Bob Asmussen's Big Ten report: Gap widens at top

THE STANDINGS

This week’s Topic: OK, guys and girls, but mainly guys, time is running out to find that Valentine’s Day gift. To get you in the mood to head out to the mall, copy editor David Burleson reveals what the Big Ten teams would be if they were a message on a candy heart:
 
                         CONF.    ALL
TEAM                 W-L    W-L    CANDY HEART — COMMENT
Michigan State    9-1    20-3    3 Wishes — For Appling, Dawson and Payne to get healthy

Michigan    9-1    17-5    You’re Tops — Despite road bump at IU, playing better than anyone

Iowa    6-4    17-6    Cloud Nine — Good to see Hawkeye basketball relevant again

Ohio State    5-5    18-5    My Man — Matta needs Craft to step up his game

Wisconsin    5-5    18-5    Wise Up — Will get heads on straight down stretch

Northwestern    5-5    12-11    Cool Cat — Big Men on Campus right now

Indiana    4-5    14-8    R U On My Team? — Crean doesn’t utilize strengths

Minnesota    4-6    15-8    In A Fog — Looking like a Tubby team

Purdue    4-6    14-9    Save Me — Painter in jeopardy as schedule gets rough

Nebraska    3-6    11-10     Heart Of Gold — No talent, lots of effort

Penn State    3-7    12-11    Hot Stuff — Has won three of four

Illinois    2-8    13-10    Hug Me — Depression has set in

THE SCHEDULE
Want to know which of this week’s games are worth your time? Here’s help from Bob Asmussen, who has not learned from his mistakes. A week after a dreadful 3-7 record, he didn’t pick up the pace much, going 6-5 last week. That’s Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl bad.

SATURDAY
Nebraska at Northwestern
noon, ESPNU
So much for the rebirth of Nebraska basketball. After fooling itself and its fans with a modest two-game winning streak, Nebraska lost by 29 on Wednesday at Michigan. Reality check. You are not a basketball school. Never have been. Never will be. Stick to the game with the oblong ball. In a strange twist, this game matches teams that have never won an NCAA tournament game. Actually, Northwestern has never played in an NCAA tournament game. But it’s coming. Asmussen’s pick: Northwestern, 60-50

Michigan at Iowa
1 p.m., ESPN
Does it feel like these teams just played? It should. They met Jan. 22 in Ann Arbor, with the Wolverines winning by eight. The Big Ten’s hottest team has lost once since Dec. 14, and that was Indiana’s upset last Sunday in Bloomington. Asmussen’s pick: Michigan, 81-79

Purdue at Ohio State
5 p.m., BTN
Talk about a team that was desperate for a win. Purdue had dropped four in a row before Wednesday’s triple-overtime thriller against Minnesota. Thank goodness for A.J. Hammons, who scored 20 points and yanked down 14 rebounds against the Gophers. Somewhere, “The Custodian” was nodding his head in approval. Asmussen’s pick: Ohio State, 66-65

Indiana at Minnesota
7:15 p.m., BTN
Want to know why Tom Crean always looks so stressed out? Might be his inconsistent team. Before the upset win against Michigan, the Hoosiers had dropped five of their last eight. And two of the wins were against Penn State and Illinois. Do those even count? Asmussen’s pick: Minnesota, 74-69

SUNDAY
Michigan State at Wisconsin
noon, WCIA (CBS)
Before Tuesday’s 4-of-7 effort against Illinois, Wisconsin sophomore Sam Dekker was in a major shooting slump. In his five previous games, Dekker made 2 of 18 three-pointers. He still managed to reach double figures in four of the five games. Asmussen’s pick: Michigan State, 79-59

Illinois at Penn State
3:15 p.m., BTN
Got a feeling that Nittany Lions coach Pat Chambers will mention a time or 1,000 that they were the last team to lose to the Illini. And they don’t want to be the team to end the streak. The statistics actually do tell the story about how poorly the Illini are playing. The team ranks near the bottom nationally in assists and field goal percentage. No surprise that those two go together. Asmussen’s pick: Penn State, 75-65

TUESDAY
Michigan at Ohio State
8 p.m., ESPN
Wow, have times changed. A month ago, the Buckeyes were the guys on the top of the Big Ten and the Wolverines were the guys we were wondering about. Today, Ohio State looks to have recovered from a four-game losing streak, but Michigan is battling Michigan State for the conference title. Asmussen’s pick: Ohio State, 86-82

WEDNESDAY
Penn State at Indiana
6 p.m., BTN
Might have found a reason for IU’s inconsistent play: the output from senior Will Sheehey. Sure, he is averaging double figures (barely). But they aren’t numbers the Hoosiers can count on. He scores 13 points one night and two the next. Asmussen’s pick: Indiana, 64-56

Illinois at Nebraska
8 p.m., BTN
Assuming the Illini don’t end the losing streak Sunday at Penn State, this would seem to be the logical place for a win. Only problem for the Illini is that Nebraska plays well at new Pinnacle Bank Arena. Asmussen’s pick: Illinois, 62-60  

THURSDAY
Northwestern at Michigan State
6 p.m., BTN
Who knew that a 54-40 loss to the Spartans would set off the Wildcats. Since that home game Jan. 15, the Wildcats are 4-1, including an upset win at Wisconsin. Asmussen’s pick: Michigan State, 70-60

Minnesota at Wisconsin
8 p.m., ESPN
When they played earlier in the season at Williams Arena, the Gophers lost leading scorer Andre Hollins less than a minute into the game. And lived to tell about it. Mo Walker and DeAndre Mathieu scored 18 points each in Minnesota’s win against the Badgers. Wisconsin helped by missing 15 of 20 three-pointers. Asmussen’s pick: Wisconsin, 67-66

THE LISTS

ILLINOIS MVP

PLAYER   PREVIOUS
Rayvonte Rice     1
Tracy Abrams     4
Nnanna Egwu     3
Joseph Bertrand     2
Kendrick Nunn    5

Bob Asmussen’s take: It hasn’t been a perfect first season at Illinois for Rice. The record isn’t what he hoped, and the injury has been a pain in the hip. But he is averaging 16.9 points and 5.9 rebounds to lead the team in both categories. He also leads the team in steals.
 
BIG TEN MVP

PLAYER    PREVIOUS
Gary Harris, Michigan St.     1
Nik Stauskas, Michigan    2
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana    —
D.J. Newbill, Penn State    —
Drew Crawford, N’western    —

Asmussen’s take: Might as well just wrap up the trophy right now and send it along to East Lansing. Harris has proven himself more than worthy by keeping the Spartans going in the season of injury.

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR

ROOKIE    PREVIOUS
Noah Vonleh, Indiana    2
Zak Irvin, Michigan    —
Derrick Walton, Michigan    1
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin    4
Kendall Stephens, Purdue    —

Asmussen’s take: Which team has the best crop of rookies? It would be hard to argue against Michigan, which is getting critical performances from Irvin and Walton. But Indiana has much more than star Vonleh, who is almost averaging a double-double. Guard Stanford Robinson has scored in double figures two of the last three games.

COACH OF THE YEAR

LEADER    PREVIOUS
Tom Izzo, Michigan State    2
John Beilein, Michigan    1
Chris Collins, N’western    4
Thad Matta, Ohio State    —
Fran McCaffery, Iowa    3

Asmussen’s take: Last week we praised new guys Collins, Richard Pitino and Tim Miles. But one of the veterans, likely one coaching in Michigan, is going to win this award. Beilein gets tons of credit, rightfully so, for winning despite the injury and early departure hits he took after last season. And Izzo has worked wonders with a team that has been plagued all season with injuries. Notice that he hasn’t dwelled on the missing parts during news conferences. But he lets you know his team is short-handed.

DANCE CARDS

Teams in the NCAA field, or not:
SCHOOL   STATUS
Michigan State    Lock
Michigan    Lock
Iowa    Lock
Wisconsin    Lock
Ohio State    Lock
Minnesota    Solid
Indiana    Bubble
Purdue    NIT
Illinois    NIT
Northwestern    Next year
Nebraska    Next year
Penn State    Next year

Asmussen’s take: Recent struggles took the Gophers off the “for sure” line and onto the “solid” list. If the tournament field was picked today, Minnesota would be in. Believe it or not, there is a bracketology for the NIT. And the latest version includes Illinois as a No. 4 seed. It also lists future Big Ten school Maryland. But no sign yet of Northwestern. Maybe it hasn’t noticed the Wildcats because of the nasty start to the season. Anyway, you might want to tune in to the NIT pairings, which are announced later on Selection Sunday.

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