The best player in the Big Ten last week was also one of the conference”s youngest: Minnesota”s 6-foot-10 freshman forward Rick Rickert. Rickert is the first freshman to be named the Big Ten Player of the Week since current Iowa senior Luke Recker was honored in Jan. of 1998 while playing at Indiana.

Paul Wong
Minnesota forward Rick Rickert was named Big Ten Player of the Week after scoring 53 combined points against Penn State and Indiana last week.<br><br>AP PHOTO

The 18 year old had a hot shooting week for the Golden Gophers, shooting better than 60 percent from the field in two wins over Penn State and Indiana. In the first game, Rickert shot 9-of-12, tallying a remarkable 26 points in 26 minutes. Against the Hoosiers, Rickert shot 9-of-18, ending the game with 27 points and six rebounds.

The Golden Gophers, after an inconsistent start, now find themselves in third place in the Big Ten, just two games behind conference leader Ohio State. The steadily improving Rickert has been a big part of the team”s resurgence.

“He”s been a little bit of a microcosm of this team,” Minnesota coach Dan Monson said. “He”s been up and down, but as a freshman you expect that. He”s beginning to get some experience at this level. We all knew that he was going to be a very good player in this league, you just don”t know when. Fortunately it seems to be happening now.”

Spartans getting sparser: Michigan State might finally be getting its season in order, having won four of its last five after starting the Big Ten season 0-3. This most recent win was the most impressive, as the Spartans marched into Assembly Hall in Champaign and upset No. 21 Illinois. The loss was the first in 28 games at home for Illinois, and coach Tom Izzo wants to build on his team”s new momentum.

“We”re getting a little better and yet we”re not a great team yet,” Izzo said.

That development was slowed on Sunday, though. Standout guard Marcus Taylor suffered a concussion when he hit his head on the floor after becoming entangled with Illinois forward Lucas Johnson. He has already been injured this season, and Izzo has had to improvise with a shallow lineup throughout the year. It is unlikely that Taylor will suit up for the Spartans” game against Northwestern tomorrow.

“Injuries still seem to be a problem,” Izzo said. “We don”t know what Marcus Taylor”s status will be for Wednesday.”

Damir doubtful: Before he had a chance to reaffirm his value to the Fighting Illini, Illinois forward Damir Krupalija reinjured his left foot in Sunday”s loss to Michigan State. Illinois had been playing with a full deck of cards for only about a week, as Krupalija and fellow big man Lucas Johnson had been sidelined with injuries. Illinois is reeling from three straight losses (Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan State) and coach Bill Self doubts that Krupalija, one of the conference”s most versatile forwards, will return soon.

“He could be done,” Self told ESPN.com yesterday. “He had the infant stages of a stress fracture even when he came back. We”ll see what happens.”

Ready to be bucked?: Ohio State is still in first place in the Big Ten at 8-1, but the Buckeyes leave the comfortable confines of Value City Arena this week with difficult road contests at Wisconsin and at Michigan State. They don”t get a chance to return home anytime soon either, as the following week the Buckeyes travel to Iowa City and Bloomington for road matchups against Iowa and Indiana. These next two weeks serve as a good opportunity for Ohio State to be knocked off its perch atop the conference, standings.

But Illinois coach Bill Self believes though that Ohio State has what it takes to win on the road.

“I think a lot of it is confidence, and going into games knowing that in order to win it you”re going to have to win it in the last five minutes,” Self said. “I think good starts is one thing that”s very important and Ohio State has been strong.”

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