3-Pointer: Big Ten basketball games to watch this week
More Big Ten men’s hoops
Nobody has emerged as a dominant Big Ten team so far, but the parity within the conference sure makes these weekly previews easy to write.
With no dominance and no doormats, almost every game has potential to be good. It’s definitely a fun viewing experience for the casual fan.
Jan. 10 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN: Indiana (11-5, 1-2) at Maryland (14-2, 2-1)
Even though Indiana and Maryland have only played three conference games apiece, they already share two common opponents in Nebraska and Illinois. Both the Hoosiers and Terps dropped close games to Nebraska and both put a beating on Illinois. It was Saturday’s win over Illinois that got Indiana off the schneid after three straight losses, and they played much closer to their potential than we’d seen in the last couple of weeks.
The high-powered Hoosier offense returned against the Illini, shooting 13-of-25 from three as they got 20 points from big man Thomas Bryant. They’ll follow a pretty similar recipe for success in most of their wins going forward this season, but the defense could still be better. The only other true road game Indiana has played this season was a Nov. 23 loss at Fort Wayne, so don’t be surprised if the Hoosiers look out of sorts early on at Maryland.
Maryland’s Xfinity Center is one of the toughest places in the country to play when it’s rocking, but the ferocity will be dialed down several notches with students still on break. It should still be a fun environment in College Park assuming Melo Trimble and Co. provide the spark.
At this point it’s safe to say Maryland looks like an NCAA tournament team after some close calls in the non-conference. If they protect home court and steal a couple on the road, they’ll be dancing. This game provides an excellent chance to solidify their resume.
Jan. 11 at 7 p.m. ET on BTN: No. 24 Minnesota (15-2, 3-1) at Michigan State (11-6, 3-1)
Here we go. We’re already getting treated to a rematch of one of the best Big Ten games so far during this young conference season. In case you missed the Dec. 27 opener, Minnesota collapsed late and coughed up a double-digit lead against the Spartans, eventually falling 75-74 in overtime. At the time the loss looked like it had potential to destabilize the Gophers and spoil their strong start, but Minnesota hasn’t wobbled since.
You can’t say enough about the job Richard Pitino has done to turn a team that won eight games total last season into a Top 25 squad this year. It’s looking increasingly likely that the Gophers will return to the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years, as Pitino seems to have enough consistent production in his lineup to avoid a collapse. Avenging their home loss to the Spartans won’t be easy — winning at the Breslin Center never is — but Minnesota absolutely looks like the superior team right now. Who would have predicted that in November?
Given their youth, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Michigan State fluctuates game-to-game. But, man, the Spartans had me believing they were really about to get it going after getting Miles Bridges healthy and demolishing Rutgers for their fourth straight win. Penn State was a tough assignment at Philadelphia’s Palestra this past weekend, but Michigan State was never really that close in a 72-63 loss. Still, we’ve been through this before. We know it’s foolish to doubt Tom Izzo when things look shaky.
If Michigan State can pull off the regular season sweep of the Gophers, it will be win No. 22 for the Spartans in the teams’ last 27 meetings.
Jan. 12 at 9 p.m. ET on BTN: No. 17 Purdue (14-3, 3-1) at Iowa (10-7, 2-2)
Just so we’re clear: Purdue is the better team here and should win this game, even on the road. But the Hawkeyes have shown a knack for playing above their heads at home this season. They demolished in-state foes Iowa State and Northern Iowa and should have a rowdy turnout when the Boilers come to town.
Even though Iowa isn’t always dangerous, they’re refreshing to watch with their mix of skilled underclassmen and Peter Jok green-lighting his way to 23 points per game. Fran McCaffery has guys capable of playing loose and free-flowing basketball, which is sure to pay off in a year or two when these talented freshmen and sophomores come of age.
Still, the Hawks likely won’t have an answer for Purdue’s size and depth. The way the Boilers handled then-No. 13 Wisconsin in their only meeting of the season Sunday reaffirmed my belief that Purdue will near the top of the Big Ten standings through March. When you have a double-double machine like Biggie Swanigan and a strong supporting cast, you’ll probably win a lot of ball games.