Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, January 25, 2016
The fifth week of the season is on our doorstep. All eyes will be on College Park, Maryland, for a battle of ranked teams between Iowa and Maryland. This also is a big week for Northwestern, which can make statement with games vs. Michigan State and Iowa. And can Indiana remain perfect in the Big Ten?
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Here's my preview to the week ahead.
Game of the Week: Iowa at Maryland, Thursday. It doesn?t get much better than this. The Terps were hailed as one of the nation?s best teams in the preseason. They are supposed to be here. But the Hawkeyes? presence among the elite is a surprise. FYI: The Terps have yet to lose a Big Ten home game since joining the conference last season. Iowa has won 13 consecutive games, dating back to last season, and are 7-3 vs. teams ranked in RPI Top 50.
Don?t overlook this game: Michigan State at Northwestern, Thursday. Maryland?s game at Ohio State on Sunday is interesting, too. But let?s go with the Spartans? trip to Evanston. Since opening with a school-best 13-0 mark, Michigan State began Big Ten action just 4-4 with a three-game losing skid along the way. If the Spartans want to stay in the race, they can?t afford many more league defeats. Northwestern looked like a Big Ten darling a few weeks ago when it beat Wisconsin to improve to 15-3 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten. Since then, NU has lost three in a row. A home win vs. MSU would boost the Wildcats? sagging hopes as they push for their first NCAA bid ever.
Must win: Michigan vs. Penn State, Saturday. If Michigan wants to stay in the Big Ten hunt, it probably needs to win. The Wolverines have been a bit of a surprise, entering the week with 15 wins after notching 16 all of last season. Michigan has been doing all of this despite not having arguably its best player Caris LeVert, who has missed the last six games with a lower left leg injury. He was averaging a team-high 17.6 points when he went out. The Nittany Lions are a tough, physical squad that is well-coached.
Best individual matchup: Let?s go with the point guard clash between Maryland?s Melo Trimble and Iowa?s Mike Gesell. These are two of the top lead guards in the nation, each equally aplomb at scoring as they are dishing. But the best compliment you can pay either: They make their teammates better. And each guy is fearless. Who is gonna win the assist-to-turnover battle?
Upset alert: Indiana at Wisconsin, Tuesday. Wisconsin isn?t up to its usual standards coming off back-to-back Final Four appearances. Still, the Badgers are a tough out in the Kohl Center. Wisconsin has beaten Michigan State in Madison and lost to Maryland by three points on a last-second shot. The Hoosiers only topped Wisconsin by one point earlier this season in Bloomington. For Indiana to escape with a victory, it will need to continue its torrid shooting and offensive production. But defense is a specialty for Wisconsin.
Big week: Northwestern. This could be a proverbial make-or-break week for the Wildcats? and their quest to polish a resume that they hope to make NCAA Tourney worthy. Chris Collins? squad is in a slump, entering the week with a three-game losing skid. NU begins the week vs. Michigan State in Evanston on Thursday. Then, on Sunday, Northwestern plays at Iowa. It probably would behoove NU to get a split of these two games. Bryant McIntosh has to have a big game for the Wildcats to have any chance.
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