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  • Indiana Finally Back On Top

    There was reason to believe that Trey Burke’s driving attempt in the final seconds of Michigan’s palpitating regular-season finale with Indiana on Sunday not only would decide the Big Ten championship but also who would win the coveted league player of the year award.

    UM’s outstanding point guard narrowly missed his scoop shot and center Jordan Morgan failed to tap in the bounding ball front point-blank range, allowing Indiana to post a 72-71 victory and claim the outright title.

    Ohio State kept itself, Michigan and the winner of the Michigan State-Wisconsin game alive by defeating the Hoosiers March 5 in Bloomington, but the Buckeyes and company still needed from help from the rival Wolverines.

    No. 2 IU and No. 7 Michigan staged a back-and-forth classic but the Wolverines, who were undefeated at home heading into their final appearance at Crisler Arena, missed on the front end of a one-and-one free throw twice in the final seconds.

    After Indiana center Cody Zeller scored inside to provide the final points, Burke took off with the inbounds pass and caused the entire league to gasp as he flipped up a shot at the basket. The chaos that ensured included the ball rolling around on the rim and Morgan missing a clean follow.

    Indiana (26-5, 14-4) celebrated the win and the program’s first outright title in 20 years.

    Head coach Tom Crean, for some reason, celebrated by confronting and shouting down Michigan assistant Jeff Meyer, who used to hold the same role at Indiana under the deposed Ralph Sampson.

    “You helped wreck our program!” Crean shouted at Meyer while being restrained.

    On Monday, Crean claimed he later called Meyer and apologized. That evening the Big Ten awards rolled in and, somewhat surprisingly, forward Victor Oladipo was not named the Big Ten Player of the Year.

    That nod went to Burke, a sophomore who was second in the conference in scoring (19.2 points per game) behind OSU’s Deshaun Thomas (19.7) and led the league in assists (6.8 per game). Certainly, Burke was highly valuable and productive for Michigan, but the Wolverines (25-6, 12-6) had to settle for a tie with Wisconsin for fourth place after their paper-thin defeat.

    A junior who is among the most-improved players in college basketball, Oladipo was considered the leading contender for POY honors heading to the final week. However, he endured foul trouble in the loss to Ohio State and was upstaged by Zeller’s game-high 25 points and winning play against Michigan.

    Burke won POY honors in voting from the coaches and media, though the complete tally is not revealed.

    He had 20 points and four assists against the Hoosiers. Oladipo had 14 points and a career-high 13 rebounds as IU battered Michigan on the boards, 46-27. He also played his usual stellar defense, which became part of his imprint on big games this year.

    In fact, Oladipo outpointed Ohio State’s Aaron Craft for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, which is an award handed down by the coaches. His teammate, swingman Will Sheehey, was tabbed as the Sixth Man of the Year, also only a coaches award.

    The media came off as more appreciative of Craft as he was among the five players named first-team All-Big Ten along with Burke, Oladipo, Zeller and Thomas. Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. replaced Craft on the coaches’ first-team list.

    Oladipo and Burke were the only unanimous selections by the coaches. The media was unanimous in voting for those two as well as Zeller and Thomas, a 6-7 lefty forward who scored in double figures in every game this season.

    The two voting bodies agreed on Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan as the Coach of the Year and Michigan State guard Gary Harris as the Freshman of the Year.

    Harris and MSU teammates Keith Appling and Adreian Payne appeared on both second teams as did Wisconsin forward Jared Berggren. Illinois guard Brandon Paul, one of the league’s leading scorers and most talented players, had to settle for third-team status.

    The coaches put out five-man lists for the All-Freshman team and All-Defensive team. Craft and fellow OSU guard Shannon Scott joined Oladipo, Morgan and Berggren on the All-Defensive squad. The All-Freshman team included Harris, Indiana guard Yogi Ferrell, Michigan guard Glenn Robinson III, Purdue guard A.J. Hammons, and Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker.

    Tourney Awaits

    With the Big Ten regular season in the books, one of the most anticipated Big Ten Tournaments in the 15-year history of the event is now at hand as all 12 league teams will convene in Chicago for the first time ever. The last time the tourney was held there was 2007, well before Nebraska joined the conference.

    Ryan put his Badgers in the top four of the standings as he has done in all 12 of his years as UW head coach. Wisconsin (21-10, 12-6) had the tiebreaker edge with Michigan and earned the four-seed, which allows the Badgers to avoid having to play on Thursday (March 14) in the tournament’s first round.

    Those two teams would meet in the March 15 quarterfinals if UM can just get past last-place Penn State (10-20, 2-16). Other first-day games have No. 8 Illinois (21-11, 8-10) matched with No. 9 Minnesota (20-11, 8-10), No. 7 Purdue (15-16, 8-10) taking on No. 10 Nebraska (14-17, 5-13), and No. 6 Iowa (20-11, 9-9) paired with No. 11 Northwestern (13-18, 4-14).

    Top-seeded Indiana will take on the Illinois-Minnesota winner to open quarterfinal play and that game will be followed by No. 2 Ohio State (23-7, 13-5) vs. the Purdue-Nebraska winner. No. 3 Michigan State (24-7, 13-5) faces the Iowa-Northwestern survivor.

    Ohio State has to be considered a team to fear. The Buckeyes enter the United Center as the conference’s hottest team with five straight wins, including eye-opening ones over Michigan State and Indiana.

    Plus, head coach Thad Matta has the best winning percentage in BTT history with a mark of 16-5 (.762). In his eight previous appearances, Matta has led the Buckeyes to the championship game six times and OSU cut down the nets in Chicago in 2007 as well as back-to-back in 2010 and ’11 in Indianapolis.

    Ohio State also has the best all-time record in the event – officially 19-9 even with the 2002 title and appearances the previous two years stripped away because of NCAA sanctions.

    Chicago was the site of the inaugural event in 1998 and will serve as the host for the eighth time in the tournament’s history. The conference tournament averaged 18,882 fans per session when the event was last held at the United Center in 2007. The men’s tournament set total and average attendance records while in Chicago in 2001 with 109,769 fans in attendance for an average of 21,954 patrons per session.

    Big Ten Network will broadcast the first two games of the tournament, the 7-10 and 6-11 games are on ESPN2, and the first two quarterfinal matchups will be shown on ESPN. CBS will take over from there with national broadcasts of the March 16 semifinals and a 3:30 p.m. Eastern start to the March 17 championship game. That will serve as the run-up to the network’s Selection Sunday show.

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  • BKB Races, Pre-Spring FB Outlook

    And down the stretch they come.

    It’s a three-horse race for the Big Ten men’s basketball crown – and Ohio State is in the lead by a full head – but there is still a lot of jockeying for position going on, especially in the middle of the pack.

    After the first-place Buckeyes took down Illinois on Tuesday night at the Schottenstein Center, Minnesota was trying to take down suddenly feisty Michigan State later that evening. A win by the Gophers would have created a five-team tie for fifth place as MSU and Minnesota would have joined Illinois, Penn State and Michigan with 7-8 conference records.

    That didn’t happen as Minnesota lost grip of a six-point lead and was outscored 12-1 in the final minutes of a 53-48 loss to the Spartans. That damaging defeat at Williams Arena dropped the Gophers to 17-10 overall and 6-9 in league play. Meanwhile, Michigan State (16-11, 8-7) inched up to fourth place.

    The following night, Wisconsin edged Michigan 53-52 as Josh Gasser banked in a three at the buzzer to turn Crisler Arena into a funeral home.

    The win kept faint hopes alive for the Badgers (21-6, 11-4) to grab a share of the Big Ten prize. Wisconsin needs to beat Northwestern at home on Sunday, take down Indiana in Bloomington on March 3 – and get some help from either IU or Penn State against Ohio State – to set up a showdown with OSU (26-2, 13-2) in Columbus on March 6.

    Ohio State, meanwhile, could secure a co-championship as soon as this weekend if Purdue (23-5, 12-3) loses at Michigan State on Sunday afternoon and the Buckeyes take care of Indiana, which hasn’t won a league road game all season, in a home game later that afternoon.

    The Boilermakers (23-5, 12-3), though, are still very much alive at the moment. They took down the rival Hoosiers (12-16, 3-12) on Wednesday night, 72-61, and can keep a lot of pressure on OSU with wins down the stretch at MSU Sunday and at home against Illinois (March 1) and Iowa (March 5).

    At this writing, though, no one team has locked down a particular spot in the standings, which, of course, corresponds to seeding in the Big Ten Tournament. Even Indiana and Iowa (10-17, 3-12) are in a battle to avoid last place.

    If Ohio State wins the regular-season title, either outright or shared, it would mark the fourth Big Ten championship for the program in six years. Only three conference teams have won as many titles in as sort a span: Ohio State (1960-64), Indiana (1973-76) and Michigan State (1998-2001).

    Paint By Numbers

    Also taking shape are some very interesting team and individual races for leadership in statistical categories for men’s basketball.

    For example, heading into Thursday night’s game between Penn State and Northwestern, PSU senior guard Talor Battle had a slight lead in scoring among Big Ten players at 20.8 points per game compared to Purdue center JaJuan Johnson’s average of 20.4 ppg. In the mix behind those players were Wisconsin forward Jon Leuer (19.1 ppg), Purdue guard E’Twaun Moore (18.6), Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor (17.9), Ohio State post man Jared Sullinger (17.8) and Northwestern forward John Shurna (17.3).

    In the rebounding department heading into the penultimate weekend of the regular season, Minnesota big man Trevor Mbakwe was the only Big Ten player in double figures (10.4 per game), but Sullinger was right behind at 9.9 rpg. Michigan State’s Draymond Green was third at 8.4 rpg.

    Michigan had some league leaders as well with center Jordan Morgan atop the conference in field-goal percentage (63.2) and point guard Darius Morris ranking first in assists per game (6.8).

    The battle for top free-throw percentage (minimum 2.0 made per game) was tight with Iowa swingman Matt Gatens in first at 87.5 but Leuer (86.3) and Penn State’s David Jackson (86.2) within striking distance.

    Interestingly, with three regular-season games to go teammates Aaron Craft and David Lighty of Ohio State ranked 1-2 in the league in steals per game, 1.89 to 1.82. Green was a hair behind at 1.81. Johnson appears on pace to lead the league in blocked shots per game (2.25) but Minnesota’s Ralph Sampson III is not far behind (2.07).

    Shurna was the only Big Ten player to that point making at least half his three-point attempts – he was a league-leading 56 of 112 for a percentage of 50.0 – but Illinois guard Demetri McCamey (61 of 127, 48.0), OSU’s Jon Diebler (76 of 159, 47.8) and Wisconsin forward Keaton Nankivil (48 of 101, 47.5) also were above 45 percent.

    As a team, Ohio is on pace to shoot right around 40 percent from long range. The Buckeyes lead the league at 202 of 506 for a mark of 39.9 percent. OSU also leads the league in overall field-goal percentage at 49.3 as a team. Minnesota was the only league team holding foes below 40 percent from the field (39.5) and Illinois was the only Big Ten squad holding teams under 30 percent from long range (29.7).

    Not surprisingly, Ohio State has led the conference in scoring (77.1 ppg) and scoring margin (+17.6) while Wisconsin was tops in scoring defense (57.4 ppg) and Minnesota, which has the biggest front line in the league, was best in rebounding margin (+5.4) and blocked shots (5.6).

    Spartan Women Claim Title

    The Michigan State women lost for the first time at home all season on Thursday night as the Spartans were nipped 54-53 at the Breslin Center, but there was still reason to celebrate that evening.

    By virtue of Penn State’s home loss to Purdue, 51-49, Michigan State had secured the outright Big Ten regular-season championship. It was the first such title for MSU, which shared the conference crown in 1997 and 2005.

    MSU clinched at least a co-championship with a win over Illinois on Sunday. The Spartans (24-4, 12-3) had a chance to win the league in style but missed a last-second shot against the Buckeyes (18-9, 9-6). Ohio State had its string of six straight league titles snapped but moved into a tie in the standing with Iowa (21-7, 9-6) and Michigan (16-11, 9-6), one game behind second-place teams Penn State (21-8, 10-5) and Wisconsin (15-12, 10-5).

    Purdue (19-10, 9-7) also has a winning record in league play, leaving just Northwestern (17-11, 6-9), Minnesota (12-16, 4-11), Indiana (9-18, 3-12) and Illinois (7-21, 2-13) on the wrong side of .500 in conference play.

    Michigan State advanced all the way to the NCAA title game in 2005 under head coach Joanne P. McCallie, who left in 2007 to take over the controls at Duke. The Spartans have found recent success under her replacement, fourth-year head coach Suzy Merchant.

    This season marked the eighth straight the Spartans have won 20 or more games and  it is also the ninth straight year they have won 10 or more conference games. The 24 wins are a program high under Merchant.

    The Spartans look to become the sixth No. 1 seed to win the Big Ten Tournament, which begins March 3.

    Football Fever

    Snow and freezing temperatures still blanket most of the Midwest, but that hasn’t quelled optimism for 2011 football across the Big Ten.

    Several programs will start their spring practice sessions in less than five weeks, including defending Big Ten co-champion Ohio State. The Buckeyes begin their 15-practice spring season on March 31 and have scheduled their annual Scarlet and Gray Game for April 23 in the Horseshoe. That is the Saturday of Easter weekend.

    Ohio State (12-1, 7-1 last season) has won at least a piece of the conference crown for a record six straight years and came through with a gutty 31-26 win over Arkansas in the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

    Still, the Big Ten finished just 3-5 in bowl games thanks to a rough New Year’s Day. League co-champion Wisconsin was nipped by TCU in the Rose Bowl while the other title sharer, Michigan State, was massacred by Alabama in the Capital One Bowl. Likewise, Penn State and Michigan lost to SEC teams Florida and Mississippi State and Northwestern couldn’t get past Texas Tech in the TicketCity Bowl.

    The league, however, should be noticeably stronger in the game of pigskin with Nebraska now set to join the conference. The arrival of the Cornhuskers swells the conference to 12 teams, which will now be split into two divisions. The new divisions will be The Leaders (Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin) and The Legends (Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern).

    The new format brings a new outlook and hopes suddenly are high again at Indiana, Minnesota and Michigan with newly hired coaches in place. Minnesota canned Tim Brewster in October and after the season filled the void by hiring Northern Illinois’ Jerry Kill. Indiana ousted Bill Lynch in November and tabbed Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson as his replacement.

    Michigan waited until January, after the Wolverines were bombed 52-14 in the Gator Bowl and were still smarting from a seventh straight loss to Ohio State, to fire embattled head coach Rich Rodriguez. After a very unsuccessful three-year run under RichRod, UM is now putting its trust on former assistant Brady Hoke, who ushered turnarounds at Ball State and San Diego State.

    Also looking to turn their fortunes are the Iowa Hawkeyes. Head coach Kirk Ferentz thought he had a title contender but instead endured a disappointing 8-5 season that included losses in the final three games of the regular season. That includes a defeat at the hands of lowly Minnesota.

    After that, Iowa’s top receiver (Derrell Johnson-Koulianos) and running back (Adam Robinson) were suspended for off-field issues, although the Hawkeyes did rally to upset No. 12 Missouri in the Insight Bowl, 27-24. Still, the bad news continued in the off-season as 13 Iowa players were hospitalized in January with a rare muscle disorder.

    Iowa will try to stay with Nebraska, Michigan State and Michigan in The Legends division with the loss of several key players including defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn and quarterback Ricky Stanzi. James Vandenberg will be under the microscope at QB with Stanzi departed.

    Ohio State also lost a slew of starters on defense and some offensive linemen but the Buckeyes did not have a junior leave the program early to head off to the NFL for the first time in the Tressel era.

    Key underclassmen from the Big Ten who are now at the NFL combine or planning a professional career include Wisconsin running back John Clay, Indiana wide receiver Tandon Doss, Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt, and three standouts from Illinois – running back Mikel Leshoure, defensive tackle Corey Liuget and linebacker Martez Wilson.

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OSU ended the season with two straight losses, allowing 34 points in the B1G title game with Michigan State and 40 more vs. Clemson in the Orange Bowl. The D needs work, but what should Urban Meyer fix first?

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Big10 RappUp

In our latest installment, we look at the state of the Big Ten men's basketball race, declare Michigan State as the winner on the women's side, begin to outline what lies ahead in football and more.

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