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Big Ten Notebook

December 9, 2002 Conference Notes No Comments



Big Ten Notebook

by Chris Burke

The Big Ten couldn’t get the job done in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, falling 5-4 overall. But the Big Ten did manage to win the big showdowns.

Indiana took down Maryland in a tremendous overtime game. Michigan State slowed down a heating-up Virginia team. And Illinois put a serious stop to North Carolina’s unbelievable start, taking down the Tar Heels 92-65.

Before the year started, everyone expected the Fighting Illini to have to pin a lot of their hopes on forward Brian Cook. The senior hasn’t disappointed, as he has been spectacular in the Illini’s 5-0 start, averaging 19 points, six rebounds and three assists a game. Cook tossed in 22 against the Tar Heels, while snagging eight rebounds.

The biggest test for Illinois this year was to find someone to compliment Cook on the scoreboard. Instead, Illinois has found several people to compliment him. Three other members of the Illini (Roger Powell, Dee Brown and Luther Head) are averaging over 10 points a game, and there are seven Illini averaging eight points or higher per game.

The thrashing of the Tar Heels was the culmination of a four-game, season-opening home stand that also saw Illinois roll over Lehigh, Arkansas Pine-Bluff and Western Illinois. But the win over North Carolina was a big statement as far as defeating solid competition, and the Illini followed it up by going into Arkansas and grabbing a 5-0 win.

With everyone focusing on Indiana, Minnesota and Michigan State, Illinois is quietly floating under the national radar and priming itself for a serious run at the conference title.

Northwestern ready to surprise again

One year after putting together a solid (and somewhat shocking) 16-13 campaign under Bill Carmody, the Wildcats of Northwestern are out to prove that their a postseason threat – at least for the NIT.

The Wildcats were snubbed the NIT after a disappointing 21-point loss to #10-seed Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament, but are off to a 4-2 start to begin this year.

So far, Northwestern has piled up solid wins on the road at Kansas State and at home over a decent Bowling Green squad. The Wildcats were beaten up, 74-49 by NC State in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, but the schedule is definitely made for success.

The back-to-back trips to Kansas State and N.C. State – in which the Wildcats finished 1-1 – are the only two road games for Northwestern in the non-conference season. The Wildcats will host Elon, Illinois-Chicago, Fordham, Buffalo and Long Island making a 9-2 start not only possible, but likely.

Unfortunately, Northwestern’s strength of schedule will be awful, so a trip to the NCAA Tournament is probably out of the question, but an NIT trip is most definitely not.

Tale of two cities in Michigan

Michigan State appears to be back on track, while Michigan looks to have never found the tracks in the first place.

The Spartans, after a 2-2 start highlighted by back-to-back losses to Villanova and Oklahoma State at the Great Alaska Shootout, rebounded with an 82-75 victory over Virginia and a rout of Cleveland State.

Michigan State got back to basics against Virginia, out-rebounding the Cavaliers and forcing them into 19 turnovers. Guard Chris Hill paced the charge with a solid 22-point outing. The Spartans head to Kentucky on Saturday for a big-time non-conference test.

Michigan, meanwhile, was expectedly handled 81-59 by Duke in Tommy Amaker’s return to Cameron Indoor Stadium. Amaker received a warm welcome during pregame introductions, but the Blue Devils made sure that he didn’t enjoy the game nearly as much.

The Wolverines have shattered their previous school-record worst start of 0-4 with their 0-6 start. Bowling Green heads to Ann Arbor on Wednesday with hopes of extending Michigan’s miserable beginning.

Buckeyes facing several early tests

While Northwestern feasts up on cupcakes, Ohio State is struggling through a very difficult non-conference slate.

The Buckeyes are currently 2-2, having dropped contests with Alabama and against Duke at Greensboro. Ohio State’s two wins have been less-than-impressive, both seven-point triumphs over Coppin State and Tennessee Tech.

After a game versus Morehead State, the Buckeyes head to Pittsburgh and host Seton Hall with a matchup with Louisville also lingering before the tricky Big Ten schedule starts.

Brent Darby has averaged just under 19 points a game with 4.5 rebounds and five assists, but outside of Sean Connolly and Zach Williams, the Buckeyes have struggled to find scorers so far this season.

     

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