Who's climbing & who's dropping this week?
There is a big weekend on tap, with several games that will go a long way in helping shape the Big Ten race. The headliner is Minnesota’s visit to Indiana on Saturday (noon ET on BTN/BTN2Go). And Michigan’s junket to Ohio State on Sunday also will tell us a lot about both teams—especially the Buckeyes, who must defend their home court to remain among the leaders.
Before the action tips off, take a look back and ahead with my 3-pointers.
THREE STOCKS TO BUY
1. Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are white hot, having won 11 in a row in jetting to a 15-1 start and top-10 ranking. The recent domination of Illinois in Champaign was Minnesota’s best victory yet. Some think this is the Gophers’ best team since the 1976-77 squad that had Mychal Thompson, Kevin McHale and Ray Williams.
2. Michigan. What superlative hasn’t already been typed about this team? The Wolverines’ 16-0 start equals the best start in school history (1985-86, led by Gary Grant and Roy Tarpley). Trey Burke is playing like a national player of the year. And there is no better collection of freshmen in the Big Ten, as Glenn Robinson III has been a monster.
3. Indiana. The best thing to happen to the Hoosiers was that loss to Butler in Indianapolis back in December. Really. It took what had been a glaring spotlight off the Hoosiers and has allowed them to focus and grow. I still think this is the best team in the Big Ten. Time will tell. It’s a long way to March.
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THREE STOCKS TO SELL
1. Purdue. The inside-outside tandem of freshmen A.J. Hammons and Ronnie Johnson has a bright future, but the duo is still learning. And after Terone Johnson and D.J. Byrd, who can score? Who can shoot? This team will be lucky to finish with 12 wins.
2. Illinois. This team is too hot-and-cold to be counted on. If the Illini are shooting well, they can beat anyone (Ohio State). If the Illini are laying bricks, they can lose to anyone (Purdue). Keep the Maalox close, Illinois fans.
3. Iowa. When the Big Ten schedule came out, most knew the Hawkeyes would struggle opening vs. Indiana, at Michigan and vs. Michigan State. Iowa came close in two of those games, but came up short. How will a young team respond? And how long will Roy Devyn Marble be out with an ankle injury?
THREE THINGS I LEARNED
1. A 15-3 record—maybe 14-4–may be good enough to win this conference—that’s how strong it is. Forget about 17-1 or 16-2. There appears to be three elite teams in Michigan, Indiana and Minnesota. There figures to be some attrition when they play each other accounting for some losses. And, you figure some of the Big Three will stumble on the road at places like Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin, too
2. Ohio State needs to get more complementary scorers for Deshaun Thomas. No doubt, Thomas will do his part and likely will end up being the Big Ten’s leading scorer. But he needs help. Players like Lenzelle Smith, Jr., Sam Thompson and Aaron Craft need to be more consistent scorers from game to game.
3. This conference has a nice collection of big men. Count along with me. There’s Indiana’s Cody Zeller, Wisconsin’s Jared Berggren, Michigan State’s Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix, Nebraska’s Brandon Ubel, Iowa’s Adam Woodbury, Michigan’s Mitch McGary and Purdue’s A.J. Hammons. We even can throw in undersized “big men” like Wisconsin’s Ryan Evans, Michigan’s Jordan Morgan and Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe.
THREE IMPRESSIVE WINS
1. Minnesota 84, Illinois 67. The Golden Gophers overwhelmed the Illini with depth and skill, showing aplomb in transition. And on this night, Minnesota was led by unsung Joe Coleman, who had 29 points. How many weapons does this team have?
2. Ohio State 74, Purdue 64. Honestly, this game wasn’t as close as the Buckeyes’ 10-point margin would indicate. Ohio State dominated from the opening tip, getting great point play from Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott. And Ft. Wayne, Ind., native Deshaun Thomas hit for 22 points. It was a great bounce-back win for the Buckeyes after they got hammered 74-55 at Illinois.
3. Michigan State 62, Iowa 59. The Spartans weren’t at their best. But, they found a way to rally from a late four-point deficit to gut out a tough road win. These are the type of away games that Big Ten contenders steal. Credit Michigan State point guard Keith Appling for coming alive late to lead the charge.
THREE GAMES TO LOOK FORWARD TO
1. Minnesota at Indiana, Saturday, Jan. 12. The last time the Golden Gophers visited Bloomington in 2012, they left with a victory. It was Indiana’s only home loss last season. This will be the first clash of top-10 teams in Assembly Hall since 2000. Can’t wait to watch Trevor Mbakwe and Cody Zeller clash in the paint.
2. Michigan at Minnesota, Thursday, Jan. 17. It doesn’t get much better than this battle between top-10 teams. If the Gophers want to win the Big Ten, they have to protect their home court.
3. Michigan at Ohio State, Sunday, Jan. 13. This rivalry is every bit as intense on the hardwood as it is on the gridiron. Well, almost. And the stakes are high. The Buckeyes are looking for a signature victory. This would be it over the No. 2 team in the nation. But does Ohio State have enough weapons to keep pace with the array of talent the Wolverines’ possess? Also: Trey Burke will be extra-jacked playing in his hometown.
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|
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