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Boilermakers primed to win Big Ten

BY BRENDAN STILES | FEBRUARY 23, 2010 7:30 AM

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For the past month, a Big Ten team has found a way to stand out.

At the beginning of February, Michigan State looked to be on cruise control after running out to a 9-0 start in conference play. Then, Illinois made headlines with wins at home against the Spartans and at Wisconsin.

Last week, Ohio State took the spotlight, winning two road games against the Spartans and Fighting Illini. However, the Buckeyes had their Big Ten winning streak snapped on Feb. 17 at home against Purdue, which now seems to have the inside track to the conference crown.

The third-ranked Boilermakers sit alone in first place at 11-3, a half-game up on both No. 14 Michigan State and No. 9 Ohio State, which are 11-4 after the Buckeyes beat the Spartans on Sunday in East Lansing, Mich.

Purdue will play on Wednesday at Williams Arena against a Minnesota squad that has not only taken advantage of its current home stand by winning two straight but has greatly improved in the eyes of Boilermaker head coach Matt Painter since the two squads met last month in West Lafayette, Ind.

“[The Gophers] have a great balance of size, athleticism, and quickness, but they have the ability to play a couple of different ways,” he said on Monday during the Big Ten teleconference. “They can press you man-to-man and really get into you or use that zone that has really worked for them of late.”

With Michigan State off this week, Purdue has a chance on Wednesday to move a full game ahead of the Spartans before playing them on Feb. 28 in Mackey Arena.

Wins this week could potentially give the Boilermakers not only the top seed in next month’s Big Ten Tournament but maybe a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament as well.

And the Golden Gophers may have climbed back into the “bubble team” conversation after victories over Wisconsin and Indiana last week. The win against the now 17th-ranked Badgers bolstered Minnesota’s tourney résumé, which also includes marquee wins against Butler and Ohio State.

The Golden Gophers have a chance to make a legitimate case by not only by beating Purdue on Wednesday but also managing a road win over the Fighting Illini this weekend.

“Any time you can win now, it’s going to help you in a lot of ways,” Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said Monday during the Big Ten teleconference. “From recruiting, from positioning and building momentum going into the Big Ten Tournament, gaining your team’s confidence.

“If we want to be a team that gets postseason play, we got to play great basketball. It’s as simple as that.”

Playing with pride

All season long, the Penn State Nittany Lions have found themselves in the conference cellar, and losing their first 12 Big Ten games has made for a frustrating season.

Not only has Penn State now won two-straight games, both victories came on the road against Northwestern and Michigan — teams desperately needing wins themselves.

Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis was in good spirits on Monday, having felt it was only a matter of time before things would turn in his team’s favor.

“The last two games, we made the timely shots when we needed to, and we got the big rebound when we needed to, and we came away with two wins,” DeChellis said on Monday during the Big Ten teleconference.


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