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January 12, 2007

Big Ten Breakdown: Home test for Buckeyes

Weekly Big Ten Update
Team Conf. Overall
Wisconsin 2-0 15-1
Michigan 2-0 14-3
Ohio State 2-1 13-3
Indiana 2-1 11-4
Penn State 1-1 10-5
Iowa 1-1 9-7
Minnesota 1-1 7-9
Michigan State 1-2 14-4
Illinois 1-2 13-5
Purdue 1-2 12-5
Northwestern 0-3 10-6
Standings as of 1/11

Best matchup: Tennessee at Ohio State. The top 25 foes meet in Columbus on Saturday, and one of these teams is going to have a two-game losing streak. It will be interesting to see at what tempo the teams play. Ohio State has scored fewer than 80 points in eight of its past nine games. Meanwhile, Tennessee has topped 80 in six of its past eight. The Vols would prefer to run and would stand a better chance to win if it's a high-scoring game. The Buckeyes can run with Bruce Pearl's team, but probably would rather see the game played in the 60s or 70s. The game features a bevy of ultra-talented freshmen. Big Ten fans know about "the Thad Five" at Ohio State, but the Vols have three excellent newcomers in front-court players Duke Crews and Wayne Chism and point guard Ramar Smith.

Worst matchup: Wisconsin at Northwestern. The Badgers (16-1) are flying high, ranked third in the AP poll. They are off to their best start since the 1915-16 season. The Wildcats are not flying at all, limping to an 0-3 start in Big Ten play while averaging fewer than 50 points in those three contests. UW even has some incentive, suffering a loss at Northwestern last season.

The pressure is on: Purdue coach Matt Painter. Fans in West Lafayette believed the Boilermakers were going to have a breakout season, but so far they're off to a 1-2 start in the league. After an 8-1 start Painter's bunch has gone 4-4. In their last outing they got blown out at Indiana, 85-58. Michigan comes calling on Saturday, and the Wolverines (14-3) have been a pleasant surprise to this point. They're 2-0 in Big Ten play, tied atop the conference standings with Wisconsin. It may be a little early to call it a must win for Purdue, but the Boilermakers' next two games are at Wisconsin and back at Michigan.

Upset alert: Indiana, off to a 2-1 start in the league, will have to keep its focus at Penn State. New IU coach Kelvin Sampson appears to have the Hoosiers on the upswing after back-to-back home routs of Michigan State and Purdue. This would be a decent road win with road games at Connecticut and Illinois looming.

Who's hot: Michigan State forward Marquise Gray is shooting 92.9 percent from the floor (13 of 14) in Big Ten play and has hit has past 11 shots. He is shooting 68.6 percent since the start of December. Iowa guard Adam Haluska is averaging 25.4 points over the Hawkeyes' past five games. Wisconsin guard Kammron Taylor is averaging 19 points per game in the Badgers' 2-0 league start, including a 25-point outburst against Ohio State on Tuesday. Indiana guard A.J. Ratliff had a perfect game against Purdue, scoring 16 points in just 18 minutes on 6-of-6 shooting, including four 3-pointers.

Who's not: Michigan State's starters have scored 37 and 30 points in the past two games. Michigan forward Courtney Sims is averaging just 5.8 points over the Wolverines' past four games. Ohio State freshman Daequan Cook has made only six of his last 20 shots (30 percent). He had been shooting a remarkable-for-a-guard 56.8 percent until those past two games.

Must see TV: Tennessee at Ohio State, 1 p.m., CBS. The SEC-Big Ten matchup is a regional telecast, splitting the spotlight with CBS' coverage of Villanova at Syracuse. Gus Johnson will handle the play-by-play, with analyst Clark Kellogg.

Key stat: Watch out for Indiana, because its 11-4 mark is misleading. The four losses have all come by seven or fewer points, including on the road against Kentucky, Duke and Ohio State.

Bench bonus: Michigan State's bench outscored its starters 36-30 in Wednesday's 66-45 rout of Northwestern. Indiana's bench outscored Purdue's bench 46-8 on Wednesday.

They said it: "I just think we are becoming a solid team, not great, maybe not even very good, but I think we are solid." IU coach Kelvin Sampson

Injury update: Kansas State freshman Bill Walker, who was averaging 11.3 points and 4.5 rebounds in six games, ruptured the ACL in his left knee and will miss the remainder of the season.

Worth noting: Minnesota is 5-4 under interim coach Jim Molinari, who replaced Dan Monson on Nov. 30 after the Golden Gophers' had gone on a five-game losing streak. Indiana's 27-point destruction of Purdue was the most lopsided game in the series since 1992. Wisconsin is 40-2 in Big Ten home games under Bo Ryan. Badgers All-American forward Alando Tucker is just 159 points away from 2,000 in his career. The only other UW player to accomplish the feat is Michael Finley. Twenty-three players have reached the milestone in Big Ten history. Given his current scoring average of 20 points per game, Tucker should reach 2,000 at Penn State on Feb. 7. Illinois forward Brian Randle is rounding into form. He tied a career high with 16 points and set a personal mark with six assists in Wednesday's 74-70 victory over Iowa.

Freshman to watch: Ohio State point guard Mike Conley Jr. Conley is a pass-first point guard who has been a joy to watch in his first collegiate season. He leads the Big Ten in assists, averaging 6.6 per game.

Something you may have missed: The Big Ten has posted the most non-conference victories (115) prior to postseason play in league history.

RPI watch: Despite posting the most non-conference victories, the Big Ten is fifth in the conference RPI rankings behind the Pac-10, SEC, ACC and Missouri Valley. Wisconsin is the highest-rated team at No. 12, three spots behind Appalachian State. Ohio State is next at 22nd.

More Conference Breakdowns: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | SEC | Pac-10

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