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So far, Big Ten basketball is as good as advertised

Mike Hlas,  CR GAZETTE –

With last week’s holiday tournaments and this week’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge behind us, now is a good time to take a look at how Big Ten men’s basketball teams have fared in November. The short answer: Pretty darn well.

So let’s take snapshots of these teams, alphabetically:


Illinois (8-0): Nice start, to say the least. The Illini won the Maui Invitational, then beat Georgia Tech by 13 points. In that game, two Illinois players scored 15 points and two others had 14.

Brandon Paul has been terrific, with 18.3 points and 4.1 assists per game. Illinois has made 90 three-pointers, or 11.3 per game.


Indiana (7-0): The nation’s No. 1 team has lived up to the hype so far, accentuated by its 83-59 blitzing of North Carolina in Bloomington on Tuesday.

The Hoosiers are shooting 51 percent from the field to their opponents’ 35.9. They are making 41.2 percent of their 3-point shots. Their rebound margin is +13.2. Five players are scoring 11.6 points per game or more.

You know about center Cody Zeller. But this is a team. Guards Jordan Hulls and Yogi Ferrell average a combined 9.6 assists. Ferrell, a freshman, has a sparkling assist/turnover ratio of 35 to 12.


Iowa (5-2): The term “disappointment” seems a bit strong at this juncture, but the Hawkeyes didn’t stand tall in their two biggest challenges, against Wichita State in Cancun and at Virginia Tech.

Defense is a concern, as is shooting (42.2 percent from the field).

Nothing is overly surprising here, though. This team, which leans on a freshman center and two freshmen point guards, will be a work-in-progress all season. Watching them, you can see there will be bumps and bruises against good teams, especially good physical teams. It doesn’t help that the first seven games of the Big Ten season are a brutal stretch, competition-wise. But you can also see the talent and potential to grow into something that could be pretty good before March.

What the Hawkeyes still don’t have is a nonconference win or two that will look good three months from now. The last opportunities to get those will come against Iowa State and Northern Iowa.


Michigan (6-0): This is a tough outfit. The Wolverines have successive wins over Pittsburgh, Kansas State and North Carolina State. That’s nothing to dismiss lightly.

Who has a better backcourt in America? Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke were known quantities. Add freshman Nik Stauskas of Canada, who is averaging 13 points and has made 14 of his 24 three-point tries. He had 20 points against a very good N.C. State club Tuesday.

The Wolverines have two other freshman weapons in foward Glenn Robinson III (12.2 points, 7.5 rebounds per game) and center Mitch McGary.


Michigan State (5-2). It’s a typical nonconference story for the Spartans. Over-schedule, take some lumps, and get tougher because of it.

MSU has already played games in Germany, Atlanta and Miami, against the likes of UConn, Kansas and Miami.

This is a typical Tom Izzo team. Meaning, it has good guards and it pounds the boards. The trick is to use big men Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix together with effectiveness. It has yet to happen, though both can be forces.

Something to remember about the Spartans is they’ve dealt with injuries to freshman guard Gary Harris and sophomore guard Travis Trice, who both figure to be important to the team. Harris came back from a shoulder injury Wednesday night, collecting 12 points and 8 rebounds in MSU’s 67-59 loss at Miami. Trice has also returned.


Minnesota (7-1): The Gophers made quite a statement Tuesday night. After a week on the road that included four games in six days, they won at defending ACC-champion Florida State, 77-68.

Minnesota’s only loss was to Duke, in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.

The Gophers have been playing defense, holding foes to 35.9 percent from the field and outrebounding them by 7.6 per game. Plus, they block a lot of shots.


Nebraska (5-1): Enjoy it now, Cornhuskers.

Their 79-63 win at Wake Forest Tuesday did help the Big Ten get a 6-6 split in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. But the Huskers have played a lightweight schedule to date. Its loss was at home to Kent State, 74-60.

But they did do their part against the ACC.


Northwestern (6-1): A 77-57 home loss to Maryland ended the dream of a perfect season.

The Wildcats have never played in an NCAA tournament, and it’s hard to see this season changing that. But this is still a competitive club. It has four players with double-digit scoring-averages, and has made 8.7 three-pointers per game. The ‘Cats also take care of the ball.

It hasn’t hurt that Northwestern’s opponents have shot a bizarrely bad 54.1 percent from the foul line (60-of-111). If that happens in Big Ten play, the ‘Cats are going dancing.


Ohio State (4-1): An 8-point halftime lead dissolved and the Buckeyes lost at Duke Wednesday night, but OSU is No. 4 in the nation with good reason.

That starts with the league’s top scorer, Deshaun Thomas (22.4 ppg). Then there’s the league’s best defender, Aaron Craft.

The Buckeyes average just nine turnovers a game. That’s good stuff. If this team gets some production from its big players, look out.


Penn State (3-3): The one thing this team had going for it was all-conference guard Tim Frazier. Then, he ruptured an Achilles tendon.

The Nittany Lions are shooting 36 percent from the field and 24.2 percent from 3-point distance. They may not win a game in conference play.


Purdue (3-3): A 73-61 win at Clemson Wednesday night put a little life back in a team that has struggled.

This doesn’t look like one of Matt Painter’s better teams, but he uses a lot of players and they play hard, so it remains an opponent to be feared.


Wisconsin (4-3): The Badgers have played a tough November schedule, with their losses coming to Florida, Creighton and Virginia.

As always, their game is predicated on defense and not making many turnovers. Bo Ryan led the Badgers to NCAA tourneys in each of his first 11 seasons as their coach. If he makes it 12, he may be the league’s Coach of the Year.

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