Big Ten Opens 24th Year of Conference Play This Week

Dec. 26, 2005

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A Look at This Week...
The 24th season of Big Ten league play begins this week on Thursday, with 10 of the 11 conference teams in action.  Michigan travels to Illinois and Iowa visits Indiana.  Northwestern hosts Minnesota on Thursday, while Penn State travels to Ohio State and Wisconsin is at Purdue. 

Headlining Thursday's matchups will be Penn State at Ohio State -- a rematch of the 2004-05 regular season finale when the Buckeyes hosted the Lady Lions in front of a Big Ten-record 17,525 fans.  OSU won the game and clinched a share of the Big Ten title with Michigan State.

Sunday's conference action will also feature five games, highlighted by Ohio State at Purdue.  The Buckeyes and Boilermakers will battle on the court in front of a viewing audience on Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

Also playing on Sunday is Northwestern at Wisconsin, Illinois at Iowa, Indiana at Penn State and Michigan at Michigan State.

And speaking of the Spartans, they will also face two non-conference opponents this week, including No. 3/3 LSU in Baton Rouge on Wednesday.  They will also host Central Michigan on Friday, Dec. 30.
Spartans & Buckeyes Not Looking to Share
Michigan State and Ohio State enter the 2005-06 conference season looking to successfully defend their co-Big Ten Championship from a year ago.  Last year marked the ninth time in league history and the first time since the 1996-97 season that the Big Ten regular season title was shared by two teams.  The Buckeyes have not captured consecutive league titles since winning five straight from 1983-1987.  Michigan State tallied its second-ever conference championship last year and its first since 1997.

Four Big Ten Teams Ranked in Nation's Top 25
Four conference squads were ranked in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Polls this past week.  Ohio State was 7th and 6th in the polls, respectively, while Michigan State was ranked No. 11/13.  Minnesota was 17th and 15th in the polls, while No. 21/20 Purdue rounded out the Big Ten contingent. 

NCAA National Notables
Several Big Ten student-athletes and teams were nationally ranked in many categories as of Dec. 20, which are listed on page five.  Penn State's Adrienne Squire ranked first (1.000) in free-throw percentage, followed by Indiana's Cyndi Valentin in seventh at .957.  Ohio State's Kim Wilburn was fifth in steals at 4.1.  OSU also led in scoring defense (46.0) and was third in turnovers per game (11.6).

Non-Conference Scoring Average Above 70
For the first time in three years, the Big Ten's overall scoring average is hovering above the 70-point mark.  Currently, all 11 teams are averaging a combined 70.5 points per game, up from the 68.6 mark in 2004-05 and 69.2 in 2003-04.  Seven squads are scoring over 70 points this season, led by Ohio State at 75.9 and Iowa at 75.6.  Indiana, ranked 11th, is still averaging above 64 points per game.

Speaking of Average Increases...
Two Big Ten squads have dramatically improved their averages from the perimeter.  Iowa currently ranks first in both three-point field goal percentage and percentage defense.  The Hawkeyes are shooting .394 from beyond the arc, while limiting their opponents to just .253.  Iowa's perimeter defense has improved a great deal in just one season, as the Hawkeyes ranked 10th last year, allowing their opponents a 36 percent success rate from downtown.

Illinois, which ranks second behind Iowa in three-point field goal percentage at .354, ranked 11th in 2004-05 at .278.

Looking Fine With Nine
Nine Big Ten squads enter conference season on a winning streak and with a record at or above .500.  Michigan State (6), Purdue (4) and Iowa (3) lead the pack of nine in winning streaks, while Illinois, Ohio State and Penn State have all won two straight.  Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota each enter league play having won their last game.

Hot Shooting Continues
In 2004-05, Ohio State's Brandie Hoskins led the league in overall games with a field goal percentage of .596.  This season, four Big Ten standouts rank above Hoskins' mark from a year ago.  Penn State junior Amanda Brown leads the conference with a .635 average, while Michigan State senior Liz Shimek (.624), Iowa freshman Megan Skouby (.622) and Ohio State junior Jessica Davenport (.610) all rate better than the league's best mark last year.

We Love The 90s
Last season, Ohio State's Caity Matter led the Big Ten in free throw shooting for all games with an average of .900.  Currently, six conference student-athletes average 90 percent or better from the charity stripe, including Penn State's Adrienne Squire at a perfect 1.000.  Indiana's Cyndi Valentin (.964), Purdue's Katie Gearlds (.931), Michigan State's Lindsay Bowen (.909), Michigan's Kelly Helvey (.905) and the Spartans' Liz Shimek (.900) all rate at or above Matter's mark from a year ago.

More on Squire and Valentin From The Line
Adrienne Squire of Penn State currently leads the conference in free-throw shooting, as she has not missed one attempt this year.  The Lady Lion sophomore is a perfect 42-of-42 this season over 11 games.  She also hit all 10 of her attempts last year and all 20 of her shots this past week, which improved her consecutive free throws made streak to 52.  That mark broke the previous Penn State record of 42, set by current assistant coach Susan Robinson.

Indiana's Cyndi Valentin ranks second behind Squire, having missed only two of her 55 attempts this year for a .964 average.  Valentin has made 37 consecutive free throws, which ranks third in school history.  She already owns the school record of 48 and is the Big Ten single-season record holder in free-throw percentage at .925, having made 99-of-107 in 2003-04.

Stealing Her Way Toward Big Ten Steals Mark
Ohio State's Kim Wilburn became just the 11th player in Big Ten history to record 300 career steals this past week.  With 12 steals over a pair of games, she now has 308 for her career.  Michigan's Stacey Thomas (`96-00) holds the record of 372, while other notables include Kristin Haynie (MSU, `01-05) in 3rd at 346 and Jess Strom (PSU, `02-05) in 10th at 310.

Walker Makes 5-for-30?
This past week, Michigan's Ta'Shia Walker became the second Wolverine and the fifth Big Ten student-athlete to eclipse the 30-point mark this season, when she poured in a career-high 32 points in a win against St. Bonaventure.  Walker's teammate, Kelly Helvey, was the last to score 30 or more, while Penn State's Kamela Gissendanner, Iowa's Crystal Smith and Northwestern's Ifeoma Okonkwo have also reached the mark this season.

Dishing Out Props to the Underclassmen
No one can argue that they are not learning fast enough the importance of sharing.  Three of the four Big Ten assists leaders are currently underclassmen, led by Penn State freshman Brianne O'Rourke at 6.18 per game.  Northwestern sophomore Nadia Bibbs (4.80) ranks second, while Wisconsin sophomore Janese Banks (4.64) ranks fourth.  Illinois senior Maggie Acuna is third at 4.70 per game.

Scoring Streakers
A total of 25 Big Ten players have put together at least two straight games of double-figure scoring.  Two standouts -- Ohio State's Jessica Davenport and Iowa's Crystal Smith -- have streaks that have been maintained since the end of last season.  Davenport has scored in double-figures 28 times (9 in 2005-06), followed by Smith's 22 (11).  Wisconsin's Jolene Anderson has scored in double figures in each of her 11 games this season.

Senior Scoring
Three seniors currently sit atop the scoring rankings in the Big Ten, including two that rank over 20 points per game.  Michigan State's Liz Shimek leads the conference with 21.7 points per contest, while Iowa's Crystal Smith is averaging 20.2.  Indiana's Cyndi Valentin has scored an average of 18.4 points over nine games this year.

Unique Double-Doubles
On three occasions this season, Big Ten student-athletes have posted double-doubles in points and assists rather than the typical points and rebounds combo.  Ohio State's Brandie Hoskins posted 25 points and 10 assists against Eastern Kentucky on Nov. 21, while five days later, Northwestern's A.J. Glasauer recorded 17 and 10, respectively, at Illinois-Chicago.  Two weeks ago, Wisconsin's Janese Banks tallied 11 points and 11 assists, which are a league-best this season, in a road win at UW-Milwaukee on Dec. 14.