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Is there a more electric player in the Big Ten than Minnesota’s Rodney Williams? Of course not. The 6-7, 200-pound junior forward from Minneapolis is a human highlight film, seemingly executing one jaw-dropping, make-your-heart pound dunk every game. Like, for instance, the 360-degree one in this post.
It was a night of singular greatness that has been unmatched by any other Big Ten player this season—and few across the nation, for that matter. I’m talking about Brandon Paul’s out-of-his mind, 43-point effort in a 79-74 win over No. 5 Ohio State back in January.
The Big Ten race is starting to firm up—at least a little bit. Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin look like they may be the best teams in the league. But it’s too early to count out Indiana and Illinois. It’s gonna be a fun title chase to watch unfold.
Who’s the best player in the Big Ten? It’s a spirited debate. Many feel it’s Ohio State big man Jared Sullinger. Others think Michigan State’s Draymond Green is the top talent. But what about Penn State guard Tim Frazier? That’s right: A player off of a last-place Big Ten team. Before you dismiss the notion, watch Frazier play—and look at his numbers. Neither lies.
Expectations are big at Ohio State. And William Buford and the Buckeyes aren’t running away from them. It’s Final Four or bust for the Buckeyes. Why not? This team is loaded with talent, including Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas, among others.
Crazy. There’s no other way to describe what has been a topsy-turvy Big Ten chase this season, and Wisconsin point guard Jordan Taylor has lived it. His Badgers entered the season with high hopes but struggled through a three-game losing skid from Dec. 31 to Jan. 8 that included two losses on Wisconsin’s home court, a rarity.
John Shurna knows time is running out. The Northwestern forward knows there’s a sense of urgency for the Wildcats to get on a roll. History is at stake. Specifically: The school’s first NCAA tourney trip.
The turnaround has been remarkable. Last year, Michigan finished last in the Big Ten in passing defense (261.9 ypg) and scoring defense (35.2 ppg) and 10th in rushing defense (188.9 ypg). This year, the Wolverine defense is No. 5 (316.0) in the Big Ten overall, vs. the run (131.6) and vs. the pass (184.4). And one of the reasons for the turnaround is end Ryan Van Bergen.
By the time Montee Ball leaves Wisconsin, he may have a place alongside a growing list of great Badger running backs. Ball already has etched his name in the Big Ten record books. Last week, he scored three touchdowns to push his 2011 total to 27, a Big Ten single-season record. He has 23 rushing touchdowns and four via the air. Ball also has thrown a touchdown pass.
It doesn’t get any bigger than this. Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg knows that. He understands the magnitude of this Saturday’s visit from Michigan State. Each school still controls its destiny in the Legends Division. The winner will be in the driver’s seat to advance to the inaugural Big Ten title game in Indianapolis. BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart talked to Vandenberg to get his thoughts on the big game vs. the No. 13 Spartans (7-2, 4-1) and his standout season.
It hasn’t taken Greg Mattison long to revive the Michigan defense. And that’s a major reason why the Wolverines are in the thick of the Legends Division race as they travel to Iowa for a big game Saturday (noon ET, BTN). Defense had been a dirty word in Ann Arbor under the Rich Rodriguez regime the past three seasons. In 2010, Michigan hit a nadir, ranking last in the Big Ten in total defense (450.8 ypg), scoring defense (35.2 ppg) and pass defense (261.9 ypg). One year later, those numbers are now: 340.6, 15.3 and 196.3.
Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins has a sense for history. He knows his 44-yard desperation touchdown heave to Keith Nichol with four seconds hanging on the clock was an instant classic. The epic play that knocked off an unbeaten and top-10 ranked Wisconsin team will go down in Big Ten lore. And the play will loom even bigger among Michigan State fans if Cousins and the 2011 Spartans are able to deliver the school its first trip the Rose Bowl since the 1988 season. I caught up with Cousins earlier this week to get his thoughts on his epic pass—as well as a few other subjects.