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Crazy Year in the Big 10

   by Jim Feist - 03/10/2009

Tournament play runs wild this week! It's the start of a wild few weeks with conference tournament play helping to whittle the field. Out in the Big 10, Ohio State made the title game two years with Greg Oden while Michigan State won it all in 2000. Here's a look at some of the top teams of the Big 10 looking to make a similar run.

Michigan State: The Spartans have exceptional balance, leading the Big 10 in scoring and third in scoring defense. They've outscored conference opponents by +8.5 points per game, far and away ahead of everyone else. The backcourt is run by sophomore guard Kalin Lucas (14 ppg), the leading scorer.
Up front is a pair of outstanding board bangers in 6-7 junior Raymar Morgan and 6-10 senior Goran Suton. Tom Izzo has another strong defensive team allowing 41% shooting. They are on a 10-5 run under the total. They have wins over Texas and Oklahoma State, but bad losses to Maryland (80-62) and North Carolina (98-63). Michigan State is a very good road team, though just 2-2 SU/ATS as a dog.

Purdue: It was late last season that a young Boilermaker squad caught fire, goig on a 14-1 SU, 12-3 ATS run under Coach Matt Painter. They've carried that over to this season, on a recent 10-2 SU, 7-5 ATS run. The backcourt has sophomore guard E'Twaun Moore (14 ppg) and junior 6-4 Keaton Grant, while up front they have sophomores 6-8 Robbie Hummel (11.8 ppg, 7 rpg) and 6-10 JaJuan Johnson (13.6 ppg).
Beginning with a 30-point effort Feb. 3 at Ohio State, Johnson is averaging 17.5 points. Purdue is a powerful defensive team, allowing 40% shooting and 59.8 ppg. They just went on a 4-1 run under the total holding three straight Big 10 teams to 47, 45 and 54 points. The Boilermakers are 8-3 ATS their last 11 as a dog, but failed to play good defense against Oklahoma and Duke, both losses.

Illinois: In a conference that prefers slow paced games and choking defense, no one is better than Illinois, allowing 56.5 ppg and 39% shooting, both tops in the Big 10. A successful style like that needs big bodies in the paint, and the Illini have a pair in 6-9 sophomore Mike Davis (11 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and 7-foot-1 sophomore center Mike Tisdale (11 ppg, 4 rpg).
This is a young team, with sophomore guard Demetri McCamey the leading scorer. One concern is that the bench has been erratic. "I would like to get them more involved," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said last week of his backups. In the NCAA tournament, teams play twice in three days, so depth matters. They are on a 10-2 run under the total and 5-2 SU/ATS as a dog. They scored 36 and 33 points in stunning losses to Minnesota and Penn State.

Minnesota: Coach Tubby Smith's team doesn't dazzle with stats and used a soft early schedule to reach 20 wins. As guard Lawrence Westrbook goes, so go the Gophers. Westbrook is a junior guard who leads the Gophers in scoring at 12.5 points per game. When Minnesota beat No. 20 Illinois in the team's first matchup on Jan. 29, Westbrook led the Gophers with 15 points, helping Minnesota snap a 20-game losing streak against Illinois.
The Gophers started 9-1 when he leads the team in scoring. But he totaled only 18 points in one earlier four-game span, part of a stretch that included six losses in nine games. When Big 10 play got rolling in January, the smallish Gophers went on a 4-6 SU, 2-8 ATS run. That included going 0-5 SU/ATS as a dog.

Ohio State: Thad Motto continues to replace stars like Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Jamar Butler, 7-foot Kosta Koufos and Othello Hunter. What's a coach to do? Reload! The Buckeyes are building around 6-7 sophomore Evan Turner (16.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg), plus guards 6-5 freshman William Buford and 6-6 soph Jon Diebler. Turner is second in the Big Ten in scoring.
They are not the power defensive teams they used to be, ninth in scoring defense in the Big 10, but second in offense behind Michigan State. The Buckeyes were on a recent 6-3 run over the total. That stretch included three straight crushing losses to Wisconsin, Northwestern and Illinois by 5, 3 and 2 points.

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