Big Ten primer: Ohio State, Michigan State await first-place Purdue
This shapes up as perhaps the best week of the season with two monster games on tap that will go a long way in determining who wins the Big Ten title.
Here is a look at the week ahead.
Game of the week: No. 14 Ohio State at No. 3 Purdue, Wednesday. It doesn’t get much better than this, as the Big Ten’s first- and second-place teams battle in West Lafayette on BTN/BTN2G0. A win by the Buckeyes (11-1 Big Ten) would pull them even with the Boilermakers (12-0 Big Ten) atop the conference standing. A victory for Purdue would give it a two-game cushion over OSU and Michigan State, making the Boilers tough to catch down the stretch as they look to repeat as Big Ten champs. This is the only meeting between these schools this season. Too bad. OSU is a foe Purdue coach Matt Painter has had little success against, sporting an 8-16 all-time mark.
Don’t overlook this game: No. 3 Purdue at No. 4 Michigan State, Saturday. This easily could have been the “game of the week.” Regardless of labels, this will be an epic showdown in East Lansing, as Purdue is ranked No. 3. Michigan State is ranked No. 4 and is 10-2 in the league but is two games behind the Boilers (12-0 Big Ten). And it will be even juicier if the Boilermakers enter with a 13-0 league mark. Most pundits feel both of these clubs are Final Four-caliber. This is the only meeting between these programs this season. For what it’s worth, the Boilers won in the Breslin Center last season. Matt Painter is 9-13 vs. MSU and Purdue is 8-15 all-time in the Breslin Center.
Must win: No. 4 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Purdue, Saturday. At this time of year, there are many tilts that could fit here. But let’s go with the Spartans needing to take down the visiting Boilermakers on Saturday night. Michigan State is two games behind first-place and perfect Purdue. The Spartans (10-2 in Big Ten action) can’t afford any more missteps in its chase for the league title. It has to protect its home turf, where it already has lost to Michigan. A loss to the Boilers (12-0) would make it very difficult for the Spartans to win the conference, something Tom Izzo’s club hasn’t done since 2012.
Best individual matchup: Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop vs. Purdue’s Vincent Edwards, Wednesday. These are the two top contenders for Big Ten Player of the Year honors, and each has taken his game to another level this season. The work of Edwards last week was heroic, as he battled through illness to star in two hard-fought wins for the Boilermakers, while Bates-Diop just continues to dominate every time he takes the court. The roof may blow off Mackey Arena on this night.
Upset alert: Nebraska at Minnesota, Tuesday. The Huskers need to be careful when they travel to The Barn. Minnesota is still short-handed, but it’s playing a little better, evidenced by its overtime defeat at ranked Michigan the last time out. Simply put, as it tries to improve its NCAA tourney resume, Nebraska can’t afford a misstep vs. a team with a losing record, no less a 3-9 clip, in the Big Ten.
Big week: No. 3 Purdue. This is the week that will tell us all we need to know about the 23-2 Boilermakers. Purdue enters the week atop the league standings with a 12-0 mark and ranked No. 3 in the nation. But it will face its two biggest tests of the season with Ohio State coming to Mackey Arena on Wednesday and the Boilermakers playing at Michigan State on Saturday. If Purdue can earn a split, you have to like its chances to at least share the Big Ten championship. If Purdue wins both games, it figures to win the league title again and zero in on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney. And you’d also have to like the Boilers’ chances to go 18-0 in the Big Ten, which hasn’t been done since Indiana turned the trick in 1975-76.
THIS WEEK’S GAMES
Indiana at Rutgers
Michigan at Northwestern
Nebraska at Minnesota
Michigan State at Iowa
Maryland at Penn State
Ohio State at Purdue
Wisconsin at Illinois
Minnesota at Indiana
Northwestern at Maryland
Rutgers at Nebraska
Purdue at Michigan State
Iowa at Ohio State
Michigan at Wisconsin
Penn State at Illinois