Dienhart: Ranking this week's hoops battles

The penultimate week of the regular season isn’t loaded with top matchups, but there are several intriguing clashes beginning with tonight’s Indiana at Minnesota game. And I can’t wait for Michigan State’s visit to Michigan on Sunday. Here is how I rank this week’s 10 games.

  1. Michigan State at Michigan, Sunday. This is the unquestioned game of the week. The Spartans have lost two in a row for the first time this season, falling to Indiana and at Ohio State. The Wolverines are the lone Big Ten team that is unbeaten at home (16-0) and have won two in a row after dropping three of four games. You think Michigan will be motivated to beat Michigan State after getting whipped, 75-52, a few weeks ago in East Lansing?
  2. Indiana at Minnesota, Tuesday. A tale of two teams headed in opposite directions. The Hoosiers have won nine of 10; the Golden Gophers have dropped four of five and eight of 11—and often in ugly fashion. How ugly? The last two losses—at Iowa and at Ohio State–were by an average of 23.5 points. But Williams Arena is a tough venue. Ask Michigan State and Wisconsin, which both lost there this season. Read tonight’s preview.
  3. Purdue at Iowa, Wednesday. Purdue’s postseason hopes are dim unless it finishes the season with a flurry. How motivated will the Hawkeyes be with their NCAA dreams basically over following arguably their worst loss of the season on Saturday at Nebraska? The Boilers took a 65-62 overtime win in the first meeting, doing all they could to let the Hawkeyes win.
  4. Michigan at Penn State, Wednesday. This may not be your classic bottom feeder vs. elite team mismatch. In fact, this game was closer than most expected the first time these clubs met, with the Wolverines taking a 79-71 triumph after being tied at halftime. Maybe being on the road will make Michigan—coming off a home whipping of Illinois–more focused. Maybe not. Penn State is 0-14 in the Big Ten but has lost its last three games by five, eight and two points, respectively.
  5. Nebraska at Wisconsin, Tuesday. The Badgers took the first meeting, 47-41. The Cornhuskers are playing well, winning two of their last four. Wisconsin also is hot, winning five of six. Expect another rugged game that likely won’t see any team crack 60 points. You’ve been warned. Read tonight’s preview.
  6. Penn State at Minnesota, Saturday. Is this where the Nittany Lions finally break through with their first Big Ten triumph of the season? If it happens, maybe the Gophers will have to start worrying about an NCAA bid as they begin to circle the drain at an even faster rate.
  7. Nebraska at Illinois, Saturday. I’m gonna go ahead and say it, because it’s true: Nebraska is the best 13-14 team in the nation. That has to be worth something, right? D.J. Richardson scorched the Cornhuskers for 30 points in their first meeting—an Illini win. He may need another big game if Illinois plays like it did in the second half of that loss to Michigan on Sunday, when it was outscored 43-27 in a 71-58 defeat.
  8. Purdue at Wisconsin, Sunday. The Boilermakers struggle to score in most every form—jumpers, layups, dunks, free throws. The Badgers excel at playing defense and are almost unbeatable in the Kohl Center. Do you see where I’m going with this?
  9. Iowa at Indiana, Saturday. The Hawkeyes are a young, talented and exciting team with a very bright future. But they aren’t ready for this. Let’s have a moment of silence. Thank you.
  10. Ohio State at Northwestern, Thursday. It’s five losses in a row for the Wildcats for the first time since 2008, as the season is coming unraveled quickly. The last three NU defeats have come by a combined 80—yes EIGHTY!—points. The 74-43 loss Sunday at Purdue was the worst yet. Northwestern pushed the Buckeyes to the limit a few weeks ago in Columbus before succumbing 69-59. Don’t expect that to happen this time. Sorry, Willie.

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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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