Ranking the Games: Michigan State at Iowa, and then....

The best Big Ten game this week is the first one, tonight in Iowa City when Michigan State visits Iowa. Each team is looking for a win to keep pace with Big Ten leader Michigan. The Wolverines beat each team last week, adding to the sense of urgency for both clubs. Here is my ranking of this week’s action.

[ MORE: Check out Stephen Bardo's latest Big Ten Power Rankings ]

1. Michigan State at Iowa, Tues., Jan. 28. This game has no peer this week. Each team lost to Michigan last week. So, a win is needed to keep pace with the white-hot Wolverines. The Spartans look primed to fall, given their injury situation with Adreian Payne (foot) and Branden Dawson (hand) out. And Keith Appling is ailing with a bad wrist. Not good. This is a deep, athletic and talented Hawkeyes club that comes at foes in waves.

Listen to coach Fran McCaffery’s weekly teleconference:


And Tom Izzo’s:


2. Ohio State at Wisconsin, Sat., Feb. 1. Each team has experienced the highs of the highs, ranking No. 3 in the nation earlier this season. And each team has tasted struggles on the heels of those unbeaten beginnings to the season, with the Buckeyes suffering a four-game losing streak and the Badgers a three-game skid. Defensive issues have been at the crux of each club’s problem. But when it comes to offense, the Badgers are skilled. The Buckeyes? Not so much so. And that—along with the home court for Wisconsin—should be the difference.

3. Michigan at Indiana, Sun., Feb. 2. This game looked delicious back in October, didn’t it? Now, not so much so. But, never underestimate the Hoosiers at home. Turnovers and poor shooting have been albatrosses around the neck of the Hoosiers. They’ll need to play a near-perfect game to knock off a Wolverines squad that’s playing like one of America’s elite teams. Who is gonna guard/stop Nik Stauskas? Remember this, though: Indiana has won each of the last four in the series at Assembly Hall.

[ MORE: Read Dienhart's preview to this week's slate of games ]

4. Indiana at Nebraska, Thurs., Jan. 30. Remember when the Cornhuskers upset No. 11 Indiana, 70-69, back in 2012 in Lincoln? Sure you do! Well, if Nebraska wins this game, it won’t be an upset, honestly. This is a solid Huskers team that already has dumped Ohio State and Minnesota in Lincoln. And the Hoosiers remain a work-in-progress who are clinging to faint NCAA hopes. But Nebraska will miss recently booted point guard Deverell Biggs, the team’s No. 3 scorer.

5. Michigan State at Georgetown, Sat., Feb. 1. A non-conference game dropped smack-dab in the middle of Big Ten action. The Spartans are banged up. But they will be facing a less-than-vintage Hoyas club that entered the week 11-8 overall and 3-5 in the Big East. Win or lose, this road trip will further sharpen the Spartans’ focus for March and the Big Dance.

6. Northwestern at Minnesota, Sat, Feb. 1. The Big Ten’s two first-year coaches face off, with the Wildcats’ Chris Collins taking on the Golden Gophers’ Richard Pitino. Each has had a degree of surprising success. In fact, Pitino has a good shot to get Minnesota back to the NCAA tourney. And that means defending home court, where the Gophers already have beaten Ohio State and Wisconsin this season. Truth be told, this is the first of three games in a row Minnesota could win.

7. Penn State at Ohio State, Wed., Jan. 29. The Nittany Lions have been a disappointment, entering the week sitting last in the Big Ten. But they will take on a struggling Buckeyes team. Still, OSU realizes it must protect its home court to stay in the thick of the Big Ten race. Can’t wait to watch Tim Frazier and Aaron Craft battle.

[ MORE: View the latest college basketball polls ]

8. Northwestern at Wisconsin, Wed., Jan. 29. Yes, Chris Collins has done some nice things in his debut in Evanston and has his team play at or darn close to its potential. He has found a defensive formula that has allowed for some success with a roster that lacks depth. But the offense is struggling. The bad news for NU: It’s playing in the Kohl Center, where the Badgers are 10-1 this season.

9. Purdue at Michigan, Thurs., Jan. 30. Two teams going in vastly different directions. In fact, it’s not crazy to say the Wolverines are the Big Ten’s best team. And the Boilermakers are the Big Ten’s worst team—along with Illinois. Purdue’s only chance to stay in this game will be if Michigan is disinterested and not motivated. Hey, it’s a possibility.

10. Iowa at Illinois, Sat., Feb. 1. Could the Hawkeyes look past the Fighting Illini? This game is sandwiched between a visit from Michigan State and a visit from Ohio State. Playing on the road should get Iowa’s attention, however. And this is an offensively challenged Illinois club that entered the week on a six-game losing streak. What’s it all mean? The deep and talented Hawkeyes should cruise knowing a loss would do severe damage its Big Ten title dreams.

[ MORE: Who won the latest weekly Big Ten honors? Here's who! ]

11. Purdue at Penn State, Sun., Feb. 2. A not-so-super matchup on Super Bowl Sunday. The Nittany Lions should have won at Purdue a few weeks ago, somehow blowing a late lead. I have a feeling this one won’t be close. Look for Penn State guards Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill to excel. The Boilermakers could have a chance if big A.J. Hammons feels like playing.

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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