Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, February 4, 2014

We begin to head down the backstretch of the season, as my friends at Big Ten Geeks pointed out earlier this week. If you are like me, getting a clean read on the season makes you as confused as ever. But, don?t worry. Things will begin to crystallize ? I think. Here?s my ranking of this week?s men's basketball games.

1. Michigan at Iowa, Sat., Feb. 8. This is the game of week, ladies and gentlemen. The Wolverines sit atop the Big Ten along with Michigan State, as each has one loss. The Hawkeyes have three losses. A defeat will make it very difficult for Iowa to stay in the title hunt. This could be a high-scoring game. And fun.

2. Ohio State at Iowa, Tues., Feb. 4. The Buckeyes seemingly have been re-born with their win at Wisconsin on Saturday. Ohio State knows it needs to polish its NCAA resume. And a win at Iowa would be huge. The Hawkeyes are in the thick of the title chase. They already have lost at home to Michigan State. The Hawkeyes can?t afford another loss. Iowa won in Columbus earlier this season.

3. Michigan State at Wisconsin, Sun., Feb. 9. Yes, the Badgers are in a funk that has seen them lose three home games in a row and five of six overall after a school-record 16-0 start. Still, Wisconsin is a dangerous team that knows a win over the Spartans-who have lost two of three-would go a long way to curing what ails it. Can this banged up MSU team continue to march on? The Spartans are 5-2 without Adreian Payne.

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Big Ten Standings (through 2/3)
Conference Overall
Michigan State 8-1 19-3
Michigan 8-1 16-5
Iowa 6-3 17-5
Northwestern 5-5 12-11
Wisconsin 4-5 17-5
Ohio State 4-5 17-5
Minnesota 4-5 15-7
Indiana 4-5 14-8
Nebraska 3-5 11-9
Purdue 3-6 13-9
Penn State 3-6 12-10
Illinois 2-7 13-9
View Full Standings

4. Indiana at Minnesota, Sat., Feb. 8. Two teams that look very much like the other. In fact, each squad entered the week with 4-5 Big Ten records. If the Hoosiers really fancy themselves as an NCAA team, they?ll find a way to win this game. But winning in the Barn is difficult, even if Minnesota has lost three of four and is struggling on defense.

5. Nebraska at Northwestern, Sat., Feb. 8. Two of the Big Ten?s best stories meet in a game that suddenly looks interesting. Tim Miles and Chris Collins are two of the best young coaches in the nation who are winning with defense. Few coaches are maxing the talent on their rosters better.

6. Nebraska at Michigan, Wed., Feb. 5. The Cornhuskers will arrive in Ann Arbor with some glide in their stride, having won three of four. But Nebraska is 0-6 on the road. And the Wolverines are coming off their first Big Ten loss of the season.

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7. Wisconsin at Illinois, Tues., Feb. 4. Two teams in the midst of epic struggles. The Badgers have lost five of six. The Fighting Illini have lost seven in a row. I feel sorry for the loser.

8. Minnesota at Purdue, Wed., Feb. 5.  The Golden Gophers have been a surprise team, as Richard Pitino has Minnesota poised to earn an NCAA bid. But the Gophers are in a bit of a skid, losing three of four. Good news for Minnesota: The Boilermakers are struggling, losing four in a row. Purdue hasn?t lost as many in a row since 2005-06, Matt Painter?s first season.

9. Penn State at Michigan State, Thurs., Feb. 6. The Nittany Lions entered the week with a three-game winning streak, the longest in the Big Ten. Pretty amazing, huh? So, you bet Penn State will have the attention of Michigan State.

10. Purdue at Ohio State, Sat., Feb. 8. The Buckeyes look locked in after that potentially season-saving win at Wisconsin. The Boilermakers? They just look lost. And the mere site of the Value City Arena puts Purdue Pete in a fetal position. The Boilers are 1-11 all-time in the venue and lost by 29 on their last visit. I smell a Buckeye romp.

11. Illinois at Penn State, Sun., Feb. 9. The Fighting Illini beat the Nittany Lions by 20 points earlier this season. Really. I?m not lying. Look it up.


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.

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