|Illinois guard Brandon Paul scored 35 points in the win over Gonzaga on Saturday night. (US Presswire)|
1. Illinois G Brandon Paul -- The undefeated Fighting Illini have three marquee nonconference wins just a month into the season and first-year coach John Groce is off to the best start for an Illinois coach in over 100 years. Paul has sparked the team to 10 wins and his 35 points last Saturday night helped the Fighting Illini prevail over No. 10 Gonzaga on the road. Illinois shot 11 of 26 from beyond the arc in the win and is averaging 10.8 3-pointers per game, the most in the country. The Illini also keep edging up CBSSports.com's Top 25 (and 1) rankings.
2. Minnesota -- Other than Illinois, the Gophers (10-1) are the only squad that could lay claim to the league's most surprising team. Their only loss was on a neutral court to Duke and they've beaten Memphis, won on the road against Florida State in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, and defeated USC last Saturday night for Tubby Smith's 500th victory. The Gophers have a good mixture of scorers between Andre Hollins (13.7 ppg) and Rodney Williams Jr. (12.9) but even more impressive is they've been winning with their most imposing player, C Trevor Mbakwe, coming off the bench.
3. Michigan underclassmen -- Coach John Beilein is living and dying with his underclassmen and consequently, the team is 9-0. The table-setter is sophomore PG Trey Burke, who is leading the team in points (16.9) and assists (7.1). Burke is a decent outside shooter (36 percent) but he's at his best when he's breaking down defenders, commanding the defense's attention, and then dishing passes to his big men in the post. Freshman F Glenn Robinson III has been the beneficiary of a number of those passes and also leads the team with 6.7 rebounds per game. No one's been more surprising though, than 6-6 freshman Nik Stauskas, a stretch-forward. He's made at least one 3-pointer in all nine of Michigan's wins and is shooting 60 percent from deep, the fourth-best rate in the country. This team may not be tested until a Jan. 13 matchup at No. 7 Ohio State.
1. Wisconsin guards -- Everyone knew that the Badgers would regress in terms of their guard play when Jordan Taylor graduated, but a season-ending ACL injury to G Josh Gasser in the preseason has left Wisconsin reeling. The Badgers (6-4) lost on Saturday at Marquette in large part because they lacked a floor general. Wisconsin, which is seventh in the country with just 10 turnovers per game, coughed up 10 in the first half alone to the Golden Eagles. Forward Ryan Evans was forced to bring the ball up the court on a number of occasions and he's not known for ball-handling, nor his free throw shooting (31 percent on the year). It could be a rebuilding year even though the Badgers aren't accustomed to many of those.
2. Purdue -- There's not a lot of depth to this Boilermaker squad and coach Matt Painter is suffering through the growing pains of a young team. Freshmen A.J. Hammons (9.3 ppg) and G Ronnie Johnson (7.8) are two of the Boilermakers' top four scorers. Most recently, they shot 29 percent (14 of 47) in a 47-44 loss to Eastern Michigan on Saturday and will need to regroup quickly against in-state rival Notre Dame next Saturday in Indianapolis.
3. Michigan State G Russell Byrd -- There's nothing wrong with the Spartans as a whole it's just that their co-captain, Byrd, has fallen completely out of the rotation. Byrd was named captain by his teammates along with senior Derrick Nix this preseason. The Spartans are loaded at the guard position with Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Branden Dawson, Travis Trice and freshman Denzel Valentine and Tom Izzo has yet to find a place to play Byrd. He's played at most 12 minutes in the past four games and saw just mop-up time this past Saturday vs. Loyola-Chicago.
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