3-pointer: Big Ten basketball games to watch this week
More Big Ten men’s hoops
We’re just about at the halfway point of a conference season that continues to intrigue. As Week 6 of Big Ten hoops gets underway, some monster matchups near the top of the standings await.
If you can only catch a few games this week, make sure it’s these three:
Feb. 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET on BTN: No. 25 Northwestern (18-4, 7-2) at No. 23 Purdue (17-5, 6-3)
Non-Big Ten fans may have had to squint when they saw the Wildcats rounding out the Top 25 this week, and can you blame them? It’s been seven years since Northwestern has cracked the rankings, and their return to the polls is just the latest breakthrough in their historic season. You have to admit it was pretty funny that the AP website didn’t even post Northwestern’s logo on the weekly Top 25 listing, although I doubt many in Evanston were laughing. Outlets won’t make that mistake going forward if the Wildcats continue to play like they have during their current six-game winning streak.
The rest of the Big Ten has gotten the memo by now that Northwestern is legit, and Purdue has to know they’ll be in for a battle at home. The Boilers still have an obvious advantage in the post with Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, but Northwestern’s Dererk Pardon has proved he can be a force. If Pardon can give the Wildcats a fraction of the 19 points and 22 rebounds he put up against Nebraska last week, they’ll be in business. If he disappears like he did against Indiana Sunday, Purdue can look to feast down low.
Northwestern should have the edge on the perimeter with Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey both playing at an All-Big Ten level, not to mention Bryant McIntosh dishing them a portion of his team-high 5.7 assists per game. But Purdue always makes it tough to win at Mackey Arena, and the Boilers will need a bounce-back effort after Sunday’s loss to Nebraska. Wednesday’s game is the first of a daunting three-game stretch for Purdue (vs. No. 25 Northwestern, at No. 17 Maryland, at Indiana), and a win would be huge for their hopes of remaining in the hunt for a Big Ten title.
Feb. 4 at Noon ET on ESPN: No. 23 Purdue (17-5, 6-3) at No. 17 Maryland (19-2, 7-1)
The significance of this Saturday contest at College Park depends slightly on what happens Wednesday at Mackey Arena, but this should be a fun one nonetheless. Maryland’s favorable path has been well-documented, and this game provides one of three huge tests remaining on the regular season slate for the Terps.
A Maryland fan recently insisted to me on Twitter that a conference tournament title holds more significance to the Terrapins fan base than a regular season title, while my opinion was that a regular season title holds more weight in Big Ten circles. The deep history of the ACC tournament (played since 1954) and lack thereof with the Big Ten’s counterpart (played since 1998) probably is the deciding factor in this sentiment, but I’m curious if fellow Terps fans share that fan’s opinion? And if they do, maybe some will change their minds if Maryland marches to a regular season Big Ten title this year.
As is the case against nearly every team in the Big Ten, Maryland will have the backcourt edge with Melo Trimble. Purdue has one fantastic freshman in Carsen Edwards, but the Terps can counter with three in Justin Jackson, Kevin Huerter and Anthony Cowan. We know Xfinity Center will be a madhouse. Let’s roll the ball out and play.
Feb. 5 at 1 p.m. ET on CBS: Indiana (14-8, 4-5) at No. 9 Wisconsin (18-3, 7-1)
Every week is a big week from here on out for the Hoosiers. That’s the reality for a team nearing double-digit losses and dealing with devastating injuries. Indiana is 1-2 since losing OG Anunoby to a season-ending knee injury and 0-1 since James Blackmon Jr. was ruled out indefinitely with a lower leg injury, and Tom Crean’s vague injury reports ensure that uncertainty will surround Blackmon’s potential return to the lineup. It seemed inconceivable that this would be a bubble team before Big Ten play, but it’s hard to overcome those crucial absences in the lineup.
The key now will be to see if Indiana can continue to bring intensity on a nightly basis. I still believe the Hoosiers’ remaining talent is deep enough to salvage an NCAA tournament bid, and Sunday’s game at Wisconsin provides an opportunity for another great win on their resume. The more of those you stack, the harder it is to keep you out of the Dance. The Badgers took the first game this season in Bloomington, and that was when the Hoosiers were healthy. This won’t be an easy task for Indiana.
It just didn’t feel right without a Big Ten team in the Top 10 of the polls, so I’m glad Wisconsin clawed their way back for the first time since the season’s second week.
Despite Wisconsin’s close call with Rutgers at Madison Square Garden, I think this Badgers team has as good a chance as any Big Ten team to reach the Final Four. Off-shooting days will happen, but a player like Ethan Happ is a perfect guy to turn to when the outside stroke goes cold. Happ has an elite feel for the game and can bully his way to post looks that are nearly impossible to defend. Add in Bronson Koenig’s ever-increasing propensity for knocking down clutch shots and Nigel Hayes’ all-around steady presence, and you have what looks to be the most proven and talented team in the conference.