Dec. 28, 2009
FACES of the BIG TEN
TOM HERZOG, michigan state junior center
Tom Herzog is serious about the student part of being a student-athlete. Enrolled in Michigan State's Honors College, he is an applied engineering sciences major, a discipline of study in which you will not find many Division I athletes. Not only is he pursuing a challenging degree, he's also excelling, earning Academic All-Big Ten honors in each of the last two seasons and capturing MSU's Scholar-Athlete Award two straight seasons. Now in his third season on the court, Herzog continues to fight for a spot in the Spartan rotation, playing a bigger role than he did in each of his first two seasons.
BIG TEN. BIG NOTES.
LET THE GAMES BEGIN: The Big Ten tips off the 105th season of conference play this week as all 11 teams will be in action starting Tuesday, Dec. 29. Defending Big Ten Tournament champion and undefeated Purdue will open conference action on the road for the first time since 2006-07 when it takes the floor against Iowa while Minnesota prepares to host a clash of two high-powered offenses in its Big Ten opener versus Penn State. On Wednesday, Illinois welcomes a red-hot Northwestern squad to Champaign for an in-state Big Ten showdown, beginning at 8 p.m. from Assembly Hall. Four more programs tip off Big Ten play on Thursday as Indiana and Wisconsin play host to Michigan and Ohio State, respectively, with New Year's Eve festivities beginning at Noon ET on ESPN2 from Bloomington, Ind. Michigan State will begin defense of its 2009 Big Ten title on Saturday as it travels to Welsh- Ryan Arena to face the `Cats.
SPARTANS LOOK FOR BACK-TO-BACK TITLES: Defending Big Ten champion and national runner-up Michigan State will be in the hunt for its first consecutive conference championship since 2001 and its first outright claim over back-to-back Big Ten titles in program history as it enters conference play at Northwestern on Jan. 2. The Spartans have won at least a share of three conference championships in the past decade, sharing the crown with Ohio State in 2000 and Illinois in 2001 and winning outright in 2009. In addition to these three programs, only Wisconsin has managed to top the conference standings during that stretch. Also making a run for the title is 2009 Big Ten Tournament champion Purdue. The Boilermakers enter conference play with a perfect 11-0 record and will be vying for their first regular season crown since 1996. Purdue owns the most conference championships of any program in Big Ten annals with 21 and are the only school to capture three or more straight crowns on multiple occasions.
BIG TEN LEADS IN NATIONAL RANKINGS: As the 2009-10 college basketball season enters its seventh full week of play, the Big Ten is currently tied with the Big East with five teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll to lead all conferences in the nation. Purdue (11-0) leads the Big Ten contingent at No. 4, while Michigan State (9-3) sits just outside the top 10 at No. 11. Checking in at No. 15 in the country is Ohio State at 10-2. Leaping into the top 25 just in time for the conference season--Wisconsin and Northwestern. The Badgers (10-2) appear at No. 23 among media voters while Northwestern (10-1) sits at No. 25. The Wildcats are ranked in the AP poll for the first time since the 1968-69 campaign.
A WINNING HABIT: The Boilermakers are enjoying a perfect record for the first time this late in the season since the 1936-37 campaign when the team started 11-0. With its win over SIU-Edwardsville, Purdue equaled the second-best start in school history. A win over Iowa on Tuesday would put the Boilers alone in second on that list, and move them to within two wins of matching the 1993-94 squad for the best start in school history (14-0). A victory in their conference opener would also extend the Boilers' longest winning streak during the Matt Painter era. The Boilermakers have won 16 of their last 17 games, dating back to last season. Also making a habit out of winning this season is Northwestern (10-1). The Wildcats head into Big Ten play riding a nine-game winning streak - the team's longest string of victories in 16 years. With a triumph over Central Connecticut State last Tuesday, the Wildcats notched their 10th victory to tie Bill Carmody's 2006-07 squad for the most wins by any NU team prior to the start of the New Year. Two other Big Ten teams conclude the major portion of the nonconference schedule with 10 wins in Ohio State and Wisconsin, each sitting at 10-2. The Buckeyes will travel to Madison, Wis., to tip off the conference season against the Badgers on Thursday.
NON-CONFERENCE WRAP UP: The Big Ten wraps up the non-conference season with a 91-37 (.711) overall record in six weeks of action. Twenty-three of the 37 losses by Big Ten teams have come at the hands of squads that advanced to the postseason a year ago. Of the 37 defeats, 22 were narrow contests in which Big Ten teams fell short by 10 or fewer points. The Big Ten will have opportunities to improve their non-conference slate in January and March as six conference squads have seven outlying challengers on the slate. Of the remaining non-conference games, four pit Big Ten teams against current top-25 opponents, including two games against sixth-ranked West Virginia.
OH WHAT A NIGHT: Ohio State's David Lighty became the fifth Big Ten student-athlete to notch 30 points in a single game this season in the Buckeyes' win over Cleveland State last Tuesday. Against the Vikings, Lighty connected on 9-of-16 from the field en route to a personal-best 30 points, while also netting three triples and nine free throws. The junior forward became the first Buckeye to cap the 30-point mark since Jamar Butler accomplished the feat against Illinois in January 2008. Lighty has now scored at least 20 points five times in his career, including in two of his last three outings. The career night also marked another milestone for Lighty as the 6-5 sharpshooter clipped the 700-point mark, completing the contest with 717 career points.