Previewing this weekend’s schedule of Big Ten gamesPosted by jnowak on February 8th, 2013
We’ve reached the point in the season where it feels like every game has conference implications of some kind, and there’s no better period of time to enjoy them all than Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Weekends through the end of the season will be packed with quality basketball, so let’s take a look at this weekend’s slate of games and what’s in store:
- Michigan at Wisconsin (Saturday, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN) – The Wolverines could have the misfortune of becoming the No. 1 team in the country this upcoming week if they take care of business in Madison. Yes, you read that right. Having the nation’s top ranking is obviously an honor, but it hasn’t boded well for those teams this year. The AP’s No. 1 team (including Michigan, once already) has lost already six times this season, and with a trip to East Lansing coming up for the Wolverines, that could be on the line yet again. But first, they have to get by Wisconsin. The Badgers have been unpredictable this season, suffering two home losses already (an extremely puzzling one to Virginia, and a conference loss to Michigan State). The Badgers have the frontcourt to give Michigan trouble, but the Wolverines have a backcourt that no one in the Big Ten can match. It’s the only meeting between these two teams this year, so the Badgers need to make it count if they’re going to make a run at the conference title.
- Northwestern at Iowa (Saturday, 4:30 p.m., Big Ten Network) – Iowa just cannot seem to get over the hump and they’re coming up against a team on Saturday who’s familiar with such a situation. As has been the case for Northwestern the past few years, the Hawkeyes are trying to do everything they can to sneak into the NCAA Tournament but can’t manage to pull off a significant upset or put together a stretch of outstanding games. If they want any chance at all of building some momentum and making a run at the Big Dance, games like this one have to be victories. They’ve got a favorable stretch of five very winnable games on the horizon, and it has to start here. As for Northwestern, they’ve got to find a way to defend better than they did in the first match-up this season, when Iowa hammered the Wildcats in Evanston.
- Michigan State at Purdue (Saturday, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network) – The last time Michigan State traveled to Purdue, Boilermaker fans taunted then-freshman Branden Dawson and it backfired on them. Dawson was electric in a 76-62 win in West Lafayette, going for 15 points, 11 boards, two blocks and one emphatic slam dunk that silenced the home crowd. The Spartans will need him in a big way again on Saturday if they’re to overcome the recent slew of injuries and maintain their roll in the Big Ten. The Spartans’ 84-61 win against Purdue at Breslin Center on Jan. 5 was not as close as the final score indicated, and they’ll be in for a battle again, against a Purdue team that can be very dangerous when clicking on all cylinders. Purdue freshman A.J. Hammons going against Michigan State’s frontcourt will be an intriguing match-up to watch.
- Penn State at Nebraska (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPNU) – When we said that every game has conference implications, this may be the one in the Big Ten that is the exception to the rule. But, while Penn State and Nebraska are the conference bottom-feeders, there is still intrigue to this game on Saturday. The Nittany Lions remain winless in the Big Ten and could become the first team in Big Ten history to finish the conference slate 0-18 (though a few teams have come close). This may be their best chance yet at a conference win. If it doesn’t happen Saturday in Lincoln, it may not happen at all.
- Indiana at Ohio State (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS) – One of the last games of the weekend may very well be the headliner. Both Indiana and Ohio State are coming off devastating losses, and neither can afford another one if they want to remain near the top of the conference standings. With Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin also fighting for a piece of the pie, every loss can make the difference. As for match-ups, any time Ohio State takes the floor, it becomes a question of how the opponent will handle Deshaun Thomas. The Hoosiers are athletic, so it will be interesting to see if it’s Cody Zeller, Christian Watford or Will Sheehey guarding Thomas (in all likelihood, it’ll be a combination of the three). It’s all about poise and recovery in this game of Big Ten heavyweights, with Ohio State trying to remain perfect at home during conference play. The Hoosiers meanwhile, need a better quality road win than victories at Purdue and Iowa.
- Illinois at Minnesota (Sunday, 6 p.m., Big Ten Network) – Here’s an enticing match-up of two teams who started the season red-hot, fizzled out once Big Ten play started and may have picked things up again. Illinois’ win on Thursday against Indiana may have saved their season, with a much more manageable remaining slate of games ahead. But their only other win since the first week of January was against Nebraska, so we’ll have to see if John Groce’s group has really turned a corner. Minnesota, losers of five of its last seven, needs to get back on track with upcoming home games against Illinois and Wisconsin. This is an immensely talented group, with maybe more team athleticism than anybody else in the Big Ten. When they embrace that, they’re hard to beat.