Big Ten Whiteboard: It's Michigan v. Ohio State Part II

While the Big Ten world continues to buzz from the magical Michigan-Indiana game, it’s time to get ready for the second half of the schedule. And it begins with a big week.

Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State have the most on the line as we delve into the first full week of February. The Wolverines and Buckeyes are looking to improve their NCAA stock and enhance their seed possibilities. The Badgers need a few more big wins to improve their NCAA standing.

Here’s a look at the week ahead in the Big Ten.

GAME OF WEEK: Ohio State at Michigan, Tuesday. The Buckeyes beat the Wolverines, 56-53, earlier this season in Columbus, so revenge is on the mind of Michigan. Also, the Wolverines want to avoid a two-game losing skid, as they are coming off a loss at Indiana on Saturday night. Will the Buckeyes try to get physical with the Wolverines? Will Michigan’s freshmen have big games? Who on the Wolverines is gonna guard Deshaun Thomas?

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DON’T OVERLOOK THIS GAME: Minnesota at Michigan State, Wednesday. Way back on New Year’s Eve, the Spartans lost at Minnesota, dropping a 76-63 decision in the teams’ Big Ten opener. Since then, the Spartans and Golden Gophers have gone in opposite directions, with the Spartans going 7-1 and Minnesota going 4-4. The Gophers’ bench can’t go scoreless again like it did vs. Iowa in its last game. Michigan State needs point guard Keith Appling to excel.

MUST WIN: Wisconsin must protect its home court when Iowa visits on Wednesday. The Badgers still appear in most mock NCAA brackets, but they have work to do. And beating a still-developing Hawkeyes team that is fighting for its NCAA life is a must. Iowa won two from the Badgers last year and also beat Wisconsin earlier this season, 70-66. It’s time for Wisconsin—2-3 in its last five games–to stop the bleeding vs. the Hawkeyes—1-3 in their last four tilts.

BEST INDIVIDUAL MATCHUP: Can’t wait to watch arguably the Big Ten’s best defensive player—Ohio State’s Aaron Craft—take on arguably the Big Ten’s best player–Michigan’s Trey Burke on Tuesday in Ann Arbor. Craft won the first meeting, as Burke hit just 4-of-13 shots en route to finishing with 15 points with four turnovers and four assists. Craft had nine points, four assists and a steal.

UPSET ALERT: Indiana must be careful when it plays at Illinois on Thursday. While Illinois is 3-8 since its 12-0 start and has lost four consecutive games at home, it’s a desperate team that happens to own impressive wins over Butler, which beat Indiana, and Gonzaga. Before you fall over laughing, hear me out. If Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson are hitting their three-pointers, Tracy Abrams is running the point with aplomb, Nnanna Egwu is productive in the paint and the defense stiffens, Illinois has a chance. That’s a lot to ask, but the chance is there.

BIG WEEK: There are three schools in this category: Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State. Wisconsin can greatly enhance its NCAA vita this week with home games vs. Iowa on Wednesday and Michigan on Saturday—the only meeting this season between Wisconsin and the Wolverines. A sweep would be impressive. But, at the least, the Badgers need to forge a split.

As for Michigan, which stands one game behind Indiana, a home date vs. rival Ohio State and a visit to Madison make for a huge week.

Ohio State also has a lot on the line, with that trip to Ann Arbor and visit from Indiana on Sunday. Bottom line: This could be a make-or-break week for the Buckeyes’ Big Ten title hopes.

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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