Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Navy and Navs

Here's a story I wrote for my journalism class. I figured since it doesn't get published anywhere, that I'd publish it somewhere myself. Anyways...enjoy.

Jim Downing awoke early in the morning like he always did and prepared to go on deck the battleship USS West Virginia. A 9-year Navy veteran, this was more than routine. It was mechanical.

But Dec. 7, 1941 was nothing he or anyone else was used to. Now etched into the mind of any American – historian or not, this was the day that the United States lost 2,388 servicemen, 188 of its finest aircraft, and much of its ship fleet at Pearl Harbor, including the West Virginia.

Having spent the night on land, Downing was just a few minutes from boarding the ship when the first wave of Japanese planes came. Had he been on board, he’d be dead.

For some reason, the ship’s radar had been turned off for the night and was not prepared to give any warning. The first time the crew knew the Japanese were coming was when they saw with their own eyes the eerily low-flying olive-red planes.

In total, 40 Japanese B5Ns armed with 330-pound, Type 91 torpedoes swarmed the eight “very unprepared” battleships. If the battleships were eliminated, the rest would be easy. The first wave knocked out the power on the West Virginia. There was not much left to defend. The 16 deck-level guns were incapable of producing enough flak to divert the attack.

“There was nothing I could do,” Downing said. Seventy sailors who could not escape went down with the West Virginia. It settled in the shallow water - just six feet of water separated the top of the ship from the sea level.


Over 66 years later, the 94-year old Downing sits down at dinner in a Colorado Springs lodge to tell his story. His shiny, never-been-scratched, red Cadillac Deville is parked just outside. The car has a hand crank on the steering wheel to allow easier maneuvering with his aging limbs. Inside the lodge, the man appears to be in perfect health. If you didn’t know he was well into his 90s, you might guess he just turned 80. His memory is strong – he recites stats from the war that match perfectly with the history books.

Eating at a popular place for his friends and coworkers, he sees one longtime friend walk by. The man salutes Downing, they share a few words and he moves on. The whole place seems to share a genuine respect and friendship toward this hero of sorts.

He credits his longevity to a committed faith in a sovereign God. A long time ago, he said, he could have started a life of worrying – about the war, his life, and his calling. Without an inner peace that he developed during the war, he might still be suffering from the stress and physical toll on his body from his years in the military.

“That led me to reason that at the age of 94, I’ve got the outlook of a teenager,” he said. “I don’t worry. I know that if there’s real danger, I’ll experience it. That’s a great spiritual lesson that I learned.”


For the two-and-a-half hours following the initial attack, Downing expected the next Japanese plane to be the one that would get him, but he never wavered from that complete peace he felt inside. Just a few weeks prior, he had read a magazine article about a Christian officer from the British army who organized a soccer tournament on the battle fields in France. If the war did not deter this officer, the eminent war could not deter Downing.

Downing did not die on Dec. 7. He simply went about his duties amidst tremendous pressure and chaos. He just happened to have never been hit by the enemy.

He spent the rest of the day taking care of the wounded, locating the dead and putting out fires. The parts of the West Virginia that were not yet submerged were ablaze in flame. One of his most vivid memories was walking through the burn ward at the hospital.

“I went down the line,” he said. “Most of them were in suspension, most of them would die that night, and I just asked each one for their name and their parents’ address, and I’d write it down and send a message to them. Most of them did die. And I wanted to at least let their parents know what happened.”

Amidst the disorder, one of the carriers at sea, the USS Enterprise tried to return to the harbor. Without a flight recognition signal, the Navy started firing at one of the carriers’ incoming planes. That night, the military was firing on its own airplanes. Chaos reigned.


At dinner, Downing doesn’t touch his food. It is not that he isn’t hungry – he has too much to share in an hour to take the time to eat.

After a 24-year Navy career ended in 1956 – four years longer than the basic eligibility requirement for retirement, Downing began his second career with the Navigators, a worldwide Christian organization, including in the capacities of Deputy President and Chairman of the Board of Directors.

What he loves to talk about the most is his faith. He’d prefer to spend hours on that subject and spend fifteen minutes on Pearl Harbor and war stories. When he does talk about the war, his faith quickly finds its way into the narrative.


Like most teenagers in the Great Depression, Downing joined the Navy because he had to. He wanted to go to college, go to law school and end up in Washington D.C. as a politician. Instead, he found himself on a boat in the Pacific Ocean.

“The Navy was an economic escape as far as I was concerned,” he said. “I’d get away from home, I’d be on my own. I’d been brought up in a church background, but I thought that if God had any plans for my life, that he’d have to postpone it for another four years, because he’d never find me.”

He ended up on the ship where the Navigators ministry began. Through a small supervising position, Downing met one of the founders, Lester Spencer. Spencer was excited about sharing his faith, and Downing figured anyone that excited must have been a fanatic.

A few weeks later, in Downing’s first Christmas back at home, his mother gave him a Bible.
“(It was) pretty much a good luck charm,” he said. “And I used it to keep spare money in because that’s the last place anybody would look.”

Spencer saw Downing use his Bible as a personal piggy bank and called him out. “That Bible is good for something other than keeping your money in,” he told him.

Spencer began meeting with Downing, and the rest is history. Or maybe “His story,” if Downing could describe it.

Not long after, Downing began leading Bible studies on the ship. He said there wasn’t a better place to evangelize and make disciples than in the Navy. There were 1,500 guys on a single battleship. Through the work of Spencer, Downing and others, over 100 men became Christians on the West Virginia.

“The Lord led me to stay in not because I had anybody, but because it was a place of ministry,” he said.

By 1941, Downing and his friends were well known across the Pacific for their Christian ministry.


Downing said the most common question people ask him about Pearl Harbor is “how did you react?”

“Well, that was a day’s work, December 7th.” he said. “December 8th, that’s another day’s work. You’re in the military to do a day’s work.”


From Dec. 8 through June 1942, Downing stayed at Pearl Harbor. While the war progressed, he was salvaging the sunken ships. He helped recover his own ship, the West Virginia.

The ship’s fires finally extinguished a few days later, and later inspection showed that it took six torpedo hits during the attack. With a patch over the damaged hull, the battleship was pumped out and refloated on May 17, 1942.

Using his experience, Downing served as a captain of a ship for three years in the Korean War before he retired from the military.


Downing now spends his time traveling across the country, sharing at conferences, speaking on college campuses and training some of the nearly 5,000 staff of the Navigators organization that he helped establish in his military career.

He had just returned to the Navigator headquarters in Colorado Springs from a military conference in which he was the keynote speaker. At these conferences, he uses war time stories to develop deeper messages. He shares miraculous accounts of answered prayer and speaks of the inner peace that kept him from worry during the most stressful times of war.

He feels that if God’s on his side, then he’s on the winning side, and that is what keeps him motivated. He also sees an unmet goal that he can work toward with his remaining years.

“I want to be a winner, I don’t want to lose any battle, of any kind, any place. In my career, it helped a lot. There’s a human, ego satisfaction in that, but on the other side there’s a love of Christ. Basically I want to be ‘forgetting what’s behind and pressing toward the mark of the prize for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3: 13-14). Everybody wants to be a winner, but not everyone’s willing to pay the price. But don’t you feel good when you win?”

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Excellency of Christ

In today's Christian landscape, there tends to be perfunctory faith, a shallow commitment to Christ, and superficial engagement with the mission Christ left for His people. While the Puritans had glaring faults of their own (not to mention excesses in some of the rigidity), our modern Christian culture could learn something from the great theological heroes of the past who understood the reality of sin, the human condition and our need to be God-centered, Bible-centered people in our everyday lives.

One such hero would be Jonathan Edwards, the great American colonial theologian and pastor who is widely-known for his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God".

While the sermon was incredibly rich and powerful, it tends to leave a rather one-dimensional view of Edwards in people's minds. I wanted to share an excerpt from another Edwards sermon, "The Excellency of Christ," which is one of the best expressions of the work of Christ on the cross. If Christ's sacrifice is not so meaningful as to move someone to greater faithfulness, than this sermon should enliven us to his great work. What a wonderful thing He did for us!

May we present Christ to the world as most excellent - and seek to know Him more deeply so that He will pour out of us as we live our lives.

"There meet in Jesus Christ, infinite justice and infinite grace. As Christ is a divine person, He is infinitely holy and just; hating sin, and disposed to execute condign punishment for sin. He is the Judge of the world, and the infinitely just Judge of it, and will not at all acquit the wicked, or by any means clear the guilty.
And yet He is infinitely gracious and merciful. Though His justice be so strict with respect to all sin, and every breach of the law, yet He has grace sufficient for every sinner, and even the chief of sinners. And it is not only sufficient for the most unworthy to show them mercy, and bestow some good upon them, but to bestow the greatest good; yea, it is sufficient to bestow all good upon them, and to do all things for them. There is no benefit or blessing that they can receive, so great but the grace of Christ is sufficient to bestow it on the greatest sinner that ever lived. And not only so, but so great is His grace, that nothing is too much as the means of this good. It is sufficient not only to do great things, but also to suffer in order to it; and not only to suffer, but to suffer most extremely even unto death, the most terrible of natural evils; and not only death, but the most ignominious and tormenting, and every way the most terrible that men could inflict; yea, and greater sufferings than men could inflict, who could only torment the body. He had sufferings in His soul, that were the more immediate fruits of the wrath of God against the sins of those He undertakes for." - Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

50 Predictions for the NCAA Tournament

* These predictions don't reflect my IU Navs facebook group and family pool picks because I pick for those in a much safer manner to increase my chances of winning. These predictions are seen in my entries in national contests, such as the ESPN.com and cbssportsline.com contests.

1. Neither Butler nor Drake will make the Sweet 16. It's never the highly-touted mid-majors that do well. It's the ones that go under the radar that succeed. Gonzaga's had the "highly-touted mid-major" tag for the past few years and has never gone above what was expected.

2. Stanford v. Cornell. What? This isn't the International Quiz Bowl Tournament? Players on both teams will do just fine off the court.

3. And maybe these teams should focus a little more in the classroom? No. 2 Tennessee graduates 33 percent of its basketball-student athletes, while their opponent, No. 15 American, graduates 15 percent of its basketball student-athletes, according to a study released by the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. At least for Tennessee, it won't matter, because they'll be winning this game easily.

4. Speaking of that study, the all-academic Final Four would include Western Kentucky (100 percent), Butler (92 percent), Notre Dame (91 percent) and Purdue (91 percent). Um, that's all but one of the Indiana schools...but IU doesn't lag too far behind at 76 percent. How plausible would it be for any of those teams make the actual Final Four? Not likely.

5. The last few major conference bubble teams to qualify will not win in the first round. They aren't that good. Thus, early exits for Villanova, Kansas St., Kentucky and Baylor.

6. The record for No. 16 seeds going into the tournament? 0-92. After 2008? 0-96.

7. The record for No. 15 seeds against No. 2 seeds going into the tournament? 4-88. After 2008? 4-92.

8. At least one two-seed will not make the Sweet 16. A likely candidate is Duke, who will face a tough West Virginia squad led by Joe Alexander. If Joe Alexander played at this level earlier in the season, Luke Harangody would have had some competition in the race for Big East POY.

9. Xavier is overrated and won't make the Sweet 16. Remember George Washington in 2006? They were 26-2 and got the deserved 8-seed and struggled in the first round. Even St. Joe's underperformed after its undefeated regular season in '03-'04, with a loss in the Elite 8. I've never trusted the A-10 and won't this year. Xavier has one top 25 win against Indiana and that's not exactly a 3-seed worthy "best" win.

10. The good Big East schools will do well in the tournament. That includes Notre Dame, Louisville, Connecticut and Georgetown. The first three are all playing extremely well right now (a la Florida's surges the past two seasons) and Georgetown is a tourney-tested team. Sweet 16 for all four teams and two will make the Elite 8 (minus Notre Dame and UConn).

11. The West Region is the most wide open. Remember the 2000 bracket with three No. 8 seeds littering the Final Four and Elite 8? I see very similar in this region. The weakest No. 2 seed (Duke) and No. 3 seed (Xavier) are in the same region. That plays into the hands of hot teams like No. 6 Purdue and No. 7 West Virginia.

12. Georgia won't be able to compete against Xavier. Gerry McNamara's Orangmenen did the same thing two years ago - winning four games in a row to take the Big East title - but then got drilled in the first round. A Thursday game does the Bulldogs no favors.

13. The five-star freshmen will struggle in the tournament. From Michael Beasley to Derrick Rose to O.J. Mayo to Eric Gordon and on down the list, notice that it will be upperclassmen (a la Tyler Hansbrough, Darren Collison and Chris Lofton) that will do well this year. OK, so the Beasley v. Mayo matchup might look good, but whoever wins will struggle in the second round when the two aren't playing each other.

14. What about first round upset specials? I'll give a few. Temple over Michigan State? While the Spartans are on an upswing of sorts, the Owls are on an even greater upswing in the second year sans John Chaney. They won the A-10 tourney, which counts for something, even if I discredit the conference as a whole. Merry Christmas, Temple. The Owls' led by Christmas (Dionte Christmas) make it to the second round as a proverbial No. 12 over No. 5 upset pick.

15. San Diego over Connecticut? It's only an upset if no one sees it coming, and this game would fall in that category. San Diego won the WCC tournament, beating Gonzaga and St. Mary's in the process. If they can find a way to contain Hasheem Thabeet on both ends of the floor, they have a chance. UConn still wins, but it will be a close game.

16. And the pick no one in their right mind should pick but just might happen. That would be Cal-State Fullerton over Wisconsin. Not only was the Big Ten weak this year, but the Titans are on a hot streak, winning 10 of their last 11 games. Again, close game. But it's awfully tough to top the Badgers in your first appearance against a Bo Ryan squad.

17. Prior to the bracket's release, I was planning to write off Purdue's chances. However, despite the low No. 6 seed, the Boilermakers are in a perfect situation to make a run to the Elite 8. A road through Baylor, Xavier and Duke (or maybe another team?) doesn't look half bad.

18. Staying in the state of Indiana, the Hoosiers might have been hosed by the committee and will suffer for it. If they get by Arkansas like they should, they really have no chance to "prove themselves" against a machine like the North Carolina Tar Heels. No second weekend for the team once thinking Final Four thoughts.

19. My 7-10 picks breakdown. These are as tough to call, if not tougher than, 8-9 games. Butler won't make it to the second weekend, but it will get by a fluffy South Alabama team that exposed serious flaws in its conference tournament loss to Middle Tennessee State.

20. Davidson was a trendy pick in the preseason and it stays that way now. They will beat the always overrated Gonzaga Bulldogs.

21. St. Mary's over Miami (Fla). The Hurricanes? Who? They've gone under the radar for good reason this season and struggled down the stretch.

22. West Virginia over Arizona. I didn't think the Wildcats belonged in the tourney with 14 losses (who cares about SOS with that many losses!) and I think I'll be proven correctly when they lose to West Virginia. This could have very well been a 6-11 matchup.

23. Like every year previously, all four one seeds will NOT qualify for the Final Four. The quickest out? Pittsburgh over No. 1 Memphis in the Sweet 16.

24. No one will pick a perfect bracket. The mathematical odds of doing such are over nine million trillion to one (9,000,000,000,000,000,000
to 1). You are about 60 billion times more likely to win the interstate Powerball lottery. Even with weighted odds (such as this suggested one: (higher seed number-lower seed number)/30 + 0.5)) would yield odds of 150 billion to one.

25. Western Kentucky's Courtney Lee will turn heads, even if just for one game against Drake. An NBA lottery pick (and Indianapolis Pike High School grad) that ended up at the Huskies, he might be able to help his team pull off the upset - he'll put up great numbers, nonetheless.

26. No more Jim Larranaga magic from his George Mason Patriots. They lose to Notre Dame in the first round.

27. Time for Sweet 16 picks. First, for the East Region: North Carolina, Notre Dame, Louisville, Tennessee. No surprises here. Washington State's slow down basketball will be interesting for the 3-point shooting, offensive-minded Irish. The Irish simply have more talent.

28. Midwest Region Sweet 16 teams: Kansas, Vanderbilt, USC, Georgetown. USC proves too much for the Badgers.

29. South Region: Memphis, Pittsburgh, Stanford, Texas. Again, boring. A lot of the times the Sweet 16 reshuffles the teams and the good ones that didn't get upset in the first round survive the second round. No saying upsets are confined to the first round.

30. West Region: UCLA, Connecticut, Purdue, West Virginia. If Duke loses (prediction No. 8) and Xavier loses (prediction No. 9), than that leaves Purdue and West Virginia with the best chances. Both teams are playing well enough to make a run into the second weekend.

31. Even that new Nike commercial about Cinderellas will get old by the end of the tournament.

32. Jim Nantz and/or Billy Packer will jump on an annoying, mindless point in the championship game and ride it throughout the telecast. Here's calling for a Gus Johnson/Clark Kellogg announcing duo.

33. There will be one, and only one, buzzer beater. And by buzzer beater, I mean buzzer-beater - the horn sounds as the ball is in the air/net and the shot goes in. There has to be - it's what makes the tournament into March Madness. Basically, a pick-six or walk-off homerun.

34. The over/under on the margin of victory in the No. 1 v. No. 16 games? I'll say 35. All four No. 1 seeds can score and that's trouble for the 16 seeds.

35. The Memphis v. Pittsburgh game will be very close and it might come down to who can shoot better at the free throw line. Thus, it might not be fun to watch. Memphis shoots 59.6 percent from the charity stripe, while Pittsburgh shoots 67.8 percent. Pittsburgh's best free-throw shooter (Gilbert Brown) shoots under 75 percent from the line, while Memphis' best (Derrick Rose) shoots a stunning 69.6 percent. Joey Dorsey is 42-107 on the season. (Little used Pierre Niles is even worse. He shot 5-18 on the season). Memphis' harmatia - tragic flaw - will be its free throw shooting. Enter Pittsburgh into the Elite 8.

36. No matter how bad the jokes are (If A.J. Graves can't find a basketball he just dribbles a cow until it turns into a leather ball), www.ajgravesfacts.com will be mentioned during the Butler telecast.

37. The Divison II National Championship game will not be as exciting this year as it was last year. I don't think a game can get more exciting. If this clip doesn't get you in the mood for basketball, go back to gardening: www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFYnersg2Us

38. Bob Knight will be a very boring analyst on ESPN. He hasn't show anything yet, and he won't. I think he's still looking for a coaching job.

39. I will do better than Joe Lunardi in picking the bracket. Bracketologist? Psh. I'll compare the Sweet 16 on, since that's what I'll be predicting here. And if it's a tie, I'll revert to first round upset picks.

40. The team with the easiest route to the Elite 8 is the Kansas Jayhawks. A potential Portland State-UNLV-Vanderbilt isn't all that daunting. Look for double digit wins in all three games.

41. North Carolina also has an easy path. My prediction - it's toughest game will be against IU in the second round. This will be similar to Purdue's effort against Florida last year. Close, but not quite all there. Besides, they play in Raleigh for the first two games and then travel all the way to...Charlotte for the Sweet 16 and Elite 8.

42. Elite 8 picks. East Region: North Carolina and Louisville. Terrence Williams and David Padgett are a strong 1-2 punch for the Cardinals against a Volunteer team that peaked in February.

43. Midwest Region: Kansas and Georgetown.

44. South Region: Pittsburgh and Stanford. Texas is a trendy picks and if I was picking a safe bracket, I'd probably stick the Longhorns in the Final Four. However, the Lopez brothers are tough to handle, and UT has shown occasional lapses throughout the season, in losses to teams like Missouri and Texas Tech. They can't play a bad game in the second weekend and hope to advance.

45. West Region: UCLA and West Virginia.

46. The Final Four averages 1.5 No. 1 seeds. Only three times has the average seed been higher than five. In 1980, Louisville (2) won the championship over UCLA (8), Purdue (6) and Iowa (5). In 2000, Michigan State (1) joined Florida (5) and No. 8 seeds North Carolina and Wisconsin. In 2006, No. 11 seed George Mason crashed the party with Florida (3), UCLA (2) and LSU (4). This year, the average seed will be under 2.5.

47. Final Four Matchup No. 1: North Carolina and Kansas. UNC will have won four "home" games. The Kansas v. Georgetown matchup presents contrasting styles of play, but the abundance of Jayhawk talent helps them get by the G-men, even if they play the control game.

48. Final Four Matchup No. 2: UCLA and Stanford. A Pac 10 battle in the Final Four? Yes. And a good one, just in case you missed the Pac 10 Conference tournament championship game.

49. Finals: North Carolina vs. UCLA. Now, how's that for college basketball nostalgia?

50. Champion: UCLA. They've been close the past two seasons (finals in 2006, Final Four in 2007), and they get the job done with players who've been there twice (namely, Darren Collison, Lorenzo Mata-Real and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute).

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"We cannot open our eyes without being compelled to behold Him. His essence, indeed, is incomprehensible, utterly transcending all human thought; but on each of His works His glory is engraven in characters so bright, so distinct, and so illustrious, that none, however dull and illiterate, can plead ignorance as their excuse." - John Calvin

Monday, March 3, 2008

Big Ten All-Conference Awards and National Awards

Here are my picks for end-of-the-season Big Ten and national awards. Feel free to agree or disagree.

Player of the Year
DJ White, Indiana

Newcomer of the Year
Eric Gordon, Indiana

Coach of the Year
Matt Painter, Purdue

First Team
G Drew Neitzel, Michigan State
G Eric Gordon, Indiana
F Robbie Hummel, Purdue
F Raymar Morgan, Michigan State
C DJ White, Indiana

Second Team
G Jamar Butler, Ohio State
G Manny Harris, Michigan
F Kosta Koufas, Ohio State
F Brian Butch, Wisconsin
C Shaun Pruitt, Illinois

Third Team
G E'Twaun Moore, Purdue
G Trevon Hughes, Wisconsin
F Dan Coleman, Minnesota
F Kevin Koble, Northwestern
C Goran Suton, Michigan State

Honorable Mention: Armon Bassett, Jamelle Cornley, Jamarcus Ellis, Michael Flowers, Keaton Grant, Justin Johnson, Joe Krabbenhoft, Chris Kramer, Lawrence McKenzie, Craig Moore, Spencer Tollackson

All-Freshman First Team
G Eric Gordon, Indiana
G Manny Harris, Michigan
F Robbie Hummel, Purdue
F E'Twaun Moore, Purdue
C Kosta Koufas, Ohio State

And national awards...
Player of the Year
Michael Beasley, Kansas State

Newcomer of the Year
Michael Beasley, Kansas State

Coach of the Year
Matt Painter, Purdue

First Team
G DJ Augustin, Texas
G Eric Gordon, Indiana
F Michael Beasley, Kansas State
F Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina
C Luke Harangody, Notre Dame

Second Team
G Chris Douglas-Roberts, Memphis
G Jerryd Bayless, Arizona
F Brandon Rush, Kansas
F DJ White, Indiana
C Kevin Love, UCLA

Third Team
G Derrick Rose, Memphis
G Shan Foster, Vanderbilit
G Raymar Morgan, Michigan State
F Gary Forbes, Massachusetts
C Roy Hibbert, Georgetown

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Big Ten Power Rankings, Week 5

On to another set of rankings. Does not include Tuesday's games.

Power Rankings

1. (2) Wisconsin (8-1, 18-3) – Bo Ryan’s Badgers rarely make Sports Center’s Top Ten highlights or even the Big Ten Network’s highlights of the week. But if going under the radar is the result of playing fundamental basketball, I’m sure Ryan doesn’t mind. The team seems just dangerous enough to win the Big Ten and just bad enough to lose to a 15-seed in the first round of the tourney.

2. (4) Purdue (8-1, 17-5) – These rankings reflect how well a team is playing right now and Purdue is one of the hottest teams in the country. Youth isn’t the only word to describe these Boilers – they are also very balanced. In 22 games, the team’s had eight players lead a game in scoring. When the leading scorer (Keaton Grant) averages only 11 points per game, it gives testament to teamwork at its best.

3. (1) Michigan State (7-2, 19-3) – The Spartans’ second conference road loss this week, this time at the hands of Penn State, has coach Tom Izzo a little bit worried. "We are not as tough as we need to be," Izzo said. "I've been saying that all year. I was saying that when we won. We had a few games where we had it, but consistently we're not as good as we need to be [to compete] on this level. ... You've got to bring it every day."

4. (3) Indiana (7-1, 18-3) – IU’s best win to date is against Illinois State. The team lost all three games (Xavier, UConn and Wisconsin) in which it had a chance to prove itself as an upper echelon type of team. Eric Gordon finally had a good game with a 29 point outburst, but it came in a home win against lowly Northwestern that was altogether too close. The season is shaping up to the Hoosiers’ 2001 season when they earned a #4-seed, but were eliminated in the first round.

5. (5) Ohio State (5-2, 14-6) – The Big Ten, like any other major conference, proves home court advantage plays a huge role in games. Last month, the Buckeyes dominated the Hawkeyes in Columbus, winning by 31. This past week, the Hawkeyes won by five and put a damper on a strong Big Ten start. Coupled with a close win against struggling Penn State, the Buckeyes are struggling to find someone not named Butler to step up and help out.

6. (6) Minnesota (2-4, 12-6) – Arch-rival Wisconsin brought out the worst in Minnesota when the Badgers walked out with a 63-47 victory at Williams Arena. The team continues to lack consistency and focus – it had 18 turnovers and shot 36 percent from the field in the loss. Nineteen of the missed field goals were inside the paint. The senior trio of Dan Coleman, Lawrence McKenzie and Spencer Tollackson went from a combined 49 points against Michigan to a mere 20 points against Wisconsin.

7. (8)Iowa (4-6, 11-12) – Heading into a game with the Badgers, Todd Lickliter almost wishes his team lost to Ohio State. Reason: his team hasn’t strung together two Big Ten victories in a row. He figures if he treats the big win against Ohio State like a loss, the team might have a greater urge to win against Wisconsin. "I appreciate the way guys have responded to losses; now we're going to have to play our best game of the year if we're going to be able to compete," said Lickliter.

8. (7) Illinois (2-8, 10-13) – It might be time for Illinois to give up on this season and start preparing for the next. While Bruce Weber would never say he’s given up on this season, he has a decent freshman class that is, for the most part, watching from the sidelines. Playing freshmen Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale, Bill Cole and Mike Davis might help salvage some good from this train-wreck season.

9. (10) Penn State (3-6, 11-10) – Saturday night’s home win against Michigan State proved to the Nittany Lions that they can win without Geary Claxton. However, coach Ed DeChellis underscored that mental hurdle, crediting the win simply to talent. "It's a team sport played by individuals and when individuals play well, the whole team looks a heckuva lot better,” he said. To salvage anything from the season, the team must build on this new confidence.

It’s not fun to review the bottom two teams. I stole these recaps from Skip Myslenski of the Chicago Tribune.

10. (9) Michigan (1-8, 5-16) – The Wolverines have a promising talent in freshman guard Manny Harris, averaging 17.1 points per game in conference play, third best in the league, and 34.4 minutes, sixth most. "He's been a great asset to us from Day One," coach John Beilein said. "He's learning college basketball and is eager to do that."

11. (11) Northwestern (0-8, 7-12) – Like Minnesota's Smith, coach Bill Carmody is another who must worry about his players' heads. "Each day in practice you try to concentrate on one thing we can get better at," Carmody said. "You show on tape what you do well. They know what they do wrong. We emphasize what we do well to keep confidence up."