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February 23, 2007

Big Ten Breakdown: Spartans riding Neitzel

Weekly Big Ten Update
Team Conf. Overall
Ohio State 13-1 25-3
Wisconsin 12-2 26-3
Indiana 8-5 18-8
Illinois 8-6 20-9
Iowa 8-6 16-12
Michigan State 7-6 20-8
Michigan 6-7 18-10
Purdue 6-7 17-10
Minnesota 3-11 9-19
Northwestern 2-11 13-14
Penn State 1-12 10-16
Standings as of 2/22

Best matchup: Wisconsin at Ohio State. OK, so the Badgers' loss at Michigan State on Tuesday night took some luster off the No. 1 vs. No. 1 matchup. Still, it should be a terrific game. Wisconsin, The Associated Press' top-ranked team, won the first meeting this season 72-69 in Madison. Both teams are better, with Buckeyes freshmen Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. developing into one of the best tandems in the college game. The Badgers take their cues from All-American senior Alando Tucker, who had a streak of seven consecutive games with at least 20 points halted in the upset against the Spartans. This will be a great measure of how far Thad Matta's baby Buckeyes have come. Ohio State, the No. 1 team in the coaches' poll, carries in a 12-game winning streak. OSU has a homecourt streak of 24 in a row.

Worst matchup: Illinois at Penn State. How much excitement can two teams that average 66 points per game generate? The Nittany Lions have lost 11 in a row, so the Illini should be able to get a much-needed win. Just don't expect anything remotely aesthetically pleasing.

The pressure is on: Michigan State guard Drew Neitzel. The Spartans (20-8, 7-6) can remove any doubt about their prospects for an NCAA bid with a victory over Indiana. Tom Izzo's squad has a highly respectable RPI of 25, and a victory would ensure at least a .500 mark in conference. Neitzel is MSU's leading scorer at 18.5 points per game, and he appears to have relocated his shooting stroke in the past two games after a three-game stretch in which he shot 26.8 percent (11-for-41). The Spartans lost all three of those games, including a 62-38 drubbing at Illinois. Neitzel scored 28 points in the huge win over Wisconsin on Tuesday, shooting 10 of 17 - including 6-for-11 from 3-point range. This game is critical, too, because the Spartans' final two games are on the road, at Michigan and Wisconsin.

Upset alert: Purdue at Northwestern. The Boilermakers' NCAA hopes were dealt a severe blow when they were dominated at Iowa on Wednesday night. This is a game they should win easily, but can they get up for playing the Wildcats? NU's methodical style ensures a low-scoring contest and could keep things close.

Who's hot: Michigan State has won three in a row because it has gotten back to scoring the ball. After a four-game losing streak in which the Spartans averaged 50.5 points, they've averaged 68 per game in the past three. Spartans guard Travis Walton has 20 assists to six turnovers over the past two games. Minnesota junior guard Lawrence McKenzie has continued his hot play. Over the past five games he's averaging 19.4 points and shooting 51.6 percent (32 of 62, including 16-for-31 from 3-point range).

Who's not: Michigan has dropped two of three because it's having trouble scoring. The Wolverines have averaged 48 points per game over the past three games and have shot 38.3 percent. Ohio State starting forward Ivan Harris has scored in double figures only once in his past eight games. He went scoreless in the Buckeyes' 68-60 victory over Penn State on Wednesday night. He's scoring just 5.0 points during the stretch.

Must see TV: Wisconsin at Ohio State on Sunday, 3 p.m., CBS.

Key stat: Purdue forward Carl Landry was held to less than 10 points for the first time all season in the Boilermakers' loss to Iowa on Wednesday. It was largely his own fault - he shot just 3-for-9 from the foul line in finishing with nine points.

Bench bonus: Penn State forward D.J. Jackson scored 14 points off the bench in just 25 minutes in the loss to Ohio State on Wednesday. Northwestern's bench got a huge lift from guards Jason Okrzesik and Jeff Ryan in a victory over Texas Pan American on Wednesday night. They combined for 21 points, including 15 of 16 free throws. Okrzesik was 9-for-9.

They said it: "We still have a game to play on Sunday. Our schedule doesn't stop because we lost." Wisconsin forward Brian Butch

Injury report: Indiana guard Earl Calloway (right shoulder) has missed the past two games. He averages 9.2 points and 4.2 assists per game. No word yet on whether he'll play at Michigan State.

Worth noting: Illinois sophomore Jamar Smith turned himself in on Wednesday on charges stemming from a Feb. 12 car accident that injured both him and freshman teammate Brian Carlwell. Smith, who averaged 8.1 points per game this season, was charged Monday with aggravated driving under the influence, a felony carrying a sentence of up to 12 years in prison, and leaving the scene of an accident. Smith, who will not play again this season, is expected to plead not guilty. He and Carlwell, who spent four days in the hospital following the accident, sat next to each other on the Illini bench during their team's victory over Michigan on Wednesday night. Its victory over the Wolverines gave Illinois 20 wins for the eighth consecutive season. Ohio State has an 11-game conference winning streak, the second-longest in school history. The streak is eclipsed only by the 27 in a row by the John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas teams of 1960-62. Buckeyes guard Jamar Butler tied a season high with 18 points in the Wednesday night victory over Penn State. Michigan State is trying to make the NCAA Tournament for the 10th consecutive season, the longest streak in the Big Ten and fifth-longest in the nation. Only Arizona (22), Kansas (17), Kentucky (15) and Duke (11) have longer current streaks. Purdue freshman guard Chris Kramer had a career-high 19 points in the loss to Iowa.

Freshman to watch: Ohio State center Greg Oden has scored in double figures in the past six games, though he hasn't topped the 20-point mark since Jan. 20 against Iowa. The Buckeyes will need a big effort out of him against Wisconsin on Sunday. The Badgers big men will try to draw him away from the basket on the defensive end.

Something you may have missed: Ohio State coach Thad Matta clearly was miffed after the Penn State game when questioned by reporters about the lack of shots for Oden. Three players took as many or more shots than Oden against the much smaller Nittany Lions.

RPI watch: Entering play Thursday night, Ohio State was third and Wisconsin sixth in the RPI. The Buckeyes peaked at second a week ago, while the Badgers fell from fourth. Indiana is 22nd, and Michigan State made a huge jump from 36th to 25th. Next up is Illinois, which also is climbing the charts. The Illini are 32nd in the RPI and probably can wrap up their NCAA bid with one more regular-season victory.

The conference RPI stayed steady at fourth.

More Conference Breakdowns: ACC | Big 12 | SEC | Pac-10 | Big East

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