Big Ten basketball roundup: Here comes a 'Challenge'

Big Ten basketball roundup: Here comes a 'Challenge'
December 2, 2013, 2:15 pm
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Vinnie Duber

Ready for a challenge?

This week marks the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and several teams will be going up against huge opponents. Five of the top 10 teams in the country play in either the Big Ten or the ACC, and all will be colliding with other quality opponents, be they ranked or unranked.

Highlighting the annual event is a Michigan-Duke matchup, as well as the Spartans taking on the Tar Heels and a Sweet Sixteen rematch between Indiana and Syracuse.

"Make or break" is a little too strong to use this early in the season, but get prepared to learn an awful lot about your favorite Big Ten team.

Let's get to the weekly roundup.

Illinois Fighting Illini (7-0)

AP Rank: Receiving votes

The Illini scored their first quality win of the season, going on the road and besting UNLV, 61-59. Though a two-point win over an unranked team isn't necessarily something that warrants shooting off confetti or anything, it was the first time Illinois got to see some real competition this year. Rayvonte Rice continues to be excellent for the orange and blue, and his 25-point, 10-rebound night (he threw in four steals for good measure) led the way in that win at UNLV. The Illini did struggle back at home against IPFW, needing all 40 minutes to escape with a two-point win. But the record remains spotless, and that's what matters most.

This week: at Georgia Tech, 6:15 p.m. Tuesday; vs. Auburn (in Atlanta), 2 p.m. Sunday

Indiana Hoosiers (6-1)

AP Rank: Receiving votes

Perhaps no team has more to gain from this week's Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup than the Hoosiers, who have impressed early on with their young talent but have a big-time matchup with Syracuse coming up next. The Orange are flying high, having just returned from a championship-winning week in Maui. You might recall that the Orange are the ones that knocked the top-ranked Hoosiers out of last season's NCAA Tournament. Four-seed Syracuse held one-seed Indiana to a season low in points, winning 61-50 in the Sweet Sixteen. The Hoosiers look much different these days. Can the young group avenge the departed Hoosiers?

This week: at Syracuse, 6:15 p.m. Tuesday; vs. North Florida, 6:30 p.m. Saturday

[BIG TEN FOOTBALL: AD says Tim Beckman will stay on as Illini head coach]

Iowa Hawkeyes (7-1)

AP Rank: 23

A trip to the Bahamas went decently for the Hawkeyes. After dispatching of Xavier in overtime in their first game, the Hawkeyes destroyed Tim Floyd's UTEP Miners en route to the tournament championship. But instead of expectedly meeting No. 2 Kansas in a huge showdown, Iowa got Villanova, the team that upset the Jayhawks on Friday. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, the Wildcats were still in an upset-minded mood, and another overtime game ended in Villanova's favor. Iowa somewhat has itself to blame for not winning the Battle 4 Atlantis crown. The Hawkeyes had a nine-point edge at halftime before getting outscored by 14 points in the second half and OT.

This week: vs. Notre Dame, 8:15 p.m. Tuesday; vs. Drake (in Des Moines, Iowa), 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Michigan Wolverines (5-2)

AP Rank: 22

Finally, a week without a dramatic upset of the Wolverines. After back-to-back Sunday defeats at Iowa State and vs. Charlotte in Puerto Rico, Michigan got to relax with just one game last week: an easy 87-45 home win over Coppin State. Hopefully John Beilein's team utilized this relatively easy week, though, as perhaps the toughest test of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge belongs to Michigan. The Wolverines head to Cameron Indoor to battle Duke. The Blue Devils are coming off a loss of their own. They fell to Arizona on Friday, Coach K's second loss of the year. Granted, Duke's two losses have come against a pair of top-five opponents. But both teams could really use a win in this one.

This week: at Duke, 8:15 p.m. Tuesday; vs. Houston Baptist, 11 a.m. Saturday

[BIG TEN FOOTBALL: No. 2 Ohio State in prime position for BCS title game spot]

Michigan State Spartans (7-0)

AP Rank: 1

The Spartans made a few headlines this week when Tom Izzo benched three key players — Keith Appling, Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson — for showing up late to class. Of course, that didn't slow them down one bit. Add those benchings to the fact that Gary Harris didn't play due to injury, and Michigan State still rolled over Mount St. Mary's, 98-65. No start also seemed to fuel those stars' fires a little. Appling finished with a team-high 17 points coming off the bench, while Dawson finished with a team-high 10 rebounds. Michigan State gets North Carolina this week in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and it better play well enough to leave a lasting impression on voters. The Spartans follow that game with 10 days off.

This week: vs. North Carolina, 8 p.m. Wednesday

Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-2)

AP Rank: Not ranked

Richard Pitino's group had a less-than-ideal trip to Maui, going 1-2 in the three games it played there. The Gophers had a good showing against a top-10 team in Syracuse, only losing by eight, but they lost pretty handily to Arkansas before beating up on Chaminade. Minnesota was hampered by good defenses during their time in Hawaii, posting its two lowest-scoring games of the season in the two losses. The Gophers' Big Ten/ACC Challenge opponent, Florida State, should provide quite a challenge indeed. The Seminoles gave Michigan everything they had a few weeks back in Puerto Rico, showing they are certainly an opponent to be reckoned with.

This week: vs. Florida State, 8:30 p.m. Tuesday; vs. New Orleans, 2 p.m. Saturday

[BIG TEN FOOTBALL: Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 14]

Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-2)

AP Rank: Not ranked

After getting a five-point win over Northern Illinois this past weekend, Nebraska has a very rough couple of games ahead. The Big Ten/ACC Challenge brings Miami to town, followed by a road trip play to in-state rival Creighton, a team boasting one of the finest players in the country in Doug McDermott. But Terran Petteway might be Nebraska's answer to McDermott. Now, Petteway's 16 points per game aren't close to McDermott's 24.9 average, but Petteway does rank in the top 10 in the Big Ten in scoring. And he knows how to fill up the state sheet. Against NIU, Petteway scored 12 points, hauled in five rebounds and tallied an assist, a steal and a block.

This week: vs. Miami, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday; at Creighton, 5 p.m. Sunday

Northwestern Wildcats (4-4)

AP Rank: Not ranked

Northwestern's trip to Las Vegas went about as poorly as expected, with the Cats getting their bell rung on back-to-back nights against Missouri and UCLA. Chris Collins' bunch hadn't looked great against the low-level competition they'd played early in the season (including a loss to Illinois State), and this big step up didn't figure to go well. The game against ranked UCLA was a particular struggle. Already up against a strong team, the Cats were without their best player in Drew Crawford, leading to a 95-79 final that was over right from the start. The Wildcats have now lost all three games they've played against major-conference opponents (Stanford, Missouri and UCLA).

This week: at North Carolina State, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday; vs. Western Michigan, 4 p.m. Saturday

[BIG TEN FOOTBALL: Nebraska's Bo Pelini: 'If they want to fire me, go ahead']

Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0)

AP Rank: 5

Welcome to the top five, Buckeyes. A 35-point win against North Florida was all Ohio State had to do last week, but thanks to some upheaval at the top of the rankings, it's now a top-five team. The Buckeyes' ability to spread around the scoring continues to impress, as Aaron Craft, Amir Williams and Lenzelle Smith Jr. are tied for the team-lead, averaging 11.3 points per game. It's the defense that also has fueled the Buckeyes' so-far undefeated campaign. Craft and Shannon Scott are both averaging more than two steals per game. Ohio State will face off against a major-conference opponent in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge this week, hosting Maryland.

This week: vs. Maryland, 6 p.m. Wednesday; vs. Central Connecticut, 3:30 p.m. Saturday

Penn State Nittany Lions (6-2)

AP Rank: Not ranked

An overtime win over St. John's and a three-point loss to Ole Miss was not a bad showing for the Lions in Brooklyn last week, and they'll have another great opportunity against a big-time opponent when they take on Pitt on Tuesday. Your weekly update of how great Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill are won't disappoint, as the remarkable Penn State backcourt duo both rank in the top three when it comes to conference scoring. Newbill is currently second with 19.5 points per game, and Frazier ranks third with 18.5 points per game. Only Michigan's Nik Stauskas has more (20.3 PPG). Frazier also still leads the Big Ten with 7.5 assists per game, while Ross Travis ranks fifth in the conference in rebounding.

This week: at Pittsburgh, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday; vs. Marshall, 3 p.m. Saturday

[LAST WEEK: Big Ten basketball roundup: Badgers star in the Kaminsky Show]

Purdue Boilermakers (6-2)

AP Rank: Not ranked

Walt Disney World was anything but the happiest place on Earth for Purdue over the weekend. The Boilermakers lost back-to-back game in the Old Spice Classic to Oklahoma State and Washington State. Granted, the Cowboys are one of the country's top teams, even receiving a first-place vote in the latest AP poll. But the Boilers couldn't even finish things out strong, needing a furious comeback to beat Siena in their final game in Orlando. Purdue ranks last in the Big Ten in points allowed, surrendering an average of 72.9 per game. But A.J. Hammons is still blocking more than four shots a game. So there's that.

This week: vs. Boston College, 8 p.m. Wednesday; vs. Eastern Michigan, 1 p.m. Saturday

Wisconsin Badgers (8-0)

AP Rank: 8

While the margins of victory weren't huge, Wisconsin won both of its games in the Cancun Challenge. The Badgers topped St. Louis by six and West Virginia by seven, remaining undefeated and climbing even higher in the top 10 in the country. But it's a big week for the Badgers. They travel to take on Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge before the in-state rivalry game with Marquette. But Wisconsin has plenty of offensive firepower. Four Badgers are averaging 11.5 points per game or more, with no one in the conference hitting more 3-pointers than Ben Brust, who also leads the league in free-throw percentage.

This week: at Virginia, 6 p.m. Wednesday; vs. Marquette, 1:15 p.m. Saturday