What the heck? - USA TODAY Sports
It's a busy weekend in the Big Ten, with all 12 teams in action. We've previewed all six games here, and ranked them by importance so you can manage your time accordingly.
There's no REAL football on this weekend, so it's time to hunker down and catch up on the wonderful college basketball season you've been missing out on. Don't even think about switching over to that sorry excuse for a sporting event known as the Pro Bowl. Two of the B1G's top three games take place on Sunday, and they'll be more physical than the NFL all-star game, albeit probably not as high-scoring.
1. Michigan State at Indiana
Sunday 1:00 ET, CBS
Sparty is on a role with six straight victories since losing its conference opener against Minnesota on New Year's Eve. Not surprisingly, the name of the game has been defense for Michigan State. It just got done holding Wisconsin to 30 percent shooting in Madison, and during a victory over Ohio State last week, Deshaun Thomas was the only Buckeye to score more than six points. Of course, Indiana is a whole different animal compared to those two squads, and the Spartans will have their hands full with one of the nation's elite offensive teams. Branden Dawson needs to have another excellent game (18 points, 13 rebounds vs. Wisconsin) for Michigan State to have a chance and Gary Harris would do well to regain his shooting touch (less than 10 points in three of last four games).
For Indiana, it's usually a good sign when your team's top two scorers are both shooting over 60 percent. For Cody Zeller, we expected as much with how much time he spends around the basket, but Victor Oladipo evolving into one of the conference's best players has been a bit of a surprise. In addition to scoring 13.5 points per game on 66 percent shooting, the junior guard has five assists in each of his last two games.
The Impulsive Guess: It's hard to imagine Indiana losing yet another home game before February. Michigan State doesn't appear to have a consistent scorer to keep pace with the Hoosiers and Indiana triumphs 71-63.
2. Minnesota at Wisconsin
Saturday 2:00 ET, BTN
The Golden Gophers bandwagon has been brought to a screeching halt after an ugly loss to Northwestern evened the team's record to 3-3 in conference. Yes, two of those losses came to Michigan and Indiana, but this road loss to Northwestern was so ugly that it makes you question all over again if Minnesota is for real. I mean, Trevor Mbakwe had nine offensive rebounds, the Gophers won the rebounding battle 42-23, Northwestern went just 4-for-12 from three-point range, and Minnesota still lost 55-48. Tubby Smith's squad has turned the ball over 47 times during the three-game losing streak. That's something that has to stop against a Wisconsin team that doesn't force a whole lot of turnovers.
Speaking of the Badgers, they've also hit the skids with losses to Iowa and Michigan State following what seemed like a season-defining win at Indiana. As poorly as the offense played against Michigan State, the game was still Wisconsin's to be had, if only they didn't gag it away with a ghastly 7-for-18 performance from the free throw line. In the loss to Iowa, freshman guard George Marshall exploded for 20 points (he's only averaging 5.6 per game). It will be interesting to see if he's got any more outbursts left in his this season, because the Badgers could always use more scoring to compliment Jared Berggren.
The Impulsive Guess: Minnesota sure has more talent than the Badgers, but it's equally obvious who the better coach is. Wisconsin is still tough at home and pulls out a 59-57 win.
3. Michigan at Illinois
Sunday 6:00 ET, BTN
Jeez, have we been here before? Once again, Illinois appeared to have established itself as a legit contender with a big home win against Ohio State, and once again the season has proceeded to flow down the drain. A win over Nebraska stopped the Illini's three-game losing streak, but a look at the schedule ahead (vs. Michigan, at Michigan State, vs. Wisconsin) shows that Illinois will have to rediscover its shooting touch quickly in order to save its tourney chances. Over the course of three losses to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Northwestern, Illinois shot 8-for-58 (14 percent) from beyond the arc.
At least Illinois has the emergence of D.J. Richardson (30 points on just 14 shots in the win over Nebraska) to possibly counteract the general awesomeness of Michigan. The Wolverines bounced back nicely after being upset by Ohio State with an emphatic road win over Minnesota and a matter-of-fact victory over Purdue at home. They're one of the most exciting B1G teams to watch in quite some time, and it certainly helps that Tim Hardaway Jr. has drastically improved his field goal shooting this season after a somewhat ugly sophomore campaign. He shot just 1-for-6 from beyond the arc versus Ohio State, but Hardaway has followed with seven makes in his last 10 three-point attempts.
The Impulsive Guess: Surprise! Richardson and Brandon Paul get hot and beat the Wolverines at their own game. Illinois wins a stunner in overtime, 81-78.
4. Iowa at Purdue
Sunday 3:30 ET, BTN
Iowa continues to look like a team that could sneak into the NCAA Tournament, but they still need more wins to prove it. The young squad bounced back from a tough opening to conference play with back-to-back wins versus Wisconsin and Northwestern. With the Big Ten laid out the way it is this season, a road game against a mediocre Purdue team becomes an absolute must-win if the Hawkeyes wish to accelerate Fran McCaffery's rebuilding plan. Look for Aaron White to continue his ascension to star level against the Boilers.
Interesting young players like A.J. Hammons and Ronnie Johnson seem to indicate that Purdue won't be stuck in the post-Hummel doldrums for too long. However, this season the team will probably be lingering near the bottom of the conference standings, as the Boilers do not have anyone besides D.J. Byrd who can shoot the ball very well. A recent three-game winning streak versus Penn State, Nebraska, and West Virginia was nice, but Purdue's 1-3 record in the rest of its January games is a more likely representation of what we will see for the rest of the season.
The Impulsive Guess: Apparently there are no easy road games in the Big Ten (unless you're playing in State College or Lincoln), but Iowa takes this one anyway, 75-67.
5. Ohio State at Penn State
Saturday Noon ET, ESPN2
Deshaun Thomas and his 20.5 per game scoring average will probably earn him some B1G Player of the Year votes at the end of the season, but the Bucks would be better off if their best player didn't need to carry such a heavy load. Thomas' 48 percent field goal average is really good, but it's still lower than last season's 52 percent. That's because Thomas has to do everything for an Ohio State team that hasn't seen point guard Aaron Craft step up and become a more predominant scorer. Craft scored just five points and did not attempt a free throw in Ohio State's recent loss to Michigan State.
That said, Ohio State is still a terrific team thanks to the effort that Craft and company provide on defense. Lenzelle Smith Jr. has helped out on offense as well with a 41 percent three-point shooting rate. Penn State, on the other hand, is horrible in nearly every way. Last week, it blew a chance to pick up a conference win at home versus Nebraska and now it looks like Pat Chambers' squad might be going 0-for-18 in the B1G. One guy to watch, though, is Jermaine Marshall, a junior guard who has been outstanding lately. He exploded for 29 points and 10 rebounds in State's loss to the Spartans and he's shown an ability to score from anywhere on the court.
The Impulsive Guess: The Buckeyes find a way to get some other players involved, and they defeat PSU 65-51.
6. Northwestern at Nebraska
Saturday 3:00 ET, ESPNU
Northwestern has shown some life recently with big wins over Illinois and Minnesota, so they better not let this one get away. Reggie Hearn has begun to pick up the scoring slack with 20-plus points in two of his last three games, while Jared Swopshire is becoming a more consistent inside-outside threat. Meanwhile, Nebraska lost all the momentum it might have gained from beating Penn State and lost to a slumping Illinois squad at home. Before that game, freshman Shavon Shields had 47 points over a two-game span (season average is 7.5), so watch to see if the Huskers get him involved in the offense again.
The Impulsive Guess: Barring another Shields explosion, the Huskers are probably only good enough to defeat Penn State in conference play this season. Northwestern keeps the dream alive and wins 78-68.
Which B1G game are you most looking forward to this weekend?
Michigan State vs. Indiana (59 votes)
Minnesota at Wisconsin (9 votes)
Michigan at Illinois (16 votes)
Iowa at Purdue (12 votes)
One of the games involving PSU and Nebraska (7 votes)
103 total votes