Minnesota freshman Kris Humphries is proving that he s a special player after just 14 games.
“I compare him to a young Karl Malone-type player,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said. “When a player like that lands in your lap, it s like your Christmas present, Valentine s and birthday all wrapped into one.”
That s because Humphries, a 6-9, 236-pound forward from Chaska, Minn., originally signed to play for national power Duke. But the former Parade and McDonald s high school All-American changed his mind and was released from his letter-of-intent last May. He enrolled at Minnesota, where he was ruled eligible to play immediately.
Humphries leads the Big Ten in scoring (23.2) and rebounding (10.6). He has re- corded a league-high nine double-doubles and has been named the conference s top weekly player twice in the first month of the season.
“Things have been rolling for me,” he said.
No freshman has ever led the Big Ten in both scoring and rebounding. The last freshman to lead the conference in scoring was Ohio State s Michael Redd in 1998; the last freshman to lead the league in rebounding was Michigan s Chris Webber in 1992.
“I work hard and try not to think about the high numbers and leading the league in this or that,” Humphries said. “If I get caught up in that, it would hurt my game.”
Make no mistake, Humphries is a gifted Gopher who has attracted the attention of numerous NBA scouts.
“He s a freshman by name only,” Monson said. “His body s not like a freshman, and his game s very aggressive. We have had high expectations, and even with high expectations he s probably exceeded them.”
Minnesota (8-5, 0-1 Big Ten) hosts Iowa tonight before visiting Ohio State on Saturday.
ROUGH START: Big Ten teams have struggled with the nonconference portion of their schedules, going a combined 82-43, including 4-14 against Top 25 opponents.
Michigan State, a preseason Top 10 pick, went 0-for-6 against a brutal non-conference gantlet of Kansas, Duke, Oklahoma, Kentucky, UCLA and defending NCAA national champion Syracuse.
“Our nonconference schedule was a great experience, and yet a nightmare in some ways,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We have to lick our wounds and have nobody to blame for the schedule but me.
“I made it and I still think it was a good schedule for us. In my wildest dreams, I didn t think we d go 0-6, but we did.”
The Spartans (5-7, 0-1) also are 0-6 against ranked teams, after losing to conference foe Wisconsin 77-64 on Saturday. They host surprising conference co-leader Penn State (8-5, 2-0) tomorrow and rival Michigan (10-3, 1-1) on Saturday.
“We need to get some wins and we need to get them quickly,” Izzo said.
Six Big Ten teams already have at least five losses. Iowa was upset by Northern Iowa in nonconference play, and Michigan suffered an embarrassing home loss to Boston University.
“Playing teams at the mid-major level are not gimme games,” Ohio State coach Jim O Brien said. “There are some pretty good players, pretty good coaches and pretty good teams that are playing at levels that are perceived to be lower than the Big Ten.
“It s a common assumption that when you play one of those teams, they re going to be patsies. Or people call them cupcakes.”
THREE-PEAT THREAT: Wisconsin is aiming for its third consecutive Big Ten regular-season title, a feat it accomplished once before, from 1912-14.
The Badgers (11-2, 2-0 Big Ten) are 9-0 at home this season and have won 22 consecutive games at the Kohl Center.
They have yet to lose a conference home game under third-year coach Bo Ryan, going 18-0.
“We know what s out there ahead of us,” Ryan said. “So we just need to keep working and stay focused.”
NEARING MILESTONE: Coach Gene Keady will be looking for his 500th career coaching victory at Purdue tomorrow when the Boilermakers host Wisconsin.
Keady has built a mark of 499-239 in 24 seasons in West Lafayette, Ind. His overall record is 537-258.
The only other coach in Big Ten history to log 500 wins at one school was Bob Knight, who compiled 661 victories in 29 seasons at Indiana.
TITLE TEAMS: During the last 10 seasons, six schools have earned at least a share of the Big Ten championship.
Michigan State leads the way with four titles (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001), and Illinois (1998, 2001, 2002) and Purdue (1994, 1995, 1996) have captured three each. Ohio State (2000, 2002) and Wisconsin (2002, 2003) have won two apiece, and Indiana was part of a four-way tie for the title in 2002.