Around the Big Ten: Conference Rings in New Year With Exciting Matchups

Story posted January 2, 2013 in CommRadio, Sports by Mike Esse

For the second straight year the Big Ten will come out of its non-conference games as one of the nation’s deepest conferences. Led by Michigan and Indiana as expected, seven teams escaped their non-conference schedules with 10-plus wins and four teams with only one loss. Perhaps the two big surprises in the Big Ten came from the heart of the Midwest as Minnesota and Illinois are ranked 9 and 11 respectively and join no. 2 Michigan, no. 5 Indiana and no. 8 Ohio State in the Top 12.

Iowa also boasted an 11-2 record after taking care of business in a rather easy non-conference schedule however in the first conference game of the season the Hawkeyes fell just short at home against the Hoosiers on New Years Eve. Indiana improved to 13-1 on the year behind a 15 point second half performance from center Cody Zeller. Aaron White led the Hawkeyes in scoring, but Iowa failed to connect from downtown at they shot 3-17 from long range, which stopped any chance at an upset.

Minnesota cracked the top 10 in the AP poll for the first time this season and wanted to stay there and get two wins in the first week of conference play and were able to hold off Keith Appling and the Spartans to get the first of two. Andre Hollins and Trevor Mbakwe, two players that will be key to the Gophers hopes of crashing the party atop the Big Ten in 2013, led Minnesota. Mbakwe scored 11 points and corralled 12 rebounds in Minnesota’s 76-63 win. Both teams have another game remaining this week, as the busy conference season begins in the deepest conference in the country.

Nebraska at (8) Ohio State (Jan. 2 at 6:30)

The Huskers came out of non-conference play with a surprising 9-4 record, but if you look at their four losses they all brought a common trend. Each loss was by 14 points or more and their highest point total was 60 points in a 74-60 loss to Kent State. In their other three losses the most points Nebraska was able to score was a mere 52 against UTEP. So it is easy to see what the biggest factor in the first game of 2013 will be: Nebraska’s offense. If the Huskers have a day anywhere near similar of any of their four losses, it will get ugly quickly at Value City Arena. Since the Buckeyes are a defensive minded team led by point guard Aaron Craft, it doesn’t bring a great match up for Nebraska, but if the Huskers can limit Craft and Deshaun Thomas on the offensive end they can at least keep the game close.

(11) Illinois at Purdue (Jan. 2 at 8:30)

First year Illini head coach Jon Groce and his 13-1 squad have been the biggest surprise in the Big Ten this year by far and are coming off a near loss to Auburn after suffering their first loss of the season to then 12 ranked Missouri. Now Illinois will face off against perhaps the biggest disappointment in the Big Ten in Purdue in West Lafayette. Matt Painter’s squad has struggled in their last six games going 3-3 including a 47-44 loss to Eastern Michigan. Purdue is missing a true scorer after the departure of Robby Hummel and their youth showed right away in non-conference play. If Purdue wants to start the conference season off right at home, they need to look no further than attempting to stop Illinois senior guard Brandon Paul. Paul is averaging 18.7 points per game and Illinois goes as he goes. Against Auburn that showed as Paul only tallied 13 points and Illinois struggled mightily offensively without a normal scoring day from their senior leader. If Purdue has a chance at winning it will be only because they stop Paul and their own Terone Johnson or A.J. Hammons has a big day offensively and emerges as a true scorer for the black and gold.

(2) Michigan at Northwestern (Jan. 3 at 7:00)

Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway came back for the 2012-2013 season on a mission to make a deep run in this year’s NCAA tournament. What they did not know at the time they decided to return was the immense help they would receive from the incoming freshman class. Led by Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary, the Wolverines have all the sudden become one of the deeper teams in the Big Ten. One of the only problems Michigan showed during their non-conference play was holding big leads late in games and that falls right back on their youth. For Northwestern to upset the Wolverines at home Burke and Hardaway need to be limited and the Wildcats have to force the Michigan freshman to make plays in their first career big ten game. Northwestern will also have to keep up with the Wolverines who can score the basketball at a very impressive rate and without Drew Crawford that responsibility lies on senior guard Reggie Hearn. Jared Swopshire and the rest of the Wildcat big men must develop an inside presence and force guys like McGary to compete for the ball on the glass if they want to hand Michigan their first loss.

Penn State at Wisconsin (Jan. 3 at 8:30)

Check out Tim Behan's preview of this matchup.

Purdue at (18) Michigan State (Jan. 5 at Noon)

After a disappointing loss in the Twin Cities the Spartans will debut the 2013 conference season at home in the Breslin Center which is something they need in order to get back on track. All three of Michigan State’s losses have come on the road and there is no team better to bounce back against than Purdue as the Boilers are struggling mightily thus far. Sparty featured balance scoring against Minnesota on Monday, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing to have however Keith Appling and/or Derrick Nix need to emerge as the scoring leader for Michigan State if they want to contend for another Big Ten title. Purdue on the other hand needs to find a way to stop the  aforementioned scorers and force Gary Harris and the rest of the young Spartans to make plays early in the game. Both teams need a win desperately and the outcome will be determined by how effective Appling and Nix can be against the Boilers.

(8) Ohio State at (11) Illinois (Jan. 5 at 2:15)

In what will be the most intriguing matchup in the first week of Big Ten play, all the focus will be on the Illini as this will be their third consecutive tough test. Just like the Spartans Illinois is happy to be back at home, but know they have a tough test in stopping Deshaun Thomas and the Buckeyes. Interior play will be something to watch as that is what haunted Illinois in their only loss of the year against Missouri where they were outrebounded 51-29. Ohio State averages 39 boards a game led by Thomas and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. If the Buckeyes can establish an inside presence that is where Thomas is able to thrive offensively as his game can virtually be effective from any spot on the court. It will be up to Tyler Griffey and Nnanna Egwu to deny Thomas and company of that advantage and if they do Jon Groce’s impressive early run in Champaign could continue.

Iowa at (2) Michigan (Jan. 6 at noon)

Unlike Northwestern, the Hawkeyes have the scorers to match up with Burke and Hardaway in forwards Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White. They are the obvious x-factor for Iowa if they want to steal a win from the Wolverines in Crisler Arena. White and Marble combined for 29 of Iowa’s 65 points in their four point loss to Indiana, but didn’t have enough fire power to mount the upset. Fran McCaffery needs bench production against the Wolverines if they want to have any chance of beating the number two team in the country. Michigan has been able to contain the leading scorers of team’s they have faced thus far this year, but the Hawkeyes will test the Wolverines half-court defense which has been inconsistent as of late. Look for Michigan freshman Mitch McGary and Caris LeVert to see increased playing time against the Hawkeyes to give the Wolverines some length on the defensive side of the ball.

Wisconsin at Nebraska (Jan. 6 5:30)

The Badgers are supposed to have a “down year” after losing their leader in Jordan Taylor. However, if they want to avoid doing so they need to get two wins in the first week of the month. Wisconsin should be able to beat Penn State and Nebraska, two of the conference’s younger teams and they will need all of the wins they can get in this year’s version of the Big Ten. On the other side, Nebraska has been led by their two experienced seniors Dylan Talley and Brandon Ubel as expected, but the biggest x-factor for the Huskers in this game as well as the rest of the season is junior guard Ray Gallegos. Gallegos did not play in the 2011-2012 season and will be a big difference maker for a team that is trying to make its mark in their second season in the conference. If Gallegos can combine with Ubel and Talley in the scoring column Nebraska will be able to hang with Jared Berggren and the Badgers. Berggren has had at least 10 points and 7 rebounds in four of his last five games and the Badgers go as he goes. First year head coach Tim Miles will have to key on Berggren if the Huskers want to get their first marquee win in the conference.

Northwestern at (9) Minnesota (Jan. 6 TBA)

Northwestern didn’t get an easy draw in the early going of conference play as they will face two of the conference’s hottest team’s including Tubby Smith and the Gophers. The Gophers have a huge advantage in the rebounding as Mbakwe and Rodney Williams will be a tough test for Northwestern to stop and if they do not it could get ugly early in Minneapolis. Hearn and Swopshire not only lead the Wildcats in scoring but also are their main source for rebounds as well. If Northwestern cannot find other sources of production in all categories they will have a rough year in the Big Ten, especially against teams like Minnesota. Dave Sobolewski and Alex Olah will need to step up for the Wildcats on Sunday if they want to try and pull out a huge win against a very hot Minnesota team.

Mike Esse is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism and is a ComRadio Sports Director. To contact him, e-mail