Ranking the games: Pick a Michigan game this week

Ohio State at Nebraska kicked off the week with a rare Monday night game. And, it was a doozy, as the Cornhuskers sent the Buckeyes to a fourth loss in a row. Was that a portent of things to come this week?

A full slate of games is on our doorstep, highlighted by Michigan at Michigan State on Saturday. Before that, Iowa plays at Michigan on Wednesday in another big Big Ten game.

Here’s a look and ranking of this week’s contests. Ranked teams, beware!

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1. Michigan at Michigan State, Sat., Jan. 25. It won’t get any better than this all season in the Big Ten. In-state rivals that scorn each other who also could enter the highly anticipated matchup as the lone unbeaten teams left in the Big Ten. Will Adreian Payne be back for this one? I bet so. So many good matchups: Keith Appling vs. Derrick Walton Jr.; Gary Harris vs. Nik Stauskas; Branden Dawson vs. Glenn Robinson III.

2. Iowa at Michigan, Wed., Jan. 22. A marquee, must-see matchup between two of the Big Ten’s best teams. Each squad features a fleet of players who can run the court. This one will be like watching a tennis match with all of the back-and-forth. First team to 80 wins. This could be a good showcase for Roy Devyn Marble and his Big Ten Player of the Year campaign.

3. Wisconsin at Minnesota, Wed., Jan. 22. The Badgers suddenly are filled with some self-doubt, losers of two in a row after winning their first 16 games and soaring to No. 3 in the nation. Trying to “get better” by visiting the Barn typically isn’t a recipe for success. This is a balanced Gophers team—and a surprising Gophers team–that can go inside-out. The Badgers must regain their defensive form. Good luck controlling the dribble vs. Andre Hollins and Co.

4. Indiana at Michigan State, Tues., Jan. 21. This game looked good in October. Now? Not so much so. The Hoosiers are coming off a stunning home loss to Northwestern and are 2-3 in the Big Ten. This is supposed to be a NCAA tourney team, but shooting and turnovers are threatening to make this a season to forget in Bloomington. The Spartans may be the class of the Big Ten, looking to beat IU for a second time this season. This one could be over at halftime—even if Adreian Payne misses a fourth game in a row with a foot injury.

5. Wisconsin at Purdue, Sat., Jan. 25. The Boilermakers can play with most teams if they take good shots, defend and feed the ball inside to A.J. Hammons. But, that doesn’t always happen. The Badgers need to play at a quick pace and make Purdue try to match it point for point. Mackey Arena has been a house of horrors for Wisconsin. This would be the Boilers’ signature win of 2013-14.

6. Illinois at Indiana, Sun., Jan. 26. Two struggling programs that need each other. Let’s just say offense/shooting aren’t strengths of either squad. The Hoosiers lost in overtime in Champaign earlier this season. This is a chance for redemption for IU, which already has lost two home Big Ten games. A loss here would represent rock bottom for the Hoosiers.

7. Purdue at Northwestern, Tues., Jan. 21. The Wildcats enter the week with some mojo, winning two of the last three—highlight by a no-one-saw-it-coming victory at IU. Drew Crawford is leading the charge. And he’ll need to continue with an equally hot Boilermakers squad coming to Evanston on a three-game winning streak. NU hammered Purdue in Welsh-Ryan Arena last year, 75-60 after A.J. Hammons showed up late for the team bus.

8. Iowa at Northwestern, Sat., Jan. 25. The Hawkeyes need to be prudent as they wade into Welsh-Ryan Arena. NU has dumped Illinois at home; and it won at Indiana on Saturday. Because of that, I think the Wildcats will have the full, undivided attention of Iowa, which has won three in a row and five of six.

9. Illinois at Ohio State, Thurs., Jan. 23. The Fighting Illini are battered and bruised, losers of four in a row. Points for Illinois are as hard to come by as a sun tan in January in Champaign. The Buckeyes can sympathize, struggling mightily to score during a confounding four-game losing skid that threatens to derail a once-promising season that once saw OSU rank No. 3 in the country.

10. Minnesota at Nebraska, Sun., Jan. 26. The Cornhuskers are tough at home, losing by a point to Michigan and dumping Ohio State last night. The Golden Gophers have a balanced offense led by the guard play of Andre Hollins and Deandre Mathieu. And Elliott Eliason, a Nebraska native, has been a revelation as a junior.

11. Nebraska at Penn State, Thurs., Jan. 23. The Huskers are riding a wave of momentum coming off a huge court-rush win over Ohio State. It was Nebraska’s first Big Ten triumph. Is there anything better than a happy Tim Miles? Nope. The Nittany Lions, the lone winless Big Ten club, still are looking for a breakthrough. Can the Cornhuskers contain the stellar Nittany Lions guards?

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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