Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, February 8, 2016

Now that the Super Bowl is over, college basketball season officially has begun. Of course, I jest. But, no doubt, the second half of the season is gaining steam. This week?s slate has some key games that will shape the conference race. It?s a huge week for Indiana.

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Game of the week: Iowa at Indiana, Thursday. It won?t get much better than this, as two Big Ten heavies square off. Back in the preseason, no one envisioned these teams at the top of the league standings. But the Hoosiers and Hawkeyes are among the elite, though IU is coming off a clunker loss at Penn State on Saturday to give it even more urgency in this game. These squads will meet again at Iowa on March 1. This is gonna be fun.

Don?t overlook this game: Wisconsin at Maryland, Saturday. The Badgers are one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten, winners of five in a row. Greg Gard?s squad is making a push to polish a resume that is NCAA worthy. The Terps won the first meeting between these schools in Madison, as Melo Trimble hit a 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left to lift Maryland to a 63-60 victory. The Terps have yet to lose a Big Ten home game as they look to keep pace in the Big Ten race coming off a big home win vs. Purdue on Saturday. Also, Michigan State?s visit to Purdue on Tuesday will be fun, as the Spartans have won four in a row.

Must win: Purdue at Michigan, Saturday. Michigan needs to protect its home court when Purdue comes to Ann Arbor. The Wolverines lost in West Lafayette, 87-70, earlier this year. More importantly, Michigan is coming off a tough week in which it flopped badly in home games to Indiana and Michigan State. Purdue is a big, physical team that Michigan has trouble matching up with, but the Wolverines? superior athletic ability and wing play may give them an edge.

Best individual matchup: Nebraska's Andrew White III vs. Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes. On Wednesday night, make sure to watch this battle in Madison, Wisconsin. Each ranks among the top 10 scorers in the Big Ten, but each goes about their work differently. Hayes is a physical force who excels at taking the ball to the hoop and getting to the line. White, a transfer from Kansas, is a sweet shooter with long-range skills who also can work off the dribble.

Upset alert: Michigan at Minnesota, Wednesday. Could Minnesota knock off Michigan when the Wolverines visit Dinkytown? No doubt, the Golden Gophers are in the midst of a miserable season and have lost 12 in a row, but they have played tough at home. Minnesota has lost by less than 10 points to Michigan State, Indiana, Illinois and Purdue in Minneapolis. It?s not easy to escape Williams Arena with a victory. Plus, the Wolverines lack momentum.

Big week: Indiana. IU is in the midst of a rugged stretch of games. And, this week is as tough as it gets. Sure would have been nice to have entered the week with a win, but IU lost at Penn State on Saturday. The Hoosiers play host to Iowa on Thursday than travel to Michigan State on Sunday. If Indiana can earn a split, it would be a good week. If the Hoosiers can win both games, it would be a huge boon to Big Ten title hopes. Shooting well from long range always is a key for IU. And the defense must be buttoned up.


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