Feb. 23, 2009
The Final Stretch: Conference play continues to heat up this week as Big Ten teams prepare to head down the final stretch of February. The week begins when Penn State (8-6) travels to Columbus to tangle with Ohio State (7-7) in Tuesday’s only conference matchup. On Wednesday, Indiana is set for a re-match against Northwestern in Bloomington, while Iowa heads to East Lansing to face-off with conference leader Michigan State. Currently in the runner-up position, Purdue (10-4) will continue to reach for the top spot in Thursday’s contest at Michigan. Riding on the Boilermakers’ heels is Illinois, who sits in third with a 10-5 record. The Illini will look to further its advance up the conference leaderboard in Thursday’s home contest against Minnesota, who is currently tied with Wisconsin for fifth in the conference standings with 8-7 slates.
Dance Card: As February winds down and March is days away, the Big Ten is looking to dance. As a conference, the 11 squads have combined to go 93-3 against teams ranked 150 and below in the RPI. In addition, the conference has 12 wins against the RPI Top-25 and 39 wins against the RPI Top-50. The Big Ten is the No. 2 rated conference in RPI while playing the No. 2 strength of schedule. The conference sports the nation’s second-best non-conference win percentage (.807) and owns a 19-18 non-conference record against top-six RPI conference opposition the second best in the country. During the non-conference season, 27.4 percent of the games played were against teams in the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Pac-10 or SEC, which ranks second-best among those conferences.
Close Calls: The Big Ten saw another game come down to the very last seconds, as Illinois defeated Ohio State by a narrow two-point margin Sunday afternoon. It has been the story of the conference this season as now 23 contests have been decided by five or fewer points and 46 have been decided by 10 or fewer points. A breakdown is below.
Down to the Wire: With Michigan’s 70-67 overtime win on Sunday at Northwestern, the Big Ten has now seen seven games go to an extra stanza to determine a winner. Only Michigan State and Penn State have not played in an overtime game during the conference slate. The Big Ten has not seen this many games go to overtime since the 2004-05 season, when six contests needed extra time to be decided. Last year there were only three overtime games. The seven OT games ranks second among the top-six RPI conferences behind the ACC with 10 games going to overtime.
Sensational Sophomore: Michigan’s Manny Harris needs 11 points for 1,000 in his career. He would be just the sixth U-M sophomore to accomplish the feat and the 27th Big Ten sophomore to do so. Harris would join the likes of Calbert Cheaney, Steve Alford, Bracey Wright, Reggie Evans, Chris Webber and Jalen Rose, Magic Johnson and Shawn Respert, Michael Redd, Scoonie Penn, Herb Williams, Jim Jackson, Glenn Robinson and Michael Finley. The complete list and years of their sophomore campaigns appears in the box to the right-hand column.
Young Guns: Of the Big Ten’s 11 teams, six are paced in scoring by sophomore standouts, including Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Purdue. Of those six sharpshooters, five help comprise the conference’s top ten scoring leaders. Penn State’s guard Talor Battle leads the pack of sensational sophomores as well as all scorers in the conference, averaging 17.3 points per contest. Following close behind are Ohio State’s Evan Turner and Michigan’s Manny Harris at the second and third positions, each leading their squads with 17.2 ppg, and 16.9 ppg, respectively. Rounding out the top-five leading scorers in the conference is Spartan standout Kalin Lucas, who is averaging 14.8 points per outing to lead Michigan State. Other sophomores to lead their team in scoring include Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson (13.6) and Illinois’ Demetri McCamey (11.9).
The Roaring ‘20s: Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota and Purdue have all racked up 20 wins this season. The Illini have now produced 26 20-win seasons in the history of the program, including five of the six years Bruce Weber has been at the helm in Champaign. MSU’s Tom Izzo has guided the Spartans to 10 20-win campaigns in his 14-year tenure. Michigan State has now accumulated 18 seasons in access of 20 wins. The Golden Gophers have put together nine seasons of 20 ore more wins since the program’s inception. Head Coach Tubby Smith has guided Minnesota to back-to-back 20-win campaigns in his first two seasons in Minneapolis. It is the first time in the history of the Golden Gophers’ program that back-to-back 20-win seasons have been posted. In his fourth year at the helm of the Purdue squad, Matt Painter has guided the Boilermakers to his third season with a score or more wins. Purdue has now hit the 20-win mark 21 times in the program’s history.
Turning it Around: Illinois has now won nine more games compared to a year ago, the second biggest turnaround among the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC schools, behind only LSU’s 10-win improvement from 2007-08.
Consistency is Key: Minnesota’s Tubby Smith has now won at least 20 games in 16 consecutive seasons, the longest active streak in the nation and the third-most all-time. Smith joins former North Carolina Coach Dean Smith who recorded 27 20-win seasons from 1971-1997, former Arizona skipper Lute Olson is second on the all-time list with 20 consecutive seasons from 1988-2007.
Weber Records No. 150: Bruce Weber recorded his 150th win at Illinois on Sunday with the Illini’s win at Ohio State. Weber is now one win away from moving into a tie for third on the Illinois coaching all-time wins list.
And the Fans Keep Coming: Through 166 home contests, the Big Ten has surpassed the two-million fan mark in overall attendance. This milestone marks the 16th consecutive year and 18th overall that the conference has welcomed more than two-million fans. To date, 2,027,124 patrons have passed through Big Ten turnstiles. The conference is averaging 12,212 fans through the gates per contest. The Big Ten has led the nation in average attendance for the past 32 years.
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. can be found at: www.bigten.org.