Jan. 27, 2009
The Amazing Dramatic Race: With a win over Ohio State on Sunday, Michigan State earned sole possession of first place in the conference, owning a 6-1 Big Ten record. The conference start is the Spartans’ best since opening the 1977-78 conference slate 7-1. With at least 10 more games for each team, there are seven squads within three games of the lead. Illinois and Purdue are both one game behind MSU in the loss column, while Minnesota and Penn State are two games behind and Michigan and Ohio State are three games behind the leader in the loss column.
The Numbers Report: The numbers have been crunched and the Big Ten is second in the latest RPI Report. The conference checks in with an adjusted RPI of .5942, behind only the ACC (.5981). Six of the 11 conference squads rank among the nation’s top 40 in RPI and eight of the 11 rank among the top 50. Michigan State leads the Big Ten at No. 5 with a RPI of .6679. In this week’s Sagarin Rankings, the conference is first with a central mean of 84.01 to lead all conferences. The ACC is second (83.87). The Spartans again top the list of conference squads, checking in at No. 8. Eight of 11 teams are among the top 50 in the Sagarin Ratings. A complete listing of Big Ten squads’ RPI and Sagarin rankings appears on page 5.
The School of Hard Knocks: Entering the week, the Big Ten’s strength of schedule is No. 1 for the fourth consecutive week and fifth 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 (5), Indiana (6) and Northwestern (8). Ohio State (22) and Michigan (24) are among the top 25 toughest schedules in the nation. To date, Big Ten squads have 12 wins over top 25 RPI opponents.
Road Trip: In seasons past, teams did not go on the road in Big Ten country and come out with a win. How things change. It has been increasingly tougher for the home team to protect its turf this season, going 24-15 (.615) in conference games mid-way through Big Ten play. Michigan State saw the nation’s third-longest active home-court win streak of 28 consecutive games come to an end last week, as they succumbed to Northwestern at the Breslin Center. Wisconsin owns the nation’s fourth-best home win-percentage over the last eight years--Bo Ryan’s tenure--with a 115-9 record. The ninth loss came at the hands of Minnesota in an overtime game this season. Illinois is the only team yet to suffer a loss at home, sporting a 4-0 record in Champaign. Ten of the 11 teams have at least one loss at home, while Michigan, Minnesota and Northwestern each have two and Indiana three to date.
Best Starts: Ten weeks into the season, three teams are off to their finest start in recent program history. At 17-3, Illinois has compiled its best record through 20 games since posting an 18-2 slate during the 2005-06 campaign. Minnesota is also off to its best start at 17-3 in over 30 years since tallying an 18-2 slate in 1976-77. Furthermore, Penn State is off to an excellent onset, posting five conference wins this early in the season for the first time since starting the 1996 Big Ten campaign at 6-1. Wtih an overall record of 16-5, the Nittany Lions have also reached 15 wins sooner than any other team in program history.
Among the Best: Over the last three seasons, Wisconsin has a combined 73-18 (.802) record.
According to STATS, Inc., that is the seventh-best winning percentage in the country over that span. Only Memphis, Kansas, North Carolina, UCLA, Butler and Davidson have higher marks.
Cleaning the Glass: Michigan State has led the Big Ten in rebounding margin in nine of the last 11 years. Currently, the Spartans are the best in the nation on the boards. This season, the Spartans lead the Big Ten at +10.8, and are 14-2 when out-rebounding their opponent. It is a group effort for MSU, as six different players have led the team or shared the team lead in rebounding in a single game. In Big Ten play, the Spartans own a +15.7 rebounding margin.
30 is the New 20: Kevin Coble’s 31 points against Michigan State last week marked the third-highest scoring game of his career and tied teammate Craig Moore’s effort at Brown (Nov. 22, 2008) as the highest output by a Big Ten player this season. Coble’s 31 are also the highest tally in a Big Ten contest to date. Coble scored 37 points vs. No. 15 Indiana (Feb. 23, 2008) and 34 versus Michigan (Jan. 12, 2008).
Members Only: Several players are nearing milestones to gain access to the elite Big Ten career 1,000-point club. Illinois’ Trent Meacham has scored 922 points, 78 shy of becoming a member of the 1,000-point club. He joins Northwestern’s Kevin Coble and Wisconsin’s Marcus Landry on the verge of hitting the scoring plateau. Coble has now scored 993 career points and could break into the prestigious group this week. Coble would join teammate Craig Moore (1,085) as one of 28 Wildcats to score 1,000 or more points in their career. Landry has amassed 932 points, 68 shy of the milestone and could become the 33rd Badger to reach the plateau.
Lending a Helping Hand: The Big Ten recognizes 500 career assists as the benchmark and two current players are nearing membership to that club. Michigan State’s Travis Walton has dished out 487 helpers to date. Walton would join associate head coach Mark Montgomery (561) on the all-time list along with former teammate Drew Neitzel (582) and Spartans before him in Eric Snow (599), Scott Skiles (645) and Mateen Cleaves (816). Illinois’ Chester Frazier has been the court general, dishing out 430 assists over his career as he nears the 500 milestone. Frazier would join the prolific backcourt tandem of Deron Williams (594) and Dee Brown (674) on the list. Former Illini Bruce Douglas is second on the all-time list with 765 career helpers.
The King of Thieves: The defending Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and two-year member of the conference’s All-Defensive team, Chris Kramer is making a case for another piece of defensive hardware. The junior guard has tallied 172 career takeaways to date, making him 68 shy of the 250 plateau and membership into the exclusive club. Kramer would join former Boilermaker Brian Cardinal (259) in the career club.
Beilein Records 500th Win: With the 68-59 win against Northwestern, Michigan head coach John Beilein recorded his 500th win as a coach of a four-year college. Overall, it marked the 575th win of his 31 years as a head coach. Beilein, who has never been anything but a head coach, is the only active coach in the collegiate ranks to record a 20-win season at four different levels: junior college, NAIA, NCAA Division II and NCAA Division I.
The Million-Fan March: The Big Ten has surpassed the one-million mark in total attendance for the 37th consecutive season, as 1,476,634 fans have now passed through the turnstiles in 125 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.
Lacing Up to Help Fight Cancer: Coaches vs. Cancer “Suits and Sneakers Awareness Weekend,” a collaborative initiative of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) and the American Cancer Society (the Society), is slated for the weekend of Jan. 30 - Feb. 1, 2009. Participating NABC-member coaches will wear sneakers instead of dress shoes with their usual game attire during weekend games to demonstrate their support for the Society and the fight against cancer.
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.