Another week, another raft of games that will go a long way toward shaping the Big Ten race. And this much is becoming clearer: Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa are the teams to beat. Speaking of the Big Ten’s holy trinity, it’s a big week for Michigan. BIG week. Here’s a look at the week that’s on our doorstep.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Michigan at Michigan State, Sat., Jan. 25. A monster showdown between state rivals who enter the week as the lone unbeaten teams in the Big Ten. The Spartans were supposed to be in this position, the pick of most to win the conference and advance to the Final Four. But the Wolverines are a big surprise, excelling despite losing Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., early to the NBA and not having Mitch McGary (back) most of this season. For what it’s worth, Michigan will be coming off a big home game vs. Iowa. MSU whipped Michigan, 75-52, in East Lansing last season.
DON’T OVERLOOK THIS GAME: Iowa at Michigan, Wed., Jan. 22. A showdown of two of the Big Ten’s top teams. The Hawkeyes are 4-1, the lone loss coming at Wisconsin. The Wolverines are 5-0, already notching victories on the road at Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin. Take a nap before watching this one, as there figures to be lots of up-and-down action and plenty of points. Should leave you breathless.
MUST WIN: Ohio State is reeling, entering the week on a three-game losing skid, falling at Michigan State, vs. Iowa, at Minnesota after a 15-0 start. Its Big Ten title hopes may be circling the drain. To stay in the thick of things, the Buckeyes need to win at pesky Nebraska on Monday and at home vs. a desperate Illinois squad on Thursday. Ohio State is an offensively challenged team whose usually-stellar defense is showing chinks. Now may be a good time to worrying, Brutus.
BEST INDIVIDUAL MATCHUP: There are some good ones, but let’s go with Michigan’s Nik Stauskas vs. Michigan State’s Gary Harris on Saturday in East Lansing. Stauskas is the top shooter in the Big Ten, showing his skills by hitting a big 3-pointer late in that win at Wisconsin on Saturday. Harris a one of the top all-around talents in the conference. Yes, Stauskas has the edge as a shooter; but Harris is better off the dribble. It’s one All-Big Ten player vs. another. Perfect. Popcorn, please.
Speaking of Stauskas’ shot:
UPSET ALERT: Iowa needs to be careful when it wades into Evanston on Saturday to play a suddenly surging Wildcats squad that is coming off a win at Indiana and has won two of its last three games entering the week. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Drew Crawford has been playing well for Northwestern, notching 17 points and 11 rebounds vs. the Hoosiers. Tre Demps also is playing well. NU also is getting after it on D, holding IU to 25 percent shooting in that stupefying win at Bloomington. The Wildcats will need to continue the strong defense vs. a deep Iowa team that has lots of scoring options and comes at foes in waves. Still, I’m not discounting the Power of Purple. It’s time to believe, America.
BIG WEEK: Michigan: The Wolverines begin by playing host to Iowa on Wednesday night. Then, Michigan plays at Michigan State on Saturday. If the Wolverines can forge a split, it would be a success. If they somehow can gain a sweep of the Hawkeyes and Spartans games, Michigan no doubt will be in the driver’s seat to win the Big Ten. And we all should buy Wolverine hats and T-shirts.
A LOOK BACK
BIG WINNER: Michigan. Purdue is hot, winning three in a row after an 0-2 Big Ten start. Iowa also has won three in succession, taking victories at Ohio State and vs. Minnesota. But I have to go with Michigan, which is 5-0 in the Big Ten after beating Penn State in Ann Arbor and then winning at Wisconsin. This is a steely and gutty Michigan team that can play in the half court or on the run. What fun.
[ MORE: Check out Big Ten statistical leaders ]
BIG LOSER: Illinois. Let’s go with the Illini after they lost home games to Purdue and Michigan State to extend their losing streak to four. Earlier this month, Illinois was 2-0 in the Big Ten and nationally ranked. Remember that? Ah, good times along Green Street. Now, Illinois’ NCAA dreams may be circling the drain. Things may not improve soon with games coming up at Ohio State, at Indiana and at home vs. Iowa and Wisconsin. Whatcha got, John Groce? For the record, it was also a tough week for Ohio State, which has dropped three in a row after falling at home to Iowa and at Minnesota.
|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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