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January 26, 2007

Big Ten Breakdown: Spartans feeling good

Weekly Big Ten Update
Team Conf. Overall
Wisconsin 6-0 20-1
Ohio State 5-1 17-3
Michigan 4-2 16-5
Indiana 4-2 14-5
Michigan State 4-2 17-4
Iowa 3-3 11-9
Illinois 3-4 15-7
Purdue 2-4 13-7
Penn State 1-5 10-9
Minnesota 1-5 7-13
Northwestern 1-6 11-9
Standings as of 1/25

Best matchup: Tom Izzo vs. Thad Matta. The Spartans head coach has already been where it looks like the Buckeyes head coach is building toward a national championship. It should be a superb coaching matchup. The Spartans dominated Minnesota 70-46 on Wednesday night and are riding a four-game winning streak. The Buckeyes struggled on the road against a woeful Northwestern team before prevailing 59-50. MSU is about to go on a swing of three of four games on the road, and it will go a long way toward determining the NCAA Tournament hopes of the Spartans. Two of the next four games also are the home-and-home series with the fifth-ranked Buckeyes.

Worst matchup: Penn State at Minnesota. The Nittany Lions harbored some hope this season, but they have quickly fallen on hard times. The Golden Gophers also have not played well this season. Both teams sit at 1-5 in the league, half a game out of the cellar. Plenty of tickets will be available at the door for this one.

The pressure is on: Purdue coach Matt Painter. The Boilermakers are in a must-win situation on Saturday with Illinois coming to West Lafayette. Purdue fans believed this team had postseason possibilities, but it's off to a 2-4 start in the league and has dipped to 13-7 overall. The Illini are a half game up on the Boilermakers in the Big Ten standings, and they are fresh off a huge victory over No. 23 Indiana on Tuesday night. Purdue hasn't played since a poor showing at Michigan last Saturday in which it lost 71-55. Illinois also has a four-game winning streak in the series. This will be the teams' only meeting this season.

Upset alert: No. 2 Wisconsin at Iowa. The Hawkeyes are 3-0 at home this season in Big Ten play, and they have been a much better team in the friendly confines of Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Badgers, meanwhile, are the only undefeated team in the conference with a 6-0 mark. They're 20-1 and have won 16 games in a row, the nation's longest streak. Iowa will have to rebound well and get big games from Big Ten leading scorer Adam Haluska and Big Ten leading freshman scorer Tyler Smith to bring down the Badgers. Expect a raucous sellout crowd in Iowa City.

Who's hot: Ohio State freshman center Greg Oden has made an incredible 18 of 20 shots (90 percent) over his past two games. He is averaging 23 points and 13.5 rebounds in that stretch.

Who's not: Penn State forward Geary Claxton has hit just 15 of 39 shots (.385) over his past three games. He has connected on just one of his past 11 3-point attempts.

Must see TV: Wisconsin at Iowa, 1 p.m., Sunday, CBS.

Key stat: Indiana hasn't shown the ability to rally late this season - The Hoosiers are 0-4 when trailing with five minutes to play.

Bench bonus: The Illinois bench didn't score in the Tuesday night upset of Indiana. It didn't shoot much either, going 0-for-2 in 36 minutes. The Michigan State bench outscored the starters 36-34 in the victory over Minnesota on Wednesday. Freshman forward Raymar Morgan came off the bench to lead the Spartans in scoring with 14 points.

They said it: "Vince (Scott, Northwestern's center) played him (Ohio State freshman center Greg Oden) as well as he could. But Greg is going into the NBA after this season, and Vince is going to become an investment broker." Northwestern forward Tim Doyle after Oden had 17 points and 17 rebounds, much of it down the stretch, as Ohio State held off the stubborn Wildcats 59-50 on Wednesday night.

Injury report: Michigan State freshman guard Isaiah Dahlman (mid-foot sprain) has missed the Spartans' past two games. Northwestern's leading scorer, forward Kevin Coble, returned after missing two games with a sprained ankle and scored in double-digits in both of the Wildcats' past two games. Illinois forward Shaun Pruitt, who was questionable with a sprained MCL, not only played Tuesday night but was an integral part of the upset victory over Indiana with 10 points, 13 rebounds, and a stellar job defensively on D.J. White.

Worth noting: The ESPN GameDay crew will be in Columbus for Saturday's matchup between the Spartans and the Buckeyes. Only two Big Ten players have scored in double figures in every game this season Wisconsin's Alando Tucker and Purdue's Carl Landry. Purdue is 11-0 at home this season. Illinois coach Bruce Weber was an assistant at Purdue when current Boilermakers coach Matt Painter was a player there under Gene Keady. Painter was an assistant to Weber at Southern Illinois for five seasons. Indiana is 10-0 at home this season and has a 12-game winning streak at Assembly Hall dating to last year. The Hoosiers have won 10 in a row against Michigan, their opponent on Saturday. Indiana is 4-0 following a loss this season.

Freshman to watch: Iowa forward Tyler Smith has been a force all season. He has averaged 19 points over his past three games, and his season average of 15.6 leads all Big Ten freshmen.

Something you may have missed: If you just looked at the point totals, you wouldn't realize Alando Tucker played a season-low 18 minutes in the Badgers' 71-58 victory over Michigan on Wednesday night. It was the fewest minutes he had played in a game in three years, but he still managed to lead UW with 16 points.

RPI watch: The conference made the leap over the Missouri Valley into fourth, behind the ACC, Pac-10 and SEC. Wisconsin continues its steady climb and now sits fourth. Ohio State also is up, from 13th to ninth. Indiana fell two spots to 23rd, and Michigan State fell out of the top 25 to 28th.

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

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