Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Big Ten Insider: Spartans’ 3-0 Big Ten record to face challenges

Just a couple of weeks into Big Ten play, only two teams still have perfect conference records: Illinois and Michigan State. While the Fighting Illini (12-5, 4-0 Big Ten) have played three of the bottom five teams in the Big Ten standings, the Spartans (13-3, 3-0) have had a more difficult path to conference perfection.

One week ago, No. 7 Michigan State passed its toughest conference test to date, beating No. 13 Wisconsin 54-47 in a battle of top Big Ten teams at the Breslin Center.

The Spartans didn’t shoot well against a talented Badgers defense, but they played strong defense of their own, holding the Badgers to 33 percent from the field. Michigan State also dominated the boards, out-rebounding Wisconsin 41-27.

Michigan State then traveled to Iowa on Saturday, where it rode a 55 percent shooting performance to defeat Iowa 71-53.

The Spartans come back to East Lansing, Mich., for a three-game homestand, starting with matchups against Minnesota and Illinois.

“There’s no question it’s a big week for us,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “(We’re) playing two contending teams that are playing very good basketball right now in Illinois and Minnesota.”

The Golden Gophers are riding a hot streak, winning eight of their last nine, with their only loss coming against No. 6 Purdue.

“In Minnesota, I see a team that I just love the way they play,” Izzo said. “Their pressure is really causing problems for teams, turning people over 19, 20 times a game.”

Blake Hoffarber led the Golden Gophers in their most recent win over Ohio State, scoring 27 points in just 31 minutes. Hoffarber shot 7-of-10 from the field against the Buckeyes, including 7-of-9 from behind the arc.

“Hoffarber is having an unbelievable run here in the Big Ten so far,” Izzo said. “He definitely is going to be a guy we’re going to have to keep an eye on at all times.”

Michigan looks for full 40 minutes

Sixty miles southwest in the automotive state, the Wolverines are working on consistency.

Michigan is coming off a dramatic week in which it came back from a large deficit at Penn State but blew a big lead at home against Northwestern.

“Really, the games were the same,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Except we were on the good side of one and the bad side of another.”

Michigan trailed 31-16 at halftime against the Nittany Lions, but doubled up Penn State in the second half to earn the 64-55 win.

Three days later, the Wolverines appeared to be on their way to a second straight Big Ten victory. Michigan led Northwestern 31-14 with 4:23 remaining in the first half, but the Wildcats came back to earn the win.

Beilein said much of his team’s inconsistency comes as a result of his young roster. There are just two seniors on his team, compared to nine freshman and three sophomores.

“When things are going well, we react positively,” Beilein said of his young team. “When we have lapses, we tend to be in those lapses for longer than good teams should be. “That’s my job to continue to work our kids through that, so we have mental stability for the whole game, and don’t get too high or too low during games.”

Beilein will have plenty of time to improve his young team. Michigan athletic director Bill Martin announced Monday that Beilein agreed to a contract extension with the school. He is under contract through the 2015-16 season.

“I’m pleased that Michigan has given me this opportunity to coach and extend my contract.” Beilein said. “At the age of 57, I hope I’ve found my place. I’ve been a coaching nomad for quite a few years. Michigan is a place I want to coach and bring back to the top of the Big Ten. It’s the only place I want to coach at.” [email protected]

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Big Ten Insider: Spartans’ 3-0 Big Ten record to face challenges