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College Hoops Outlook: Which Teams Will Fade and Which Teams Will Soar Into March?

Now that the Super Bowl has come and gone, its time to turn our eyes to the beautiful game of college basketball. I’m doing my part to get familiar with this season of college hoops by writing a series of blog posts. I started yesterday with my piece on a few under the radar stars.

My second installment is on some teams that started off the conference season slowly, but are poised to finish strong. I’ll also touch on some teams who might fade in the second half of conference play.

On The Upswing?:

Indiana (18-6, 6-6)

Remaining Schedule:

vs Illinois

vs Northwestern

at Iowa

vs North Carolina Central

at Minnesota

vs Michigan State

vs Purdue

First off, congrats to Tom Crean, who won his first Big Ten road game against a team other than Penn State this weekend by defeating in-state rival Purdue. It only took three and half years.

Kidding aside, Indiana has a pretty favorable schedule down the stretch. They’re done with Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin, and five of their final seven games are at home, where they have knocked off two top five teams (Kentucky and Ohio State) this season.

The Hoosiers did lose to Minnesota at home earlier this season, so their trip up to the Twin Cities will not be a cake walk. The Hoosiers are 2-5 in Big Ten road games this season, so their game against the Hawkeyes in Iowa City won’t be a gimme either. As a Badger fan who happened to be at the Kohl Center this past New Year’s Eve, I can tell you that the Hawkeyes do have some talent.

Indiana should be able to win at least five of their seven remaining games, and they have a decent chance of winning six.

Alabama (15-7, 4-4)

Remaining Schedule:

at Auburn

at LSU

vs Florida

vs Tennessee

at Arkansas

vs Mississippi State

vs Auburn

at Mississippi

After just missing out on the NCAA Tournament last season, Alabama came into this season ranked and poised for a break-out year. However, the Crimson Tide got off a slow start in conference, dropping four of their first six SEC games.

Bama has won their last two conference games to get back to .500 in SEC play, and their schedule the rest of the way is very manageable. Ken Pomeroy has the Tide (24th in his rankings) favored to win in each of their remaining eight games. They’re done with Kentucky and Vanderbilt, and only play Florida and Mississippi State at home. Their toughest road tests will be at Arkansas and Ole Miss.

Michigan (17-7, 7-4)

Remaining Schedule:

at Nebraska

vs Illinois

vs Ohio State

at Northwestern

vs Purdue

at Illinois

at Penn State

Michigan dropped four of their first five Big Ten road games, with their only win coming against Purdue (who also dropped home games to Wisconsin and Indiana). While the Wolverines still have four Big Ten road games left on their schedule, they’re all definitely winnable. Illinois will be the toughest road test, as the Illini have beaten Ohio State and Michigan State in Champaign this season. However, the Illini are a mess right now, and I’m not sure they’ll figure things out anytime soon (More on that later on). I think the Wolverines should win at least three of their final four Big Ten road games.

Michigan is undefeated at home this season, but their toughest test will come in two weeks when the rival Buckeyes come to Ann Arbor. Michigan played Ohio State tough in Columbus, and I think they’ll pull off the upset at the Crisler Center. Michigan has a good chance of entering the Big Ten Tournament having won six of their final seven games.

Pittsburgh (15-9, 4-7)

Remaining Schedule:

at South Florida

at Seton Hall

vs West Virginia

vs South Florida

at Louisville

vs St. John’s

at UConn

If there’s one thing we should have learned over the last decade, it’s that you should never count out a team coached by Bo Ryan or Jamie Dixon.

After suffering through an eight game losing streak, Pitt has started to recover and may now have a chance of making the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers are on a four game win streak (including wins over Georgetown and West Virginia), and their remaining schedule is not too rough.

They’re done with Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame and Cincinnati. I could see the Panthers entering their game in Louisville on an eight game winning streak, and it’s not unreasonable to think Pitt could end the regular season by winning 11 of their final 12 games. If they do, the Panthers should be dancing once again in March.

Teams That Could Fade Down The Stretch:

Wisconsin (18-6, 7-4)

Remaining Schedule:

at Minnesota

at Michigan State

vs Penn State

at Iowa

at Ohio State

vs Minnesota

vs Illinois

The Badgers recovered nicely from their 1-3 start in Big Ten play by winning six straight games. If they had beaten Ohio State this weekend, they would have moved into first place in the Big Ten. Alas, they lost to the Buckeyes at the Kohl Center for the first time in the Bo Ryan era.

Things won’t get any easier for the Badgers. Four of their next five games are on the road, including tough trips to Michigan State and Ohio State. The road games against Minnesota and Iowa will not be easy either. Tubby Smith has done pretty well against the Badgers, and Iowa beat Wisconsin in Madison earlier this season.

The Badgers have already lost four times at the Kohl Center this season, so the home games against Illinois and Minnesota (two possible bubble teams) will not be gimmes.

The Badgers could easily go 2-5 or 3-4 down the stretch. But, Bo Ryan is still the head coach of Wisconsin, so he’ll probably work his magic to avoid that.

Florida (19-4, 7-1)

Remaining Schedule:

at Kentucky

vs Tennessee

at Alabama

at Arkansas

vs Auburn

at Georgia

at Vanderbilt

vs Kentucky

After losing to Tennessee in their conference opener, the Gators have racked up seven straight SEC wins. However, their seven game win streak is pretty hollow. Five of those seven wins have come in Gainesville, and just three have come against teams ranked in the top 100 of the KenPom ratings.

Florida will be tested in the coming weeks. The Gators will travel to Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas and Vanderbilt. They also host Kentucky on the final weekend of the regular season. Five of their final eight games will be on the road. The Gators are 2-4 on the road this season, including losses to two sub-100 teams, Rutgers and Tennessee.

Illinois (16-7, 5-5)

Remaining Schedule:

at Indiana

at Michigan

vs Purdue

at Nebraska

at Ohio State

vs Iowa

vs Michigan

at Wisconsin

Once again, Illinois has turned a promising season into a mess. The Illini moved into first place in the Big Ten after they upset Ohio State at home on Jan. 10. Since then, Bruce Weber’s crew has lost four of five games, including losses to Penn State on the road and Northwestern at home.

The Illini will play four of their next five and five of their final eight games on the road. Illinois has currently defeated just one Big Ten team (Northwestern) on the road. Illinois still has to play four nationally ranked teams on the road (Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin).

One has to believe Weber is coaching for his job right now. If Illinois misses the tournament, Weber will be squarely on the hot seat. Yes, Weber led Illinois to the National Championship game. But it was seven years ago, and it was with Bill Self’s players.

Weber has not shown an ability to recruit elite talent (in a state full of it), and he also has not shown the ability to develop talent. Many of his players (Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis, Shaun Pruitt included) have regressed over their time in Champaign.

When Weber took over the program, Illinois was one of the top teams in the country year after year. Now, the Illini are muddled in mediocrity.

Minnesota (17-7, 5-6)

vs Wisconsin

vs Ohio State

at Northwestern

vs Michigan State

vs Michigan

at Wisconsin

vs Nebraska

First, the good news: Five of Minnesota’s final seven games will be at home. The bad news: Four of those five games will be played against nationally ranked teams (Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan), and Trever Mbakwe is still out for the year due to injury.

If the Gophers are to make the NCAA Tournament, they’ll probably need to beat Nebraska at home, Northwestern on the road and win two of their four tough home games (most likely against Wisconsin and Michigan). If they do that, they’ll finish the regular season 21-10 overall and 9-9 in conference. They might be able to sneak in at 20-11 and 8-10.

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Checking In With The Best Teams I’ve Seen This Season

Glenbard North (5-1, 3-1), tied for second in the Dupage Valley Conference

Glenbard North QB Brian Murphy escapes a tackler against OPRF

WHAT HAVE THEY DONE SINCE WE LAST MET?

Week Five: 31-21 win versus Aurora West

Week Six: 6-10 loss at Naperville Central

REMAINING SCHEDULE:

Week Seven: vs Wheaton-Warrenville South (3-3, 1-3)

Week Eight: at Wheaton North (5-1, 4-0)

Week Nine: vs Naperville North (4-2, 3-1)

RANDOM STATS:

Have outscored opponents 216 to 51

Opponents have tallied 25 wins

Star running back Phil Jackson has rushed for 605 yards and 12 touchdowns

OUTLOOK:

The Panthers offense struggled last week as Glenbard North lost their first game, 10-6 to Naperville Central. Phil Jackson went over 100 yards rushing again, but he was only able to reach the end zone once. Most troubling for the Panthers, starting QB Brian Murphy was knocked out of the game with an injury. Murphy runs well and he had a break out game through the air three weeks ago against Glenbard East when he threw for 229 yards and two touchdowns.

The Panthers end the season with a tough stretch of games against three of the best teams in the Dupage Valley Conference. That stretch could get even more challenging if the Panthers are missing their starting signal caller.

Wheaton North (5-1, 4-0), first place in the Dupage Valley Conference

Wheaton North QB John Peltz winds up to throw

WHAT HAVE THEY DONE SINCE WE LAST MET?

Week Six: 38-7 win versus Aurora West

REMAINING SCHEDULE:

Week Seven: vs Naperville Central (4-2, 3-1)

Week Eight: vs Glenbard North (5-1, 3-1)

Week Nine: at Wheaton-Warrenville South (3-3, 3-1)

RANDOM STATS:

Have outscored opponents 196 to 95

Opponents have won 28 games

QB John Peltz has thrown for 970 yards and 9 TDs, he also has 6 rushing TDs

OUTLOOK:

The Falcons have won four straight games, but the competition is about to get a lot tougher. Their previous three opponents have combined to win three games this season. However, their next three opponents have combined to win 12 games, and are all part of the four-way tie for second place in the DVC.

The Falcons are led by quarterback John Peltz who has thrown for 970 yards and nine touchdowns this season. Peltz is the best quarterback I have seen this season, and the Falcons will need him to keep performing at the level he has been playing at if they are to hold on first place in the DVC.

Montini (4-2, 2-1), tied for second in the Suburban Christian (Blue) Conference

Montini star WR Jordan Westerkamp

LAST GAME: 33-14 win versus St. Francis

REMAINING SCHEDULE:

Week Seven: at St. Edward (4-2, 1-2)

Week Eight: at Walther Lutheran (1-5, 0-3)

Week Nine: vs Wheaton Academy (1-5, 0-3)

RANDOM STATS:

Have outscored opponents 171 to 117

Opponents have won 33 games

WR Jordan Westerkamp has 28 receptions for 514 yards and 9 TDs

OUTLOOK:

After starting the season off 2-2, things are looking up for the defending 5A State Champions. The Broncos have won their last two games against solid conference opponents, Aurora Christian and St. Francis, and have done so in impressive fashion. Montini has outscored their last two opponents 88-28.

Montini’s schedule was front loaded. They lost two early games, but both defeats came at the hands of 6-0 teams, Loyola and Marian Central.

Montini got a boost last week from the debut of quarterback John Rhode. Rhode, a transfer from Marian Central, missed the first five games of the season while recovering from a thumb injury. Rhode took over the quarterbacking duties at halftime, and looked great, tossing three touchdowns in the second half. Two of those touchdowns were caught by star wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp.

The Rhode-Westerkamp connection may take the Broncos to another state championship this season.

Addison Trail (6-0, 4-0), first place in the West Suburban Gold Conference

Addison Trail RB Anthony Messina runs back a kick

LAST GAME: 35-0 win at Proviso East

REMAINING SCHEDULE:

Week Seven: vs Glenbard West (6-0, 4-0)

Week Eight: at Willowbrook (0-6, 0-3)

Week Nine: vs Downers Grove South (6-0, 3-0)

RANDOM STATS:

Have outscored opponents 172 to 13

Opponents have won 22 games

Have posted 4 shutouts this season

OUTLOOK:

Addison Trail is off to the best start in school history thanks to its stifling defense. Led by linebackers Kevin Kent and Mike Imperiale, the Blazers have shut out four of their opponents, and have only given up 13 points through six games.

The Blazers have two tests against undefeated teams left on their schedule, and both games are at home. In between they face a hapless Willowbrook squad that recently lost 48-7 at home to Proviso East on homecoming. First up is a meeting with Glenbard West this Friday night. The Hilltoppers may be without starting QB Justice Odom, who was injured Saturday in a win over Proviso West. AT ends the season with a de-facto West Suburban Conference Championship game against Downers Grove South.

Is the Blazers defense as dominant as the stats suggest? We will find out over the next three weeks.

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Glenbard North Scores Five Second Quarter Touchdowns In 49-0 Rout of Glenbard East

Glenbard North QB Brian Murphy Photo By: Stacia Timonere for the Sun-Times

Glenbard North 49 Glenbard East 0

Glenbard North exploded for 35 second quarter points en route to a 49-0 victory over Glenbard East Friday night in Lombard.

The Panthers pride themselves on being a run-oriented team, but it was the passing game that sparked the Panthers’ five touchdown outburst in the second quarter.

“I think we got a little stubborn in the first quarter, we tried to run, tried to run, tried to run, and we were attacking walled cities,” said Glenbard North head coach Ryan Wilkens. “We just decided that we would try to loosen up a little bit and go to the air. Brian had a good night, he threw 10 times in the first half, that’s a lot for us.”

Quarterback Brian Murphy completed 8 of his 10 first half pass attempts for 229 yards and two touchdowns. His second touchdown of the night was a 79-yard bomb to wide receiver Trevor Hackett that put the Panthers up 3-0.

Murphy also connected with wide receiver Solomon Oquendo for a 12-yard touchdown.

“I thought his timing was very good, he sat back there in the pocket, he had pretty decent time, but his accuracy and his timing was pretty good,” said Wilkens about his junior quarterback. “Overall for a team that is more of a run-oriented team, I thought he did a very, very good job tonight.”

The Panthers (4-0, 2-0) recovered a Glenbard East muffed punt at the Rams’ 15 yard line on the first play of the second quarter. The Panthers capitalized on the subsequent play when running back Phil Jackson ran 15 yards for his second touchdown on the game, putting Glenbard North ahead 14-0.

The senior running back finished the game with 75 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.

Back-up running back Justin Jackson scored the second Panthers touchdown of the quarter on a 34-yard run down the right sideline. Jackson, who also starts at safety on defense, blocked a punt on the Panthers’ next defensive possession.

The Panthers fifth and final touchdown of the second quarter was scored by running back Tremel Smith on a one yard run. Glenbard North led 42-0 at halftime.

Quarterback Joe Kotch and the Glenbard East (1-3, 0-2) offense was unable to get anything going the entire game. The Rams only managed to gain 79 yards and four first downs, and turned the ball over five times. Kotch completed 3 of his 18 pass attempts for 23 yards and threw three interceptions.

“We didn’t do a whole lot right in every phase,” said Glenbard East head coach John Walters. “We need to make sure that we’re transferring our practice skill out here to the football field on Friday night, and that’s exactly what’s not happened for us.”

The Rams have lost three straight games since winning their home opener.

I wrote this story for the Chicago Sun-Times. It appears online at yourseason.com.

SCORING PLAYS

FIRST QUARTER

[5:30] GN Phil Jackson 1 yard run (PAT good) – 7-0 GN

SECOND QUARTER

[11:14] GN Phil Jackson 15 yard run (PAT good) – 14-0 GN

[6:59] GN Justin Jackson 34 yard run (PAT good) – 21-0 GN

[5:15] GN Brian Murphy 12 yard pass to Solomon Oquendo (PAT good) – 28-0 GN

[2:30] GN Brian Murphy 79 yard pass to Trevor Hackett (PAT good) – 35-0 GN

[0:11] GN Tremel Smith 1 yard run (PAT good) – 42-0 GN

FOURTH QUARTER

[8:35] GN Vincent Sherrod 37 yard run (PAT good) – 49-0 GN

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