Big Ten Whiteboard: Can't wait for MSU at Iowa

Can we just hurry up and get to Tuesday? Why, you ask? Because that’s when Michigan State plays at Iowa in what is the best matchup of the week. And that’s one of two big games for MSU in what shapes up as a big week for the ailing Spartans as we chug toward the halfway point of the conference season. Here’s a look at what to watch for this week.

GAME OF THE WEEK: Michigan State at Iowa, Tues., Jan. 28. Each team is looking up at Michigan in the standings after losing to the Wolverines last week. This is an especially critical game for the Hawkeyes, who are two games back and must protect their home court. The Spartans have had to deal with a lot of adversity in the form of illness and injury. In particular, MSU is without Branden Dawson (hand) and Adreian Payne (foot), which was too much for the Spartans to overcome vs. Michigan on Saturday. This is a deep and talented Hawkeyes squad that is on a mission.

DON’T OVERLOOK THIS GAME: Ohio State at Wisconsin, Sat., Feb. 1. Not long ago, each of these squads ranked No. 3 in the nation. But each team suffered through a losing streak that ended unbeaten runs to open the season before tasting victory last week. The Buckeyes—who started 15-0 and are 16-4 overall and 3-4 in the Big Ten after a four-game skid–dumped Illinois at home. The Badgers—who started 16-0 and are 17-3 overall and 4-3 in the Big Ten after a three-game slide–whipped Purdue in West Lafayette.

MUST WIN: If Indiana wants to remain in the conversation for an NCAA bid—and it’s a faint conversation—the Hoosiers need to win at Nebraska on Thursday. IU is 12-7 overall and 2-4 in the Big Ten. It’s bad enough that Indiana lacks many marquee wins. The Hoosiers can’t afford many more bad losses after falling at home to Northwestern earlier this season. IU is 1-3 on the road. The Huskers are tough at home, already knocking off Ohio State and Minnesota and sporting a 9-1 record in Pinnacle Bank Arena.

BEST INDIVIDUAL MATCHUP: The Penn State at Ohio State clash on Wednesday may be off the radar. But it will be fun to watch the Nittany Lions’ Tim Frazier do battle with the Buckeyes’ Aaron Craft. Frazier is one of the most talented offensive players in the Big Ten. While Craft is a defensive juggernaut. Who can impose their will on the other? Frazier is averaging 16.5 points. And when Craft isn’t matched up with Frazier, he figures to be on D.J. Newbill, who averages 17.2 points.

UPSET ALERT: Michigan plays at Indiana on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 2. Yes, the struggles of the Hoosiers are well-documented, but this still is an Indiana squad that has some talent, namely Yogi Ferrell and Noah Vonleh. Just ask Wisconsin, which waded into Bloomington earlier this month with a 16-0 record and got beat by the Hoosiers. The Wolverines are riding high and playing well, but they can’t overlook IU in what will be a hostile environment in Bloomington, where the Hoosiers have won each of the last four meetings.

BIG WEEK: Michigan State. The Spartans are a M.A.S.H. unit, what with Adreian Payne (foot) and Branden Dawson (hand) out. Oh, and Keith Appling (wrist) is ailing, too. But, the schedule is unrelenting. It begins with a trip to Iowa on Tuesday. And it ends with an interesting non-conference game at Georgetown on Saturday. Whatever happens, stay calm, Spartans fans. It’s only January. Tom Izzo wants to make sure his team is ready in March. If that means some mid-winter suffering, so be it.

***

A LOOK BACK

BIG WINNER: Michigan. The Wolverines took control of the Big Ten race with two monster wins. First, Michigan beat Iowa on Wednesday in Ann Arbor, 75-67. Then, the Wolverines went to Michigan State on Saturday and topped the Spartans, 80-75. Michigan is 15-4 overall and 7-0 in the Big Ten, sitting firmly planted in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten. Making all of this more impressive is the fact the Wolverines are doing this without injured Mitch McGary, who is out with a back injury.

BIG LOSER: Purdue. The Boilermakers began the week with a three-game winning streak. Alas, Purdue proceeded to lose in double overtime at Northwestern in one of the ugliest games of the season. Then, the Boilers came home and got ran out of Mackey Arena by a slumping Wisconsin team, 72-58. Purdue’s already dim NCAA hopes are even dimmer. It may be NIT or bust for this squad—at best. In fact, this team may be hard-pressed to win three more games. Really.

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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