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As league play begins, Big Ten is wide open


Jan. 6, 2004
When I look at the Big Ten at the start of conference play, one thing stands out -- there is no real heavyweight.

Take a look at the league. Michigan State, the favorite going into the season, has struggled against top-flight competition. Coach Tom Izzo's Spartans played the roughest schedule in America but failed to come up with a big win against the powers they faced -- Duke, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Kansas and Syracuse. Add a loss at UCLA, and the Spartans begin Big Ten action Saturday with a 5-6 record.

Tom Izzo
Coach Tom Izzo and Michigan State sit at 5-6 after struggling vs. big-time competition.
I believe Michigan State has the potential to make a run and get into the NCAA Tournament, but it won't be easy.

Illinois, expected to be among the best of the Big Ten, had to struggle to beat Illinois State in overtime at home (80-73).

The Illini also lost to Providence by 19 points at the Jimmy V Classic after opening up a 12-0 lead. Coach Bruce Weber's Illini did beat Missouri and Memphis.

Iowa lost to Missouri by 20 and also fell to Northern Iowa, but coach Steve Alford's Hawkeyes did score a victory over Louisville early. Purdue lost to Colorado State and SMU after an early shocker over Duke.

Michigan was stunned at home recently by Boston University. Minnesota lost at home to Nebraska, 77-60. The Golden Gophers also were taken to overtime at home by Duquesne.

Ohio State lost to San Francisco and San Diego State, also recording a one-point win over Villanova in the consolation round at Maui. Indiana was beaten at home by a Temple team that has struggled most of the season. The Hoosiers had to come on late to get to 50 points in that loss!

What does this all mean? The Big Ten figures to be wide open this season. There are so many clubs that have a chance to make some noise and still make it to the Big Dance. Watch out for coach Bo Ryan's Wisconsin club. The Badgers did lose at Alabama by 15 recently, but they had a good win over Marquette.

Speaking of Wisconsin, I'm looking forward to calling the Michigan State-Wisconsin game there Saturday (ESPN, noon ET). Plus, I'll have a book signing for "Living a Dream" at Border's on University Avenue from 6-7:30 p.m. on Friday.

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