A season of schedules
By Aaron Sharockman, Special to CNNSI.com
It's still a season of schedules in the Big Ten conference. Penn State, Wisconsin and Illinois have all been battered in the early going by a grueling non-conference schedule while Ohio State has plastered five cupcakes to a perfect start.
It's turned the conference on its head in the early going as OSU and Indiana, recent bottom-dwellers, sit out front in the win column. Oh, and there's Purdue, who unlike the rest of the supposed Big Ten elite, is winning. But at a price.
Purdue's touted freshman class thinsThey're paraded on the back cover of Purdue's media guide as being the nation's top recruiting class.
Kristy Curry called them her "six babies at work."
Well, those six are now five as Cherrise Graham is leaving Purdue and Curry.
"It is my choice to leave Purdue University because I feel that I am not in the right place, basketball-wise," said Graham in a statement released by the university. "I am sure about making this decision. I am not sure where I am going to continue going to school next semester, but I am going to begin the process of looking into other schools."
The 5-7 freshman guard had averaged 6.6 points and nearly three rebounds in 17 minutes a game for the Boilers. Graham cannot suit up for another Division I team until 2002. Graham was a Parade All-American in high school and spelled guard Kelly Komara in five games at Purdue.
"I hope Cherrise finds much success academically and athletically and can find happiness," Curry said.
Cold November has Illinois reelingTheresa Grentz knew her team was going to struggle at time, with five freshman that were going to have to contribute from the start.
Losing four key players from last year's 23-11 NCAA qualifying team, Grentz felt some comfort that her incoming class was ranked as high as seventh by some pundants. With junior guard Allison Curtin and her 18 points a game back as well, the Illini looked primed for another 20-win season.
Three weeks into the 2000-01 campaign however, Grentz's team is fighting to stay afloat.
Four straight losses have taken Illinois (2-4) off the national map and into serious early season trouble. The problems continued Tuesday night in a 16-point loss to Texas.
"We start right at the beginning with a tough schedule," said sophomore guard Shavonna Hunter . at the Big Ten media day before the season began. "We don't have time to learn, but at the same time, it's going to be a learning period, so that at the end of the season we'll be where we need to be. We want to be in the Final Four, so we need to take the necessary steps in order to get there."
But it's only going to get rockier for the Illini, who after a game against Illinois State face national No. 1 Connecticut. It's early, but with their poor non-conference record (including a loss to Northern Iowa), Illinois conceivably must finish with 11 wins in a seemingly balanced Big Ten conference to make a return trip to the NCAA tournament. With games against Georgia, UConn and Penn State in the next month, it might get pretty cold in Champaign.
A win is a win is a win -- sort ofThey're dominating the statistics. They're atop the standings. They're undefeated. It's just a shame we don't know anything about them. Ohio State is 5-0, it's best record in eight year, but other than aesthetics it's nothing too exciting. Don't take my word for it, judge for yourself:
Cleveland State. Valparaiso. Rhode Island. Seton Hall. Long Beach State. Average margin of victory -- 41.4 points. Average level of competition -- bad.
Not to take anything away from LaToya Turner and Jamie Lewis who by all accounts have looked very impressive, or coach Beth Burns , who earned her 200th career victory over the weekend, but the Buckeye's competition is terrible.
Look at the rest of the conference: three teams have played Louisiana Tech, Illinois took on Tennessee and has UConn scheduled, while Purdue has a big interstate battle with Notre Dame next week. And that's not even mentioning Wisconsin and its freakishly difficult schedule (Tennessee, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Oregon, Nebraska).
OSU's big non-conference challenge -- well I guess you can look at Sunday's game with Wisconsin-Green Bay. But as solid as the Phoenix are, they don't conjure the same fear that UConn or a Tennessee do. For OSU, Penn State's only three and a half weeks away -- but don't look too far ahead, Arkansas-Pine Bluff is only a week away.
Aaron Sharockman is a reporter for the Indiana Daily Student, the student newspaper serving Indiana University.