Previewing This Weekend’s Big Ten GamesPosted by Deepak Jayanti on February 15th, 2013
Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.
We have 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 hard look at this weekend’s slate of games and what’s in store.
- Purdue @ Indiana (2:00 PM EST on Saturday, ESPN): The Hoosiers might end up winning this one comfortably but the game features an excellent match-up in the low post between Cody Zeller and A.J.Hammons (11.2 PPG). It is easy to forget when you evaluate Zeller’s game that he is only a sophomore and Hammons, a freshman, has shown flashes of brilliance in the paint as well. During the first version of this match-up in West Lafayette, Hammons scored 30 points but picked up two early fouls due to poor defense. But if the Purdue big man can manage to stay on the floor, you could see his strong array of post moves – a hook shot, a 10-foot jumper, a nice turnaround – against Zeller tomorrow. This will also be a good test of Zeller’s defense if the game ends up being relatively close late into the second half.
- Michigan State @ Nebraska (8:00 PM EST on Saturday, Big Ten Network): Nebraska head coach Tim Miles continues to motivate his team to compete against the top dogs in the conference despite many tough losses. The Cornhuskers hung tight with the Spartans in East Lansing on January 13, only to lose the game 66-56, but don’t expect them to roll over and hand the game to the Spartans on Saturday night. Gary Harris continues to play through his back spasms and even if Travis Trice suits up, his minutes may be limited because he is still recovering from an injury. Despite these issues, Tom Izzo has enough talent on his team to not let this game slip away on the road as he is trying to make a case for the #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and win the Big Ten title.
- Penn State @ Michigan (12:00 PM EST on Sunday, Big Ten Network): The Nittany Lions just can’t seem to catch a break as they continue to look for their first conference win. They had the Hawkeyes on the ropes for most of the game on Thursday night but couldn’t close the game. Ann Arbor might not be the best place to pick up their first win, not after the Wolverines’ 1-3 record over the last two weeks. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway could have a big game after dealing with four tough-minded defensive teams this month – Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State. Expect the Wolverines to take this game but if for some odd reason they don’t win, then things could really get out of hand quickly in Ann Arbor.
- Ohio State @ Wisconsin (1:00 PM EST on Sunday, CBS): The Buckeyes were sleep-walking for most of the game against Northwestern on Thursday but pulled away in the final minutes. They can’t afford to be lazy in Madison. The Kohl Center continues to be a house of horrors for ranked Big Ten teams and this game may add to the list of prominent “upsets” for the Badgers. Bo Ryan’s will win this game if it can keep Deshaun Thomas away from the paint and make him earn his points only through jumpers. Thomas will most likely get his 20 points but the opponents have had success against Ohio State when they force him to take more shots from the perimeter. Both teams will defend well so expect the game the final score to be in high 50s especially if the teams get off to a slow start.
- Minnesota @ Iowa (2:00 EST on Sunday, Big Ten Network): This could be the best game of the weekend because both of these teams need a win. It is a great opportunity for the Hawkeyes to boost their resume for the NCAA Tournament. Fran McCaffery’s team let Austin Hollins and the Gophers get back into the game during the final two minutes when they played in Minneapolis a few weeks ago — Hollins hit a three from the corner and locked down Mike Gesell to force an overtime and the Hawkeyes couldn’t keep up especially because Devyn Marble was in a big offensive slump at the time. But Marble needs to be aggressive on the offensive end if the Hawkeyes hope to win this one. He has had two good games against Northwestern (21 points) and Penn State (22 points), so his game may be back on the rise. As far as Tubby Smith’s squad goes, they will go as far as Andre Hollins takes them. Hollins fought for every one of his 21 points against Wisconsin but he can be expected to have a big game because the Iowa freshmen backcourt of Gesell and Anthony Clemmons don’t have the experience to defend the point guard position effectively.
- Illinois @ Northwestern (7:30 EST on Sunday, Big Ten Network): The Illini seniors – Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey – finally beat Purdue after three years in the Big Ten, but they can’t take it easy against a depleted Wildcats squad in Evanston. Despite losing Jared Swopshire for the season due to a knee injury, Bill Carmody’s team gave the Buckeyes everything they had on Thursday night and if they continue to play with such renewed energy, the Illini could be in trouble. The key for John Groce’s team is to lock down the perimeter attack on Sunday. If Tre Demps can hit a couple of quick shots from beyond the arc to keep the game close during the first half, the home crowd could be big advantage during the second half and the Illini could slip as a result. An Illini loss does not mean that they are out of the conversation for the NCAA Tournament yet, but it will be a considered a “bad” loss by the selection committee in March. At this juncture of the season, as long as they beat Northwestern, Nebraska and Penn State, their path may be paved into the NCAAs.