Jan. 5, 2009
Oh What a Week: The 104th edition of Big Ten basketball tipped off last week in dramatic fashion. Twelve points or less decided all 10 games, while five points or less determined five of those 10 contests. Michigan State and Wisconsin opened the season with two wins to stand atop the conference leaderboard. Six teams are knotted at .500 in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State and Penn State. The conference matchups saw four ranked teams pitted against one another, with higher-ranked squads earning victories. Nine different teams have accounted for the 10 conference losses, and eight different teams are responsible for the 10 wins. Illinois upended Purdue to tip off the conference season, marking the first time a visiting Big Ten team has won in West Lafayette since Ohio State did so in 2007.
Foreshadowing: Michigan State and Wisconsin both jumped out to 2-0 records, which is generally a sign of good things to come. Over the last 11 seasons, Big Ten teams that started 2-0 have ended the year above .500 in conference play on 25 of 32 occasions (78.1 percent), including Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin last season. In five of the last nine seasons, a 2-0 start has led to a share of the Big Ten crown for Michigan State (2000), Illinois (2001), Indiana (2002), Ohio State (2002, 2007) and Wisconsin (2008).
More on the Great Starts: If the secret of getting ahead is getting started, Michigan State and Wisconsin took their first steps toward the forefront as they opened conference play victorious on the road. Michigan State started the conference season with two road games and won both contests for the first time in school history, posting victories against Minnesota and Northwestern last week. Wisconsin won its sixth-straight Big Ten opener with a 73-61 victory at Michigan, representing the longest active streak in the conference.
A Tough Road to Hoe: Eight weeks into the 2008-09 season, the RPI Report ranks the Big Ten's strength of schedule as the toughest in the nation. Conference squads have met top-25 teams 22 times already this season. The Southern Conference ranks second and the Big East touts the third-toughest schedule in the country. Big Ten teams have met six top-five teams, going .500 on the season, while also meeting 11 top-10 teams to date, garnering a 5-6 record. The conference owns four of the toughest schedules led by Wisconsin, who is eighth and followed by Michigan State (10th), Northwestern (15th) and Indiana (24th).
RPI Success: The Big Ten remained second overall in the latest RPI Report by rpi.com. The conference follows the ACC (.5942) with an overall adjusted RPI of .5920. The Big Ten has four teams among the RPI top-25 in No. 7 Michigan State (.6514), No. 13 Wisconsin (.6362), No. 16 Ohio State (.6333) and No. 18 Illinois (.6262). The Big Ten ties the ACC (No. 3 Duke, No. 5 Clemson, No. 12 North Carolina, No. 17 Florida State) with four teams among the top 25 and trails only the Big East (No. 1 Pittsburgh, No. 8 Connecticut, No. 9 West Virginia, No. 10 Georgetown, No. 15 Syracuse) with five teams in the top 25. A complete listing of Big Ten squads' RPI rankings appears on page 5.
Big Ten. Win Ten: Eight weeks into the season the Big Ten has seen nine teams reach the 10-win plateau. Illinois and Minnesota pace the conference in the win column, each earning 13 wins to date, while Penn State follows close behind, besting its opponents 12 times on the year. Five other squads have garnered 11 wins, with Ohio State rounding out the nine schools after earning its 10th win against Iowa last week. A complete breakdown follows:
More Top-10 Wins: The Big Ten increased its win total over top-10 teams to five, as Illinois defeated then-No. 9 Purdue. The conference is now 5-6 on the season versus the top-10. The win marked the Illini's first road victory over a top-10 team since winning at No. 8 Michigan on March 11, 1989.
Streaking in Conference Play: Wisconsin boosted its Big Ten-best conference winning streak to nine consecutive games last week with two triumphs, as the Badgers ended the 2007-08 campaign with seven straight wins to earn the conference title outright. The nine-game streak is the longest for the Badgers since winning 12 straight from 1940-41. Illinois holds the record for longest streak in conference play, winning 25 straight games from 2003-2005.
Home is Where the Wins Are: Big Ten teams have won 83 of 94 home (83-11, .883) matchups this season for the nation's second-best home win percentage behind only the Big 12 (97-6, .942).
Outside the Family: Big Ten teams have posted a 106-25 record in non-conference play for a .809 win percentage during the 2008-09 season. Ten of 11 teams have won at a .750 clip or higher. Ohio State will play out of conference this week, hosting Houston Baptist in a tilt Friday night.
The Team That Keeps on Giving: Illinois leads the conference with 301 assists on 415 field goals, good enough to rank second in the nation. In their opening contests of conference play, the Fighting Illini handed out 44 helpers, posting 23 assists on 28 buckets against Michigan and 21 assists on 30 field goals at Purdue. Senior guard Chester Frazier leads the team with 96 assists, adding 12 over the first two outings against Big Ten foes.
Not in Our House: After opening the Big Ten slate on the road, Michigan State returns to the friendly confines of the Breslin Center on Tuesday to defend its home-court win streak. The Spartans have won 25 straight at home to own the nation's fourth-longest active streak. Notre Dame leads the country, winning 43 straight contests at home, while Tennessee (37) is second, Kansas (32) is third and Utah State ties the Spartans at No. 4.
Ministry of Defense: Six Big Ten teams are holding their opponents under 60 points per game. The conference is allowing 60.5 to lead the country. The national average is 68.6 points scored per team each game so far this season. The Pac-10 ranks second in the nation, allowing its opposition 62.8 points per game, 2.3 more points than the Big Ten is allowing.
Battle for Scoring Title Continues: Michigan sophomore Manny Harris reclaims his spot atop the conference leaderboard in scoring after falling behind fellow Big Ten sophomore Talor Battle of Penn State last week. Harris compiled 54 points over three games, highlighted by a 29 point outing against North Carolina Central on Monday. Battle also started the week with a hot hand in the Nittany Lions' conference opener against Northwestern on Wednesday, where the sophomore guard netted 26 points in the win. Overall, Battle totaled 32 points in two contests, but his six-point contribution against Wisconsin would not prove enough to hold off Harris for a second consecutive week. Harris and Battle are now averaging just under 19 points per game, amassing 263 points (18.8 ppg.) and 281 points (18.7 ppg.), respectively after eight weeks of action.
Taking Care of the Rock: The Big Ten saw six players move up the national leaderboard in the assist-to-turnover ratio category, featuring three players in the top 12. Michigan State's Kalin Lucas paces the nation with a 5.13 assist-to-turnover ratio, while Minnesota's Al Nolen and Illinois' Chester Frazier earned spots at No. 4 (3.70) and a tie for No. 12 (3.00), respectively.
The 1,000-Point Milestone: Northwestern's Craig Moore became the third active Big Ten player to score 1,000 points when he tallied 16 points against Michigan State last week to boost his career total to 1,015 points. Two other conference standouts are on pace to join Moore as Northwestern's Kevin Coble (896) and Penn State's Danny Morrissey (836) are within 164 points of that scoring plateau. Moore joins PSU's Jamelle Cornley (1,265) and Michigan State's Raymar Morgan (1,032) as active 1,000-point scorers.
Trial by Fire: For the first time since freshmen became eligible in 1974, the Hoosiers started four freshmen in a Big Ten opener. Head coach Tom Crean, making his Big Ten debut, gave the starting nod to freshmen Tom Pritchard, Matt Roth, Verdell Jones III and Nick Williams. The quartet joined junior Devan Dumes in the starting lineup against the Hawkeyes.
Return to Sender: Three Big Ten squads are averaging 5.00 or more blocks per game. Minnesota leads the conference, swatting the opposition's offensive attack 7.14 times per game. Ohio State is averaging 6.50 blocks per contest, while Purdue ranks third with 5.21 bpg. The Gophers rank sixth nationally, while Ohio State is 10th. In individual honors, Minnesota's Colton Iverson shares the national lead for a single game with nine blocked shots versus Bowling Green on Nov. 15.
Coaching Milestones: With two conference wins last week, Michigan State's Tom Izzo is three wins shy of the 150-mark. The veteran skipper can move into 10th on the all-time win list with seven conference wins to tie Ohio State's Harold Olsen (1923-46). With Illinois' Big Ten win last week over Purdue, Bruce Weber moved to rank 40th with 54 conference wins, tying Iowa's Ralph Miller (1965-70). Weber is one win shy of tying Indiana's Mike Davis (2000-06) for 39th on the all-time list.
The Million-Fan March: The Big Ten is closing in on the one-million mark in attendance for the 37th consecutive season, as 939,225 fans have passed through the turnstiles in 84 home contests. Last year, the conference led the nation in total attendance for the 32nd-straight season with 2,437,673 total patrons. Overall, the Big Ten has broken the two-million mark in total attendance in each of the last 16 seasons.
Big Ten. Big Blog.: The Big Ten's men's basketball blog has tipped off as the race for the title is in full swing. The Big Ten. Big Blog. features up-to-the-minute information on what is happening around the conference. In addition to the latest news, the blog includes video, courtesy of the Big Ten Network, previews and reviews of each night's Big Ten action, and statistics. The latest blog entry can be found at: http://bigten.cstv.com/sports/m-baskbl/spec-rel/122808aaa.html.
2009 Big Ten Tournament Media Hotel Information: Media representatives who plan to cover the 2009 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament are advised that reservations are being accepted at the Crowne Plaza at a rate of $169 for single or double room. Reservations can be made on-line by accessing: www.indy.org/mens09 or by calling 800-556-4639. You will need a private access code to reserve rooms on-line or over the phone--contact the Big Ten Communications office for that code. The Reservation deadline is February 27, 2009, and rooms are reserved on a first-come, first-serve basis until the room block is exhausted.