One week of Big Ten action is in the books, as Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State continue to lead the way. Illinois is a surprising 2-0 and thinking big, while Michigan has overcome injuries to forge a 2-0 start. Minnesota may be better than expected, while 1-1 Iowa is still formidable after a tough loss at Wisconsin on Sunday.
This week, all eyes will be on the Breslin Center in East Lansing, where the Spartans will play host to Ohio State in a monster league game. Here’s a breakdown of the week ahead.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Ohio State at Michigan State, Tuesday, Jan. 7. Two-thirds of the Big Ten’s holy trinity will hook up in an epic battle between top-5 teams. The Buckeyes are 15-0 with wins over Marquette, Maryland and Notre Dame. No doubt, this will be Ohio State’s biggest test yet. The 13-1 Spartans are more battle-tested with games vs. Kentucky, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Texas and Indiana. This game could come down to frontcourt production.
DON’T OVERLOOK THIS GAME: Illinois at Wisconsin, Wednesday, Jan. 8. The Fighting Illini are off to a 2-0 start in the Big Ten, knocking off Indiana in overtime and Penn State in consecutive home games. Now comes a journey to the Kohl Center, which may be the most difficult place for opponents to win in the Big Ten. The Badgers are unbeaten and playing about as well as team in the nation. Is John Groce’s crew ready for this?
MUST WIN: Indiana needs to find a way to win at Penn State on Saturday, Jan. 11. The Hoosiers are 0-2 in the Big Ten, losing in overtime at Illinois and at home to Michigan State. No doubt, that was a tough two-game draw to open conference play. Now comes a trip to State College, Pa., to face an equally desperate 0-2 Nittany Lions club that is talented. Yes, road wins are tough to come by and PSU has some players, but this is a tilt that IU needs if it wants to build an NCAA resume. Lose this, and the Hoosiers could open 0-4 in the Big Ten with a visit from Wisconsin following this junket to Penn State.
BEST INDIVIDUAL MATCHUP: Let’s go with Michigan State’s Keith Appling vs. Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, who will lock horns on Tuesday night in East Lansing. Each is a prideful senior and the leader of their team that harbors Final Four dreams. Which one will step up and hit some key shots while also playing tough defense? Prediction: player with the most assists will win the game.
UPSET ALERT: Could Iowa knock off Ohio State in Columbus on Sunday, Jan. 12? The Hawkeyes may be the deepest team in the Big Ten, coming at opponents in waves with size and athleticism. Iowa pushed Wisconsin to the limit in Madison on Sunday. If the Buckeyes get into a track meet with the Hawkeyes, they may be in trouble. This is a classic clash of great offense (Iowa) vs. great defense (Ohio State).
BIG WEEK: Ohio State. The Buckeyes will be put to the test with a trip to Michigan State on Tuesday followed by a visit from Iowa on Sunday. If Ohio State can somehow sweep these games, it would make a huge statement and stamp the Buckeyes as the Big Ten front-runner—for now. (Wisconsin also looks very strong and has a win over Iowa.) Still, no league team will have more impressive conference wins in the early going than Ohio State if it can pull off the sweep.
A LOOK BACK AT LAST WEEK
BIG WINNER: Illinois. The Fighting Illini entered the season with a lot of new parts, with an eclectic mix of transfers and freshmen—none better or more key than Drake transplant Rayvonte Rice. John Groce is making it work in Champaign, deftly blending the new with the old to boost hopes. Illinois is 13-2 overall with a win over Missouri and is off to a 2-0 start to the Big Ten slate that has seen the Illini beat Indiana and then Penn State. Bottom line: Illinois looks to be rebounding into form and could be a real X-factor in this Big Ten race. The Illini are on the road this week, playing at Wisconsin on Wednesday and at Northwestern on Sunday. They need a split.
BIG LOSER: The state of Indiana. Both Purdue and Indiana are off to 0-2 starts in the Big Ten. Each had tough games to open conference action, with the Boilermakers losing at home to Ohio State and at Minnesota and the Hoosiers falling at Illinois and at home to Michigan State. Purdue and IU need to start cashing in some wins to improve resumes that are largely void of any impressive victories. And it needs to begin this week. IU is at Penn State on Saturday, while Purdue plays host to Nebraska on Sunday.