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Spartans anticipate Hawkeyes while atop Big Ten

BY BRENDAN STILES | JANUARY 19, 2010 7:30 AM

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Three weeks into the Big Ten season, one team has clearly established itself as the conference’s top dog.

At 5-0 in the conference, Michigan State is the lone unbeaten after a 73-63 win over Illinois on Jan. 16 in a battle for sole possession of first place.

The sixth-ranked Spartans will try continue their winning ways on Wednesday, when they host Iowa, a team that picked up its first Big Ten win of the season last weekend at home against Penn State.

The two teams met on Jan. 9 in Carver-Hawkeye Arena with Michigan State emerging victorious, 71-53. The Spartans clearly showed they were the better squad, but the performance left head coach Tom Izzo uneasy afterwards.

He said his main challenge is making sure his players don’t take the Hawkeyes lightly even though they had met 11 days earlier.

“This is where we’re going to learn a lot about our team, even though it’s a home game against a team that hasn’t had as much success,” he said during the Big Ten teleconference on Monday.

Purdue

One team many pictured sitting atop the Big Ten all season was Purdue, and for a while, the experts looked to be spot on in their assessment of the Boilermakers, who won their first 14 contests of the 2009-10 season.

But lately, the 13th-ranked Boilermakers have been on a bit of a slide, losing three straight. The skid began on Jan. 9 at Wisconsin and grew after a second-half meltdown at home against Ohio State last week, and most recently, a 72-64 loss at Northwestern over the weekend.

Now at 2-3 in Big Ten play, Purdue desperately needs a win tonight at Illinois, and head coach Matt Painter isn’t shy about his disappointment.

“We haven’t played very well,” he said Monday during the Big Ten teleconference. “We’re just not very tough. We don’t play hard enough, we don’t chase rebounds, and when you do that against good teams, you’re going to get beat.”

Ohio State

While Purdue is going the wrong direction, the Big Ten squad appearing to have regained its swagger is Ohio State.

After a rough 1-3 start in conference play that included road defeats to Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota, the Buckeyes pulled off two big victories last week and climbed back into the polls, now ranked 21st nationally.

Perhaps the biggest reason for Ohio State’s recent success is the return of junior Evan Turner from a back injury. Turner, who is considered one of the country’s elite talents and averages 18.5 points per game, put on a big-time performance inside Mackey Arena last week, dropping 32 points in a come-from-behind victory at Purdue.

He followed that up last weekend with a 15-point outing in a 60-51 victory at home over Wisconsin.
The quick recovery and immediate success in his return initially surprised head coach Thad Matta, who credited Turner’s strong desire for recent outings he has had.

“He’s a kid who cares and wants to do really well,” Matta said during the Big Ten teleconference on Monday. “It maybe isn’t surprising with just how much he loves the game and how competitive he is.”


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