Big Ten Basketball Betting: Weekly Notebook
by Matt Severance - 12/29/2008
Surprising Minnesota is the lone remaining unbeaten team in the Big Ten as conference play opens this week, but the Gophers will be challenged right out of the gate by hosting two other ranked conference foes in the span of four days.
On Wednesday, in a game moved to 11 a.m. local time because of the Minnesota football team playing in a bowl on the same day, the No. 21 Gophers face No. 15 Michigan State, considered by many to be the class of the Big Ten. Then Tubby Smith's club hosts No. 23 Ohio State on Saturday.
Minnesota isn't being taken too seriously by the polls yet because its schedule, outside of an upset of Louisville, has been cupcake city. Still, these Gophers are the first squad to go 12-0 since the 1948-49 team. However, they barely out-rebounded High Point on Sunday after getting out-rebounded their previous three games. That could be a major problem against the Spartans, who lead the Big Ten in rebounding at 39.4 per game and appear to be getting in sync.
Smith said this weekend that he hadn't yet decided on what his regular rotation would be for Big Ten play - Minnesota has used six different starting lineups, and 10 players are averaging double figures in minutes played. Eight players average between six and 13 points.
"I think the guys feel good about one another," Smith said on Twincities.com. "But everybody is not going to be able to play in every game once the Big Ten starts. We know there's going to be times when we're going to go with the people that are playing the best. Guys are going to have to log more minutes."
Michigan State has won five games in a row - including beating then-No. 5 Texas - since being crushed by top-ranked North Carolina.
Senior center Goran Suton, the Spartans' best rebounder, made his first start Saturday since returning from knee surgery that cost him six games (including the UNC loss). Suton had had 16 points and nine rebounds in the win over Oakland and looks 100 percent. Top freshman Delvon Roe rolled his left ankle in that game but is thought to be OK to play Wednesday as of this writing.
"We're right where I thought we would be record-wise ... with the teams we played, with the amount of time we've been on the road, with the injuries we've had, I would have taken 9-2 with Suton, and we played mostly without him," MSU coach Tom Izzo said to the Detroit Free Press after Saturday's win.
Meanwhile, Illinois, like the Gophers, must face two ranked conference teams in the opening week, but the Illini head on the road for both. They tip off the Big Ten season on Tuesday night against No. 11 Purdue. Illinois, which was next-to-last in the Big Ten last season, has lost only once, by two points to a Clemson team now ranked No. 16. Purdue's only losses are to Top 5 teams Oklahoma and Duke, and the Boilermakers crushed Davidson this year. If the Illini can upset Purdue and then win at No. 24 Michigan on Sunday, they definitely will enter the Top 25 for the first time.
INDIANA: The Hoosiers enter conference play on a major downer, blowing a 21-point home lead in losing to mid-major Lipscomb on Sunday. That dismal result came less than a week after IU scored just 42 points against Northeastern, the Hoosiers' fewest ever in Assembly Hall. Indiana opens the Big Ten schedule on a three-game slide and at 5-7, the first time since the 2004-05 season that IU will begin conference play with a losing record. The Hoosiers are last in the league standings entering conference play for the first time since 1968-69. The news gets worse, as Indiana plays three of its first four conference games on the road - the Hoosiers have played two true road games so far this season and were blown out in both.
MICHIGAN: The Wolverines are dangerous this year because of the emergence of junior DeShawn Sims alongside star sophomore Manny Harris. Sims made history last week with 20 points and 20 rebounds in a win over Florida Gulf Coast. He became the first Wolverine to post a 20-point, 20-rebound performance in 31 years. The last was Phil Hubbard, who had 22 points and 26 rebounds vs. Detroit in March 1977. Sims' previous career high rebound total was 12. The Wolverines open conference play Wednesday vs. Wisconsin.
OHIO STATE: It was a rough 24 hours for the Buckeyes over the weekend as they suffered their worst home loss in nearly 11 years, 76-48 to West Virginia, and then lost a top recruit. Freshman backup point guard Anthony Crater is transferring from the school and was released from his scholarship on Sunday.
Crater was told when he was recruited that he would be the starting point guard after Mike Conley Jr. left the program, according to Crater's former AAU coach. But JuCo guard Jeremie Simmons has started all 10 games at the point and averaged twice as many minutes as Crater.
Crater scored 12 points and had 19 assists for the Buckeyes. He had played in all 10 games and was averaging 13.1 minutes per game. He played 12 minutes and missed both shots from the field in the loss to the Mountaineers.
After losing forward David Lighty for 6-12 weeks to a broken foot three games ago, the Buckeyes are now down two players from their regular eight-man rotation. They open Big Ten play on Wednesday against Iowa.