Around the Conference: Big Ten Stays Strong, Nebraska Loses First Game

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten has looked good throughout the week as the conference heads into a big Friday.

As November is quickly heading to a end, teams are starting to settle and we're starting to get a clearer picture of the teams and where they are heading. And so far everything we've seen suggests what we more or less figured from the get go...the Big Ten is going to be good.

Monday

The week kicked off with little fanfare as Michigan State hosted the Portland Pilots in what was expected to be an easy enough matchup. Michigan State surprisingly was given a major test by Columbia and this looked to be the game they got everything back together, but that didn't happen until late in the second half. The Spartans came out slow and allowed Portland to keep pace, only leading by four at the break. Michigan State eventually pieced everything together, pushing the lead to double digits and coasting down the stretch. While Adreian Payne has been gaining the most attention in East Lansing, point guard Keith Appling turned in an impressive night. The guard led the team with 25 points and 7 assists, while also hitting on all 5 free throws.

The win, while easy enough at the end, wasn't what Izzo and Sparty wanted to see after the poor performance versus Columbia. One can assume that Michigan State is simply sleep walking against their weaker opponents, but even if that is the case, it's an issue that can cost Michigan State games in the conference. It also didn't help that almost half (30) of Michigan State's shots on the night were three pointers. The Spartans are far too skilled across the board, especially with Payne down low, and simply relying on jumpers doesn't cut it.

Tuesday

We all made fun of Penn State when they picked up the conferences first loss but they impressed on Tuesday when they knocked off a LaSalle team coming off of a NCAA Tournament appearance. In a close game throughout the Nittany Lions eventually pulled ahead for a 10 point victory. The win was nice enough, same for the point spread split across the teams starters (18-15-15-15-13), but as nice of a win as it was for the Nittany Lions there is still some area for concern.

Heading into the season there were three areas people were questioning about Penn State. One dealt with the teams ability to play on the road, which can't be answered right now. Another question was how the backcourt would handle Frazier and Newbill, both of which play a similar style of play. The other main question is how much depth Penn State has in what is bound to be a physical, tough conference season in an extremely talented and deep league. Well when all is said and done, 3 points from your bench is never a positive. Also, outside of Allen Roberts 22 minutes, the other two backups (Moore, Thrope) playing a total of 12 minutes. Newbill was on the court for all 40 minutes while Frazier was out for 34 and Brandon Taylor/Ross Travis played 33 minutes. If Penn State plans on running this thin of a rotation it will wear the team down quickly and will cause issues later on. I'd expect Chambers to turn to his a bench a little more from here on out, though it does mean the backups will have to improve their production.

Another one of the teams considered to be weaker in the conference, Minnesota, improved to 4-0. By now I think we have a pretty good grasp on the team under Richard Pitino, with both of the Hollins being the teams key offensive weapons. Outside of the duo, Elliot Eliason is being expected to clean up down low while Pitino turns to point guard Deandre Mathieu to distribute the ball. So far the system has worked effectively, with Minnesota taking care of business so far out of conference. One has to wonder if anyone else will step up, but as long as Mathieu and Eliason can keep up a similar level of production come Big Ten play then Minnesota could be stronger than anticipated. The win on Tuesday wasn't overly impressive as is, but it was efficient and the team seems to be settling into their roles nicely under Pitino.

While Minnesota and Penn State posted nice enough wins, the highlight of the night was Wisconsin showing signs of life on offense, scoring 103 points. If the Twitterverse didn't lie to me, apparently this was the first time Wisconsin had ever scored over 100 points in a game, which somehow didn't surprise me. While everyone is excited over the  Badgers offensive output, I still believe the team will play similarly to previous Ryan teams come January, but this is fun enough while it lasts. Of course shooting 59% from the field and 60% from beyond the arc never hurts.

The highlight of the game, though, was the production of Frank Kaminsky. For some reason the names always reminded me of former Milwaukee Buck Frank Brickowski, and I'd be lying if I said I expected Kaminsky to have an offensive explosion. Maybe it's because the forward had a total of 133 points last season, but Kaminsky adding 43 points was...unexpected. Of course shooting 6 of 6 from deep and 16 of 19 from the field makes it easy, but it's safe to say this is the hottest Kaminsky has ever been here in Madison.

Kaminsky scored 43 points. Remember when Wisconsin scored 43 points in a game last season...twice?

Wednesday

Kicking off Wednesday was Purdue, looking to blow out Eastern Illinois instead of scraping out wins. The team did just that, almost keeping Eastern Illinois from scoring for half of the first half. The Boilermakers opened up an early lead and after Eastern Illinois narrowed it enough to flirt with the idea of putting the game in reach, Purdue opened it back up for a 14 point halftime lead. The Boilermakers only increased the lead in the second half, cruising to an easy victory. Purdue's depth is well noted and tonight is evident of that, showing the team is capable of production and contributions from all over the roster. Coming off the bench was Bryson Scott, adding 14 points and leading the team in scoring. Off of a slow night previously, Kendall Stephens hit 3 treys and put up 11 points. The Boilermakers have been spreading the ball around and it'll be interesting to see if Painter keeps a rotation that is essentially ten deep, eleven if you count Travis Carroll.

Another team that beat Eastern Illinois, Northwestern, took on Illinois-Chicago on Wednesday looking to avenge a depressing loss the season before. They jumped out of the gate quickly and were never challenged, much to my dismay solely because I will root for former Boilermaker Kelsey Barlow wherever he ends up. Leading the way was Dave Sobolewski with 25 points. Running a small ball lineup of four guards, the Wildcats were actually led in rebounding by their guards and their frontcourt was only responsible for 7 of their 47 rebounds. The outburst from Sobolewski was nice to see, as the team will need more production from players not named Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb.

Also playing on Wednesday was Ohio State, playing the American Eagles (unfortunately not named the American Males). In what was a surprisingly close game, the Buckeyes eventually edged the Eagles by 11 points thanks to Amir Williams, who added 16 points and 7 rebounds. Shannon Scott also impressed, recording 13 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists. The rest of the starting lineup only hit on 4 of 20 shots, though, and the Buckeyes have been struggling with shooting as of late. It's still early so it's an issue likely to work itself out. However, Ohio State is lucky that their defense has played well and that their opponents have struggled to score, as Ohio State has still won in back to back poor offensive performances.

Thursday

On Thursday there was a slew of action, including four teams in different preseason tournaments. The one team not competing in a tourney was Minnesota, who hosted Wofford. Admittingly I moved on from the game after Minnesota jumped out to a huge 24-2 lead. The offense was firing on all cylinders early and the defense was absolutely shutting down the Terriers, holding Wofford to only 24 points in the first half. One of my biggest takeaways so far in the season is that the Gophers have seen quite a bit from center Elliot Eliason. It'll definitely be interesting to see how he handles tougher opponents down the road, but for now he's been off to a quick start.

Playing in the Charleston Classic, Nebraska finally suffered their first loss of the season up against UMASS. In an ever so lovely free throw shooting contest (82 free throws between the two teams), Nebraska came up just a bit short against a Minutemen team that shot an even 50% from the field. After trailing around 10 or so points for a good chunk of the second half, the Cornhuskers cut the lead down to a possession and forced a turnover. However, Nebraska missed their last four shots and UMASS extended the lead to 6 points. Nebraska's loss here isn't that bad, though a win would have added to the teams growing momentum and fan interest.

The Wolverines rolled in their first game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, handling Long Beach State by the score of 85-61. The team was led by Nik Stauskas and a lights out performance, hitting on 4 of 6 three pointers and leading the team with 24 points. Caris LeVert was also effective from outside and added an additional 20 points, while point guard Derrick Walton Jr. actually led the team in rebounding. The team eased off of McGary, only playing the big for 14 minutes. His return will be key to Michigan's success later in the season as it hasn't seen much (if any) production from Jon Horford and back-up Jordan Morgan isn't a huge offensive weapon. That being said, Michigan will need solid contributions from their backcourt this season as they try to develop some go-to-guys to replace Burke and Hardaway Jr.

Following up his 43 point outburst was a decidedly more human outing by Kaminsky, only scoring 14 points. The team was led in scoring by Ben Brust and blew by a poor shooting BGSU team. Wisconsin ended up also shooting 60% from beyond the arc, which is always helpful. Wrapping up the night was Indiana, setting a blazing pace in the 2K Sports Classic and putting 102 points up on the Washington Huskies. The team was led by Troy Williams and Yogi Ferrell in scoring, while Noah Vonleh continued his hot start to the 2013-14 season. It looks like Vonleh is the real deal and if Indiana can keep it up they'll have a strong possibility of making some waves in the Big Ten and faring considerably better than most people predicted.

Friday

Tomorrow will be a big day as the preseason tourney/event action continues for Nebraska, Florida State, Indiana, Northwestern, Illinois and Virginia Tech. Also joining in on the fun will be Iowa as the Hawkeyes host Penn. The action starts early (noon) and every game outside of the Nebraska and Northwestern games will be televised on TV. Oh, and something something college basketball is back on TruTV...and it's not even March yet! Nonetheless, Friday should be a great day for Big Ten basketball and the perfect way to kick off the weekend.

12:00 PM Nebraska  vs UAB
05:00 PM Michigan vs Florida State | ESPN2
07:00 PM Iowa vs Penn | BTN
07:30 PM Indiana vs UCONN | ESPN2
08:00 PM Northwestern vs IUPUI
09:00 PM Illinois vs Chicago State | BTN
09:30 PM Michigan State vs Virginia Tech | TruTV

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