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Big Ten Notebook

January 24, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Big Ten Notebook

by Chris Burke

The improbable and incredible turnaround of Michigan continues.

The Wolverines, now all-alone in first place in the Big Ten with a 5-0
conference record, have captured 12 straight victories since an 0-6 start
and will go for 13 against arch-rival Michigan State on Sunday.

That 12th win came on Wednesday night, an 11-point conquest over
Minnesota. It was yet another example of how far Michigan has come in two
months. From a team that couldn’t find a way to win, to a team that has
done everything they need to do to avoid losing.

Against the Golden Gophers, diaper dandy Daniel Horton and senior LaVell
Blanchard both were abysmal in the first half – but the Wolverines still
came out of that half with a 32-31 lead, thanks mainly in part to the
heroics of Bernard Robinson.

Then in the second half, it was Blanchard’s turn. Blanchard poured in 24
points in the second half, including four 3-pointers to rally the
Wolverines before a crowd at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor that was as
excited as any crowd in a long time at Michigan.

Sunday’s game marks the Wolverines most realistic opportunity in the last
five years to end their dreadful losing string against Michigan State.

Speaking of which…

Michigan State got back into the win column after falling to 1-3 in the
conference last week, absolutely putting the clamps on Penn State in a
70-36 victory on Wednesday.

36! Penn State’s miserable year simply continues, as the Nittany Lions
have been unable to put anything together offensively all season and are
the lone Big Ten team with a sub-.500 overall record, now sitting at 5-10 on the season.

As for the Spartans, the game marked a much-needed confidence boost for a
slumping team heading into that showdown in Ann Arbor five hours prior to
the kickoff of the Super Bowl.

Last year, Michigan State manhandled the Wolverines yet again. But for the
last three games, Michigan has shown the ability to turn its defense on
when it needs to, something that has to worry the Spartans, whose options
remain limited.

Forward Kelvin Torbert continues to be one of the biggest busts in recent
recruiting history at Michigan State. Torbert was expected to be the next
coming of Shawn Respert for coach Tom Izzo, but he has still yet to find
his stroke and if the now 10-7 Spartans are to make the NCAA tournament,
Torbert will need to be a key offensive performer.

Illini back on track

Illinois got a much-needed victory as well on Wednesday night, handing the
resurgent Purdue Boilermakers their first conference loss in Champaign.

Brian Cook has been phenomenal all season for the Illini, and the win
upped their conference record to 3-2, their overall record to 13-3.
Obviously, they are very much in the hunt for a tournament berth, but with
just two losses in the conference, Illinois is still thinking conference

The key for the Illini is continuing to get complimentary performances on offense from everyone other than Cook, so as to allow the
superstar forward to roam free on the offensive end of the court.

Illinois should improve to 4-2 when it heads to Penn State this weekend.

This weekend

The Michigan-Michigan State rivalry has taken on renewed importance for
both teams, something that hasn’t been true in a few years. Add in the
national television broadcast to prep the coutnry for the Super Bowl and
you’ve got the makings of a classic Big Ten matchup.

Saturday offers a full conference slate as well. Ohio State heads to Iowa
while Illinois travels to Penn State in the early games. Indiana then
travels across the state to Purdue, and Northwestern closes out the day
with a trip to Minnesota.


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