Big Ten Whiteboard: Gophers return to Assembly Hall(s)

Buckle up, this is gonna be a big week, a week that goes a long way toward determining the early pecking order of a Big Ten race that should be spectacular. And, know this: The team that can win road games is going to win the Big Ten. So, here’s the formula: go unbeaten at home; and go 6-3 or 5-4 on the road. That should get you at least a share of the Big Ten championship.

Knowing that, this is a huge week for Minnesota, which plays at Illinois and at Indiana in the two biggest games of this oh-so-big week.

[ RELATED: Check out the latest national polls ]

Michigan also can make a statement by winning at Ohio State on Sunday in a nationally televised matchup, while Michigan State (at Iowa), Illinois (at Wisconsin) and Ohio State (at Purdue) also can score strong road victories.

Here’s a look at the week ahead.

Game of the week: Minnesota at Indiana, Saturday. Most think the top three teams in the Big Ten are Michigan, Indiana and Minnesota. Well, here’s a clash between two of those three. A year ago, Minnesota handed Indiana its lone loss at Assembly Hall. Now, Indiana is looking for revenge. This will be a big test for the Golden Gophers, whose lone loss this season was to Duke. Since then, Minnesota has ripped off 10 wins in a row. Indiana’s lone loss was to Butler. Think of some of the matchups: Trevor Mbakwe vs. Cody Zeller; Rodney Williams vs. Victor Oladipo; Yogi Ferrell vs. Andre Hollins. This is gonna be the closest you get to a “March atmosphere” in January. The roof just may come off Assembly Hall.

Don’t overlook this game: Ohio State at Purdue, Tuesday. This one is very intriguing. Each team has looked good (Buckeyes vs. Nebraska; Boilermakers vs. Illinois) and bad (Buckeyes at Illinois; Boilers at Michigan State). This game is more vital for Purdue, since it’s in Mackey Arena. An Ohio State win would bolster its confidence and show that perhaps it isn’t overrated. Have a feeling points are going to be difficult to come by in a physical clash. Pack the ice packs.

[ RELATED: Where does your team land on our latest power rankings? ]

Individual matchup to watch: Can’t wait to watch Michigan’s Trey Burke matchup with Ohio State’s Aaron Craft on Sunday in Columbus. Burke is looking like not just the Big Ten Player of the Year—but maybe the national player of the year. But Craft is one of the nation’s top defenders. These two met three times last season with Ohio State winning two. In one meeting, Burke scored 13; Craft 7; then, Burke had 17 and Craft 4; then Burke 5 and Craft 6 in the Big Ten tourney.

Must win: The Hawkeyes need to beat Michigan State when the Spartans come to Iowa City on Thursday. Iowa already is off to an 0-2 start in the Big Ten, losing at home to Indiana and at Michigan in what has been a murderous start to the season for the Hawkeyes. A loss here, and Iowa will have a massive hole to crawl out of in what many felt would be a breakout season in Year Three under Fran McCaffrey.

Big week: It won’t get any bigger—or more difficult—than what Minnesota faces this week. On Wednesday, the Golden Gophers play at Illinois, where they lost a double-overtime heartbreaker last season. On Saturday, Minnesota plays at Indiana, where, as mentioned above, the Gophers escaped as the lone victorious road team. It should be fun.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Maria on 1/10/2013 @ 3:59pm EST Said:

Agree with you on this one Tom….hope this season is not too full of surprises!