Weekend Preview in the Big TenPosted by Alex Moscoso & Brendan Brody on February 22nd, 2014
Typically, RTC Big Ten microwriters Alex Moscoso and Brendan Brody preview the weekend’s most important or interesting conference game. This week the problem is — and it is a good problem we might add — that all the games on this weekend’s slate have some level of significance. So we decided instead of focusing on just one to quickly preview and analyze each of the five weekend match-ups in this single post. Enjoy.
Wisconsin at Iowa (Saturday, 12:oo PM ET, ESPN2)
AM: This is one of the most consequential games this weekend as it pits the current third and fourth place teams against one another. If Wisconsin loses, the Badgers will likely be out of contention for a regular season championship as they’ll find themselves three games back of the Michigan-Michigan State winner with only five games remaining. In their previous meeting, Iowa came firing out of the gates and built an 11-point lead at half before blowing it as Fran McCaffery was ejected for an incensed outburst towards the officials. Look for Iowa to try to set the pace once again, but this time get players other than Roy Devyn Marble involved. It would also help to defend the three-point line better than they did at the Kohl Center, where Wisconsin shot a tidy 45.5 percent.
Minnesota at Ohio State (Saturday, 6:oo PM ET, BTN)
BB: Aaron Craft and Deandre Mathieu will be the key match-up to watch in this game. Mathieu had one of the worst games of his career against Illinois on Wednesday night (three points and three turnovers in a foul-plagued 24 minutes), and now he has to deal with Craft. Can he use his superior quickness to get into the lane against one of the nation’s best perimeter defenders? Keep in mind that the Gophers’ offense begins and ends with Mathieu’s effectiveness — he’s a very good finisher around the basket and has a nice touch from 15 feet. They also need him to feed the post regularly to take advantage of Ohio State’s inconsistent big men. If he’s able to get Elliott Eliason and Maurice Walker going early, they won’t need to hoist 25 triples like they did against the Illini. Ohio State guards the three better than anyone in the country (27.1%), so shooting that many long-range bombs against them plays right into their hands.
Indiana at Northwestern (Saturday, 8:15 PM ET, BTN)
BB: If there was ever a game when the Hoosiers really need to utilize Noah Vonleh’s offensive talents, this would be it. With Nikola Cerina unable to play because of a one-game suspension, the already thin Wildcats have no other bodies to turn to in the low post should Alex Olah get into foul trouble. Indiana should quite literally script their first 12 offensive plays like some football teams do with nine or more of them as isolation plays for Vonleh in the post. Olah is already hobbled after turning both of his ankles in the last two games, so this needs to be a strategy employed by Tom Crean early and often. Indiana can also use Vonleh to a certain extent on the perimeter, which will pull Olah away from the basket and eliminate his threat as an interior shot-blocker. Go to Vonleh frequently, and everything else will open up for the Hoosiers.
Michigan State at Michigan (Sunday, 12:00 PM ET, CBS)
BB: With this one, much of the talk will be about the potential return of Branden Dawson. If Dawson plays, then there’s no way the Wolverines will have a +6 rebounding advantage like the last time they played. What I’m looking for here however, is a good old-fashioned shootout between Big Ten Player of the Year candidates, Nik Stauskas and Gary Harris. Which one of these players puts his team on his back and shoots them to first place in the league standings? Stauskas has tailed off somewhat since his hot start, and while Harris was lights out against Purdue on Thursday night, he’s still has had some stinkers like his 3-of-20 output against Wisconsin. From purely an entertainment standpoint, this game has the potential to be memorable if both wings are staging an impromptu three-point contest. But aside from that, whichever elite guard has a better game will probably lead his team to a win that more than likely will wrap up the Big Ten regular season championship.
Nebraska at Purdue (Sunday, 4:15 PM ET, BTN)
AM: These are two teams going in different directions. Nebraska has won three in a row and five of its last six games, while Purdue has lost five of its last seven. Nebraska is hoping to keep its streak going as the Cornhuskers chase their first NCAA Tournament bid since the Clinton administration. Neither team shoots the ball particularly well – the Cornhuskers and Boilermakers have an eFG percentage of 48.4 and 47.9 percent, respectively – so this contest may not be a thing of beauty. Last month, Purdue went into Lincoln and stole a game on the road using the interior strength of A.J. Hammons, who had 18 points and four blocks. Look for Nebraska to go right after Hammons early, hoping to draw some fouls from the big man to put him on the bench. It may not be pretty on Sunday, but I expect this game to be physical as one team is hungry to keep its streak going and the other is desperate to save its season.