Tournament play runs
wild all this week!

Mar 6, 2007 3:49 AM

The Big 10 is one of many major conference tournaments that will help whittle the field. Keep in mind this league’s teams have struggled on the road more than most conferences this year. Visitors were 21-53 in league play, a 28 percent success rate. That’s much lower than visitors in the Pac-10 (38 percent), ACC (37), Big 12 (36) and Missouri Valley (35).

Here’s a look at some of the top teams of the Big 10.

Ohio State: Get a good look at him! Buckeyes freshman center Greg Oden, all 7-foot and 280-pounds, is likely to be the top pick in the NBA draft in June. The big kid leads Ohio State with 15 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. This is a young team all around, with senior guard Ron Lewis the lone backcourt veteran working with freshmen Daequan Cook (11.9 ppg, 5 rpg) and Mike Conley Jr.

Despite a late-season No. 1 ranking, the young Bucks have been shaky in non-conference competition, losing 98-89 to North Carolina (getting outrebounded 38-25 without Oden) and getting spanked 86-60 by Florida allowing 60 percent shooting. They also lost 72-69 at Wisconsin, but held on last week in a 49-48 win over the Badgers to earn a second straight Big 10 regular season title. Now comes the real season!

Wisconsin: The Badgers have an experienced team with 6-6 senior forward Alando Tucker (20 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and senior guard Kammron Taylor (12.8 ppg) leading the team in scoring. With junior guard Michael Flowers, the Badgers have talent and experience — a rare combination in this age where players leave early for the NBA. A key loss, though, was 6-11 junior Brian Butch, who is out 3-4 weeks after injuring his elbow in last week’s loss at Ohio State.

Wisconsin is an outstanding defensive team under head coach Bo Ryan, allowing just 58 ppg. Despite the loss, Ryan is 9-3 against Ohio State. The Badgers have played well when stepping up, beating No. 20 Marquette on the road, topping then-No. 2 Pitt (89-75), and beating Ohio State at home. Defense, balance and veteran leadership makes Wisconsin a formidable March threat, but the loss of Butch is a big one.

Illinois: Coach Bruce Weber has a veteran team, with a strong frontcourt anchored by 6-9 senior Warren Carter (13.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg), 6-8 junior Brian Randle and 6-10 junior Shaun Pruitt (11.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg). The Illini haven’t impressed against good teams, losing to Maryland, Arizona, Ohio State and Wisconsin. They can play defense, having had under results in 16 of 24 games with posted totals.

Over the last four years, Illinois has compiled a 108-25 record, two Big Ten championships, one Big Ten Tournament title, and three straight NCAA appearances. This senior class advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2004, the NCAA final in 2005 and the second round last season. Do they have one final push left?

Michigan State: The Spartans have been up and down all season because of youth. Junior guard Drew Neitzel, the leading scorer at 18 ppg, is a fine long-range threat. Beyond him, there is little experience with 6-7 freshman Raymar Morgan, the team’s second-leading scorer, and 6-10 soph Goran Suton. There are no seniors on the roster.

Michigan State is the top defensive team in the Big Ten, leading in field-goal percentage defense (.378) and scoring defense (56.0 ppg). The under is a dominant 16-7 when totals have been posted. The Spartans have wins over Texas and Wisconsin at home, but road losses to BC, Maryland, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio State and Purdue. The road record is a poor 1-7 SU, 2-6 ATS. The kids won’t have home court to help them much in March!

Indiana: First-year head coach Kelvin Sampson inherited a small team. Junior D.J. White, at 6-9, has little help up front. The Hoosiers run a three and four-guard offense, but are the third-worst rebounding team in the Big 10 in rebounding.

IU has an inexperienced backcourt with seniors 6-4 Roderick Wilmont and Earl Calloway leading the way, along with freshman Armon Bassett. Sampson likes defense and this is a good group — averaging 6.7 steals. A major concern: a 3-8 SU, 4-7 ATS road mark.