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This Week in the Big Ten

April 16, 2012
Richmond High School

April 16, 2012

[ONE // spring is in the air... and on the ground]
It's hard to imagine but the Big Ten football season is in full swing with the annual spring games having taken part this past week.  Five of the seven scrimmages went on as scheduled, while Nebraska and Purdue were forced to cancel their events due to inclement weather.  Illinois' Blue team earned a 13-12 victory over the Orange in the annual Orange & Blue Game, while Indiana's Cream squad defeated the Crimson 19-16 in the Hoosiers' Cream & Crimson Game.  A crowd of 25,000 Michigan fans were on hand to see the Wolverines' offense claim a 17-0 victory over the U-M defense.   There was, however, a little bit more scoring in Evanston as Northwestern's defense escaped with a 47-43 win over the offense.  Iowa was also in action Saturday, as it hosted its annual controlled scrimmage at Kinnick Stadium.

[TWO // look who's talking]
Speaking of football, Big Ten football head coaches and student-athletes took part in the annual spring football teleconferences this past Tuesday and Wednesday, and audio for all 24 participants is available by clicking on this link.  Coaches and student-athletes from the Legends Division took part in the first call on April 10, a group that included Iowa's Kirk Ferentz and quarterback James Vandenberg, Michigan's Brady Hoke and safety Jordan Kovacs, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and quarterback Andrew Maxwell, Minnesota's Jerry Kill and quarterback MarQueis Gray, Nebraska's Bo Pelini and running back Rex Burkhead and Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and quarterback Kain Colter.  Coaches and student-athletes from the Leaders Division took part in the second call on April 11, a group that included Illinois' Tim Beckman and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, Indiana's Kevin Wilson and defensive tackle Larry Black, Jr., Ohio State's Urban Meyer and fullback Zach Boren, Penn State's Bill O'Brien and defensive tackle Jordan Hill, Purdue's Danny Hope and defensive tackle Kawann Short and Wisconsin's Bret Bielema and running back Montee Ball.

[THREE // too early to talk hoops?]
Didn't we just get done with March Madness?  Yes, we did, but that means April is the month to start focusing on next year's basketball season.  Several national media outlets have done just that over the past week and the Big Ten has found itself in the spotlight yet again. The Big Ten leads all conferences with six teams ranked in an early preseason top 25 poll by ESPN.com's Andy Katz, including Indiana as the No. 1 team in the nation. The Big Ten is also the only conference with two top-five teams, as the Hoosiers are joined by No. 5 Michigan, and four top-10 teams (No. 8 Ohio State and No. 10 Michigan State). Also in the rankings are No. 22 Wisconsin and No. 24 Minnesota.

[FOUR // sending seven]
All seven Big Ten men's gymnastics teams earned berths to the 2012 NCAA Championships, it was announced on Tuesday. Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State will compete in one of two pre-qualifying sessions on April 19 with the hopes of qualifying for the final competitions, which will take place April 20-21. The championships will be held at Lloyd Noble Center on the University of Oklahoma campus.  Penn State boasts the conference's highest qualifying score, ranking second overall with a total of 354.200. After winning its fourth straight Big Ten Championship, Illinois is fourth overall at 352.337, followed by Minnesota (346.900), Michigan (345.512) and Ohio State (345.012) at Nos. 5, 6 and 7, respectively. Nebraska is 10th (341.587), and Iowa rounds out the Big Ten contingent ranked 11th (338.325) in the field.  Last season, three Big Ten teams placed in the team finals, led by Illinois' third-place finish. Michigan's Sam Mikulak won the all-around championship in 2011 and looks to become the first gymnast to win back-to-back all-around crowns since Penn State's Luis Vargas did so in 2004 and 2005.

[FIVE // boiler baseball wins in style]
A tip of the cap goes to Doug Schreiber and his Purdue baseball team this past week after widening its lead in the conference standings and doing so in style.  Starting pitchers Lance Breedlove and Connor Podkul teamed up to allow only one earned run over 14 innings Sunday, leading No. 18 Purdue to a doubleheader and series sweep of Illinois at Lambert Field.  In addition, Schreiber won his 408th career game in the nightcap to become the program's all-time leader in wins.  Purdue has won eight consecutive games and now holds a 2 ½-game lead in the Big Ten standings over second-place Minnesota.  The Boilermakers posted their second consecutive weekend sweep after failing to seal the deal in their first two Big Ten series of the season. The Boilers also swept back-to-back Big Ten series for the first time since 2001 and took a pair from Illinois for the first time since April 2000.  Minnesota continued to keep Purdue in its sight as the Gophers swept Northwestern over the weekend.  Nebraska currently sits third in the conference with a 7-5 league mark, followed by Michigan State (5-4), Indiana (6-6) and Ohio State (6-6).

[SIX // big ten pair earns national recognition]
Sticking with baseball, Iowa utility player Phil Keppler and Purdue pitcher Joe Haase have been named to the College Baseball Hall of Fame's National All-Star Lineup.  Both conference standouts were honored for their performances in the previous week.  Keppler hit 11-for-15 (.733) over a five-game span, while driving in seven runs and scoring five.  Haase tossed a shutout and struck out four while surrendering only two hits and one walk in his win.

[SEVEN // diamond notes]
The Michigan softball team used a doubleheader shutout sweep of rival Michigan State Sunday to maintain its lead in the Big Ten standings.  The Wolverines blanked the Spartans 2-0 and 5-0 in front of 2,631 fans at Wilpon Complex.  U-M moved to 11-1 in conference play, while MSU fell to 0-12.  Purdue, which took a pair of wins over Ohio State Sunday, currently sits second at 9-2, followed by Nebraska and Wisconsin at 8-4 and Iowa at 7-5.

[EIGHT // leading the way]
When the latest NCAA RPI report was released last Monday, 11 Big Ten softball teams appeared in the top 100, tied with the SEC for the most top-100 squads of any conference in the nation. Michigan led the conference contingent at No. 21 in the rankings, followed by Northwestern at No. 44 and Nebraska at No. 49. Purdue checked in at No. 51, with Wisconsin at No. 58, Ohio State at No. 70 and Minnesota at No. 72.  To view where all the Big Ten teams rank in the latest RPI, click here.

[NINE // tennis talk]
On the heels of a 5-2 win over Northwestern Sunday, Ohio State ended the week with a one-game advantage over Michigan in the Big Ten men's tennis standings.  The victory over the Wildcats extended Ohio State's conference win streak to 88 matches, which also kept OSU undefeated at home this season at 19-0.  The Buckeyes are a perfect 9-0 in conference play, while Michigan (8-1), Illinois (7-2) and Minnesota (6-3) and Northwestern (6-3) round out the top five.  On the women's side, Michigan and Northwestern sit atop the standings at 8-1, while Illinois and Nebraska are each one game back at 7-2.  Purdue sits fifth overall with a conference mark of 6-3.  Heading into the final week of competition, Michigan will need to travel to Penn State before returning home to host rival Ohio State.  The Buckeyes dropped a 5-2 decision to Northwestern on Sunday, which allowed the Wildcats to stay tied with the Wolverines.  NU closes final week of the regular season with a home match against Purdue before traveling to Indiana on Sunday.

[TEN // host hawkeyes win in record fashion]
Nine Big Ten men's golf teams were in action this past week, include six conference squads at the Hawkeye-Great River Entertainment.  Iowa picked up its eighth tournament title under head coach Mark Hankins, capturing the championship Sunday afternoon at Finkbine Golf Course. Iowa's winning score of 24-under-par 840 (282-274-284) was a Hawkeye Invitational 54-hole record and the third lowest mark in school history.  Penn State (284-288-298--870) finished third in the 11-team field, while Minnesota (293-292-299--884) placed sixth, and Michigan State (298-294-294--886), Wisconsin (302-288-298) and Nebraska (292-291-306) finished eighth through 10th, respectively.  Iowa's Chris Brant was the Big Ten's top individual, placing second overall with an 8-under 208 (69-66-73).  Indiana, Northwestern and host Ohio State competed at the Robert Kepler Intercollegiate in Columbus, Ohio.  Indiana (292-307-304) took home third at 903, followed by Northwestern (305-307-294) in fourth at 906 and Ohio State (299-300-310) in a fifth-place tie at 909.  Northwestern's Eric Chun, the reigning Big Ten Golfer of the Week, placed fifth overall at 223 (73-77-73). 

[ELEVEN // hoosiers hoist trophy at home]
Just one women's golf team was in action this past week as Indiana posted a seven-stroke victory at the IU Invitational Sunday at the IU Golf Course.  Hoosier senior Kristtini Cain captured her first individual title after winning a playoff between a host of golfers at 1-over 73.  Due to weather, the tournament was shortened to an 18-hole event, with all but two or three holes played on Sunday.  Indiana posted a 298, with Ball State the runner-up at 305. Eastern Michigan was just a stroke back in third (306), followed by Kansas State (307) and IUPUI (310) in the top five.

[TWELVE // the loss of legends and leaders]
Finally this week, the Big Ten lost three remarkable representatives of the conference over the last seven days - a legendary coach, an Olympic champion, and a respected administrator.  This past Monday we learned that former Indiana diver and Olympic Gold Medalist Mark Lenzi passed away suddenly at the age of 43.  A day later, we learned of the unexpected passing of retired Purdue administrator Roger Blalock, who died at the age of 65.  Blalock, who spent the past 45 years serving Purdue in a variety of roles, retired on Jan. 31, 2012, having served most recently as senior associate athletics director since 2004.  On Friday, the conference lost one of its most notable former coaches in Michigan women's track and field mentor Kenneth "Red" Simmons.  He was 102 years old.   Simmons was the first coach in the history of the women's track and field program and coached the squad for four seasons (1978-81) before retiring.

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