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February 9, 2007

Big Ten Breakdown: Haluska on fire

Weekly Big Ten Update
Team Conf. Overall
Wisconsin 9-1 23-2
Ohio State 9-1 21-3
Indiana 5-3 16-6
Iowa 6-4 14-10
Illinois 6-5 18-8
Purdue 5-5 16-8
Michigan 4-5 16-8
Michigan State 4-6 17-8
Minnesota 3-7 9-15
Penn State 1-8 10-12
Northwestern 1-9 11-12
Standings as of 2/8

Best matchup: Iowa at Wisconsin. The Badgers paid a visit to Iowa City two weeks ago and walked out with a hard-fought 57-46 victory. The Hawkeyes haven't lost since, reeling off three in a row. They've played arguably their best basketball of the entire season in the past three games, sandwiching a home win over Indiana between road wins over Michigan and Minnesota. Iowa's Adam Haluska has played like a man possessed since the Wisconsin game in which he shot 3 of 18, his worst night of the year in Big Ten play. He's averaging 28 points over the past three games, and he leads Badgers forward Alando Tucker in the Big Ten scoring race. But UW leads Iowa in the Big Ten and must win to keep pace with Ohio State.

Worst matchup: Minnesota at Michigan. The Golden Gophers have won only one road game, at lowly Northwestern. The Wolverines are 14-2 at home. Michigan is on a four-game losing streak, but the schedule has been brutal. Three of the four losses were on the road against ranked teams. Minnesota should beware of a team that's playing at home and in desperate need of a victory.

The pressure is on: Michigan coach Tommy Amaker. It has been said before, but really, isn't this the year Amaker has to get Michigan back into the NCAA Tournament? They haven't been since 1998, which predates the Amaker Era. The schedule is difficult down the stretch, and the Wolverines will have to play up to if - not above - their potential to save Amaker's job.

Upset alert: Illinois at Indiana. It's not likely, but the Illini are on a three-game winning streak and at least come in feeling a little bit better about themselves. Then again, two of the three wins were against Minnesota and Northwestern, not exactly the crθme de la crθme. Illinois also beat the Hoosiers in their first meeting, and held them to only 43 points in the process. IU comes in smarting from a loss to Iowa, and Kelvin Sampson needs this victory to get back on track to an NCAA bid.

Who's hot: Iowa guard Adam Haluska has topped the 30-point mark in each of the past two games. He is shooting 19 of 31 in that stretch, including 11 of 21 from 3-point range. … Purdue forward Carl Landry has bounced back from a season-worst 6-of-17 outing against Ohio State. In the Boilermakers' past two games he has shot 19 of 27 (70.4 percent) and scored 46 points. Not coincidentally Purdue has won both games.

Who's not: Seemingly everyone in the state of Michigan, and it's not just because of the freezing temperatures. Michigan and Michigan State each have lost four games in a row. Michigan State guard Drew Neitzel has hit just 11 of 41 shots (27 percent) over the past three games. Michigan swingman Lester Abram has just six points in each of the Wolverines' past two games and has made only five of his past 17 shots. The Spartans were so bad Wednesday night at Purdue that they scored a season-low 38 points, including just 12 in the second half.

Must see TV: Iowa at Wisconsin, 2 p.m. ESPN

Key stat: Purdue has held three of its past four opponents to less than 60 points.

Bench bonus: Indiana guard A.J. Ratliff had 15 points off the bench in a loss at Iowa last Saturday. … The Iowa bench shot 9 of 15 (60 percent) and scored 23 points in the win at Minnesota on Wednesday.

They said it: "I don't want to use (fatigue) as an excuse. That makes it sound like we're out of shape or not tough. We're just not playing well right now, that's the only way to describe it. The way I look at it, a loss is a loss, whether it's at Ohio State by two or at Purdue by 20." – Michigan State guard Drew Neitzel

Injury report: Minnesota center Spencer Tollackson returned with a vengeance from a broken left hand that kept him out for seven games. He played 34 minutes against Iowa on Wednesday night and had team highs in points (23) and rebounds (five), but the Hawkeyes prevailed 91-78. … Penn State played without starting center Brandon Hassell (sprained left foot) against Wisconsin on Wednesday.

Worth noting: Wisconsin's Alando Tucker is one point shy of 2,000 points for his career in Madison. He needed 25 Wednesday night at Penn State and scored 24, meaning he'll get to hit the milestone at home. … Tucker has topped the 20-point mark in four consecutive games. … Ohio State had a season-high 13 blocked shots against Michigan, just two shy of the 27-year-old school record. Freshman center Greg Oden was credited with seven of them. … The Buckeyes' home winning streak is at 23. … Michigan State has lost four consecutive Big Ten games for the first time since 1997, Tom Izzo's second season in East Lansing. … No Big Ten team in the past 15 seasons has lost more than one conference home game and gone on to claim a share of the conference title. … Penn State has lost eight in a row. … Northwestern, Penn State's opponent on Saturday, has lost four in a row. It hasn't won at home in conference play. The Nittany Lions' only conference win was against the Wildcats.

Freshman to watch: Ohio State point guard Mike Conley Jr. The cat-quick Indianapolis product has scored in double figures in the past three games and has 15 assists to just five turnovers in that span. He had a career-high 23 points in a Tuesday victory over Michigan. And he's playing as well as any point guard in the conference.

Something you may have missed: Michigan State doesn't play this weekend then has four consecutive home games. It will be a make-or-break stretch for the Spartans as far as the NCAA Tournament is concerned.

RPI watch: Ohio State has moved ahead of Wisconsin in the latest RPI. The Buckeyes are fourth, with the Badgers fifth. Indiana is next at 17th, but then there is a huge dropoff. Purdue is the next-highest Big Ten team, all the way down at No. 38. The conference RPI sits at fourth.

More Conference Breakdowns: ACC | Big 12 | SEC | Pac-10 | Big East

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