With six teams ranked in the top 25, including two top-five squads, Big Ten men’s basketball is certainly having one of its strongest seasons in recent memory.
Michigan leads the impressive group with a No. 2 ranking in both polls, followed by No. 5 Indiana, No. 10 Minnesota, No. 13 Illinois, No. 14 Ohio State and No. 18 Michigan State. The Big Ten is the only conference with all its squads among the RPI’s top 150 with all teams ranked 149 or higher.
Three squads have at least 14 wins and one or no losses. Michigan is off to its best start in history at 16-0 following a 62-47 victory against Nebraska on Wednesday night. Minnesota (15-1) is coming off a road victory at No. 13 Illinois on Wednesday, and the Gophers are 3-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since the 1974-75 season. Their only loss came to Duke, now ranked No. 1, in November. Indiana’s lone blemish came to a pesky Butler squad in overtime, but the Hoosiers (14-1) have reeled off five consecutive victories since the setback.
With conference play just heating up, this is the point in the season when we’ll learn whether the group will beat up on one another, or a couple squads will dominate play and rise to the top.
Move over SEC, out of the way ACC, back up Big East … make room for the Big Ten. This weekend, Big Ten teams will be collectively flexing their muscles with a schedule highlighted by pair of match-ups between top-15 programs.
On Saturday, Indiana hosts Minnesota for a noon tip-off in a game that features IU sophomore center Cody Zeller and the nation’s top scoring offense (87.9 ppg). Minnesota, which boasts its highest ranking since the 1981-82 season, is out-rebounding opponents in double-digits, and is coming off a 53 percent shooting percentage against Illinois.
Michigan puts its perfect record on the line at Ohio State on Sunday at 1:30 p.m., in a nationally-televised game on CBS. Sophomore guard Trey Burke tops the Wolverines in scoring with 18.2 points per game following a game-high 18 points against Nebraska. Burke has scored in double figures in all 16 games this season.
The Wolverines rank in the top 10 nationally in several categories, including scoring offense, scoring margin, field goal percentage and assist-turnover ratio. The Buckeyes (12-3) are led by junior Deshaun Thomas, who tops the team in scoring (20.3 ppg) and rebounding (6.8 rpg) and has been OSU’s leading scorer in each of the last six games.
• The first half of the “Battle of the Bay” went to No. 5 Stanford as the Cardinal downed No. 7 California 62-53 on Tuesday night. But the Golden Bears will get another shot at their rivals before the end of the week when the two teams play at Stanford on Sunday. The Cardinal has won 81 consecutive games against Pac-12 opponents with their last loss coming to the Bears almost four years ago on Jan. 18, 2009.
While senior star Chiney Ogumike netted a game-high 26 points, and Stanford’s defense held Cal to 30 percent shooting, the Bears out-rebounded the Cardinal 45 to 31 and Stanford went 0-for-8 from beyond the arc.
“The way I look at it was this was just the first half because we play them again Sunday,” Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer said. “Let’s see if we can knock down some 3s and play better on Sunday. I think it probably will be a better game for both teams. We’ll be rested.”
• A home-and-home series between two top-five Hockey East foes highlights the weekend in Division I men’s hockey as No. 3 Boston College and No. 4 New Hampshire take to the ice beginning Friday. Both teams have spent time at No. 1 in the poll this season. The Eagles swept the series last year, and hold a narrow 64-63-12 advantage in the series.
After going 1-1-1 in their last three contests without points leader Johnny Gaudreau, the Eagles will welcome the sophomore forward back from his gold-medal winning run at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championships as a member of the U.S. National Team. He finished the tournament as the leading goal scorer with seven.
UNH is off to its’ best start through 18 games since the 2006-07 season. Senior Kevin Goumas leads the Wildcats and ranks third in the nation with 1.00 assists per game.
•The top-16 teams in Division II and III wrestling will compete at the 2013 NWCA/Cliff Keen Multi-National Duals beginning Saturday at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield, Ill. Both divisions will whittle down 16-team brackets during the two-day duals tournament.
The top-four teams in Division II are No. 1 Nebraska-Kearney, No. 2 Newberry, No. 3 Central Oklahoma and No. 4 St. Cloud State, while Wartburg is seeded No. 1 in Division III, followed by No. 2 Elmhurst, No. 3 SUNY Cortland and No. 4 Augsburg.
“The National Duals is one of the highlight events of our season,” Wartburg head coach James Miller said. “It is a unique opportunity to compete with the very best teams in the country. In Division III the top eight ranked teams are all attending.”
• Defending NCAA champion Illinois will open the men’s gymnastics season at No. 15 UIC on Saturday with four returning All-Americans from last year’s championship squad. The Illini are ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll behind the strength of 2012 all-around and pommel horse All-American Yoshi Mori and 2012 high bar All-American Jordan Valdez.
• The top-two women’s gymnastics teams in the Pac-12 Conference will clash in a nationally-televised meet as No. 2 UCLA hosts No. 5 Utah at Pauley Pavilion live on the Pac-12 Network. It is the 10th time in the last 11 years that the Utes have opened the season against UCLA. The Bruins began competition last week, scoring a 196.50 against Southern Utah.
The perennial national contenders have combined for 16 national championships (10 by Utah, six by UCLA). Utah is the only team in the nation to make all 31 NCAA championships, while UCLA has competed at 28 NCAA championships. The Utes have made a record 18 Super Six appearances, while UCLA has qualified into the Super Six 17 times in the 20-year history of team finals.
In the Pac-12 championship last season, the Bruins edged the Utes by five-hundredths of a point, 197.425-197.375, to win the meet held in Salt Lake City.
•In Division III women’s basketball, Hope and Calvin will meet in the 105th edition of “The Rivalry” – a series which has been in existence for 47 years. The first meeting this year will be a battle between two top-five teams who both boast 6-0 records in Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association action. No. 2 Hope enters the contest unbeaten at 14-0, while No. 5 Calvin is 12-1 and riding an 11-game winning streak into the weekend.
Hope entered the week with the nation’s top scoring defense, and enforced that fact with an 80-38 defeat of Adrian on Wednesday. Calvin will test the Flying Dutch’s defensive prowess with a 78.4 scoring average. The Knights are coming off a 97-52 win against Kalamazoo on Wednesday.
•Connecticut men’s ice hockey coach Bruce Marshall, the all-time winningest coach in program history, stepped down from his position on Monday. Marshall had been on a medical leave of absence since early November. He had been at the helm of the Huskies’ program for 25 years, and also played for UConn from 1982-85.
“During my time away from the program, I determined that this decision was in the best interest for myself, my family and the UConn men’s ice hockey team,” Marshall said. “I am extremely proud of the accomplishments of the program during my time as a Husky, and I wish nothing but success for the team as it continues to make the exciting transition to Hockey East for the 2014-15 season.”
Assistant coach Dave Berard has served as the interim head coach since November, and will continue to do so for the remainder of the season. The Huskies own a 7-8-2 record entering a two-game series at Robert Morris this weekend.
• The Great Lakes Valley Conference leads all NCAA Division II conferences with four men’s basketball teams ranked in the latest NABC Division II Top 25 Poll. No. 4 Bellarmine tops the group, followed by No. 6 Kentucky Wesleyan, No. 7 Indianapolis and No. 10 Southern Indiana. This marks the third consecutive week the GLVC has paced the nation with teams in the top 25, but the first time since Jan. 24, 2012, the league has had four teams ranked in the top 10.
• It is no secret why West Liberty is the No. 1 team in Division II men’s basketball – the Hilltoppers score more than their opponents … a lot more. The Hilltoppers enter the weekend riding a streak of nine consecutive 100-point games, one shy of tying the program record set two years ago. Before its’ 114-109 victory against Shepherd on Monday, WLU led the nation in several categories, including scoring offense (115.1 ppg), scoring margin (38.0) and field goal percentage (54.8). The Hilltoppers look to extend their century mark streak on Thursday night at Seton Hill in a West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference match-up.
• The Colorado Mesa women’s basketball team will attempt to remain one of a handful of Division II teams without a loss this weekend as the No. 8 Mavericks look to extend their 12-0 start, which is the best in school history. CMU is outscoring foes by +25.9 points per game, and has four players averaging in double figures led by Kelsey Sigl’s 17.5 ppg. The Mavericks will take a two-game road trip this weekend to visit Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference schools CSU-Pueblo on Friday and UC-Colorado Springs on Saturday.
Follow Amy Farnum on Twitter: @NCAA_Amy