Jan. 19, 2009
Race for the Top: The conference race is wide open, with Michigan State leading the charge after garnering two more wins last week to remain undefeated at 5-0 in conference play while improving to 15-2 overall. Fueled by an enduring 28-0 home win streak, the Spartans edged out Minnesota for the top spot, having defeated the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis in late December. Minnesota (16-2) is currently in second place in the Big Ten with a 4-2 conference record. Tubby Smith's squad fell short for only the second time this season on Sunday in a dramatic road loss to Northwestern, but will remain hungry as they look to welcome Purdue to Williams Arena on Thursday. The race for the top heats up even more as four teams remain fixed in a tie for third, including Illinois (15-3), Ohio State (13-3), Purdue (14-4) and Wisconsin (12-5), which have each compiled 3-2 slates in conference matches to date.
Still Perfect: Michigan State remains the Big Ten's only team with a unblemished record, sitting atop the leaderboard at 5-0 in conference play. The Spartans are off to their best start since opening the 1977-78 Big Ten campaign with a 7-0 record.
RPI Carousel: The Big Ten is No. 2 in the RPI, but continues to be neck and neck in the race with the ACC. Seven of 11 Big Ten teams are ranked in the top 50 in the latest RPI. The conference owns an adjusted RPI of .5946, just two one-thousandths behind the ACC (.5966). Michigan State is rated third in the country in this week's report, owning an adjusted RPI of .6738 to lead the Big Ten. In the Sagarin rankings, the Big Ten leads all conferences with a central mean of 84.01. Five of 11 squads are ranked among the top 30, with Michigan State at No. 8 to lead the conference. A complete listing of Big Ten squads' RPI and Sagarin rankings appears on page 5.
It Doesn't Get Any Easier: The Big Ten's strength of schedule is No. 1 for the third consecutive week and fourth time this season. With conference play in full swing, Big Ten squads continue to meet top-notch opponents, including four Big Ten teams ranked in last week's polls. Four conference teams rank among the top 10 in strength of schedule, in Wisconsin (2), Michigan State (7), Indiana (8) and Northwestern (9). Michigan's slate is ranked as the 25th-toughest in the nation. To date, Big Ten squads have met top-25 teams on 41 occasions. The Big East ranks second to the Big Ten, while the ACC owns the third-toughest schedule in the country.
Non-conference Dominance: With Ohio State's win over Houston Baptist and Michigan State's triumph over the defending national champion Kansas Jayhawks, the Big Ten improved its non-conference record to 108-25. Ten of 11 teams have won at a .750 clip or higher in out of conference play. To date, the conference has posted a .812 win percentage, marking the best non-conference effort since winning at a .824 clip during the 1988-89 campaign.
Spartans Extend Home Win Streak: Michigan State extended its home-court win streak to 28 with a victory over Illinois on Saturday. The Spartans have now won 28 straight at the Breslin Center, dating back to February 13, 2007. That total is tied for the third-best active win streak in the nation, behind Notre Dame (45) and Kansas (34). The Spartans are tied with Utah.
Elite Membership: With its victory over Michigan on Wednesday, Illinois became the 13th team in NCAA Division I history to reach 1,600 wins all-time. The Fighting Illini join fellow Big Ten member Indiana on the wins list. The Hoosiers have won 1,640 to date.
Notes From the Road: Home teams are only 18-11 (.621) so far this season in conference games. Eight of 11 teams have already picked up a conference loss at home, meaning that it is getting more difficult to win home games. During the non-conference season, the 11 squads combined for a 79-7 (.919) record. Last week saw the home team victorious five times out of 10 games.
The Year of the Sophomore: This is truly the year of the sophomore in the Big Ten, which bodes very well for the future of the conference. Players like Illinois' Mike Davis , Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale, Michigan's Manny Harris, Michigan State's Kalin Lucas, Ohio State's duo of Jon Diebler and Evan Turner,Penn State's Talor Battle, Purdue's trio of Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore have made strides from their freshman to sophomore seasons. The quintet of Harris, Moore, Hummel, Lucas and Battle were all among the conference's top 25 scorers a year ago. Harris leads the group this season, averaging 18.8 points per game to lead all scorers in the Big Ten. Last season he was the conference's third-leading scorer with 16.1 ppg. Battle ranks second, netting 18.6 points per contest after finishing the 2007-08 campaign 24th, averaging 10.2 ppg.
Sophomore Standouts: A young group of sophomores leads the Big Ten in eight of the 13 major statistical categories in games played to date. Purdue's Robbie Hummel leads the young crop, pacing the conference in three categories, including rebounding (7.9 rpg), defensive rebounds (6.13 rpg) and free throw percentage (.866). Michigan's Manny Harris is the current conference frontrunner in scoring, averaging 18.8 ppg, good enough to edge out Penn State's sophomore standout Talor Battle who also leads the Big Ten in minutes played (36.84 per game). Ohio State boasts two sophomores at the top of the leaderboard in Evan Turner, who leads the conference in steals (2.19 spg) and Dallas Lauderdale who paces the Big Ten in blocked shots (2.69 bpg). Michigan State's Kalin Lucas rounds out the list of sensational sophomores, leading the conference with a 4.18 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The Pressure is On: In a pair of tough home contests last week, Northwestern stepped up to the challenge on the defensive end, forcing a combined 41 turnovers (20.5 per game) against then-No. 19 Purdue and then-No. 18/17 Minnesota. While the Boilermakers found a way to squeeze out a victory against the Wildcats' tenacious half-court trap, the Golden Gophers had no answer for Bill Carmody's patented 1-3-1 zone, which the Purple and White used to force 19 turnovers in its first conference win on Sunday. Northwestern is forcing an average of 16.0 turnovers per game, good enough to lead the Big Ten with a +4.33 turnover margin.
Moore on Verge of Breaking into Big Ten's Top 10 in Long-Range Scoring: Northwestern senior guard Craig Moore has hit 50 three-pointers this season and currently has a school-record 260 makes in his career, just two behind Iowa's Jeff Horner (2002-06) who ranks ninth in Big Ten history.
Izzo Reaches 150th Big Ten Win: Michigan State's Tom Izzo earned his 150th conference victory with a triumph over Illinois last Saturday at the Breslin Center. In his 14th year at the helm of the Spartan program, Izzo owns a 150-69 Big Ten record. Izzo needs only four more conference wins to tie Ohio State's Harold Olsen (1923-46) for 10th in the conference annals.
Ryan and Matta Nearing Big Ten Records: Wisconsin's Bo Ryan now has 87 conference wins to rank 25th on the all-time list. Ryan surpassed Minnesota's O.B. Cowles (1948-59) for the spot. Ohio State's Thad Matta owns a 48-23 record in Big Ten games and is two wins shy of cracking the top-50 all-time conference wins list. Matta would tie Wisconsin's Steve Yoder (1982-92) at 44th on the list with two more wins.
Beilein Nears 500: In his 31 years as a head coach, John Beilein has won 574 games. However, he has 499 NCAA victories at the helm of a four-year college program, which ranks in the top-20 among active Division I coaches for most wins. He needs just one more win to reach the 500-win plateau.
The Million-Fan March: The Big Ten has surpassed the one-million mark in total attendance for the 37th consecutive season, as 1,611,582 fans have passed through the turnstiles in 110 home contests. Last year, the conference led the nation in average 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.