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October 2010 Archives


I'm not sure why Big Ten coaches have an aversion to top-to-bottom pre-season voting. If I were picked high, I'd be glad. If I were picked low, I'd put it up on the bulletin board and say, ``Nobody picked us,'' to motivate my team.
But I want to thank them. In these times of declining circulation, newspapers need all the help we can get.
By only allowing the top three teams to be selected in the official league poll, the Big Ten allows us to give you the whole 11-team picture.
Where do Illinois and Northwestern stack up? How does Robbie Hummel's season-ending knee injury impact the Boilermakers' prospects?
You've got questions. And you've come to the right place for answers.
Not withstanding Robbie Hummel's wounded knee, the Big Ten still has legs for a claim of being the nation's best conference.
Topping this year's Chicago Sun-Times pre-season men's basketball poll is Michigan State, which went to the Final Four without its best player last year and is on everyone's pre-season Final Four list.
Ohio State and Illinois, which are adding major freshman reinforcements to proven rotations, have the ingredients for big-time seasons. And while Purdue will miss Hummel, it still has an excellent one-two punch in JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore.
The Buckeyes finished second in our pre-season poll of 11 newspaper writers, one who covers each basketball program. Because of Hummel's season-ending injury, Illinois slipped ahead of Purdue in our poll.
Given the strength of the league, Wisconsin, which checked in at fifth, and Minnesota and Northwestern, which tied for sixth, also are serious contenders for berths in the expanded 68-team NCAA tournament.
With coaches and players gathering this morning at a Rosemont hotel for Big Ten media day, here's a look at each school's prospects for the 2010-11 campaign:
1. MICHIGAN STATE: The Spartans have the horses to reach their seventh Final Four in 13 years. Kalin Lucas, the 2009 Big Ten MVP who missed MSU's Final Four run last spring with a torn achilles, returns. So do four starters, including burly, but agile warrior Draymond Green.
2. OHIO STATE: What happens when the nation's No. 2 recruit, 6-9, 280-pound center Jared Sullinger, joins a roster that returns everyone except exceptional guard Evan Turner? The Buckeyes will find out. Turner is a huge loss, but OSU has perimeter talent. And Sullinger should fill a big hole in the paint.
3. ILLINOIS: Bolstered by his biggest recruit, 6-8 Jereme Richmond, Bruce Weber has his deepest Illini squad. Richmond, Illinois' first McDonald's All-American since Dee Brown, heads a four-freshman group that joins four returning senior starters and three impact sophomores.
4. PURDUE: The Big Three is down to two, Johnson and Moore, with the loss of hard-luck Hummel, who battled a back injury two years ago and a knee last winter before tearing an ACL in practice this month. With glue guy Chris Kramer also gone, some role players must step up. But they would have had to, anyway.
5. WISCONSIN: Once again, Wisconsin is under the radar, and once again, that's probably a mistake. Forward Jon Leuer is a first-team All-Big Ten candidate. Jordan Taylor could be a breakout guard. And master developer Bo Ryan has another roster full of players likely to blossom.
6. MINNESOTA: Tubby Smith loses some grit (Lawrence Westbrook, Damian Johnson) but could have his best Gophers squad with if guard Austin Hollins and 6-8 junior-college forward Trevor Mbakwe blend in. Junior twin towers Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III also need to make strides.
7. NORTHWESTERN: Despite the puzzling decision of Kevin Coble not to return, the Wildcats, the only BCS team that's never played in the NCAA tournament, have the talent to finally go to the Big Dance. Senior Michael Thompson and sophomore Drew Crawford are perimeter stars; John Shurna and Luka Mirkovic are solid upfront.
8. INDIANA: A healthy Maurice Creek and Matt Roth will help. So will another year of maturity for returnees like Verdell Jones. And so will Tom Crean's third recruiting class. But IU remains a work in progress, especially upfront--and especially in a league that has so many programs peaking.
9. PENN STATE: With Talor Battle (18.5 ppg), who finished second to Evan Turner in Big Ten scoring, back along with 75 percent of the team's scoring and 67 percent of its rebounding, there ought to be more optimism. But until Penn State breaks on through, it's difficult to expect that to happen.
10. MICHIGAN: If the Wolverines couldn't get it done a year ago with Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, how are they going to do it this year? Even fourth-year coach John Beilein says it reminds him of his first season, when he was starting from scratch. A solid recruiting class should have plenty of opportunity.
11. IOWA: Having ended the Todd Lickliter experiment after three seasons, the Hawkeyes now turn to Fran McCaffery, from Siena, the third school from a one-bid league that he guided to the NCAA tournament. With only five players, led by Matt Gatens, returning, McCaffery will some time to make Iowa relevant again.



CHICAGO SUN-TIMES PRE-SEASON BIG TEN POLL

Michigan State, which received 10 of 11 first-place votes, is the favorite to win the league in this year's Chicago Sun-Times pre-season Big Ten basketball poll. Ohio State was a clear-cut second in the voting, with 10 second-place votes. Illinois narrowly edged Purdue for third.


                    Pts.    Last Year
1. Michigan State (10)    120        T-1st
2. Ohio State (1)        110        T-1st
3. Illinois            90        5th
4. Purdue            88        T-1st
5. Wisconsin        77            4th
T-6. Minnesota        62        6th
T-6. Northwestern    62        T-7th
8. Indiana            44        T-9th
9. Penn State        32        11th
10. Michigan        28        T-7th
11. Iowa         11        T-9th



 Nathan Scheelhaase picked up his third freshman of the week award from the Big Ten for helping Illinois rout Indiana 43-13 at homecoming Saturday. Scheelhaase completed 13 of 21 for 123 yards and two touchdowns, and carried six times for 45 yards. Scheelhaase also received Big Ten freshman honors after Illinois' victories over Southern Illinois and Penn State.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Nate Scheelhaase, who bruised the back of his throwing hand when it was stepped on during the first half of Illinois' 43-13 victory over Indiana, Saturday, is doing fine, coach Ron Zook said Sunday.
``The swelling's down,'' said Zook, adding that he never considered the injury a serious threat. ``I didn't think it was an issue.''
In Illinois' other Saturday injury, Zook said backup tailback Jason Ford's ankle sprain is not a high ankle sprain, and Ford is not expected to miss any time.  
``Right now, I feel Jason will be fine,'' Zook said.
The injury reports are a relief for the IllinI, who can move within one win of bowl eligibility by beating Purdue in Champaign Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN2/ESPN3). Zook's not bowl-gazing yet, though.
``We're worried about one game,'' the coach said. ``We've got five one-game seasons.''

CHAMPAIGN--IIllinois led 27-10 after a first half in which it converted three Indiana turnovers into 17 points. The Illini had no giveaways.
Cornerback Patrick Nixon-Youman returned an interception 68 yards for a touchdown. A hit by Justin Staples on IU quarterback Ben Chappell set up the play.
Staples, a sophomore from Ohio who plays the bandit linebacker/defensive end hybrid, also forced a fumble by Dusty Kiel that gave Illinois a first down at the Indiana 23. Three plays later, Jarred Fayson caught a 17-yard touchdown pass for a 17-7 Illinois lead.
Safety Tavon Wilson set the tone with an interception on Indiana's third play of the game. That put Illinois in position for a 3-0 lead.
The Illini (3-3, 1-2), were trying to improve to .500 in Big Ten play. Indiana (4-2, 0-2) was looking for its first conference win.
Indiana outgained Illinois in the first half, putting up 227 yards to Illinois' 164 yards. But the turnovers overshadowed IU's offensive effort.

Just call it ``The Curious Case of the Mystery Twitterer,'' or ``The Moped vs. the Social Network: Pick Your Poison.''
Junior running back Jason Ford says he was just kidding around. And while Ron Zook said Tuesday he was shocked, it appears that no harm was done by Ford's grumbling Tweets about leaving the Illinois program because he's unhappy with his playing time.
Saying he isn't even certain Ford did the Tweeting, Zook added that there's a greater menace to college football programs.
``If there was one thing I'd like to take away, it would be the mopeds,'' said the coach, concerned about the perils of his players' scooters. ``That to me is dangerous. These guys  have to be smart. We talk to them and educate them. But the mopeds scare me more than the social networks.''
That said, Ford, from Belleville, clearly has taken a backseat to starter Mikel Leshoure. Ford has gained 138 yards on 38 carries, and is averaging 27.6 yards a game. Leshoure, is averaging 119.4 yards (104 rushes for 597 yards).
Whether it was Ford, or someone who got a hold of his Twitter account, as Zook suggested, the message was clear.
``Givin up on everything. Jus want to go home to my daughter,'' Ford tweeted on Monday. ``Tired of workin hard and not gettin nothin out of it! Bout to say (heck with) it!''
By Tuesday morning, the Tweets were gone.
``I was just trying to fool around with people,'' Ford told a Downstate GateHouse News Service reporter. ``People try to get us against each other. I don't have any problems. I'm cool with my role. I don't have any problems with my role.''
Running behind Leshoure, who rushed for 119 yards on a career-high 27 carries in Illinois' 33-13 win at Penn State, Ford had 47 yards on nine carries. Third option Troy Pollard had 55 yards on eight carries.
``We talked to Jason and his mother [Monday] night. Jason's fine,'' Zook said. ``I was a little shocked by it. I'm still not sure Jason posted it. The guy is practicing his tail off. He's doing everything that's asked of him. He's running pretty hard.''

Illinois' 33-13 win at Penn State Saturday  wasn't a surprise to me or those who follow my Illini coverage. I picked Illinois to  upset the Nittany Lions in our Friday and Saturday editions.
One big reason I thought the Illini could win for the first time in seven trips to Happy Valley was the maturity and all-around play of their redshirt freshman quarterback, Nathan Scheelhaase.
The young QB was rewarded Monday with his second Big Ten Freshman of the Week, not bad for a five-game career. Scheelhaase completed 15 of 19 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown, and ran for 61 yards on eight carries.
Kicker Derek Dimke, who was 4-for-4 on field goals, shared Big Ten special-teams-player honors with Purdue's Kawaan Short.
Illinois' 0-6 all-time record at Penn State wasn't an added burden, Scheelhaase said.
``We weren't really looking at it,'' he said. ``We were just thinking we needed a win in the Big Ten. Obviously, when you do something like this and make history, it's important for your program, for tradition. The fan base likes to see it.
``But it's something we knew we could do. We knew we could get a win there. We knew it was going to be a crazy environment, and a tough team. But we did a good job of focusing on us all week.''
NOTES: Illinois hopes to have two projected starters back in action at Michigan State on Saturday--cornerback Terry Hawthorne and fullback/tight end Zach Becker, who are both easing back from training-camp foot injuries. Hawthorne made his season debut in mop-up duty at Penn State and Becker could play for the first time this week.
``Hopefully, Terry will be ready to go,'' coach Ron Zook said. ``He played 10 or 12 plays on Saturday. We'll see how he is. And Zach has been cleared by the doctors. It's just a matter of how much he can take, it's kind of up to him. It would be nice if he can go. This is one of those games where we're going to need everybody.''
* Zook said he wants to see how practice goes before deciding on Jack Ramsey's status as a kickoff and punt returner. Ramsey fumbled the opening kickoff at Penn State--Illinois recovered the ball--and was replaced on punt returns, after Illinois lost a pair of early fumbles there.
``We'll see,'' Zook said. ``A week ago, Jack was great. He was catching them with people in his face. It might have shaken him up when he fumbled the opening kickoff.''


Junior free safety Trulon Henry is looking forward to celebrating his 26th birthday Saturday with an Illinois victory at Penn State.
The Illini are 0-6 all-time at Penn State, but they're expecting to come away happy on their seventh trip to Happy Valley.
``It's an opportunity, a golden opportunity,'' said Henry, who had two interceptions against Ohio State last week. ``It's something to smile at, rather than be nervous or whatever--a great chance to play in front of a lot of people, even if they're booing you.''
Henry, who spent four years in a federal prison for armed robbery, said the Illini won't be intimidated by a homecoming crowd of 107,000 at Beaver Stadium.
They're primed from their rugged training-camp workouts in Rantoul, said the Washington, D.C., native, who played at College of DuPage the last two years.
``I've heard a lot about the crowd and the astmosphere,'' said Henry, the older brother of former Illini receiver Arrelious Benn. ``I don't think it can be any worse than Rantoul, though. That was a mental beatdown. I think we can play anywhere, to be honest.''



Bandit linebacker Michael Buchanan, who has missed two games because of a DUI charge, and offensive guard Hugh Thornton, who was arrested in connection with a campus bar fight, will not start, but will play against Ohio State today.
After meeting with athletic director Ron Guenther Friday, coach Ron Zook said through a spokesman that they face other internal team discipline for their legal issues. Both were starters until they had their off-the-field problems.

About the blogger

Herb Gould started with the Sun-Times in 1977 and has covered several teams, including the Blackhawks. He is a long-time beat reporter covering the Fighting Illini and the Big Ten for the Sun-Times.

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