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Associated Press
Michigan guard Trey Burke presents problems to opponents as a scorer, a three-point shooter and a point guard dishing out assists.

Offense stars in talented Big Ten

Coaches can name plenty of players as tough matchups

Associated Press photos
Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, is able to score from anywhere on the floor.
Indiana sophomore forward Cody Zeller, who averages 16.5 points, has the rare ability for a 7-footer to come off of ball screens, according to Illinois coach John Groce.

– There is plenty of talent in the Big Ten.

That’s obvious just by looking at The Associated Press Top 25 poll where Indiana (21-3, 9-2) became the first team to hang onto the No. 1 ranking for first time in six weeks, despite losing at Illinois last week.

The Big Ten has four other teams in the Top 25 with Michigan (21-3, 8-3) at No. 4, Michigan State (20-4, 9-2) at No. 8, Ohio State (17-6, 7-4) at No. 13 and Wisconsin (17-7, 8-3) at No. 20.

Along with having highly regarded teams, the league also has plenty of offensive firepower.

With so many skilled offensive players, Big Ten coaches had a hard time zeroing in on the most difficult player to game plan to contain when asked to during Monday’s teleconference.

Indiana coach Tom Crean went to the top of the Big Ten scoring list when naming the most difficult player to stop, where Ohio State junior forward and former Bishop Luers standout Deshaun Thomas sits.

Thomas scored 26 points in Ohio State’s 81-68 loss to Indiana on Sunday and averages 20.1 points.

“He’s really, really hard to deal with,” Crean said. “He can score at the block. He can score in the mid-post. He can score from three. He can come off screens. He can handle the ball. He can rebound. There’s so many different attributes that he brings to the game, and he’s got a real edge to him. … I would say he’s as hard as anybody to deal with, but there are quite a few.”

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said the first player that came to mind was Michigan sophomore guard Trey Burke, who is second in the league in scoring, 18.2 points per game, and first in assists, 7.1 per game.

“Oftentimes, it starts with the guy who’s got the ball,” McCaffery said. “In particular if he is a big-time three-point shooter, a big-time scorer and a big-time assist guy. Those guys in ball screen situations are an absolute nightmare. Now what helps him in particular is he’s got three-point shooters (Michigan shoots 40.7 percent on three-pointers) around him.”

Illinois coach John Groce looked to the top of the standings where Indiana is tied with Michigan State and rattled off three starters for the Hoosiers as tough matchups.

“They’ve got guys that really put you in a situation where it is difficult to game plan,” said Groce, whose team defeated Indiana 74-72 on a buzzer-beating layup Thursday. “You start with (sophomore forward Cody) Zeller (who averages 16.5 points). He’s big. He’s long. He’s a guy that you don’t see very many 7-footers that come off of ball screens. They run some things where he’s so nimble that they put him in situations that you don’t confront very often.

“(Junior guard Victor) Oladipo (who averages 14.3 points) is hard to keep in front. (Freshman guard Kevin “Yogi”) Ferrell (who averages 7.4 points) is hard to keep in front. Both guys are shooting it better, so that makes it harder to keep them in front.”

Ohio State coach Thad Matta didn’t name any players, and he pointed out that the quality of coaching in the league makes it difficult to prepare for the numerous talented offensive players.

“You’ve got great systems as well,” Matta said. “Guys can really, really coach in this league. I think from that perspective, you see guys really doing a good job of putting their players in a position to be successful.

“I wouldn’t say there is one particular guy like, ‘Oh, geez, this guy …’ but with that said there are some unbelievable players in this league for sure.”

tkrausz@jg.net

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