February 8, 2008

Unlikely leaders fight for top spot

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UPCOMING GAMES
Saturday
Iowa at Minnesota
Penn State at Michigan
Northwestern at Michigan State
Purdue at Wisconsin
Sunday
Indiana at Ohio State
Tuesday
Michigan State at Purdue
Illinois at Minnesota
Wednesday
Wisconsin at Indiana
Ohio State at Northwestern
Thursday
Michigan at Iowa

Best matchup: Purdue at Wisconsin. The winner takes over sole possession of first place in the conference. It's a revenge game for the Badgers (19-3 overall, 9-1 in the league), who suffered their only conference loss in West Lafayette, 60-56 on Jan. 26. It was a big upset at the time, but here the young Boilermakers (18-5, 9-1) sit, making believers out of everyone. Purdue's 2007 recruiting class, ranked sixth nationally by Rivals.com, already is paying big dividends. Purdue's Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5 and 7 scorers are from the class. The leader is guard E'Twaun Moore, who's averaging 11.2 points. He scored 16 in the first meeting between the teams, and fellow freshman Robbie Hummel added 10 points, seven rebounds, five assists and a game-winning block as the Boilers ended the Badgers' 10-game winning streak. Wisconsin since has won three games, including road wins over Minnesota and Iowa.

The pressure is on: Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson. The Hoosiers (19-3, 8-1) have two difficult matchups this week, at Ohio State and at home against Wisconsin. The Buckeyes (16-7, 7-3) have lost only once at home all season, and the Badgers whipped IU 62-49 on Jan. 31. It is the Hoosiers' only conference loss. Indiana could survive a split, but two losses would be disastrous in the Big Ten race.

Upset alert: Indiana at Ohio State. The Buckeyes have played well at home, and the Hoosiers' only loss in conference play was on the road. Ohio State needs it a lot more than Indiana does if it harbors hopes of securing an NCAA Tournament bid. This would be enough nearly to ensure an invitation.

RPI watch: Purdue is a team to watch in the RPI. The Boilermakers climbed 10 spots this week, to No. 49. They look like an NCAA team, especially if the trend upward in the RPI continues.

Key stat: Michigan State guard Drew Neitzel has shot 28.6 percent (10-of-35) in the Spartans' three losses. He shoots 44.5 percent when they win.

Freshman to watch: Purdue's Hummel. The 6-8 swingman and Valparaiso native is a poster boy for Hoosier State high school basketball. He's not a highlight reel waiting to happen, but you look at the box score and he just kills you with everything he does. Look at what he's giving Boilermakers coach Matt Painter across the board: 10.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.2 steals, 49 percent from the floor, 45.5 percent from 3-point range, 84.8 percent from the line, a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Any coach in America would take that.

Who's hot: Minnesota guard Lawrence McKenzie is shooting 56.5 percent (13 of 23) over the past three games. … Minnesota center Spencer Tollackson, a 51.7-percent free-throw shooter for the season, is shooting 90 percent from the stripe over the past three games. … Penn State freshman guard Talor Battle has averaged 14 points (4.5 over his season average) and shot 53.6 percent (15 of 28) over the past three games.

Who's not: Wisconsin guard Trevon Hughes is shooting 31.3 percent (10 of 32) over the past three games. … Iowa guard Tony Freeman is shooting 33 percent (19 of 57) over the past five games. … Illinois shot just 18.4 percent (7-for-38) from 3-point range in its two games before Thursday night's meeting against Indiana.

Worth noting: Wisconsin is 13-5 on the road over the past two seasons. …The Badgers are 10-0 when they attempt more than 15 3-pointers in a game. … Six Minnesota players scored in double figures in its 92-72 victory over Northwestern on Wednesday. It was the first time the Golden Gophers had six players in double figures since Dec. 2, 1991, against Youngstown State. … Golden Gophers freshman guard Blake Hoffarber made his first career start against the Wildcats. … Michigan is in the midst of a season-high six-game losing streak. … Wolverines center Ekpe Udoh leads the Big Ten in blocks. He has had multiple blocks in 19 of Michigan's 22 games. … Michigan State hasn't played this week, giving it plenty of time to stew over its shocking upset loss at Penn State on Saturday.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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