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Midwest Hoops Report

   by ASA - 12/17/2005

Minnesota: After All-American candidate Vincent Grier broke his left ring finger in the Gophers season opener Nov. 18, Minnesota Head Coach Dan Monson said he just hoped that Grier would get some minutes before the Gophers Big Ten opener Jan. 7. Well, not only did Grier get some minutes, he came back three weeks earlier than expected and actually started in Minnesota’s win over UNLV last week. Amazingly, Grier scored 19 points in 36 minutes of action and showed no signs of being tentative in traffic, going to the free throw line a game high 10 times. Grier, who was an All-Big Ten selection last season, is averaging 20 PPG in two games of action and is Minnesota’s crutch when they need a big basket. Senior guards Maurice Hargrow and Adam Boone picked up the slack in Grier’s absence, with Hargrow chipping in 15.3 PPG and dishing out almost five assists a night and Boone averaging 14 PPG, including a game high 28 in the Gophers’ impressive win at Arizona St. Dec. 5. Minnesota hosts Grambling at Williams Arena next Wednesday, where they are 4-1 SU.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions had an incredibly easy early part the schedule and they quickly capitalized, starting 3-0 in the first eight days of the their season. They knocked off Cornell, Nicholls St., and Long Island University all at home but have since gone 1-3, with losses to Clemson, at Texas A&M, and at in-state rival Pittsburgh. Sophomore Geary Claxton and freshman Jamelle Cornley are the only Lions averaging in double figures for the season, with Claxton leading the way with 15 PPG and almost eight rebounds a night. This edition of Penn State basketball sees only one senior on the roster in forward Travis Parker (9.4 PPG), which means this young club will have plenty of problems when they start play in the Big Ten Jan. 5 at Ohio State. Penn State resumes its soft schedule Sunday when they host St. Francis (PA).

Illinois: The No. 8 Illini have started 10-0 and have played all 10 of those games in a 24-day stretch. However, Bruce Weber’s club has played eight of those 10 at home (with Xavier being the most notable by a wide margin), and will actually play 13 of their first 15 games at home, including the Big Ten opener against No. 12 Michigan State Jan. 5. Senior guard Dee Brown leads the Illini in scoring (15.3 PPG) and assists (5.0), and fellow senior James Augustine is controlling the boards and the paint averaging 14.3 PPG and grabbing 9.3 rebounds per contest. The disconcerting aspect of the Illini’s start is the fact that Dee Brown is struggling mightily from the field. Last year, Brown shot 49% from the field and 43% from three, but this season his percentages have plummeted to 36% from the field and 31% from beyond the arc. The loss of point guard Deron Williams & Luther Head has certainly played a crucial role in Brown’s struggles, as he now sees defenses shifting their focus and keying on him. With only three impact players remaining from Illinois’ Final Four run last year, a struggling Dee Brown and passive James Augustine changes the dynamic of this offense considerably from last season. Illinois, 10-0 SU, hosts Coppin St. on Sunday.

Louisville: The No. 4 Cardinals continue their home and December dominance under head coach Rick Pitino. With their win Tuesday over Chicago St., Louisville improved to 34-2 SU in December under Pitino and 6-0 SU at home this season. The Cards will take that 34-2 mark into Rupp Arena Saturday when they visit a struggling and overrated Kentucky club coming off an embarrassing loss to Indiana, which is followed by a home contest against Middle Tennessee St. next Tuesday.

Purdue: The Boilermakers have struggled so far under new head coach Matt Painter, and the loss of senior guard David Teague in the middle of November didn’t help matters. Teague, who averaged 14 points and 5.5 rebounds last season, will miss the entire ’05-06 campaign after tearing a ligament in his knee during a practice. After starting the season 2-0, Purdue has lost four of five including a 40-point loss at Florida State in the Big Ten/ACC challenge two weeks ago. Senior forward Carl Landry (15.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG) leads four Boilermakers averaging in double figures playing only 24 minutes, however he has now decided to take a medical redshirt this year due to an injured knee. He will not play anymore this season. Landry will be back for his final year in 2006/07. Guard/forward Nate Minnoy has been a pleasant surprise chipping in 13.1 PPG. A frightening stat for Purdue fans is that the Boilers average almost 20 turnovers per game, which includes a season high 28 in the loss to Florida State, compared to only 13 assists per game as a team. Purdue, 1-5 ATS, hosts New Orleans on Saturday and then hosts IPFW on Tuesday. The Boilers are definitely happy to be back at home as they have been horrible on the road. In fact, Purdue’s last road win was on February 21st 2004 almost two years ago.

Wisconsin-Milwaukee: The Panthers continue to lean on the senior trio of Joah Tucker (15.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG), Boo Davis (13.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG) and Adrian Tigert (10.7 PPG, 7 RPG) to win games, as the three are shooting a combined 41% from the floor. The Panthers are a very experienced squad starting five seniors. UW-Milwaukee had a disappointing start to the season highlighted by a season-opening loss to No. 5 Memphis and an embarrassing loss at Tennessee Tech, but since then has won four of five. Milwaukee’s schedule is road heavy as the Panthers play six of their first 12 games away from US Cellular Arena. UW-M continues its road ways when they visit rival No. 24 Wisconsin on Thursday, and then the Panthers open up Horizon League play on Saturday when they host another in-state rival in UW-Green Bay.

UW-Green Bay: Speaking of the Phoenix, they are another Horizon League team that has played the majority of their season on road, as they have played five of their first seven away from the Resch Center. One of those losses came at Wisconsin last Wednesday when the Phoenix stuck around and actually pushed the Badgers for 20 minutes before being blown out in the second half, eventually losing by 20. Junior guard Ryan Evanochko had an impressive game that night scoring 22 points and remains the only Green Bay player to average in double figures for the season (14.9 PPG). The Phoenix are at UW-Milwaukee on Saturday, then face an interesting non-conference affair when they host No. 12 Michigan State next Wednesday. UWGB was completely embarrassed by MSU last year losing 104-46 in East Lansing.

Kansas: How times have changed for Kansas. Usually senior laden and thick with tournament experience, this version of Jayhawk basketball is unbelievably young and inexperienced. They have a freshman as their leading scorer in Brandon Rush (13.4 PPG) and a sophomore as their leading rebounder in C.J. Giles (7.1 RPG, 10.3 PPG). Three of their four losses (Arkansas, Nevada, Saint Joseph’s) have come by a combined six points, two of the three coming on a neutral court. Their best win right now is a win over California last Saturday, not good for a resume that won’t get any stronger with the weak non-conference schedule the Jayhawks sport the rest of the way. Kansas, which is 4-4 SU and 2-4 ATS, hosts Pepperdine next Monday.

Texas: Perhaps Texas was a little bit overrated. Coming into their showdown last Saturday with No. 1 Duke, who needed a miracle at home to beat Virginia Tech and who looked sluggish the same week against Penn, Texas was bound to take over the No. 1 ranking for the first time in the school’s basketball history. But instead, Texas got thoroughly embarrassed by Duke, giving up 41 points to J.J. Redick and losing by 31 points. And the game wasn’t even that close. Junior forward P.J. Tucker has the athletic ability to dominate in the paint and slash to the hoop, averaging 16.4 PPG and hauling in almost eight rebounds a game, but the Horns have no legitimate threat behind the arc. That could be a problem for play in the Big 12, but Tucker should make up for it in the paint, as there is no team in that conference that has a talent such as Duke’s Sheldon Williams who outscored Tucker 23 to 14 and blocked five shots. Sophomore LaMarcus Aldridge is having an outstanding season averaging 17.9 PPG and 10 rebounds per game for the Longhorns. Texas, 8-1 SU, hosts Tennessee on Saturday.

Oklahoma: The Sooners, playing eight of their first 10 at home, have taken care of business at the Lloyd Noble Center by blowing out Samford, Binghamton, and Belmont by a combined 77 points. They suffered a loss at the hands of No. 3 Villanova two weeks ago, a game which Oklahoma kept pace with the Wildcats for the first half but was then outscored 50-39 in the second half. Oklahoma came back and beat Coppin State last Saturday by 10 points, led by seniors Taj Gray (13.5 PPG, 6.7 RPG) and Kevin Bookout (12.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG), who lead four Sooners averaging in double figures. Oklahoma plays four of their next five at home before starting Big 12 play Jan. 7 at Nebraska. The Sooners, 0-3 ATS, 5-1 SU, host Southern University on Saturday.

Missouri: The Tigers have come out of the gate struggling, suffering a loss to Sam Houston in the opening round of the Preseason NIT, followed by two road losses to Arkansas and Davidson. Junior Thomas Gardner leads Missouri averaging 22.7 PPG and senior Jimmy McKinney chips in 12. Missouri will likely struggle in the Big 12 this year after head coach Quinn Snyder was banned from off-campus recruiting after an array of recruiting violations accumulated over the past three years. Snyder gets his team ready for a home date with Furman Sunday, then they hit the road for their annual date with No. 8 Illinois next Wednesday. Missouri is 3-3 SU and 1-2 ATS. Snyder is most likely walking on thin ice this year. If Mizzou continues to struggle, we can’t see Snyder back at the helm next year.

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