Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, January 12, 2015

The Big Ten season is almost at the quarter post. Can you believe it? And some clarity is starting to emerge.

It's no time for any team to get complacent-or panic. There are plenty of hoops left in a league race that appears to be very wide open.

Here?s a look at the week ahead.

GAME OF THE WEEK: Michigan State at Maryland, Saturday. The Terps tasted defeat for the first time in league action, taking a surprising loss at Illinois to an Illini club that was without top player Rayvonte Rice. The Spartans have won three in a row since opening Big Ten play at home with a double-overtime loss to ? Maryland. This one will be on national TV. I just wish their matchups were spaced out.

DON?T OVERLOOK THIS GAME: Michigan at Ohio State, Tuesday. Two classic rivals who also happen to be fighting to remain in the thick of the Big Ten race. The Wolverines seemingly are over a non-conference hangover that saw them inexplicably lose home games to NJIT and Eastern Michigan. Now, the Wolverines have won four of their last five games. Ohio State needs to protect its homecourt, having already lost a Big Ten game at home (Iowa).

MUST WIN: If Indiana really is a legit contender for the Big Ten title, it will win at Illinois on Sunday. Yes, the Fighting Illini shocked Maryland last week in Champaign without Rayvonte Rice. But the Illini still aren?t as good without the dynamic Rice. Witness the loss at Nebraska on Sunday. The Hoosiers have a dynamic team with good athletic ability and guard play coming off a nice home victory vs. a ranked Ohio State squad.

BEST INDIVIDUAL MATCHUP: Let?s go with Tuesday?s encounter in Bloomington, between Penn State?s D.J. Newbill and Indiana?s Yogi Ferrell. Newbill paces the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 21.3 points. Ferrell is No. 10 at 15.9 points per game. These are two of the top players in the conference.

UPSET ALERT: Wisconsin needs to be careful when Nebraska visits Madison on Thursday. Yes, the Cornhuskers have not hit their stride and have dealt with inconsistency after some billed Tim Miles? squad as one of the top four teams in the conference. But Nebraska may be getting on track. The Huskers have won back-to-back games and will battle a Wisconsin team that was stunned at Rutgers playing without Frank Kaminsky who was out with a concussion. The Badgers allowed 44 second-half points to the Scarlet Knights. Stunning.

BIG WEEK: Minnesota. The Golden Gophers were thought by some to be an upper-division Big Ten team capable of landing an NCAA bid. Alas, Minnesota has opened league play 0-4. The Gophers have two home games this week vs. Iowa and Rutgers. Minnesota needs to win them both to remain within ear shot of the Big Ten pack. A split? Not ideal.



BIG WINNER: Michigan State. The Spartans may have quelled some fears by posting a 20-point home win vs. Indiana, a 14-point triumph at Iowa and an overtime win vs. Northwestern. Few teams can shoot like this MSU squad, as any reports of the Spartans? demise are premature.

BIG LOSER: Minnesota. The Gophers have played four Big Ten games-and lost them all. The latest setbacks came vs. Ohio State in Williams Arena and at Michigan, which rallied from a nine-point hole. The two-point home loss to the Buckeyes was especially painful. Minnesota and Penn State are the lone Big Ten clubs without a conference victory.

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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