In the post directly below, I opined that Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota were angling for position to be the challengers to Michigan State for the conference championship. And that everyone's hopes would depend a great deal on how they weathered the tough winter road trip to Penn State. This week's games provided early clues, as the first four teams mentioned all played each other, while the Spartans went to Happy Valley.
Michigan State 78 Penn State 73
The Spartans control the glass in a big way. A 41-22 rebounding advantage, led by Goran Suton's 14 gave them the edge they needed. Penn State got good production from Jamelle Cornley (26 points) and Talor Battle (20), but Cornley was kept off the glass, and his inside partner Andrew Jones was ineffective. MSU gets a clutch win in the bitter cold of central Pennsylvania.
Minnesota 78 Wisconsin 74 (OT)
This is nothing short of an enormous win for the Gophs, taking place at the Kohl Center. Doing it on the road marks this as the kind of game that will reverberate through the conference standings all year long. In fact, we can realistically mark Wisconsin off the list of championship contenders. The standings say they are only two games back and haven't played MSU yet, but you can't lose a game like this at home and expect to win a title.
Tubby Smith now has this scalp under his belt, to go with his non-conference win over Louisville. Lawrence Westbrook scored 29 points, and once again Smith got bench production from Devron Bostick and Paul Carter. The duo combined for 21 and Carter grabbed 11 rebounds. Minnesota shot 48 percent from the floor, an extraordinary performance given the reputation of the UW defense and the venue. Meanwhile, the Badgers clanged a 5-24 performance from three-point land off the rim.
Illinois 66 Michigan 51
The Illini continue to send the message that last year was an aberration. Like the Gophers, Illinois shot the ball well, hitting 48 percent, and holding UM to 32 percent from the floor. Illinois also had a 10-point edge on the foul line, and used a nice inside-outside combination of Demetri McCarney (17 points) and Mike Tisdale (24 points) to break open what was a tight game at half. Manny Harris had 20 in a losing effort.
Purdue 63 Northwestern 61
The Boilermakers get a survival win, coming from 14 down at Welsh-Ryan Arena. A huge 41-22 rebounding disparity was able to overcome 22 turnovers for Matt Painter's crew.
Ohio State 77 Indiana 53
A sloppy turnover-laden affair, was settled by Ohio State's hot shooting. The Buckeyes hit 13-24 from behind the arc, and put five players in double figures. Tom Pritchard has 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Hoosiers.
Player of the Sequence: The nod has to go to Lawrence Westbrook. He led all conference scorers and led his team to a huge win on the court of an archrival.