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Brace yourself -- here comes Big Ten battles

Tom Crean
Tom Crean

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For more on Big Ten athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Indiana opens league play Monday at Iowa

Sunday, December 30, 2012 12:01 am
Are you ready for Big Ten battles?More to the point, is Indiana ready?

We’re about to find out.

Big Ten action begins this week and nothing is sure except no team will go unbeaten. There is too much power, too much parity, too many good coaches and great players.

Last year Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State shared the title with 13-5 records. That mark might win it this year.

Five Big Ten teams are ranked in the top 12 — No. 2 Michigan (13-0), No. 5 Indiana (12-1), No. 10 Ohio State (10-2), No. 11 Minnesota (12-1) and No. 12 Illinois (13-1). Add No. 19 Michigan State (11-2) and you have six top-20 teams.

The Big Ten leads the nation in RPI and Sagarin ratings. It ranks second in scoring, averaging 73.2 points, just behind the Big East’s 73.7. It has a 123-31 non-conference record.

Now comes the fun part.

“We’re getting ready to go ito a tumultuous period in this league, as is everybody else,” IU coach Tom Crean said.

The Hoosiers open Monday at Iowa, which is 11-2 and not receiving any poll voting love, but don’t sell the Hawkeyes short.

“When you've got this many teams that are ranked,” Crean said, “and then you're getting ready to play a team like Iowa that is 11-2 and as good as they are… Some of these other teams that could be ranked that aren't ranked right now for one reason or another…none of that make any difference…everybody is good.”

IU did not play a true road game this season, one of the consequences of not playing at Kentucky, which was a consequence of Wildcat coach John Calipari not wanting anything to do with a home-and-home series that would mean a return trip to Assembly Hall.

Anyway, the Hoosiers will face their first hostile crowd on Monday, and given the New Year’s Eve festivities, it should be a rowdy Hawkeye group.

“Iowa is very good and we've got a lot of things to be better at over the long haul,” Crean said, “and we've also got things we've got to get better at in the short-term before we play them.”

For now, Michigan is at the Big Ten top. The Wolverines are led by superstar point guard Trey Burke (17.4 points, 7.1 assists) and versatile backcourt mate Tim Hardaway (15.8 points), plus a pair of instant-impact freshmen in Glenn Robinson III (11.4 points, 6.2 rebounds) and Mitch McGary (5.8 rebounds).

Then comes Indiana, the former No. 1 still stinging from the Butler loss. It has depth and length and athleticism, plus the nation’s best offense. Cody Zeller leads the Big Ten in rebounding (8.1) and is fourth in scoring (16.4).

Illinois relies heavily on its three-point shooting. It’s basically taken 100 more three-pointers than any other Big Ten team, which is fine when the shots are falling. The one game it didn’t, the 8-for-32 effort against Missouri, it lost.

Ohio State has two of the Big Ten’s top players in forward Deshaun Thomas (the conference scoring leader at 20.0 points) and point guard Aaron Craft (4.6 assists), but has been vulnerable inside.

Minnesota has been a big surprise with its 12-1 record, the lone loss coming to Duke. Rodney Williams (13.0 points) and Andre Hollins (12.9) provide the scoring punch, while Trevor Mbakwe (7.2 rebounds) remains the inside force.

Michigan State has point guard Keith Appling (14.9 points, 4.1 assists) and the usual group of inside standouts led by forwards Adrein Payne (7.5 rebounds) and Derrick Nix (7.8 rebounds), plus last year’s Indiana Mr. Basketball Gary Harris (12.4 points).

Iowa might be the sleeper team of the Big Ten. The Hawkeys have one of the conference’s top scorers in Roy Devyn Marble (15.7), one of the top shot blockers in Gabriele Olaseni (1.5 blocks), and favor a full-throttle pace.

When was the last time a Bo Ryan-coached Wisconsin team was a Big Ten non-factor? The Badgers (9-4) struggle to score, especially from the free throw line. That’s a problem in close games. Jared Berggren (13.7 points) is the only consistent offensive threat.

Northwestern (9-4) lost high-scoring Drew Crawford with a season-ending injury. Former Snider standout Reggie Hearn has done his part (a 14.5 scoring average), but that’s not enough.

Purdue (6-6) isn’t getting enough consistency from its veterans, and that’s a major problem. The Boilers are near the bottom of the Big Ten in every offensive category, and are last in three-point shooting (27.2 percent). No wonder they have five losses by eight or fewer points.

Nebraska (9-4) has three of the Big Ten’s better scorers in Dylan Talley (14.1 points), Ray Gallegos (13.3) and Brandon Ubel (12.8), but not much else.

Penn State (8-4) lost super guard Tim Frazier to a season-ending knee injury, which guarantees it another losing seaon Jermaine Marshall (15.1 points) and Travis Ross (7.5 rebounds) can’t make up the difference.

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For more on Big Ten athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.


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