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‘Horse race’: Big Ten title up for grabs in ’06-07

first_imgCHICAGO — With nearly every team around the Big Ten losing key members from last season, many coaches and players feel as though the conference will be a wide-open race this year.Only four teams return at least half of their scoring from a year ago and even less know what their starting lineup is going to look like as the season opener nears. This looming uncertainty is the exact opposite from last year, when it seemed as if every team was bringing back a veteran squad.”I think if you start asking all the coaches to name their starting lineup, it’s hard to figure out,” Iowa head coach Steve Alford said. “It’s unusual, but it is what makes this league so much more exciting. Last year we were a veteran league and had a lot of people coming back, this year we have a lot of newcomers.””I don’t know if it’s going to be as deep as it was last year,” Minnesota head coach Dan Monson added. “A lot of people have to answer questions along with us to know how good they’re going to be.”It’s a horse race, and we’re coming out of the gate in camp with a whip.”Even preseason favorite Ohio State has a number of questions to answer after losing four starters from a year ago, including last year’s Big Ten Player of the Year in Terence Dials.But with a heralded incoming class, no one’s really questioning the Buckeyes’ spot at the top.While Greg Oden headlines the newcomers, two other McDonald’s All-Americans — Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook — join him, along with David Lighty and junior college transfer Othello Hunter.Ohio State’s freshmen have come into Columbus with high expectations, being compared to Michigan’s “Fab Five” of 1992, but with a new name — the “Thad Five,” referring to head coach Thad Matta.Matta, however, doesn’t feel any pressure with all the preseason expectations.”These guys have a pretty good feel for it,” Matta said. “They know last year nobody really knew we had a basketball team so they know there are guys out there just like them trying to get it done this year.”Another new faceWhereas many teams across the Big Ten will be sporting some new players on the court, only one team has a new head coach.Oklahoma’s Kelvin Sampson was named Indiana’s head coach in the offseason after Mike Davis’ resignation, and the move has provided some excitement for the Hoosiers’ players.”It’s been good for our players,” Sampson said. “They have some excitement and curiosity about the upcoming year … these kids have been great, and I applaud Mike Davis for that. We didn’t inherit any discipline problems.”For Hoosier players, it’s still an ongoing adjustment, changing from Davis’ style to Sampson’s.”Every coach has a different type of system,” IU guard Roderick Wilmont said. “[Sampson] is all about defense so you just try to get used to it. He just wants us to play hard.”Davis soon bolted for the University of Alabama at Birmingham after his departure and brought former IU guard/forward Robert Vaden with him as a transfer.Another player who was rumored to leave with Davis was Hoosiers’ star forward D.J. White, a preseason All-Big Ten selection this year.However, according to White, the thought never crossed his mind.”I never really considered transferring anywhere,” White said. “I just had to weigh my options to see what was the best for me, and my decision was to stay at Indiana.”One name tossed around the Indiana coaching rumor mill before Sampson stepped in town was Iowa’s Steve Alford.Alford, an IU alum who is the school’s all-time leading scorer, has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the job ever since Bobby Knight’s firing in 2000.So when the Hoosier chitchat swirled around Alford once again this year, it was nothing new to him.”It wasn’t tough because it’s been happening for eight years,” Alford said. “This was nothing new, it was just a different twist because a coach stepped down in January, but it’s always been there.”last_img read more

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UW looking back to basics after PU loss

first_imgJunior guard and leading scorer Alyssa Karel\’s return from a right leg injury will play a vital role in the Badgers\’ play down the stretch.[/media-credit]Coming off a close loss at Purdue, head coach Lisa Stone is optimistic about the Wisconsin women’s basketball team’s upcoming week.Wisconsin does not play again until a Valentine’s Day matchup with Indiana at the Kohl Center as the Badgers enjoy a rare time off from midweek conference games.“Our bye week comes in a timely fashion,” Stone said. “Alyssa Karel injured her lower leg and she’s being evaluated, but we’re very optimistic that she’ll be in action on Sunday. And again, we’re off today but looking forward to getting back on track with three remaining games here at home.”After averaging fewer than 11 turnovers over a six-game span earlier this season, the Badgers averaged 21.5 turnovers in their two most recent games. According to Stone, however, the team “certainly can play better.”Stone insists the team’s morale is not down, and the players are “in it for each other; they are very committed to picking up the pieces.”She also said the team is in control of its future in the Big Ten race, and they must improve on the fundamentals like defense, rebounding and intensity. The Badgers lead the Big Ten in scoring defense, giving up only 53.9 points per game.“This is a great week for us to improve areas offensively, defensively and again, continue to play well together and play our best basketball at the end of the season,” Stone said. “And we’re in that last 10 games of the season type of stretch where people are looking and there are committees looking at us and we control our destiny.”In regards to the loss at Purdue, Stone said the team became too reliant on shooting the basketball after the first half in which they shot 62 percent from the field.She believes they need to focus more on getting to the rim, as it is unlikely for the team to shoot at such a high level for the entire game.“It’s on us,” Stone said of the loss. “It’s on us, and our preparation for our next game and you protect our home court and get back at Indiana as they come in.”As Stone mentioned, Karel, a junior guard and the team’s leading scorer, injured her right leg in the second half of the game. While Stone is optimistic about Karel’s chance to return quickly, the Badgers’ future will hinge on her ability to lead the team’s offense.With only five games remaining before the Big Ten Tournament, it would be hard for Wisconsin not to consider its chances of reaching the NCAA tournament this season.When asked if the team was thinking about the national tournament, Stone did not shy away from acknowledging that they were.“It’s really hard not to think about it so I’m going to be honest with you,” Stone said. “It’s exciting for this team. This is a team, again, they’re as close-knit as any team I’ve had.“And there’s a prize at the end, but they know that the prizes are going to come by just doing what we do,” Stone continued. “And doing what we do is to prepare for next week and take care of business — do the things we do and the result that we want.”Stone places a lot of emphasis on the overall strength of the Big Ten conference this year, as only four games separate second place Purdue from 11th place Illinois.Currently sitting at 17-7 overall and 7-6 in the Big Ten, Wisconsin is tied with Penn State for third place in the Big Ten standings. The Badgers have already surpassed their total number of conference wins in the 2008-09 season.With five games left to play, the Badgers are playing for the first-round bye that is awarded to the top five teams in the Big Ten Tournament.Stone says she cannot count out any of the teams in the Big Ten, as it is one of the strongest years in the history of the conference.This year is the first year in the history of the Big Ten that every team in the conference has at least eleven wins, and Stone hopes that will help the Badgers’ — and the rest of the Big Ten’s — chances of reaching the NCAA tournament.“My hope is that the committee will take a look at the entire Big Ten,” Stone said. “It is very strong.”last_img read more

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