Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, January 2, 2017

Conference play is beginning in earnest, as the race to the Big Ten championship is underway. Michigan State and Nebraska are off to strong 2-0 starts. We figured the Spartans would be unbeaten in league play. But the Cornhuskers? Nice.


Here is a look back at the best of the opening week of conference play.

Biggest surprise: Nebraska. The Cornhuskers were struggling with a 6-6 record as Big Ten play began. And the Huskers faced a daunting first two league games: at Indiana and at Maryland. No problem, as Nebraska won both games. The Huskers have won three in a row but lost six of seven before this run with a loss at home to ? Gardner-Webb. What an amazing turnaround for Tim Miles? crew.

Biggest disappointment: Indiana. It was a tough week for the Hoosiers, who lost at home to Nebraska and fell to Louisville in Indianapolis on Saturday. How much does Indiana miss Yogi Ferrell? Is this really one of the three best teams in the Big Ten? Indiana needs to get on track.

Top stat line: Minnesota?s Nate Mason played out of his mind in a 91-82 OT win at Purdue on Sunday. Mason had 30 points, 11 assists and six rebounds in what arguably is the biggest win of the Richard Pitino era. Gotta mention Northwestern?s Scott Lindsey, who had 31 points in a win vs. Penn State, and, of course, Caleb Swanigan, who flirted with a 30-20 in Sunday's overtime loss vs. Minnesota.

Top stat: 4, Indiana has lost four times in the state of Indiana this season — twice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, once at Assembly Hall and once at Fort Wayne. Two losses this week won't make fans happy.

Top stat, Part II: 3, The number of undefeated Big Ten teams after the first week of conference play. I mentioned Michigan State and Nebraska's 2-0 starts above, and Wisconsin is 1-0. Didn't see that coming, did you?

Top moment? Nebraska celebrating comeback win at Maryland in locker room. Tim Miles and crew had a frustrating 2015-16 season, and the 2016 non-conference season wasn't much kinder, thanks in large part to one of the nation's toughest schedules. One week of Big Ten play down, and Nebraska has everyone reason to celebrate. Watch the Huskers celebrating with Miles in the video below.

Top dunk: Dupree McBrayer at Purdue. There were several worthy slams, but the Golden Gophers' powerful one-handed transition flush vs. Vincent Edwards in Minnesota's upset at No. 15 Minnesota was my favorite. Another must-see slam: Tyler Cook's And-1 finish vs. Michigan.

Did you see this? With 21 points at Maryland on Tuesday, Illinois senior guard Malcolm Hill became the 11th player in Illinois history to reach 1,500 career points. He finished the game with 1,503 points, moving past Efram Winters (1,487) for 11th place on the Illinois career scoring list. Hill, who is averaging 18.6 points, is 30 points away from the Illinois all-time top-10. Andy Kaufmann sits in 10th place with 1,533 career points.



Stock up: Michigan State. The Spartans have dealt with their share of adversity, playing a tough non-conference schedule and dealing with injury. But those difficult times seem to be steeling 10-5 Michigan State in a strong squad-once again. The Spartans have opened 2-0 in league play. And, when it?s all said and done, you have to think Tom Izzo will have his team in the thick of the title race.

Stock down: Indiana. Yes, the Hoosiers have wins over North Carolina and Kansas. But the Hoosiers also have lost to IUPU-Fort Wayne ? and now Nebraska, which won 87-83 in Bloomington on Wednesday. This was a 6-6 Nebraska team that won at No. 16 Indiana, as the Huskers had lost three of four entering the game including a loss to Gardner-Webb. The loss against the Cornhuskers snapped a 26-game winning streak at Assembly Hall, a mark that was fourth in the nation and fifth in Indiana history.