April 4, 2008
by Jeff Smith
[ONE // men's basketball season concludes on high note]
Participating in its second men's basketball championship in as many years, the Ohio State Buckeyes walked away victorious this season, a fitting end to a great 2007-08 campaign. Big Ten men's basketball officially concluded Thursday night with the Buckeyes capturing the 2008 MasterCard NIT Championship after a 92-85 ousting of UMass. Jamar Butler had 19 points and eight assists in his final game wearing the scarlet and gray, while Kosta Koufos and Evan Turner added 22 and 20 points, respectively. Koufos was tabbed the NIT Most Outstanding Player and the Buckeyes (24-13) won their second tournament title and first since 1986.
[TWO // msu looks to end women's hoops campaign on the same note]
Michigan State hopes to end the Big Ten women's basketball season in the same manner Ohio State did on the men's side. For the first time in school history, the Spartans will compete for the Postseason WNIT Championship on Saturday. MSU faces Marquette at 4 p.m. ET at the Breslin Center, with coverage provided by CBS College Sports Network (formerly CSTV). Michigan State advanced to the final with wins over Big Ten in-state rival Michigan last week and a 58-57 thriller over NC State on Wednesday.
Overall, this is the sixth finals appearance for the Big Ten and second straight. Wisconsin fell at Wyoming in last year's WNIT Championship. The Big Ten also made consecutive appearances in the final game from 1998-2001, when a conference squad appeared in four straight WNIT championship contests.
[THREE // five basketball standouts earn all-america honors]
Five Big Ten men's and women's basketball players were tabbed this week by the Associated Press as All-Americans. On the women's side, Illinois sophomore Jenna Smith and Ohio State freshman Jantel Lavender were both named honorable mention All-America selections. Smith is the fourth Illini to earn All-America accolades and the first since Tauja Catchings in 2000. She ranked second in the conference this season in both points (18.3) and rebounds (9.4) per game. Lavender, the Big Ten's co-Player of the Year, was the nation's second-leading scorer (17.6) and third-leading rebounder (9.9) among freshmen. She is the first OSU freshman to earn All-America distinction since Katie Smith in 1993.
On the men's side, Indiana senior D.J. White and freshman Eric Gordon were named second and third team All-Americans, respectively. They are the first Hoosier recipients to be honored since Jared Jeffries in 2002.
White, the Big Ten Player of the Year, was the first IU player to average a double-double (17.4 points and 10.3 rebounds) since Alan Henderson in 1994 and just the second player to do so in the last 31 years. Gordon was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and averaged a conference-best 20.9 points per game on the season. He is the first freshman in IU history to earn first, second, or third team All-America honors. Michigan State's Drew Neitzel earned his second consecutive honorable mention All-America accolade.
[FOUR // crean & crimson in bloomington]
Speaking of Indiana, the Hoosiers hired Marquette head coach Tom Crean on Wednesday to take over their historic program in Bloomington. Crean averaged more than 20 wins a season over a nine-year span in Milwaukee and took the Golden Eagles to the 2003 Final Four. Indiana's 28th all-time head basketball coach is not new to the Big Ten scene, however. Prior to his stint at Marquette, Crean worked four years under Tom Izzo at Michigan State and began his Division I coaching career in East Lansing in 1989 when he served under then-Spartan head coach Jud Heathcote. Welcome to Bloomington, Coach Crean, and welcome back to the Big Ten.
[FIVE // numerous big ten stars sighted in san antonio]
Five Big Ten basketball players were invited to San Antonio this week to take part in Final Four festivities. Illinois' Brian Randle, Michigan State's Drew Neitzel, Ohio State's Jamar Butler and Marscilla Packer and Wisconsin's Brian Butch were all welcomed to come down and join in the 20th annual State Farm College Slam Dunk and 3-Point Championships and DiGiorno College All-Star Game. Although Butler couldn't make it due to the Buckeyes playing in the NIT Championship, Randle competed in the slam-dunk contest, while Neitzel and Packer took part in the men's and women's 3-point contest, respectively. Butch joins Randle on the American Team for the DiGiorno College All-Star Game, which takes place Friday at 5 p.m. CDT on CBS College Sports Network.
While Randle and Neitzel did not advance to the finals in their respective contests, Packer did. She netted a score of 17 in the semifinals and 15 in the final round, but fell to Georgia Tech's Chioma Nnamaka, who earned the title with 18. Former Purdue star Katie Gearlds won the event last year.
[SIX // michigan continues dominance in big ten women's gymnastics]
The Wolverines did it again. The Michigan women's gymnastics team captured its 15th conference championship in the last 17 years last Saturday on its home floor in Crisler Arena. Michigan (196.750) outlasted Illinois (195.750) by one point for the win. The second-place finish was the Illini's best since winning the 1990 Big Ten title. Rounding out the seven-team field was Penn State (195.625), Michigan State (195.050), Iowa (194.775), Minnesota (194.425) and Ohio State (194.075). Penn State's Brandi Personett captured the all-around (39.525), vault (9.950) and floor (9.900) titles, tying the latter with Michigan's Kylee Botterman. Illinois' Julie Crall won the balance beam (9.900) and Michigan's Sarah Curtis took home the uneven bars (9.950) title. The Wolverines' Lindsey Bruck was named Gymnast of the Year and Illinois' Allison Buckley was selected Freshman of the Year. Michigan's Bev Plocki and Iowa's Larissa Libby shared Coach of the Year honors.
[SEVEN // all seven gymnastics squads continue on to ncaa regional action]
Good news continues for Big Ten women's gymnastics as all seven teams were selected to NCAA Regional action on Monday. Conference champion Michigan and Michigan State will compete in the West Region in Corvallis, Ore., while Iowa and Minnesota will take to the Gophers' home mat in the North Central Region. Illinois (South Central at Norman, Okla.), Ohio State (Central at Baton Rouge, La.) and Penn State (Northeast at University Park, Pa.) are also set to compete on Saturday, April 12. The top two teams and the top two all-around competitors (who are not on an advancing team) from each regional will receive an automatic berth to the national championships in Athens, Ga., April 24-26, hosted by the University of Georgia.
[EIGHT // men's gymnasts take their turn at conference title]
The women had their chance in the spotlight last week and now the men have theirs. The Big Ten Men's Gymnastics Championships, one of the conference's oldest events dating back to 1902, takes place Friday and Saturday at Penn State. The championship will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network starting at 7 p.m. ET on both nights. Illinois has won a league-best 23 conference titles, although Ohio State has won the last three and five in the last seven, and host Penn State captured the NCAA title last year.
[NINE // five men's swimming & diving squads place in top 16 at nationals]
This past weekend the Big Ten crowned four NCAA national champions and saw five of its teams place among the top 16 at the NCAA Men's Swimming & Diving Championships. Arizona won the national title and Michigan and Indiana finished eighth and 10th, respectively. Minnesota and Northwestern were 11th and 12th, followed by No. 16 Ohio State, No. 25 Purdue and No. 39 Wisconsin.
Indiana senior Ben Hesen took home the 100-yard backstroke (44.72), Michigan senior Alex Vanderkaay won the 400-yard IM (3:41.58) and Penn State junior Patrick Schirk paced the field in the 200-yard backstroke (1:40.22). Ohio State freshman diver Sean Moore captured the platform event with an NCAA record-breaking score of 478.20.
[TEN // wolverines advance to men's frozen four]
Congratulations to the Michigan men's hockey squad, which advanced over the weekend to its first Frozen Four since 2003. The Wolverines are 33-5-4 on the season and plays Central Collegiate Hockey Association foe Notre Dame in the first semifinal on April 10, while Boston College and North Dakota square off in the other matchup.
[ELEVEN // the retirement of a legend]
Finally, we bid farewell to the week by saying farewell and thank you to an Illinois legend. Longtime women's track and field head coach Gary Winckler announced Friday that he is retiring following the 2007-08 season after 23 years with the Illini. Winckler has guided Illinois to 11 team and 266 individual Big Ten titles and helped 51 Illini standouts earn All-America honors 188 times. He has been named the conference's Coach of the Year 11 times and the NCAA Coach of the Year on three occasions. Winckler has also been known in the track community for mentoring Olympian Perdita Felicien, who was featured during the Big Ten's Black History Month campaign in February. Thanks Gary for nearly a quarter century of success and best of luck in the outdoor season and your future endeavors.