BOZICH | Big Ten snapshot: Knight vs. Crean; Richard Pitino's ro - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Big Ten snapshot: Knight vs. Crean; Richard Pitino's rocky schedule; Dandy D'Angelo

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Indiana continues Big Ten play tonight at Michigan State. Kentucky opens Southeastern Conference play Tuesday night when Mississippi visits Rupp Arena.

I'll share my five item Big Ten snapshot today and a five item SEC snapshot Tuesday.

Let the countdown begin:

1. Indiana – Guess how many times Indiana has won its first two Big Ten Conference road games over the last 21 seasons?

I'm talking about two decades that include six seasons of Tom Crean, two of Kelvin Sampson, six of Mike Davis and seven of Bob Knight.

The correct answer is three.

Once by Crean, whose 2012-13 team beat Iowa and Penn State; one by Sampson, whose 2007-08 squad handled Iowa and Michigan and the 2001-02 Final Four team coached by Davis that beat Northwestern and Iowa.

That's correct, Knight, the Hall of Famer, failed to win his first two road games over his final seven seasons in Bloomington. In fact, starting with 1993-94, this was Knight's yearly record in his first two conference road games: 1-1; 0-2; 1-1; 1-1; 1-1; 0-2 and 1-1 for an overall record of 5-9.

Indiana opened Big Ten play by winning (as the underdog) at Nebraska on New Year's Eve. Tonight at 7 the Hoosiers are 9-point underdogs in East Lansing against Michigan State.

All signs point to a Michigan State victory. But if Indiana delivers another upset …

2. Purdue – I'll take the Boilermakers as the most difficult team in the league to project. And it isn't close.

The Boilermakers started the season looking like a team that could finish in the upper half of the Big Ten. They finished fifth in the Maui Invitational and backed that up with a home victory over North Carolina State.

Then came the losses to North Florida, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame (by 31) and Gardner-Webb.

The grumbling about Matt Painter escalated. Now Painter and his team have dialed down the volume by opening Big Ten play by beating Minnesota and Michigan in West Lafayette.

Pomeroy now projects a 9-9 Big Ten finish by Purdue. That's not the Sweet Sixteen. But the Boilermakers look as if they could win rematches with North Florida and Gardner-Webb.

3. Richard Pitino's schedule – Sometimes the league office sets a team up for success. Sometimes the league makes a coach wonder if he has made an enemy.

Guess which direction Minnesota coach Richard Pitino has to be leaning these days?

At Purdue. At Maryland. Home against Ohio State Tuesday night. At Michigan. Home against Iowa.

That's the way the Gophers have started Big Ten play, losing road games to Purdue and Maryland. Minnesota does not have a gimme game until Rutgers visits Williams Arena Jan. 17.

How did Minnesota fare in its eight Big Ten single games?

Not great. The Gophers get Ohio State, Rutgers, Illinois and Northwestern only at home. You want to play at Rutgers and Northwestern. Those are the two most winnable road stops in the league.

Minnesota plays Indiana, Maryland, Michigan and Michigan State only on the road. Those are not the four places you want to visit.

Minnesota's only Top 100 win outside the league came against Georgia. Pitino will have to squeeze at least nine and likely 10 wins from the schedule to make the NCAA Tournament.

4. Michigan – I'm not certain when Michigan coach John Beilein inched into the Genius Level of college basketball coaches. I'll guess that it happened when the Wolverines made the 2013 NCAA championship game, an accomplishment that required a miracle victory over Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen to develop.

Beilein appeared to certify his credentials last spring when Michigan played Kentucky to the wire before Aaron Harrison shot the Wildcats past the Wolverines at an Elite Eight game in Indianapolis.

This season Beilein might find himself where he was sitting five years ago – outside the NCAA Tournament.

The Wolverines are 8-6 after splitting their first two league games. Ken Pomeroy rates Michigan 91st in the nation, while Jeff Sagarin's numbers place Michigan 114th. Those are not misprints. Michigan lost home games to New Jersey Institute of Technology and Eastern Michigan.

What happened?

The thing that always happens when good coaches go sour. Over the last two seasons Michigan has lost Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Mitch McGary, Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson and others.

Beilein is not John Calipari. He wasn't able to replace those NBA players with more NBA prospects.

That's why Michigan is 8-6.

5. D'Angelo Russell – Is Russell, the former Central High School player, the best freshman in the nation not named Jahlil Okafor?

You could make that argument. Pomeroy ranks him the third most efficient player in the Big Ten, behind the Wisconsin tandem of Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes.

At 17.7 points per game, Russell is the third-leading scorer among freshmen nationally, trailing only Okafor and Jontrell Walker of Incarnate Word.

It gets better. Russell also ranks third among freshmen in assists at 5.2 per game.

No wonder Russell is ranked as the 11th pick in the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft by DraftExpress.com, a likely one-and-doner and the next solid NBA player from Louisville.

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