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Big Ten Notebook

January 6, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Big Ten Notebook

by Chris Burke

Entering the start of Big Ten conference play on Tuesday, 10 of the Big Ten’s 11 teams were above .500 on the season. The one that’s not, Penn State, sits at 5-6.

But one of those teams isn’t all that pleased with the way that things have gone so far.

Michigan State sits at 8-4 on the year, but a terrible trip to the Great Alaska Shootout was only made worse when the Spartans inexplicably stumbled against MAC contender Toledo, 81-76, at the Breslin Center.

It was the Spartans’ first home loss of the year, but Michigan State will enter conference play with a two-game losing streak, after dropping a heartbreaking 60-58 tussle at Oklahoma on Saturday.

“There are a lot of reasons that I want to get on my team, but Toledo outplayed us,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after the loss to the Rockets. “They outshot us and outworked us and I thought we got outcoached.”

Izzo’s comments after the game were reminiscent of several other post-game shows this year, as the Michigan State front man has been disappointed in his team’s inconsistent play which has them in need of a very good run in the Big Ten to put an NCAA Tournament bid on their dance card.

One of the biggest problems contributing to Michigan State’s average start has been the up-and-down play of Kelvin Torbert. Injured to start the year, Torbert has been falling well short of the very high expectations he had entering Spartan country after taking home Michigan’s Mr. Basketball trophy his senior year of high school.

After a solid 19-point outing in the loss to Toledo, Torbert disappeared in Michigan State’s nationally televised defeat at the hands of the Sooners, tallying just six points and playing only 22 minutes due to foul trouble.

Maurice Ager and Chris Hill were the only two Spartans to hit double figures in scoring against Oklahoma, each notching 12 points, but the Spartans have struggled to find anyone to complement Hill on the score sheet. Through the weekend, the point guard was averaging 16 points a game, but no other Spartan was above nine per contest.

Michigan State’s defensive style means that the Spartans don’t need to score tons of points, but a second option needs to develop for them to be successful in conference.

The Spartans open their conference season on Thursday night at home against Ohio State.

Is Iowa for real?

Very, very little was expected of Iowa this year, but the now 8-3 Hawkeyes were impressive again over the weekend, taking nationally ranked Missouri down to the wire before falling, 88-82. The impressive loss came just a week after the Hawkeyes stunned Tulsa on its home floor.

After losing Reggie Evans and Luke Recker at the end of last year, and then being forced to dismiss its leading returning scorer due to legal troubles, Iowa seemed primed for a major rebuilding year.

But with its hot start, Iowa is in need of a mere 6-10 record in the Big Ten in order to remain eligible for the NIT and postseason play would be a major accomplishment for Steve Alford’s crew.

The Hawkeyes were in foul trouble all afternoon against Missouri, a serious issue for a team that goes eight deep at the most. But Iowa had five players hit double figures, led by the Big Ten’s surprise player to this point, Chauncey Leslie, who posted 19 and continues to impress.

Iowa opens conference play at Northwestern and then hosts Michigan State and Illinois, so how real contenders the Hawkeyes claim to be will be answered shortly.

Big run for Big Blue

Can you name the hottest team in the Big Ten?

Chances are your answer won’t be Michigan, but that might be exactly the case. The once 0-6 Wolverines have a Big Ten-best seven game win streak alive after taking out UCLA, San Francisco and IUPUIin succession over the last week.

Granted, outside of Vanderbilt and UCLA, the wins haven’t been high profile, but Michigan has Big Ten teams taking notice and could enhance that factor with a manageable opening conference slate with home games against Wisconsin and Penn State and then road trips to Ohio State and Northwestern. All four appear to be winnable games.

Saturday’s five-point win over IUPUI was not exactly something to hang their hats on, but the Wolverines did manage to pull out the victory without their third leading scorer and most athletic player, Bernard Robinson Jr.

Robinson Jr.’s return for the Wisconsin game is questionable, but head coach Tommy Amaker expects him in the lineup, and with him the Wolverines have a shot to push the win streak to nine by the end of the week.

This Week in the Big Ten

Illinois and Minnesota get the conference party started Tuesday with an important clash in Minneapolis. The struggling Gophers are in need of a big win, and the 10-1 Illini are looking like the favorites for the conference title right now.

Iowa at Northwestern, Wisconsin at Michigan, and Penn State at Indiana get six more Big Ten teams into the mix on Wednesday with Wisconsin’s trip to take on the surprisingly hot Wolverines highlighting that night’s action.

Ohio State travels to Michigan State on Thursday to get two more conference contenders going.

Saturday features every team but Minnesota in action, with Indiana at Ohio State, Wisconsin at Illinois, and Michigan State at Iowa the three most exciting games.


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