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Big Ten Notebook

February 26, 2008 Conference Notes No Comments

Big Ten Conference Notebook

by Nils Hoeger-Lerdal

At this point in the Big Ten season, only four teams remain in contention for the league title. We expected Indiana and Michigan State to be there, and it’s no surprise to see Wisconsin in the running, but Purdue is a stunner. Let’s handicap each team’s chances.

Wisconsin Badgers (23-4, 13-2)

The Badgers picked up a huge road win Sunday at Ohio State and were led in scoring by sophomore sharpshooter Jason Bohannon, who’s turned into another serious threat for Bo Ryan. He’s scored in double figures in five consecutive games, notching 15 threes in that span. Wisconsin certainly has the most balanced team in the league and the Badgers have shown they can win close road games without a dominant scorer.

Remaining games: Michigan State, Penn State, at Northwestern

Outlook: For all intents and purposes, Thursday is the day the Big Ten title will be decided. If the Badgers can knock off Michigan State in East Lansing, the crown’s theirs. If not, it opens up the door for the following contenders. I think the Spartans will step up to the test Thursday and open that door. With that said, 15-3 will be tough to beat outright.

Indiana Hoosiers (23-4, 12-2)

Obviously the big story in the Big Ten this week was Kelvin Sampson’s dismissal. The bigger story will be how the team responds to new coach Dan Dakich. They survived their first test Saturday night at winless Northwestern. They have two stars in Eric Gordon and D.J. White, a solid supporting cast and the potential to rally behind their new coach, but their inconsistency has been a bit concerning.

Remaining games: Ohio State, at Michigan State, Minnesota, at Penn State

Outlook: The Hoosiers weren’t impressive against Northwestern, and it’s hard to blame them if they’re lacking a little focus. They must be very careful this week with a desperate Ohio State team coming to town. A distracted group of Hoosiers, combined with a feisty set of Buckeyes could equal a stretch slip-up for Indiana. I’d watch out for this one. I think Indiana stumbles down the stretch and out of contention before righting themselves for the conference and NCAA tournaments.

Purdue Boilermakers (21-6, 12-2)

Matt Painter is a cinch for coach of the year, as he has led his team – filled mostly with freshmen and sophomores – to a 12-2 mark and well within reach of the title. Though their 11-game conference streak came to an end Tuesday at Indiana, there’s no reason to believe this crew will spiral downward from there. Robbie Hummel is as unassuming of a star-in-the-making as there is. This team is very reminiscent of overachieving Wisconsin clubs of the past. Nobody wants to play them.

Remaining games: Minnesota, Northwestern, at Ohio State, at Michigan

Outlook: The schedule is very favorable for the Boilermakers, to say the least. Ohio State will provide a test, but Purdue has more conference wins than the other three teams combined. Sometimes, you just like a team, and I like this one. I’m declaring them the favorite.

Michigan State Spartans (22-5, 10-4)

The Spartans certainly are on the outside looking in. But to some extent, they can play their way up, with games against leaders Wisconsin and Indiana yet to come. They had an easy week, blowing out Penn State and Iowa, and look to be in good shape for a stretch run. Drew Neitzel hasn’t scored as much, but he hasn’t needed to. He’s still deadly from deep, and had his first two 20-point games of the season this month. Don’t count Tom Izzo’s club out just yet, but don’t print any t-shirts either.

Remaining games: at Wisconsin, Indiana, at Illinois, at Ohio State

Outlook: The Spartans’ remaining schedule is without question the most difficult of the four contenders. Wins at Madison are rare, you know Indiana will be ready, and Ohio State will most likely be battling for an NCAA at-large bid. A two-game deficit in the loss column and this schedule doesn’t bode well. I give them a slim-to-none chance.


  • You can’t help but respect what Kevin Coble has done this year for Northwestern. After missing most of the non-conference schedule to be with his ailing mother, Coble has stepped in and averaged over 16 points per game, including his 37-point explosion Saturday night against Indiana. He’s even more unassuming than Hummel, doesn’t have much flash in his game, but he gets it done. He would be a solid player on any team in the nation.
  • And the ugliest game of the year goes to… Saturday’s epic Illinois-Michigan tilt. Michigan shot an abysmal 17-56 and won the game, thanks in large part to Illinois’ 16-50 performance. Surprisingly, there were only 22 turnovers in the contest (less than Saturday’s other highly-anticipated showdown, but who’s counting).
  • The national buzz around D.J. White is finally becoming audible. White has 18 double-doubles this season (a few less than that Beasley guy) and leads the conference in rebounding and field goal percentage. I, for one, love him.


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