Around the Big Ten (Week of Dec. 5)

Story posted December 7, 2011 in CommRadio, Sports by Mike Esse

#22 Illinois (8-0)

Coming off of a seven-point victory over previously18th ranked Gonzaga Saturday, Illinois continues its five game home stand against non-conference opponents on Wednesday and Sunday as they welcome St. Bonaventure (3-3) and Coppin State (3-4) into Champaign. Both games should be a good time for Bruce Weber to test the strength of his bench before their schedule begins to toughen before the opening of Big Ten play. Starters have primarily won games for this Illinois team especially guard combination of D.J. Richardson, Sam Maniscalo and Brandon Paul who have combined for over half Illinois’ points against Gonzaga. Sophomore seven footer Meyers Leonard has also contributed to the bulk of the Illini points thus far, posting two 20 or more point games in their past five.

Indiana (8-0)

After a 86-75 win in the Big Ten ACC challenge over North Carolina State and a blowout win over Stetson, Indiana will play host to the number one ranked Kentucky Wildcats (8-0) on Saturday at Assembly Hall. Tom Creane’s team does have an undefeated record at 8-0, but facing Terrence Jones and company will be his young team’s first real test of the season. The Hoosiers have shot lights out so far this season posting a .523 field goal percentage and 85 points per game, both of which are top 10 in the nation. It will be a different breed of an opponent this weekend against a very impressive Kentucky team that already has two top 12 wins this season, most recently against #5 North Carolina. If Tom Creane and his team can pull of an upset here, Indiana might be back to the Indiana of old.

Iowa (5-4)

The young Iowa Hawkeyes got off to a 3-0 start to the 2011-12 season, but have dropped four of their last five games, including blowout losses to Clemson and Northern Iowa. This week, Fran McCaffery and his team stay in the state of Iowa with a game at Iowa State (6-3) on Friday. Iowa has struggled to find a major scoring threat in the early going, and will need to establish more consistency on offense to have any chance to compete in the Big Ten. Senior guard Matt Gatens has led the way, averaging about 14 points per game. After him, though, there is a large drop off to next leading scorer Eric May. After the blowout loss to Northern Iowa, the Iowa State game becomes even more important for the Hawkeyes.

No. 19 Michigan (6-2)

Michigan saw itself lose to another ACC opponent in the Big Ten ACC Challenge after a 70-58 loss to Virginia, but rebounded nicely against Iowa State by beating the Cyclones 76-66. Rebounding has been a problem for the Wolverines all season due to the lack of a true center. However, Michigan’s biggest worry going into the season has been resolved early in the season with worries that John Beilein wouldn’t be able to replace Darius Morris, who left early for the NBA Draft. Freshman guard Trey Burke has been a nice complement to returning starters Tim Hardaway Jr. and Zach Novak. Michigan will welcome in the 6-2 Oakland Grizzlies to The Palace of Auburn Hills on Saturday in their only game during the course of this week. Oakland is a very good team that has faced three SEC opponents in its first 8 games and posted a 1-2 record with losses to 15th-ranked Alabama and Arkansas and a win over Tennessee.  The wolverines must find a way to rebound against the Grizzlies, who average almost nine more rebounds a game, or else Michigan could lose another game to an unranked opponent.

Michigan State (6-2)

Back to back season opening losses to the best two teams in the ACC (North Carolina and Duke) hasn’t seemed to faze the Spartans as they have won six straight games including a 65-49 win over Florida State.  The Spartans have played against the lower echelon of Division I basketball besides the afore mentioned ACC schools, but it has allowed Tom Izzo and his team find their identity, which they struggled to do in their first two games. The Spartans will have another easy matchup Wednesday with Central Connecticut State (5-2), but then travel to Spokane to face #22 Gonzaga (5-1) on Saturday. Saturday’s matchup is an important one for the Spartans as it is a good early season test against a beatable ranked opponent. Continuing to rebound will be important for Michigan State (they are currently ranked 2nd in the nation in rebounding) against a lacking rebounding team in Gonzaga. Two wins for the Spartans would mean eight straight victories, which is exactly what the Spartan coaching staff wants to see as Big Ten play approaches.

Minnesota (9-1)

Minnesota was able to respond well to the loss of star forward Trevor Mbakwe for the season with a 55-40 win over Southern California. They continued that streak with 70-56 win over Appalachian State Tuesday. Their next test comes Saturday, as they host Saint Peter’s. Tubby Smith’s team is looking to find replacements on his bench to carry the load dual threat Mbakwe brought for the Gophers. Smith will look to guards Julian Welch and Austin Hollins to carry the load along with forward Rodney Williams. Welch and Williams have been in double figures in scoring in both of the games since Mbakwe’s injury. Minnesota has excelled offensively from the field, shooting nearly 49 percent, but rebounding will determine their fate in the Big Ten this season.

Nebraska (4-3)

Creighton, currently ranked 22nd, was the latest team to defeat the Huskers in the early 2011 season with a 76-66 victory, but the Huskers’ schedule will ease up this week against two unranked non-conference opponents in Florida Gulf Coast and Texas Christian University.  Florida Gulf Coast will be a game similar to the games Minnesota will face this week, but Nebraska cannot over look the Horned Frogs on Saturday in Fort Worth. The Horned Frogs currently have a 7-2 record with losses to Ole Miss and Norfolk State, but they will bring a top 100 offense into Saturday’s matchup against a Nebraska team that has struggled to find the bottom of the net this year. Nebraska has relied heavily on the scoring abilities of senior guard Bo Spencer and will look to develop junior center Jorge Brian Diaz into a scoring threat as well this week. The next four games before Big Ten play for Nebraska bring four unranked non-automatic qualifying schools, so a 4-0 record would help the Huskers if they want to have any chance of beating 16th-ranked Wisconsin in their Big Ten opener in late December.

Northwestern (7-1)

After a 69-41 loss to number seven Baylor, the Wildcats will have a much needed week off this week. Next week brings three non-automatic qualifying schools for the Wildcats, but they can’t blink to fast before they take on two straight ranked teams in Creighton and Ohio State later in the month.

No. 2 Ohio State (8-0)

In the most anticipated game of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Jared Sullinger and company took care of business against Duke and continued their undefeated start to the season with a 64-35 win over Texas Pan American. The Buckeyes only have one game this week, but it isn’t an easy one against number 13 Kansas (6-2) in Lawrence. A win for the buckeyes would mean three of their eight wins would come against top 15 teams. Sophomore guard Aaron Craft must be able to distribute the ball at the pace he as thus far this season if they Buckeyes want to come out of Lawrence on top. Craft has had 8 assists in three of his past five games and has been able to lead the Buckeyes to their current record, but a rising star in Deshaun Thomas has also contributed to the stacked Ohio State scoring attack. Thomas, the leading scorer in the state of Indiana, had a slow freshman season, but has picked up nicely by scoring double digits in every game except for the season opener against Wright State. If it is business as usual for Thad Matta and his team, expect Ohio State to be 9-0 at the end of this week.

Purdue (7-2)

The only two losses for Purdue this season have been against two ranked opponents, luckily for the Boilermakers they will face two unranked opponents this week in Western Carolina and Eastern Michigan. To no surprise, Matt Painter’s squad has been led primarily by veteran starters Robbie Hummel and Lewis Jackson, but they have also found success with another senior guard in Ryne Smith. The three seniors have combined for almost 41 of the 77 points Purdue as averaged this season. Hummel, Jackson and Smith are very important pieces to this Purdue team, but this week and in the coming weeks they will look to spread the ball around and continue to build depth on their roster before they face 22-ranked Illinois on New Year’s Eve. Both teams they face this week will be good opportunities to do such and being able to finish each week healthy is always a plus for Hummel as he has had injuries in each of his past two seasons.

No. 16 Wisconsin (6-2)

In Wisconsin’s two losses this season, they have been victim to two ranked opponents in North Carolina and Marquette, but have only lost by a combined 10 points in both games. Star guard Jordan Taylor and the rest of this Badger team will gladly welcome Green Bay to the Kohl Center on Wednesday, but then face a surprising 8-1 UNLV team that beat the same North Carolina team Wisconsin lost to. By no means should Wisconsin overlook Green Bay, but UNLV will be the biggest test left on their schedule before Big Ten play. Luckily, Wisconsin will host both games at home, where they rarely lose, but they will have to be able to stop the high powered Rebels come Saturday if they want to get back on a roll against unranked opponents.

Mike Esse is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email