Tuesday's links: Big Ten race, Sheehey & tonight's big game

Big game tonight, with Ohio State at Michigan. So, let’s start daily links right there. It’s the first meeting between the schools in which each is ranked in the Top 10. So, naturally, it’s one of the biggest meetings ever between the football rivals on the hardwood. The Buckeyes won the first meeting, taking a 56-53 decision in Columbus. Expect another tight game tonight.

And there is a fascinating game within the game. According to Dick Vitale, Michigan has the best offensive backcourt in the nation, while Ohio State has the best defensive backcourt. Who can impose their will on the other?

And there’s a fascinating game within that game. All eyes will be on the Trey Burke vs. Aaron Craft matchup. No doubt, in the past, Craft and Co., have had success vs. Burke. In four games vs. the Buckeyes, Burke averages 12.5 points and shoots 32.6 percent from the field and 26.3 percent on 3-pointers. Against everyone else, he averages 16.4 points and shoots 46.5 percent from the field and 36.2 percent on 3-pointers.

Want more? Against Ohio State, Burke averages 4.5 assists and 5 turnovers. Against everyone else, he averages 5.7 assists and 2.6 turnovers.

This is gonna be good.

TURN THE PAGE: While on the subject of Michigan, Jimmy King says fellow Fab Fiver Chris Webber wants to mend his relationship with Michigan.

Webber had to disassociate with Michigan for 10 years beginning in May 2003 for his role in the Ed Martin scandal. Well, it will be 10 years this May. Anyone else tired of this story?

DON’T COUNT OUT BADGERS: The Big Ten title still is within reach for Wisconsin. Really.

It’s another credit to the work of Bo Ryan, who does a great job of getting players to buy into roles. And just think: Some thought the Badgers were going to miss the Big Dance.

WHERE’S THE BENCH PRODUCTION? That lack of bench production for Minnesota? It’s on Tubby Smith, says the Golden Gophers coach.

Things reached a nadir in the win over Iowa on Sunday, when the Minnesota bench failed to score—but the Gophers still won.

Marcus Fuller of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press thinks Minnesota’s coaches have to come up with a plan to give the bench players confidence without going back to a platoon system, which substitutes five guys at a time. That was always a momentum killer, says Fuller, who also thinks Julian Welch is the Gophers’ best option off the bench.

AT THE MIDWAY POINT: Lee Barfnecht of the Omaha World-Herald takes the temperature of the Big Ten at midseason. Here is what he sees.

Hard to argue with his player of the year: Michigan’s Trey Burke. But Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell over Michigan State’s Gary Harris for top rookie? I don’t think so.

SAME OLD STORY: Illinois’ recent loss was a case of more of the same, says Loren Tate of the Champaign News-Gazette.

The Fighting Illini’s NCAA hopes are fading. Illinois is 2-7 in Big Ten action and has lost four games in a row at home. Don’t look now, but Indiana comes to town on Thursday. An 8-10 league mark likely is needed for inclusion in the Big Dance. But that may not be attained for Illinois.

WEAPON OFF THE BENCH: Nice feature right here on Indiana’s Will Sheehey, a sixth man supreme who nurtures grudges and celebrates triumphs. And, oh, can he play.

STATE OF THE BOILERS: It’s no secret: Purdue is struggling and—baring a run to the Big Ten tourney title or killer finish in the second half of the season–is a lock to miss the NCAA tourney for the first times since 2006. No doubt, the Boilermakers’ fortunes would be better if they could keep more top in-state recruits home.

Look at some of the Indiana products that recently have scorched Purdue: Reggie Hearn (Fort Wayne Snider); Deshaun Thomas (Fort Wayne Leurs); Cody Zeller (Washington); Gary Harris (Hamilton Southeastern); Yogi Ferrell (Park Tudor); Branden Dawson (Gary Wallace); Mitch McGary (Chesterton); Glenn Robinson III (Lake Central).

And on and on the roll call goes for Indiana natives in the Big Ten who have thrived vs. Purdue this season. It has to depress Boiler fans.

FIVE-TEAM BIG TEN RACE: Terry Hutchens of the Indianapolis Star takes a look at the Big Ten race, which he says boils down to five teams.

He’s right. The chase down the stretch will be among Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Hutchens likes the Wolverines—and so do I.

TOP SPARTAN: Who is Michigan State’s best player? Tom Izzo says it’s Branden Dawson.

Surprised? I guess I am. To me, Adreian Payne has been the top Spartan. And Keith Appling has been pretty good, too. Dawson is a top talent whose explosiveness, athletic ability and toughness are impressive. Bottom line: There is an embarrassment of riches on the Michigan State roster.

MICHIGAN SIGNING DAY: As a prep for Signing Day, Kyle Meinke of MLive.com examines the recruits expected to sign with Michigan on Wednesday. Which one is most ready to start? That and more are right here.

TWEETS THAT MATTER

My take: So there you go.

My take: That’s a big statement for a coach who has been around awhile.

My take: The Gophers need the big fella to be healthy.

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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