Coaches enthralled by parity in men’s hoops

by Todd Zolecki

It seems no team is safe in the Big Ten this season. The conference schedule has already produced some early upsets, which leads a few men’s basketball coaches to believe the league is balanced this year.
Some of the biggest upsets came when Wisconsin knocked off Indiana and Ohio State beat Michigan. Indiana has struggled since going 13-1 in the nonconference season, including a victory over Duke in the preseason NIT. The No. 21 Hoosiers are 2-3 in conference play.
The Gophers and Iowa share the Big Ten lead with only one loss. Four other teams have two losses.
“You have got a lot of good teams in the league,” Illinois coach Lon Kruger said. “The balance is remarkably deep. I think you can go down the list a long way. Any time you line up it’s going to be a real battle, whether you’re at home or on the road.”
Purdue coach Gene Keady agrees. It’s all a matter of who comes to play.
“In the Big Ten it really doesn’t make any difference who you play if you play hard,” he said.
Minor injuries bug Gophers
The problems with Gophers guard Charles Thomas’ bad back are well-documented by now, he’ll likely deal with the pain the rest of the season, but two of his teammates have also been hampered with injuries this week.
Forward Sam Jacobson started to feel discomfort in his knee Saturday after the Ohio State game. Haskins said Jacobson noticed the pain when the team was flying back to Minneapolis.
Haskins said he doesn’t know how, when or if he injured it during the Buckeyes game.
Point guard Eric Harris has been bothered by a hip-pointer. Haskins said he expects all three to play Thursday against Iowa.
Boilermakers have fresh look
Purdue has managed to build a 3-2 Big Ten record despite losing six seniors from a year ago. Keady started three freshman against rival Indiana last week and won 73-50.
The three freshman are Jaraan Cornell, Brian Cardinal and Mike Robinson. Cornell and Cardinal are averaging more than 10 points per game.
“They’ve made progress,” Keady said. “The main thing now is they’re listening.”
The Boilermakers are three-time defending Big Ten champions. They play the Gophers on Saturday at Williams Arena. Purdue hasn’t lost in the “Barn” since 1993.
Not yet ready for primetime
One run the Gophers probably want to snap Thursday night against Iowa is their five-game losing streak on ESPN the past two seasons.
They were outscored by an average of 15 points in those losses. The Gophers lost to Illinois last Tuesday on the all-sports network.
Last season Minnesota lost to Penn State, Indiana, California and Cincinnati.
Fast break points
ù One reason Haskins didn’t get too upset about last week’s loss to Illinois is because the Illini shot the ball extremely well, making 50 percent of their 3-point attempts.
Illinois guard Kevin Turner made five of his team’s 11 three-pointers. He finished with a career-high 24 points. The Big Ten named him the Player of the Week.
ù Jarrod Gee, the Illinois basketball player formerly known as Jerry Gee, changed his first name two weeks ago because his mother, Patricia, didn’t like it. Gee said “Jerry” is a name given to him by the media.
ù Gophers guard Bobby Jackson ranks third in scoring during conference games. He averages 17.5 points per contest.
He’s also sixth in the league in rebounding during conference games, which ties him with teammate Courtney James. Jackson stands 6-foot-1 while James is 6-foot-8.
Haskins said Jackson is in the running with Iowa’s Andre Woolridge for Big Ten Player of the Year.
ù The Gophers free throw shooting during the Big Ten season ranks them fourth in the conference. They are making 70.1 percent of their attempts from the line.
In all games played, the Gophers are ninth in the league (65.2 percent).