Hot-shooting Northwestern ends Nebraska's perfect start to Big Ten play

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AP

Hot-shooting Northwestern ends Nebraska's perfect start to Big Ten play

Good things tend to happen when the shots are falling.

Northwestern's losses this season — and even some of its wins — have followed a certain theme, one of hot starts and cool finishes. But the Wildcats shot well throughout Sunday's game at the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who were one of two remaining teams with perfect records in conference play. But the Huskers' undefeated start to conference season came to a crashing halt Sunday, as the Cats walked out of Lincoln with a 74-66 victory.

For Northwestern, the win only evened its league record at 2-2, but with four of the Cats' first five conference games coming away from Evanston, two wins in the first three of those road contests ain't too shabby at all.

Northwestern shot a sparkling 51 percent from the field in this one, a stellar 50 percent after halftime. The shooting from behind the 3-point line was particularly good, with the Cats splashing home 11 of their 24 long-range attempts. Vic Law was 5-for-6 on 3s and finished with 15 points. Scottie Lindsey led the way for Northwestern with 19 points, hitting two 3s.

The Cats also came to play defensively, limiting the Huskers' high-scoring back-court duo of Tai Webster and Glynn Watson Jr., who came in averaging close to a combined 45 points per game in the team's three Big Ten contests. While Webster used a furious finish to the first half to boost his scoring numbers and finish with 17 points, Watson never got going and scored just six points on the afternoon.

The Cats actually started slowly but soon caught fire as the first half wore on, at one point making five straight shots. Law hit three consecutive triples to give the Cats an eight-point edge, and that stretched to 10 on a Bryant McIntosh 3 with just two and a half minutes till halftime. But then came that Nebraska surge at the end of the first half. Jack McVeigh came off the bench to hit Nebraska's first 3-pointer of the game, and then Webster took the ball away from McIntosh to get a fast-break layup and hit a free throw to complete a three-point play. That chopped Northwestern’s lead down from 10 to four in 20 seconds, but Nebraska wasn't done. Another Cats turnover turned into another Huskers triple, and a missed 3-pointer led to another Webster breakaway, with his layup giving Nebraska the lead. Webster polished off the first half with a jaw-dropping buzzer-beating triple to cap a 14-0 run over the final minute and 42 seconds of the period.

The Huskers led by as many as seven in the early stages of the second half, but then the Cats kept bombing in the 3s. Gavin Skelly hit one to cut the gap to four, and a Law triple sliced it to two not two minutes later. Lindsey put the Cats in front with a 3-pointer and tied the game at 50 with a jumper shortly thereafter. Northwestern didn't trail again. Lindsey and Law hit back-to-back 3s to stretch the Cats' lead out to six, and though the Huskers got as close as two inside of eight minutes to play, Dererk Pardon's back-to-back jumpers coupled with Lindsey's three free throws with a little more than six minutes left kept the Cats ahead for the duration.

In addition to strong shooting from the field and from 3-point range, Northwestern also shone at the free-throw line, going 13-for-14 from the stripe.

Nebraska dominated the glass early and turned Northwestern turnovers into a decent amount of points in the first half, but the teams finished almost even in each of those categories by game's end, with 30 rebounds apiece and the Huskers holding a slight 15-14 edge in points off turnovers.

Lindsey's 19 points and Law's 15 points were joined by the double-digit point production of Pardon and McIntosh, who scored 13 and 11 points, respectively.

Webster's 17 were the most by a Nebraska player, with Michael Jacobson scoring 12 points and Evan Taylor scoring 11 points.

The win sent Northwestern to 13-4 overall and 2-2 in Big Ten play. Next up is a Thursday road game at Rutgers.

The loss, Nebraska's first in Big Ten play, dropped the Huskers to 9-7 overall and 3-1 in the conference. They travel to play Michigan next weekend.

Big Ten reportedly talking about expanding conference basketball schedule

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USA TODAY

Big Ten reportedly talking about expanding conference basketball schedule

Conference play could be getting a bit longer in the Big Ten.

According to a Monday report from ESPN's Jeff Goodman, there are talks about expanding the Big Ten conference basketball schedule from 18 games to 20 games.

Commissioner Jim Delany told Goodman that while there hasn't been a vote among the league's coaches yet, there are ongoing discussions about lengthening conference play by a couple of games.

Conference play expanded a decade ago, when the number of league games jumped from 16 to 18 for the 2007-08 season.

In order for there to be enough days in between games for players, an expanded league schedule would mean the beginning of conference play coming earlier in December. Recently, conference play has typically started around New Year's. Of course, there will be a week earlier start to conference play this season with the Big Ten Tournament — at Madison Square Garden in New York — a week earlier than usual, wrapping a full week before Selection Sunday.

Similar moves have been made in football, with the Big Ten starting a nine-game conference slate last fall. It's meant league games in September — a no-no in the past — and this season will feature a conference matchup in the season's first week, when Indiana and Ohio State play on Aug. 31.

Expanding conference play in college basketball would have a similar effect as it has had on schedules in football. With fewer non-conference slots to fill, those games become more important to a team's NCAA tournament resume. It forces teams to schedule more high-profile opponents and eliminate games against small schools that generate little interest during the season's first couple months.

The ACC, a league that often runs neck and neck with the Big Ten in the debate over which is America's top basketball conference, announced it will be moving to a 20-game schedule last July, with that starting in the 2019-20 season.

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo shared some thoughts on the subject with Goodman, saying he expects the move to happen.

"I personally see us going to a 20-game schedule," Izzo told Goodman. "I don't think there's any question it's going to happen — and I'm not overly against it."

Ohio State has its new head coach in Butler's Chris Holtmann

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USA TODAY

Ohio State has its new head coach in Butler's Chris Holtmann

Ohio State found its next head basketball coach, going to one of Thad Matta's former employers to find the longtime coach's successor.

The school announced Friday morning that Butler head coach Chris Holtmann is the Buckeyes' new head coach.

Holtmann spent the past three seasons as the head coach at Butler, posting a 70-31 record and making NCAA tournament appearances in all three of those seasons, including a trip to the Sweet Sixteen in March. He was named the Big East Coach of the Year this past season.

Holtmann spent two seasons as an assistant at Ohio under former Illinois head coach John Groce, a former Matta assistant, before serving as the head coach at Gardner-Webb for three seasons. Holtmann left Gardner-Webb for an assistant-coaching job at Butler, though he was quickly promoted to interim head coach and then head coach in Indianapolis.

Holtmann takes over for Matta, who himself was the Butler head coach in the 2000-01 season before becoming the all-time wins leader at Ohio State. Matta's mostly successful tenure was ended earlier this week, when athletics director Gene Smith saw recruiting misses teaming with declining win totals to create a dip in Matta's success.

This week has been dominated by rumors and declarations of lack of interest from numerous candidates and possible candidates for the job. Xavier head coach Chris Mack and Creighton head coach Greg McDermott both made their decisions to stay at their current schools known via social media, and a report linking Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg to the job forced a no-interest comment from Hoiberg, too.

Despite those repeated "no thank yous," though, Ohio State is still seen to be one of the best jobs in college basketball thanks to one of the highest-profile athletics departments and one of the best conferences in the country, providing ample resources.

Recruiting will be a big expectation for Holtmann, as Matta's performance in that area dipped near the end of his tenure. The Buckeyes missed the NCAA tournament in each of the past two seasons, while Holtmann just took Butler to a No. 4 seed in the Big Dance, the highest in that program's history.