Each week through the basketball season, former Illini and current BTN analyst Sean Harrington will break down the Big Ten — and take us down Memory Lane.
No. 1 Indiana (9-0)
— The Hoosiers have looked unbeatable and don’t expect that to change Saturday against Butler.
No. 2 Michigan (10-0)
— The Wolverines have the best guards in the conference and maybe even the best in the country.
No. 3 Ohio State (7-1)
— The Buckeyes continue to roll through their two-week stretch of cupcake games.
No. 4 Illinois (11-0)
— The Illini played like a Top 10 team at Gonzaga. Who would have thought that would be an easier game than Norfolk State in Champaign?
No. 5 Minnesota (11-1)
— The Gophers just got a 14-point and 18- rebound effort from Trevor Mbakwe (above) coming off the bench.
No. 6 Michigan State (8-2)
— The Spartans continue to grind out games. Watch for Tom Izzo to get them peaking at the right time again.
No. 7 Wisconsin (7-4)
— The Badgers have never finished lower than fourth in the Big Ten under Bo Ryan. This could be the season they do.
No. 8 Iowa (8-2)
— The Hawkeyes have three more tuneups before they get a shot at the Hoosiers at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in the Big Ten opener.
No. 9 Purdue (4-5)
— The weakness of the motion offense without three potent scorers showed after scoring only 44 points in a loss at Eastern Michigan. This week of practice won’t be fun.
No. 10 Northwestern (7-3)
— The Wildcats continued their roller-coaster nonconference season with a third straight home loss to Butler.
No. 11 Nebraska (6-2)
— The Cornhuskers showed they are not ready for a big-time opponent with a 22- point home loss to Creighton.
No. 12 Penn State (5-4)
— The Nittany Lions need to enjoy the victories now because there will not be many in the Big Ten this season.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Brandon Paul, Illinois
After scoring 35 points in a win at Gonzaga on 10-of-16 shooting from the floor, Brandon Paul caught the eye of the national media. A few more performances like this and he will be in consideration for Big Ten Player of the Year honors.
FLASHBACK FRIDAY: December 2000
It is a snowy Wednesday night and the library is packed with students scrambling to get in that last study session during finals week.
I am not going to lie; this advertising final is the last thing on my mind. Most students on campus are itching to take this last final, jump in their cars and head home on Interstate 57 for some Christmas cooking and a relaxing month off. But all I can think about is how to stop Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson, Jason Gardner and the Arizona Wildcats in our rematch at the United Center.
The United Center is a frenzied sellout for this showdown between the No. 5 Illini and the No. 7 Wildcats. It is an absolute slugfest between two heavyweights.
Four Arizona players finish with four fouls each, while Robert Archibald, Brian Cook and Marcus Griffin all foul out for us. All five Illini starters score in double figures, and yours truly connects on three three-pointers. We defeat Arizona 81-73.
Two images from the game will stay with me forever. First, Cory Bradford sets the NCAA record by hitting a three-pointer for the 74th straight game in his career, and second is Lute Olson pointing at Lucas Johnson and screaming at him, “You’re crazy!”
For us, break is spent in Champaign. While our undergrad peers are relieved of responsibilities for a month, our work is just beginning. The Big Ten season beckons, and we grind through two or three practices a day plus film sessions.
Without NCAA limits on practice times, our days are filled with nothing but ball. There is not much to do in a college town when the students are at home, so the team heads to Aunt Sonya’s for our daily team gathering and some pancakes. After dinner, I head to the Savoy 16 with roommates Bradford and Cook. We are in an empty movie theater with four other people to watch “Men of Honor.” Cory is a movie junkie. There are not many movies he has not seen.
The schedule is kind to us this year, and we are allowed to go home for two days at Christmas. After being home, I drive back to Champaign with Arch, Lucas and Damir Krupalija in my 1994 silver Galant. It is a blistering 16 degrees with a wind chill that makes it feel like it is below zero. We are about 75 miles from Champaign when the back passenger tire blows out. Not wanting to face the elements, Arch quickly states that he doesn’t know how to fix a flat. Damir and I follow his lead, saying we have never done it either. Lucas explodes, “You are a bunch of idiots. I guess I am the only man in this car that can fix a flat.”
While Lucas spends the next 10 minutes in the cold, we stay in the warm car thanking Arch for the clever setup. Lucas spends the next 75 miles putting on every piece of clothing in his bag trying to warm up for practice while we all have a nice laugh.
The life of a college basketball player during the holidays is a lot different than the average student. Balancing finals around practice and games is not easy. Living on an empty campus and missing time with family at Christmas is lonely. It is true that student-athletes get scholarships and enjoy four years in the limelight, but it comes at a price. I wouldn’t trade my four years for anything, but it is important to remember while we are all enjoying watching our favorite team during the holidays the players are putting in the time and work in the gym to make us proud.
ON THE AIR
Sean Harrington will call the Northwestern-Texas State game on BTN at 6 p.m. Monday. He also will be in the BTN studio on Thursday to break down the Michigan-Eastern Michigan game.