This Week in the Big Ten

March 29, 2009

[ONE // sparty to party in motown]
It's the Final Four and the Big Ten once again!  Congratulations to the Michigan State men's basketball team for knocking off the defending NCAA champion Kansas (67-62) and the 2009 NCAA Championship No. 1 overall seed Louisville (64-52) this past week.  The Spartans earned their fifth Final Four trip in 11 years Sunday and will now battle Connecticut next week at Detroit's Ford Field, just 80 miles from their campus in East Lansing.  In the last 11 years, Michigan State's five Final Four trips are the most of any team in the nation.  Best of luck to the Spartans!

[TWO // boilermakers advance to elite eight]
Congratulations to the Purdue women's basketball team as it advanced to the Elite Eight Sunday with a 67-61 victory over Rutgers.  Lakisha Freeman scored 18 points to lead the sixth-seeded Boilermakers, who will now play top-seeded Oklahoma on Tuesday.  Purdue is making its eighth appearance in the regional final and will be looking for its fourth trip to the Women's Final Four.  In other women's basketball action, No. 3 seed Ohio State fell to No. 2 seed Stanford, 84-66, in the Berkeley Regional Semifinal game Saturday, while ninth-seeded Michigan State dropped a 69-68 heartbreaker to fourth-seeded Iowa State.

[THREE // nittany lions advance in nit]
Penn State continues to prove it has one of the nation's top men's basketball programs and that showed once again on Wednesday when the Nittany Lions dominated No. 1 seed Florida, 71-62, in the quarterfinals of the NIT.  Jamelle Cornley was the story with a game-high 23 points and 12 rebounds, as he helped PSU give Florida only its second loss in the past 20 home games.  The victory was the Nittany Lions' 25th of the season - a school record - and marked the most wins since the Nittany Lions went 25-9 in 1989-90.  Penn State will now face No. 2 seed Notre Dame in the NIT semifinal on Tuesday at New York's Madison Square Garden.

[FOUR // badgers and hoosiers conclude play in wnit]
The Indiana and Wisconsin women's basketball teams also reached significant milestones this past week, but unfortunately both saw their seasons end in WNIT quarterfinal play.  The Hoosiers fell 66-55 Sunday at Illinois State while the Badgers dropped a 56-51 heartbreaker last Thursday to St. Bonaventure.  Despite their seasons concluding, both teams ended the season with impressive records. Indiana's 21 wins marked the first time the Hoosiers reached that feat since the 1997-98 season, and for only the fourth time in school history.  Meanwhile, UW's 19 wins this season was the second-highest win total in head coach Lisa Stone's six campaigns and only the 10th time in program history that the Badgers won 19 or more games.

[FIVE // michigan leads big ten swimmers at ncaa championships]
Four Big Ten squads finished in the top 15 this past weekend at the 2009 NCAA Men's Swimming and Divining Championships, led by Michigan in seventh place with 248 points.  Minnesota followed closely behind in the 11th position as the Gophers totaled 108 team points.  Purdue recorded 77 points for 13th, followed by Ohio State in 14th at 55 points.  Indiana (25 points) and Penn State (10 points) took home 25th and 32nd place honors, respectively after Saturday's finals.  Individually, Michigan's Tyler Clary shined in the pool just as Purdue's David Boudia did on the boards.  Clary took first in the 400-yard IM (3:35.98) and the 200-yard backstroke (1:37.58) and runner-up in the 200-yard IM (1:41.67).  Boudia captured the NCAA title on both the 3-meter (493.10) and platform (530.45), while placing second on the 1-meter board (420.80).

[SIX // big ten football opens spring season]
It's hard to believe with all this talk of basketball that we could even be mentioning Big Ten football.  But the spring season is here, and the majority of the conference schools opened practice this past week.  Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin all hit the gridiron this past week to begin preparing for the 2009 season.  Illinois, Northwestern and Ohio State get underway this upcoming week and Michigan opened spring practice March 14.  Unfortunately for the Wolverines, Michigan has already lost quarterback Nick Sheridan to a broken leg.  Sheridan will miss the rest of spring practice after suffering the injury during a scrimmage last Tuesday. 

[SEVEN // illini golfers best big ten foes for spring break title]
Much was made about Tiger Woods' come-from-behind victory on Sunday for his first win since returning from knee surgery, but how about a nod to the Illinois men's golf team?  The Illini completed a wire-to-wire finish at the FAU Spring Break Invitational, scoring a final-round 6-under-par 278 and an overall 847 (-5) to defeat runner-up Michigan by 14 strokes.  In addition to Illinois and Michigan, the 14-team field featured four other conference squads in Northwestern (4th, +19), Ohio State (5th, +21), Wisconsin (6th, +26) and Iowa (8th, +32).  Illinois sophomore Scott Langley (65-70-70) captured the individual crown at 8-under 205, defeating Northwestern's Jonathan Bowers by two strokes.

[EIGHT // buckeyes "pitch" upset over miami]
Prior to Big Ten play opening on the baseball diamond this past weekend, Ohio State turned in an impressive performance in Miami, Fla., on Tuesday.  The 16th-ranked Buckeyes upset No. 2 Miami at Alex Rodriguez Park to extend its non-conference mark to 18-3.  Alex Wimmers pitched 5.0 innings without allowing a base hit for the win.  The OSU victory marked the first win over a top-five team since 2005 when the Buckeyes topped No. 4 North Carolina 2-1.  The 18-3 record prior to the start of Big Ten play trailed only the 52-win team of 1991 among Bob Todd's best starting teams.  The 1991 team opened 19-2.

[NINE // mother nature wreaks havoc on big ten weekend]
As mentioned above, the Big Ten baseball season open this past weekend, but Mother Nature had her say in just how many games would be completed.  Three baseball games were affected on Sunday due to snowy and rainy conditions, including the cancellation of the Indiana and Minnesota series finale and the final series contest between Northwestern and Purdue.  Iowa and Michigan were delayed three hours so the Hawkeyes grounds crew could remove snow from the field.  One softball game was also affected as Illinois' contest at Michigan State was canceled due to weather.

[TEN // conference honors winter sports in the classroom]
As the winter term of the 2008-09 school year comes to a close, the Big Ten recognized a total of 519 winter sports athletes this past week on the Academic All-Conference Team. The list of honored student-athletes features 40 men's and 46 women's basketball players, 44 men's and 52 women's gymnasts, 113 men's and 156 women's swimming and diving athletes and 68 wrestlers. To be eligible for Academic All-Big Ten selection, student-athletes must be letterwinners who are in at least their second academic year at their institution and carry a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 or higher.  At least five Big Ten student-athletes have maintained unblemished GPAs. A trio of swimming and diving team members boast 4.0 GPAs in Illinois' Ann Miller (So., Food Science and Human Nutrition) and Sean Moore (Sr., Pre-Business) and Purdue's Christine Inman (Jr., Animal Science). In men's basketball, Northwestern's Sterling Williams (Gr., Communication Studies) has earned a perfect GPA. Ohio State's Alyssa Meyer (Sr., Exercise Science) has maintained a 4.0 as a member of the women's gymnastics team.

[ELEVEN // saying goodbye to saban]
Finally this week, the Big Ten learned of the passing of Lou Saban, who starred on the football field at Indiana and later served as a coach at Northwestern from 1957-59.  Saban died Sunday at the age of 87.  A member of the inaugural Hoosier Hall of Fame class of 1982, Saban played for IU during the 1941 and 1942 seasons and also ran track. The quarterback earned team MVP honors in 1942.  He then played professionally for the Cleveland Browns and embarked on an extensive coaching career following his career.  Saban, who was 95-99-7 in 16 seasons of pro football, also was president of the New York Yankees from 1981-82 and coached high school football from 1987-89.