Consistency Big 10’s signature

Feb 28, 2006 5:21 AM

Big 10 teams have reached college basketball’s national title game three times this decade. Michigan State won it all in 2000, Indiana lost to Maryland in 2002 and Illinois fell to North Carolina last year after UNC beat the Spartans in the semis.

Here are the conference’s best chances to be No. 1 in 2006.

Illinois: The Fighting Illini have been rolling along for the second straight year behind Dee Brown and 6-10 James Augustine. Bruce Weber’s club can turn up the heat on the defensive end, allowing 57 ppg. Just ask Indiana, who the Illini held to 36 percent from the field as Augustine scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Illinois is not as dominant this year on the road, starting 5-4 SU/ATS. The Illini didn’t lose their first game last year until January when Big 10 play started. Best non-conference wins came against Georgetown and North Carolina.

Michigan St: The offense averages 77 ppg behind senior guard Maurice Ager, junior Shannon Brown and 6-10 Paul Davis, all scoring over 18 per contest. Davis leads the Big 10 in rebounds. At home, the Spartans average 82, which is why the OVER started 8-4. State is second in the Big 10 in field goal percentage and tops in assists. The Spartans are began 13-1 at home, but just 4-6 SU/3-7 ATS on the road. That inconsistent road play may hurt them this month during tourney play. State lost 109-106 to Gonzaga on a neutral court and got thumped at Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Iowa: Excellent balance with guards Adam Haluska and Jeff Horner along with 6-7 senior Greg Brunner up front. The calling card is a ferocious defense that allows 60 ppg. In a matchup with Indiana, at that time second in the nation in field goal percentage at 51.6 percent, Iowa held the Hoosiers to 37. Then they limited No. 16 Ohio State to 40 percent in a win, holding the Buckeyes without a field goal over the final six minutes! The UNDER is 7-4 at Iowa City due to a defense yielding just 54 points. Our concern is a 4-6 SU, 3-7 ATS road mark. Iowa is also a subpar 3-5 SU/ATS as a dog.

Ohio St: A balanced attack features 6-9, 255-pound senior Terence Dials (14 ppg, 8 rebounds pg) down low with junior guard Ron Lewis and senior Je’Kel Foster (14 ppg) anchoring the backcourt. Foster leads the Big 10 in steals with 2.5 per game. The Buckeyes have an impressive 78-76 non-conference win against LSU, but are just 1-3 as a dog. OSU leads the Big 10 in three-point shooting (40 percent) and scoring. State started an impressive 6-3 SU/6-2 ATS on the road and 9-4 SU/ATS in the Big 10, averaging 78 points.

Wisconsin: The Badgers suffered through a three-game skid two weeks ago, losing to Michigan, Illinois and Purdue (as a favorite twice), then bounced back with a three-game win streak. Wisconsin has a strong backcourt behind 6-5 junior Alando Tucker and junior guard Kammron Taylor. Up front, 6-11 sophomore Brian Butch and 6-11 junior Jason Chappell work the glass. In an upset of No. 12 Ohio State 78-73, Wisconsin’s tough defense held the Big 10’s top 3-point shooting team to a season-low 4-of-17 (.235). However, UW is just 2-5 SU/2-5 ATS on the road.

Michigan: A fine regular season is ending with a tough stretch, playing at No. 16 Michigan State, No. 13 Illinois and No. 12 Ohio State. Michigan rides the hot shooting of senior guard Daniel Horton, who torched No. 8 Illinois for 39 points in a 72-64 win. Junior center Courtney Sims works the frontcourt. The Wolverines lead the Big 10 in shooting (49 percent), and are both second in blocked shots (4.0) and free throw percentage per contest.