Big Ten PG:Badgers Back In Business

Welcome to Big Ten Point Guard!

Indiana's Cody Zeller, Michigan's Trey Burke and Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor

Hopefully, each week I’ll have a quick read on the Big Ten basketball scene as well as what’s happening in the nation at large. Most weeks this will appear on Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning.

Without any further ado, let’s get right to it:

Big Ten Notables

* Wisconsin Not Dead Yet – When Wisconsin opened Big Ten play 1-3, some may have written off the Badgers. UW’s three-game losing streak included rare home losses to Iowa and Michigan State.

But it was foolish to think Wisconsin wasn’t going to right the ship. The Badgers have reeled off four straight wins, including Sunday’s 67-63 win at Illinois.

There were some murmurs that Wisconsin point guard Jordan Taylor had lost a step as the Badgers struggled. But Taylor was named the Big Ten player of the week. He had 15 points and six assists in an earlier win over Northwestern and then had 19 points, nine rebounds and five assists in the win at Illinois.

UW coach Bo Ryan credits Taylor for bringing along a young roster.

“Point guard play is affected tremendously by the other players around him,” Ryan said. “In all fairness, Jordan is playing with the youngest front line in the Big Ten. You have to give him credit for bringing these guys along. You’re in to January now, this is when you hope all those parts are meshing. I think that helps Jordan to be in a position to create some opportunities and do the things a point guard needs to do.”

Up until the last couple of weeks, the Badgers have struggled scoring the ball. But Ryan said his team’s commitment to defense has been unwavering.

“Defensively, our guys have bought in all year,” Ryan said. “If we’re not shooting it well, we’re like every other team in the country. It limits your chances. If we can get consistent scoring from other positions, we are a much better team.

“I see the effort. I see the movement. Some of their reads offensively are getting better.”

One of the key players who has stepped up is 6-10 junior center Jared Berggren. He is second on the team in scoring (11.0) and rebounding (5.0). He had 18 points in the win at Illinois.

“With the losses we had in the frontcourt last year, he’s still learning the position from a 30-minute standpoint rather than an eight-minute kind of replacement player,” Ryan said. “He’s been up and down. But when he’s up, he can make all the difference in our team. He’s a big key in what we’re going to do this year.”

This isn’t the first quick turnaround we’ve seen Ryan engineer at Wisconsin. In 2008-09, the Badgers hit a rough patch with six straight Big Ten losses to fall to 3-6. But they rallied to finish the conference season 10-8 and even advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament that March.

Wisconsin, which moved back into the rankings this week at No. 25, will be tested Thursday as it hosts No. 16 Indiana.

“They know how to play,” IU coach Tom Crean said of Wisconsin. “They have a great guard in Jordan Taylor. They have a lot of guys who can play at a very high level. When they’ve been at their best, they’ve had very good balance. That’s what stands out to me. They keep moving forward. That’s a tribute to Bo and his staff and the continuity they have in the program.”

* Zeller Sets Pace For IU – Indiana snapped its own three-game losing streak with Sunday’s 73-54 home win over Penn State. The Hoosiers improved to 16-4 overall and evened their Big Ten mark at 4-4.

The Big Ten season has been a roller coaster ride for IU, which was ranked as high as eighth nationally before a home loss to Minnesota on Jan. 12. Still, even with the three recent losses, Indiana has already eclipsed its win total from last year’s 12-20 finish.

“I don’t spend much time on expectations on where our program is at or where our program would be at,” Crean said. “We spend so much time on the day to day. I like our chemistry and our team unity. The work ethic is tremendous.”

IU’s Jan. 18 loss at Nebraska – a 70-69 shiner where the Hoosiers blew a 13-point lead – left IU at 2-29 in Big Ten road games under Crean, the fourth-year head coach. Three of Indiana’s next four games will be on the road, including trips to Wisconsin, Michigan and rival Purdue.

Freshman center Cody Zeller came into the IU program with high expectations and he has lived up to just about all of them. He leads the team in scoring (15.1) and rebounding (6.4).

“Certainly, Cody has brought a lot to the program,” Crean said. “We anticipated that. There is no way to quantify or predict what a freshman will do in a program. You can be hopeful. Certainly, Cody has done a lot of things with a lot of room to get better and also help this team get better.”

* Better Days Ahead For Iowa – Sitting at 3-4 in conference play, second-year Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery is finding out how tough the Big Ten can be. But McCaffery can sleep well at night knowing he has two key pieces in his rebuilding project locked up for next year.

Sioux City (Iowa) East center Adam Woodbury and South Sioux City, Neb., point guard Mike Gesell are among a five-man class McCaffery has been working on since he took the job in the spring of 2010. Woodbury is ranked 56th overall nationally by 247Sports.com, while Gesell is ranked 85th.

“They were the prime targets for us,” McCaffery admitted. “When a coach takes over, it’s open season on his players. You have to secure your boundaries and keep what you have. You get to April and how many guys will be left that will impact your program the following year. Fortunately, we got Bryce Cartwright and Melsahn Basabe that first year.

“The important thing for us was to zero in on that junior class because we thought that class would help us in the future. I went to every game they played over the summer of the junior year and going into their senior year. We made sure we knew they were our highest priority. I think they also liked our style of play. They like to get up and down the floor. They felt comfortable with us. They saw improvement in what we’re doing.”

* Long Break Hurts Illini – Illinois had won three games in a row, including a 79-74 home win over No. 5 Ohio State on Jan. 10. But the Illini then had nine days off before a visit to Penn State last Thursday. They dropped that game 54-52 and also fell at home to Wisconsin on Sunday. The losses dropped Illinois out of first place in the Big Ten to fifth and out of the national rankings as well.

“After a good win against Ohio State, we had a nine-day break where you hoped it would be a positive thing,” said Illinois coach Bruce Weber. “You go to Penn State and you knew it would be tough. It was a close game, but they make the shot down the stretch. You come home and play a Wisconsin team that had struggled and now they are playing as well as anybody. We had a tough home loss – our first home loss.

“I’m not sure what’s an upset. It is a very balanced league. Your main guys have got to play and be consistent if you want to have success in the league.”

Illinois now has a six-day break until it visits Minnesota on Saturday.

“The schedule is what it is and you have to deal with it,” Weber said.

* Carmody Pans NCAA Loophole – Several years ago, the NCAA enacted legislation to allow graduating student-athletes the ability to transfer from their initial school to another to pursue a graduate degree without having to sit out.

This rule came to the forefront in the fall as Wisconsin used N.C. State transfer Russell Wilson as its starting quarterback and the Badgers won the Big Ten title. Two Big Ten basketball programs took advantage of it this season with point guard Sam Maniscalco transferring from Bradley to Illinois and guard Brandon Wood moving from Valparaiso to Michigan State.

Northwestern coach Bill Carmody was asked for his opinion on this emerging trend.

“I think it’s a joke,” Carmody said. “I think it’s ridiculous. Not that I wouldn’t try to do it … but I think it’s wrong. It’s not right. All of a sudden in the last 18 months, it’s all about student welfare and all that. But I think that’s ridiculous.

“Look at the Wisconsin football thing, the quarterback (Wilson), come on. That was a joke. I don’t see anything good about it. It lends to tampering with AAU coaches and other people. If the guy is out there and he can help your team, you’re going to go get him and I would, too. But it’s absolutely wrong. The NCAA for some reason thinks that good for the student. But it’s not good for college football or college basketball.”

MSU coach Tom Izzo shed some light on what happened with Wood’s transfer.

“The guy who deserves the most credit in our case is (Valpo coach) Homer Drew,” Izzo said. “I got the letter and I called him. We figured out how we wanted it to be handled both before we were going to recruit him and after. Homer did an incredible job.”

But even though Wood has been a godsend for the Spartans – he is third on the team in scoring at 9.7 points per game – Izzo isn’t sure this rule is a good thing for the game on the whole.

“I just don’t think it’s fair to the school, number one,” Izzo said. “I don’t think it’s fair to the kid, either. What’s going to happen is desperate times will call for desperate measures. We’ll be recruiting kids off other campuses. It won’t just be big schools recruiting off small schools. You’re putting things in kids’ minds now.

“You look at Wisconsin football. He might have been the best player on the team and he seemed like a great kid. I loved watching him. I don’t think it’s a good precedent to set. I think the negatives could far outweigh the positives.”

Izzo added, “Brandon is a great kid … but I am concerned about it.”

* Penn State Deals With Paterno Passing – News about the dire health situation of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno broke late Saturday night as the PSU basketball team arrived in Bloomington for a Sunday game at Indiana.

Paterno was pronounced dead Sunday morning after a battle with lung cancer. Indiana observed a moment of silence for Paterno prior to the game at Assembly Hall, which IU won 73-54. PSU coach Patrick Chambers said he and his team have to keep pressing on.

“It’s a difficult time here at Penn State with the passing of the legendary Joe Paterno,” Chambers said. “Our prayers go out to the family. We’re going to try to keep plugging on.

“It’s never easy when you lose a man of the magnitude of Joe Paterno, who has done so much for the university and so much for our men’s basketball program. We have heavy hearts. We have to continue to go out and try to compete. We hold him in our hearts, no question.”

Chambers was asked if Penn State basketball would be the same without Paterno.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “Everything he has done over his tenure included the men’s basketball program. The amenities we have now is because of him. The recruiting budget we have now is because of him. The things he has done and the success, he’s fought for it as well. He’s helped our men’s basketball program out tremendously.”

Penn State faces three of its next four games on the road, beginning with Wednesday’s game at Ohio State. The Nittany Lions are 1-6 on the road with their lone road win at Boston College (62-54) on Nov. 30.

“The road hasn’t been kind to us,” Chambers said. “At home, we’re a much better team. There is a lot of parity in our league. On any given night, anybody can beat anybody. You have to be ready to compete and play hard 40. You only have to win it by one at the end.”

* Izzone Heckles Hummel – Purdue coach Matt Painter had some harsh words for the Michigan State student section, the Izzone, during and after Saturday’s 83-58 loss to the Spartans. It seems that one of the students was heckling Purdue senior wing Robbie Hummel, who has missed 1-1/2 seasons due to knee injuries.

"I think the Izzone is great,” Painter said. “But if they're going to say, 'I hope you tear your ACL again,' I'm going to say something. He doesn't deserve that. We've got guys in our student section that probably say things that are out of line too, but I'm just not taking it.

“It was one guy. It wasn’t their student section. The game manager at Michigan State was great. He took care of it. In hindsight, I wish I had not said anything. But there’s also a part of me as a coach. You want to defend your player. I was impressed by the professionalism of the people at Michigan State. They handled it appropriately.”

Izzo was also taken aback by the incident.

"Robbie Hummel is one of the most respected people in this league, and I want our fans to be as hard as they can be," Izzo said. "I just don't want them to be ignorant.

"That would be a very ignorant statement. I would throw the guy out of here that said something like that. If he wants to talk about his grandmother, I wouldn't like it, but I'd deal with it. But if he wants to talk about an injury to a kid who's been through so much, I'll try to find out who it was and make sure that I buy his ticket."

Compounding matters, Purdue had a difficult time getting to East Lansing. Due to a winter storm, the Boilers sat on their plane for three hours. They then boarded a bus at 5 a.m. and it took five hours to get to the Breslin Center. They arrived just two hours before the scheduled noon tip-off.

And for Hummel, it was one of the worst games of his career. He was 0 for 11 from the floor and finished with just two points in the loss.

“That ball doesn’t go in all the time,” Painter said. “But you can still play hard and defend. That’s the great thing about Rob. He can do other things to help us win. You just stay positive with guys. For the most part, he took shots he can make. He never got in that rhythm.”

* Tough Lesson For Wolverines – Michigan ventured down to Fayetteville Sunday for a nonconference game at Arkansas. The Razorbacks hit their first 11 shots from the floor in building a 34-14 lead. But UM rallied and lost the game 66-64. It was played before a crowd of 19,500 at Bud Walton Arena and the Razorbacks improved to 14-0 at home this season.

The result was not what UM coach John Beilein was looking for, but he hopes his team learned something from it.

“I do believe our kids realized with just good solid defense that we’re not out of the game,” Beilein said. “Their speed was like a blur to begin with. You can’t duplicate that. But I think that gave us confidence that if a team makes its first 11 shots in a row, you can still stay in a game and have a chance to win it.

“It just seemed like they made every shot.”

The loss dropped Michigan to 1-4 on the road. Their only road win came over Oakland – the designated home team for a game at the Palace of Auburn Hills outside Detroit on Dec. 10. The Wolverines face tests at Purdue tonight and at Ohio State on Sunday.

UM freshman guard Trey Burke received his fourth nod as the Big Ten freshman of the week. Between a home win over Michigan State and the loss at Arkansas, Burke averaged 16.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. He scored 20 points and added four rebounds and three assists in the Wolverines’ 60-59 win against the Spartans

* Youngsters Impress Matta – Losses by then-No. 1 Syracuse and No. 3 Baylor allowed Ohio State to move up to No. 3 in this week’s USA Today coaches poll and No. 4 in the Associated Press media poll. (OSU was as high as No. 2 before its Dec. 10 loss at Kansas.)

OSU coach Thad Matta has enjoyed seeing a pair of his young players emerge in freshman wing Sam Thompson and sophomore guard Jordan Sibert. Thompson is an athletic player who has averaged eight minutes a game during the Big Ten season.

“Sam puts the team first,” Matta said. “He comes out of a (Chicago) Whitney Young program that is rich in tradition and winning. He has brought that to the table. He has done a very good job of grasping what we’re trying to do. He is a very athletic player. He is starting to understand how to use that athleticism with what we need done.”

Sibert had a breakout game with four made three-pointers and 12 points in the Dec. 28 win over Northwestern. But he went through a slump, missing a combined eight three-point tries over the next three games. But he came off the bench on Saturday at Nebraska and broke the string with a made three on his way to a seven-point effort.

“Jordan continues to work hard,” Matta said. “He opened up in one game and made some threes. He can really shoot the ball. Then he went on a stretch where he wasn’t making shots as effectively. He comes in every day and continues to work. We have seen signs where he is effective defensively and that carries over to the offensive end.”

Big Ten Notable Games This Week

* Michigan at Purdue, Tuesday, 7 p.m. (ESPN) – Michigan sits in a three-way tie for the Big Ten lead, but will need a win at Mackey Arena to stay there. Purdue wants to bounce back from Saturday’s thrashing at Michigan State.

* Indiana at Wisconsin, Thursday, 9 p.m. (ESPN2) – Indiana’s road woes have been documented (see above) and UW has been on a roll of late.

* Illinois at Minnesota, Saturday, 8 p.m. (BTN) – The Fighting Illini will want to stop their own two-game losing streak before their season starts to disintegrate.

* Michigan at Ohio State, Sunday, 1 p.m. (CBS) – OSU is 14-2 against Michigan under Matta, including 7-0 at home.

National Games To Watch This Week

* Duke at Maryland, Wednesday, 9 p.m. (ESPN) – First-year Terps coach Mark Turgeon gets his first taste of the Duke rivalry. The Blue Devils come in off their home loss to Florida State.

* N.C. State at North Carolina, 7 p.m. (ESPN) – N.C. State is tied with Duke, Florida State and UNC in the loss column with one ACC loss.

* West Virginia at Syracuse, Saturday, 1 p.m. (ESPNU) – West Virginia begins the week with a three-game winning streak. The Orange want to stay alone on top in the Big East.

* Kansas at Iowa State, Saturday, 2 p.m. (ESPN) – Kansas has been a very plesant surprise is the lone remaining unbeaten in Big 12 play. But Iowa State also has some high aspirations as well after a 4-2 start in the league.

* Missouri at Texas, Monday, 9 p.m. (ESPN) – The Tigers (18-1) have risen to No. 2 in both polls. Can they win one on the road in Austin, though?

My National Top 16

Here’s what I have: Kentucky, Missouri, Syracuse, Ohio State, Kansas, Baylor, Duke, North Carolina, Georgetown, Murray State, Michigan State, UNLV, San Diego State, Florida, Creighton, Indiana.

Big Ten Standings, Schedule

TEAM CONF OVERALL
Ohio State 5-2 17-3
Michigan State 5-2 16-4
Michigan 5-2 15-5
Wisconsin 5-3 16-5
Illinois 4-3 15-5
Purdue 4-3 14-6
Indiana 4-4 16-4
Minnesota 3-4 15-5
Iowa 3-4 11-9
Northwestern 2-5 12-7
Nebraska 2-6 10-9
Penn State 2-6 10-11

Tuesday’s Games

Michigan at Purdue, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Wednesday’s Games

Penn State at Ohio State, 6:30 p.m. (BTN)
Minnesota at Michigan State, 8:30 p.m. (BTN)

Thursday’s Games

Nebraska at Iowa, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Indiana at Wisconsin, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)

Saturday’s Games

Purdue at Northwestern, 4 p.m. (ESPN2)
Illinois at Minnesota, 8 p.m. (BTN)

Sunday’s Games

Michigan at Ohio State, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Iowa at Indiana, 6 p.m. (BTN)

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