By all accounts, this week lacks much pizzazz. The one saving grace: The menu features what looks to be a de facto Big Ten championship game on Sunday, with Michigan State visiting Michigan. Both teams are coming off home losses Sunday – outcomes that have opened up the Big Ten title race. As a result, Iowa is one loss behind the co-leaders and has a big week.
Game of the week: Michigan State at Michigan, Sun., Feb. 23. This is the game we’ve all been waiting for. While the rest of the Big Ten has been a jumbled mess, the Spartans and Wolverines have been the lone consistent forces—save for those hiccups each club suffered on Sunday. Still, these teams are tied atop the Big Ten with 10-3 records. Michigan won earlier this season in East Lansing, taking an 80-75 decision. Remember what happened at the end of that game?
Don’t overlook this game: Wisconsin at Iowa, Sat., Feb. 22: Each team already basically is a lock to make the NCAA tourney. But a win here would polish an NCAA resume as a “quality” victory. And the Hawkeyes still are harboring Big Ten championship dreams, entering the week with an 8-4 mark in conference play that puts them one game behind Michigan State and Michigan in the loss column. Iowa lost earlier this season, 75-71, at Wisconsin. The Badgers have won four in a row; the Hawkeyes have won three of four.
Upset alert: Minnesota at Ohio State, Saturday, Feb. 22. The Gophers appear to be sitting on the edge of the NCAA tourney. A win here certainly would help their cause. But Minnesota isn’t exactly on a tear, having lost four of its last six games after holding off Northwestern on Sunday night. Ohio State has been vulnerable at home, however, losing three times this season. The Golden Gophers toppled the Buckeyes earlier this season in the Twin Cities, taking a 63-53 decision.
Big week: Iowa. This program is still in the hunt for its first Big Ten regular-season crown since 1978-79. And, it probably will need to win-out to achieve that goal. The Hawkeyes open the week at Indiana. Yes, the Hoosiers have lost three in a row. Yes, teams like Northwestern and Penn State have won in Bloomington this season. Yes, the Hoosiers are coming off an 18-point beat-down at Purdue. Still, Indiana has pride and has to feel like a desperate team. And, we know what desperation can do to teams. On Saturday, Iowa plays host to Wisconsin. The Badgers (8-5 Big Ten) are just a game behind the Hawkeyes. And Wisconsin brings momentum into the week, winning four in a row during a run that has seen them dump Michigan and Michigan State.
Individual matchup to watch: There will be many great matchups in the Michigan State at Michigan game on Sunday. If Keith Appling is ready to go, it will be fun to watch him take on Wolverines Wunderkind point man Derrick Walton Jr. If Appling is still limited by his injured wrist, the clash between Walton and Travis Trice still will be good. Regardless, the battle between the point men in this game figures to be the deciding factor in what may be a de facto Big Ten championship game.
A LOOK BACK
Big winner: Iowa. With the losses by league-leading Michigan and Michigan State on Sunday, the Hawkeyes are just a game behind after running past Penn State by 12 in State College, Pa. So much for that trip to visit the Nittany Lions being a “trap” game. Iowa now finds itself on a bit of roll, winning three of four games. Alas, some heavy lifting looms, with games vs. Wisconsin, at Minnesota and at Michigan State on the horizon. Heck, even a visit to ailing Indiana on Tuesday could be dangerous.
Have to mention Nebraska here, too. The Cornhuskers are officially on the NCAA bubble as they ride a three-game winning streak. Last week, Nebraska beat Illinois at home and won at Michigan State, as it has won five of its last six games.
Big loser: Indiana. The wheels officially have come off the Hoosiers. And it’s becoming difficult to watch. Indiana has lost three in a row and four of its last five games. On Wednesday, the Hoosiers lost at home to Penn State, 66-65, in a collapse of epic proportions. On Saturday, IU got drummed by 18 points at Purdue. Will this team even make the NIT a year after being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney?
|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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