Dienhart: Ranking the week's 12 hoops games

So many good games, so little time. That’s the quandary for the second week of conference action, which will go a long way in helping to shape what should be a terrific Big Ten race.

There is no shortage of big games, beginning with Minnesota’s trips to Illinois and Indiana.

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1. Minnesota at Indiana, Saturday, Jan. 12. A huge test for the Golden Gophers, who wade into Assembly Hall where they handed Indiana it lone home loss last season. A win here would stamp Minnesota not just as a legit Big Ten title contender—but as a legit national championship contender.

2. Minnesota at Illinois, Wednesday, Jan. 9. This shapes up as a doozy, as each team enters the week with some mojo. The Fighting Illini blasted the Buckeyes, 74-55, on Saturday to get back on track after a tough loss at Purdue. The Gophers have opened Big Ten play with wins over Michigan State and Northwestern.

3. Michigan at Ohio State, Sunday, Jan. 13. The Buckeyes have to be filled with some doubt coming off that ugly loss at Illinois on Saturday. To have a shot at beating a very good Wolverines team, Ohio State needs some complementary scorers for Deshaun Thomas.

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4. Michigan State at Iowa, Thursday, Jan. 10. This will be a contrast of styles, as the Spartans love to be physical while the Hawkeyes are more of an up-and-down-the-court team. The Spartans already have lost on the road once (at Minnesota), while the Hawkeyes need some success after opening league play 0-2. Iowa needs to get tough.

5. Illinois at Wisconsin, Saturday, Jan. 12. The Fighting Illini have a plethora of offensive options with the likes of Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tracy Abrams, among others. But can Illinois win on the road vs. a Badgers team that plays oppressive defense? Look for the Badgers to try to slow the pace.

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6. Ohio State at Purdue, Tuesday, Jan. 8. The Boilermakers have shown signs of life since a moribund 6-6 non-conference record. And they also showed they will be tough to beat at home in Big Ten action. Just ask Illinois. Lenzelle Smith, Jr., and Aaron Craft need to have big games.

7. Iowa at Northwestern, Sunday, Jan. 13. It’s difficult to call an early-January game “must win.” But that may be the case for both, with the loser digging a deep hole to crawl out of.

8. Northwestern at Penn State, Thursday, Jan. 10. Each team is without its star, with Drew Crawford (shoulder) out for the Wildcats and Tim Frazier (Achilles tendon) out for the Nittany Lions. The Nittany Lions are tough at home.

9. Penn State at Purdue, Sunday, Jan. 13. With road wins likely difficult to come by, the Boilermakers must protect their Mackey Arena court vs. an undermanned Nittany Lions team. Look for Purdue big man A.J. Hammons to have a big game.

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10. Indiana at Penn State, Monday, Jan. 7. The Hoosiers should take care of business with relative ease vs. a Nittany Lions squad that just isn’t the same without Tim Frazier. Indiana will be able to name the score.

11. Nebraska at Michigan State, Sunday, Jan. 13. The Spartans are too talented, too deep and too motivated to not beat a Cornhusker squad that is in transition under first-year coach Tim Miles.

12. Nebraska at Michigan, Wednesday, Jan. 9. The Wolverines are a buzz saw, playing like the No. 2 in the nation in dismantling Iowa, 95-67, on Sunday. The Cornhuskers just aren’t ready for this.

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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