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February 16, 2007

Big Ten Breakdown: OSU playing with bullseye

Weekly Big Ten Update
Team Conf. Overall
Wisconsin 11-1 25-2
Ohio State 11-1 23-3
Indiana 7-4 17-7
Iowa 6-5 14-11
Illinois 6-6 18-9
Purdue 6-6 17-9
Michigan 5-6 17-9
Michigan State 5-6 18-8
Minnesota 3-9 9-17
Northwestern 2-9 12-12
Penn State 1-10 11-14
Standings as of 2/15

Best matchup: Iowa at Michigan State. This could amount to an NCAA Tournament elimination game. The Hawkeyes (15-11) have a better conference record at 7-5, but the Spartans (18-8) have the better RPI, sitting at 36th. Conference victories are critical to the hopes of both teams, and a road win would boost Iowa's miserable RPI (79). The Hawkeyes have games remaining with Purdue, Penn State and Illinois, all teams behind them in the Big Ten standings. If they can beat Michigan State, a four-game winning streak to end the season isn't inconceivable.

Worst matchup: Northwestern at Illinois. The Ilini have beaten the Wildcats in 14 of their past 15 meetings and 25 of the past 26 in Champaign. Illinois (18-9, 6-6) is fighting for a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Northwestern (12-12, 2-9) has won one road game all season. Illinois won the first meeting 58-43. This one won't be that close.

The pressure is on: The Ohio State freshman class. The Buckeyes nearly suffered an ignominious loss at Penn State on Wednesday, escaping 64-62. They led by 24 in the second half before the Nittany Lions, who are last in the Big Ten, made a shocking rally. Junior guard Mike Walker attempted a 3-pointer that would have won the game for PSU, but it bounced off the back of the rim. OSU coach Thad Matta has been preaching about consistency all season. But when you start a pair of freshmen and play a couple more significant minutes, lapses are going to occur. The Thad Five has lived up to the hype, achieving a No. 2 national ranking and being viewed as a threat to dethrone Florida. But the kids should start to realize from here on out they'll be taking everybody's best shot.

Upset alert: Indiana at Michigan. The Hoosiers are in position to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament, but a loss to the wildly inconsistent Wolverines could hurt their seeding. Michigan has lost five of six, but if you check the schedule you'll see that it was a brutal stretch. Have the Wolverines packed it in for the season, or can they keep their slim NCAA hopes alive with a big victory?

Who's hot: Wisconsin senior forward Alando Tucker is averaging 24 points over the past six games and has topped 20 in each, the longest such streak of his career. It comes on the heels of a six-game stretch in which he didn't reach 20 once. Minnesota junior guard Lawrence McKenzie is averaging 18.3 points over the past three games, hitting 19 of 37 from the field - including 10 of 20 from 3-point range. Illinois forward Warren Carter is shooting 57.1 percent (12 of 21) over the past two games.

Who's not: Michigan senior center Courtney Sims is shooting 33 percent (4-for-12) and averaging just six points and 4.5 rebounds over the Wolverines' past two games. Ohio State senior guard Ron Lewis is shooting just 32.2 percent (10 of 31) over his past four games, including 5-for-20 from 3-point range.

Must see TV: Iowa at Michigan State, 1:30 p.m. ESPN Plus.

Key stat: In its first five Big Ten victories, Ohio State's average margin was 17.5 points. In its past six conference victories the average margin is just 8.5 points.

Bench bonus: The Minnesota bench outscored its starters 42-20 in a 75-62 loss to Ohio State. Ohio State got 11 points off the bench from freshman Daequan Cook in the narrow victory over Penn State, his best output in four games. Cook shot 4-for-7, including 3-for-5 from 3-point range.

They said it: "Great hearts are forged in great trouble." Minnesota interim coach Jim Molinari on his senior-less, struggling Golden Gophers.

"We've seen the best out of every team in the first half. We just seem to outlast them." Wisconsin's Alando Tucker

Injury report: Illinois players Brian Carlwell and Jamar Smith were injured on Monday night when a car driven by Smith ran off the road and struck a tree. Both players suffered concussions, with Carlwell's much more severe. He has been hospitalized since the single-car accident, while Smith was treated and released. Carlwell spent some time in intensive care, but since has been upgraded to fair condition. Coach Bruce Weber said in a university statement on Wednesday that Carlwell was expected to make a full recovery and should be released from the hospital soon. It's not known when either will return to the team. The Illini's next game is Sunday at home against Northwestern. Smith, a sophomore, is averaging 8.1 points per game. Carlwell, a freshman, contributes 1.7 points per game.

Worth noting: The Big Ten had two games pushed from Wednesday to Thursday this week because of the inclement weather. The Northwestern-Iowa and Indiana-Purdue games were played 24 hours later than scheduled. Ohio State's No. 2 national ranking is its highest since spending a month at No. 2 in 1991. Indiana is 10-2 when freshman guard Armon Bassett scores in double figures. The former three-star prospect had 15 points, five rebounds and five assists in Saturday's win over Illinois. Wisconsin's Alando Tucker surpassed the 2,000-point mark recently and now has his sights set on Michael Finley's Badgers' record 2,147. He's 98 points away. Two freshmen lead their teams in scoring, Ohio State's Greg Oden and Northwestern's Kevin Coble. The last Buckeye freshman to lead the team was Michael Redd in 1998. The last Wildcat was Ben Johnson in 2000.

Freshman to watch: Michigan State forward Raymar Morgan. The 6-7 former four-star prospect tied his career high with 18 points on 8-for-14 shooting in a 59-44 victory over Michigan on Tuesday. He added six rebounds and two steals in the kind of performance the Spartans will need to get out of him on a more consistent basis down the stretch.

Something you may have missed: Before Thursday night's game against Indiana, Purdue had held its past five opponents to 57 points per game.

RPI watch: Entering play Thursday night, the conference RPI stayed steady at fourth. Ohio State moved from fourth to second, and Wisconsin from fifth to fourth. Indiana was next at 16th. The next group of Big Ten teams is bunched from No. 36 (Michigan State) to No. 42 (Purdue), with Illinois 41st. The team with the biggest concern in the RPI is Iowa, which sits alone in fourth in the conference standings but is a lowly 79th in the RPI.

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

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