Jan. 2, 2008
The Big Ten Title Chase Begins: The 103rd year of conference play is set to begin with a double-header on the Big Ten Network when Michigan hosts Wisconsin and Indiana travels to Iowaon Wednesday, Jan. 2. Northwestern plays host to Penn State to wrap up opening day play. Defending Big Ten Champions Ohio State will begin its quest for a third consecutive title onThursday, Jan. 3, with a road contest at Illinois. Conference play continues on Saturday, Jan. 5 when Minnesota travels to Michigan State, Purdue entertains Michigan and Wisconsin hosts Iowa.
Heading Into Conference Play: With the majority of non-conference play now complete, five conference squads have suffered three or fewer defeats. Michigan State and Indiana lead the Big Ten contingent with a 12-1 and 11-1 record, respectively. The Spartans are off to their best start under Coach Tom Izzo and are 12-1 for the first time since starting the 2000-01 season 12-1. Only four other MSU squads in school history have won 12 of their first 13 games. Michigan State has also won nine games in a row, which is the Spartans' longest winning streak since the 2005-06 season when they won 11 straight. The Hoosiers are off to their best start since opening the 1999-2000 campaign with a 12-1 record. IU is on a seven-game win streak, the longest under Coach Kelvin Sampson and longest since winning eight straight to open the 2002-03 season.
Welcome to the Big Ten: Three new coaches will make their Big Ten Conference debuts this week. Iowa's Todd Lickliter will have his first foray as a conference coach on opening day when the Hawkeyes host No. 11/12 Indiana in the second game of a Big Ten Network double-header. Michigan's John Beilein and Minnesota's Tubby Smith tip off their conference-season careers on Saturday, Jan. 5. The Wolverines travel to Purdue, while the Gophers travel to No. 6 Michigan State. Lickliter is 65-31 all-time in conference games (Horizon), Beilein is 140-90 (Northeast-10 (DII), Metro Atlantic, Atlantic-10, Big East) and Smith is 191-73 (Missouri Valley, SEC).
The Million Fan March: The Big Ten surpassed the one million mark in attendance for the 37th consecutive season last week, as 1,026,933 fans have passed through the turnstiles in 84 home contests. Last year, the conference led the nation in attendance for the 31st-straight season with an average of 12,603 per game/session (2,470,250 total attendance). Overall, the conference has broken the two million mark in total attendance in each of the last 15 seasons.
NU's Coble Returns: Kevin Coble, who has missed the first nine games of the Northwestern men's basketball team's 2007-08 season, has returned to practice with the Wildcats and is expected to be in uniform in the Big Ten season opener at home against Penn State Wednesday. The team's leading scorer and rebounder as a freshman last season, Coble has spent the opening part of this season at home in his native Arizona while helping his mother through her treatments for cancer.
Scoring Trends: Currently, two Big Ten standouts have reached double-figures in scoring in all games they have played in this season. Michigan State's Raymar Morgan and Drew Neitzel lead the Big Ten with 13 straight games ... Indiana is the only Big Ten team with four players averaging 10 points or more per game this season in Eric Gordon (23.4 ppg), D.J. White (16.4 ppg), Jordan Crawford (14.0 ppg) and Armon Bassett (11.4 ppg) ... Two Big Ten teams have two players ranked among the conference's top 10 statistical leaders this season. In scoring, IU's Gordon ranks first in the conference with 23.4 points per game, while teammate White is fourth (16.4 ppg). MSU's Morgan is rated third in the conference (17.4 ppg) and teammate Neitzel is 10th (14.5 ppg)...In three-point shooting, three teams have two players ranked among the top 10 in three-pointers made; NU's Craig Moore leads all long-range scorers, averaging 3.56 per contest while teammate Jason Okrzesik is ranked sixth in the conference (2.44 apg). IU's Gordon is fourth (2.82) and Bassett checks in at No. 10, averaging 2.22 treys per game. Minnesota's Blake Hoffarber and Lawrence McKenzie are seventh and eighth, averaging 2.42 and 2.25 threes, respectively. Five teams are outscoring opponents by a double-digit margin in Indiana (21.2), Wisconsin (18.1), Minnesota (16.7), Michigan State (15.6) and Ohio State (10.2).
Gordon on Pace to Shatter Freshman Scoring Record: Hoosier standout Eric Gordon is on a pace to shatter the all-time conference record for all-time top freshman scorer. His current average of 23.4 ppg already exceeds the mark of 21.9 set during the 1997-98 season by Ohio State's Michael Redd. Indiana claims three of the top eight scorers on the list in Mike Woodson, 1976-1977, (18.5); Calbert Cheaney, 1989-1990 (17.1) and Don Schlundt, 1951-1951 (17.1). The most recent freshman student-athlete to appear on the all-time list was Minnesota's Kris Humphries during the 2003-2004 season, averaged 21.7 points.