faith in him by scoring 14 points and adding seven assists with just two turnovers.
They said it: "I'm tired of hearing how bad the Big Ten is. We've got two teams in the top five. Michigan State is gonna play four games against top-four teams. When some lower level team beats an upper level team in our conference we talk about how bad the league is. But in another conference we hear about how deep the league is. This thing about the Big Ten has got to change." Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.
"They play hard, they play smart, they get after it, and they hit some shots. Now that is a heck of a combination." Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan on this year's Indiana team
Injury report: Illinois sophomore guard Chester Frazier, bothered by a toe injury, led the Illini to the victory over Michigan State on Tuesday with 17 points, but coach Bruce Weber says Frazier probably won't play Saturday against Minnesota. Michigan State freshman guard Isaiah Dahlman (mid-foot sprain) has missed the Spartans past four games.
Worth noting: Ohio State has the nation's sixth-longest home winning streak. Iowa went on a 20-1 run in the second half to rally past Michigan on Wednesday. Tom Izzo may have a beef with the Big Ten schedule makers. The Spartans have only one game apiece against the bottom four in the conference: Penn State, Minnesota, Northwestern and Purdue. Meanwhile, MSU and Penn State are the only teams in the league that have to play four games against Ohio State and Wisconsin. Hawkeyes guard Adam Haluska currently leads the Big Ten in scoring. Should he hang on, he'd be the first Iowa player to lead the conference in that category since Andre Woolridge in 1997. Buckeyes freshman point guard Mike Conley Jr. leads the league in assists. He would be the first OSU player to lead the conference in that category since Kelvin Ransey in 1980. He would be the first freshman since Deron Williams in 2003. Michigan has three players Dion Harris, Courtney Sims and Lester Abram who've topped the 1,000-point mark in their careers. Illinois is 67-5 at Assembly Hall over the past five seasons and has had 42 consecutive sellouts. Indiana's win over No. 2 Wisconsin was its first over a top-two team since it stunned No. 1 Duke in the Sweet 16 of the 2002 NCAA Tournament.
Freshman to watch: Ohio State guard Daequan Cook. The former five-star prospect burst out of the gates with six 20-point games in the Buckeyes' first 13 contests. He has slumped badly since, with a high of 13 points in the past nine games. Cook shot 33 percent during a recent six-game stretch, but could be ready to round back into early season form. He has shot 50 percent from the floor in each of OSU's past two games, including a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) in Wednesday night's thrashing of Purdue.
Something you may have missed: Indiana uncharacteristically played a lot of zone defense against Wisconsin. "I didn't anticipate playing one defense more than another, it's one of those deals, you throw it against the wall and see what sticks," Hoosiers coach Kelvin Sampson said. "If the zone is working, why not stay in it?"
RPI watch: Both the conference and Wisconsin held steady at fourth in the RPI through Wednesday's games. Ohio State was No. 8, and Indiana, with the huge win over the Badgers, moved up to 13th from 23rd. After those three teams you have to go all the way to No. 31 to find another Big Ten squad - Michigan State.