Conference play fully underway

It was a busy New Year's Eve, as eight Big Ten teams got their conference seasons underway. In a conference that is looking increasingly wide open, every game figures to matter as teams jostle for position. Two squads managed to grab road wins over solid teams to hold pace with Illinois.

In a matchup of ranked teams, Michigan State went on the road and humbled previously-unbeaten Minnesota, 70-58 in a 63 possession game. As could have been predicted, the Spartans dominated the glass, grabbing an offensive rebound on a full 53% of their misses. This extreme rebounding disparity was the difference in the game, as the two teams otherwise put up very similar statlines (Minnesota was unable to force many turnovers for the usually sloppy Spartans). Kalin Lucas led the way with 24 points on 18 shots, although he only had 2 assists (and 2 turnovers). Alas, his assist-to-turnover ratio is now merely an insane 5.6 to 1, second best in the nation - Mr. Lucas may have something to say about Talor Battle being the conference's best point guard. Goran Suton and Raymar Morgan had their way inside against Minnesota's young frontline, each posting a double-double. Al Nolen had a nice game in defeat, with 14 points (8 shots), 7 assists, and 4 rebounds. Box score.

The other road victory went to Wisconsin, who beat Michigan 73-61 in a slow 59 possession game. As predicted, both teams had a nice day offensively, but Wisconsin was outstanding, shooting 66% from two, 43% from three, and committing only 8 turnovers. To illustrate just how efficient Wisconsin was offensively, consider that every Badger scored at least one point per shot. Trevon Hughes and Marcus Landry each put up 16 points, but Jon Leuer came "off the bench" - nearly immediately - and scored 12 points on just 6 shots. Leuer is having an outstanding sophomore season, and probably should be seeing more PT than the 18 minutes he's currently averaging.

The Badgers were able to hold Manny Harris to just 9 points on 13 shots, although freshman Zach Novak picked up the slack with an outstanding game (20 points on 11 shots and 8 rebounds). Are we sure those two guys didn't swap jerseys coming in? Box score.

In a closer-than-expected result, Ohio State held off a hot-shooting Iowa by the score of 68-65. Both teams were making it rain, but Iowa was just redickulous from downtown, making half of their 28 attempts. The only thing that derailed the upset bid was turnovers - the Hawkeyes coughed it up on 24% of their possessions. When they didn't turn it over, they were deadly, led by Matt Gatens (22 on 12) and Devan Bawinkel (15 on 8). Bawinkel's season has been pretty interesting - he has yet to attempt a 2-pt FG or a FT, and has yet to commit a turnover despite having played 207 minutes thus far. The Devan Bawinkel Watch is on to see how long he can go without recording a notch in one of these columns.

Back to the victors - Ohio State was excellent offensively, shooting 48% on twos, 60% on threes (almost entirely due to Jon Diebler's 7 for 10 shooting), and keeping their turnovers under the control. The problem was defense - the Buckeyes have now been torched in two straight games, and we may be seeing the major effects of David Lighty's absence. Nobody expected the loss of Lighty to hurt OSU's offense, and it hasn't, but the defense has not been the same since he went down. A win is a win, and Iowa does have a good offense, but OSU fans should be a bit worried about that formerly dominant defense without David Lighty. Box score.

Last but not least, Penn State got a mildly surprising victory over Northwestern, 61-57 in 62 possessions. Penn State dominated the glass, allowing Northwestern only 1 offensive rebound while grabbing 19 of their own. Talor Battle began his quest for the Big Ten scoring title with 26 points on 20 shots and 12 rebounds. A highly efficient game by Northwestern PG Michael Thompson was wasted - 10 points (6 shots), 5 rebounds, and 6 assists (no turnovers). Box score.

The conference now remains idle until Saturday, with a slate of four games all on the Big Ten Network (all times CT):

11:00am - Ohio State at Minnesota
1:00pm - Penn State at Wisconsin
3:35pm - Indiana at Iowa
6:00pm - Michigan State at Northwestern