Big Ten Talk Podcast: Picking contenders and pretenders in the Big Ten title race

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USA TODAY

Big Ten Talk Podcast: Picking contenders and pretenders in the Big Ten title race

Welcome to the first Big Ten Talk Podcast of basketball season.

The Big Ten season is off to an intriguing start despite there not being an overwhelming of standout teams looking capable of challenging for a national championship.

But one of these teams is guaranteed to win at least a league title.

In this episode of the Big Ten Talk Podcast, CSN's Vinnie Duber and Matt Maniscalco go team by team to decide who's a contender and who's a pretender in the conference-title race.

Plus, they take in-depth looks at where Northwestern and Illinois stand — and which direction each program is heading — at this point in the season.

Take a listen below:

Red-hot Illini light up Michigan en route to runaway win

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AP

Red-hot Illini light up Michigan en route to runaway win

If Illinois is going to snap its NCAA tournament drought, taking care of business at home is going to be key.

That's exactly what the Illini did Wednesday night in Champaign, beating up on one of the worst defensive teams in the Big Ten in a 85-69 win over the visiting Michigan Wolverines.

Illinois had a phenomenal night shooting the ball, shooting an eye-popping 64.2 percent on the evening. Big runs at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half grew Illinois' lead as big as 20.

The Illini got terrific performances all around, but Maverick Morgan and Kipper Nichols stood out. Morgan started for the first time since November and made the most of it, scoring 16 points. Nichols, who had six points on the season entering Wednesday's game, led a huge bench effort with 13 points.

The teams, which both entered with less-than-impressive defensive track records, had no problem getting shots to fall and putting up points early. The squads combined to go 17-for-22 to start the game, and the shooting percentages stayed high over the first 20 minutes, with Michigan ending the first half shooting 63.6 percent and Illinois shooting 62.5 percent.

The Illini got out to a modest five-point lead before the teams started trading runs. Michigan grabbed an edge with a 7-0 spurt, then Illinois answered with seven straight, only for Michigan to once more rattle off seven consecutive points. But the Illini had the decisive stretch of the first half, finishing the period on a massive 17-2 run as the Wolverines — despite that high shooting percentage — went the final four and a half minutes of the first half without a basket. Illinois' last three makes of the half all came from behind the 3-point line, where the Illini were 5-for-6 over the opening 20 minutes.

In the first 20 minutes of the game, the Illini scored 13 points off turnovers, got 17 points from their bench and scored eight second-chance points. Michigan scored seven points off turnovers but had zero points in the other two categories.

Those advantages remained huge in the second half. Illinois used a 14-4 run to turn its lead from big to huge, and the Illini were even hotter after halftime, shooting 66.7 percent over the final 20 minutes. Illinois was 9-for-14 from 3-point range on the night, the program's finest night shooting the long ball since 2010. The Illini had a 30-17 rebounding advantage by game's end, owning a massive 28-9 edge in bench points.

Morgan was the high man with 16 points, one of six Illini players in double figures. Malcolm Hill scored 15 points, Nichols finished with 13, Jalen Coleman-Lands had 12 points on four made 3-pointers, and Leron Black and Michael Finke each scored 10 points.

Michigan's shooting was much worse over the final 20 minutes at 44.8 percent. But it was on the boards where the Wolverines were killed with just 17 rebounds on the night. D.J. Wilson finished with 19 points, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman scored 14 points, Derrick Walton Jr. had 11 points, and Zak Irvin had 10 points.

Illinois evened its Big Ten record at 2-2 with the win, improving its overall mark to 12-5. The Illini get another chance to do some home cooking Saturday against Maryland.

Michigan dropped to 11-6 overall and 1-3 in the conference with the loss. Next up is a Saturday showdown with Nebraska in Ann Arbor.

Jabrill Peppers ends Michigan career, declares for NFL Draft

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USA TODAY

Jabrill Peppers ends Michigan career, declares for NFL Draft

It didn't come as much of a surprise, but Jabrill Peppers made his intentions known Tuesday.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Peppers announced that he will forgo his senior season at Michigan and enter the NFL Draft.

"It's one of the hardest things I've ever had to do," Peppers told SI's Pete Thamel. "I'm choosing between cementing my legacy as a college player and starting my pro legacy. It's something you dream of when you were a kid. I was torn between the two."

Peppers was recognized as one of the best players in college football this past season, a fifth-place finisher in voting for the Heisman Trophy who made huge impacts in every facet of the game. His collegiate career ended with a whimper, though, as an injury kept him out of Michigan's loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Still, Peppers is expected to be a first-round pick in this year's draft.

A do-it-all star at the college level, Peppers figures to be a defensive player in the NFL, and he shone on that side of the ball with the Wolverines, this year earning the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Linebacker of the Year awards. He led the Michigan defense with 16 tackles for loss and ranked third on the team with 72 tackles. He also had four sacks, an interception and a forced fumble.

Peppers was also the Big Ten Return Specialist of the Year, racking up 570 punt- and kick-return yards and scoring a touchdown via a punt return. He also had 27 rushing attempts on offense, rushing for 167 yards with three touchdowns.

All in all, Peppers played 933 snaps at a jaw-dropping 15 different positions.