Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, January 8, 2013

This is a big week in the Big Ten, with myriad big games beginning with Minnesota?s contests at Illinois and at Indiana. Along those lines, I take a look at the seven Big Ten games that will go the longest way in determining who will win the conference championship.

[ RELATED: Big Ten Whiteboard: Dienhart previews the week ahead ]

1. Michigan at Indiana, Feb. 2. Save the date. This is it, a battle between the Big Ten?s top teams in one of the most iconic venues in the nation. Try getting a ducat to this tilt. This will be the first of two meetings between these goliaths. It will be delicious to watch John Beilein and Tom Cream match wits.

2. Indiana at Michigan, March 10. What a way to end the regular season. Think the schedule makers knew what they were doing? This may be a de facto Big Ten regular-season championship game, with the winner also earning the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tourney. And, no doubt, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney also could be on the line. The mega-talented Wolverines freshmen will be playing like sophomores by now – if they aren't already.

3. Minnesota at Indiana, Jan. 12. This will be a great battle between teams with a plethora of good guards. How about Yogi Ferrell vs. Andre Hollins? But watch the tussles inside between Trevor Mbakwe and Cody Zeller. And remember: Minnesota handed Indiana its lone loss at Assembly Hall last season.

4. Michigan at Minnesota, Jan. 17. The Golden Gophers are more physical than the Wolverines. And Minnesota players like Trevor Mbakwe need to assert their muscle vs. a Michigan team that lacks height. But this may come down to guard play, with Trey Burke battling Andre and Austin Hollins.

5. Michigan at Michigan State, Feb. 12. One of the fiercest rivalries in college sports will have plenty of extra juice with so much likely riding on this game. Could the balance of power be shifting in the state? Hmmm.

6. Indiana at Minnesota, Feb. 26. The Barn can be a tough place to play. The Hoosiers know that. If they escape with a victory, it will be because X-factor Christian Watford has a big game vs. a deep and athletic Golden Gophers team that also boasts a lot of experience after that NIT run last season.

7. Indiana at Michigan State, Feb. 19. The Spartans have been the standard bearer in the Big Ten over the past 15 years. But the Hoosiers appear to be building something special under Tom Crean. Michigan State point man Keith Appling will need to play near-flawless for the Spartans to win-and MSU will be have flex its considerable muscle with twin towers Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix.

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, 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.

And if you want to leave a comment on this post, use the box below. All comments need to be approved by a moderator.