This Week in Big Ten Men's Basketball - 1/12 to 1/18

This past week we saw Michigan State take the number one spot in the polls and immediately lose to Ohio State. Likewise, Ohio State proved they belonged in the upper echelon of the Big Ten but still sits outside the top-25 in both polls. Northwestern, Minnesota, and Wisconsin proved they were all hype as the trio continuously dropped games. Rutgers earned a solid victory at Wisconsin and Iowa did the same at Illinois. Illinois now sits at the bottom of the Big Ten. This week we see limited action with a few teams, especially Michigan, playing a gauntlet. It will be interesting to see how the Big Ten sorts itself out.
Big Ten Men’s Basketball Standings (As of January, 12th, 2018)
AP Poll/Coaches Rankings (NA=Not Applicable; RV=Receiving Votes)
1. 5/7 Purdue (5-0) 16-2
2. RV/RV Ohio State (5-0) 14-4
3. 4/4 Michigan State (4-1) 16-2
4. RV/RV Michigan (3-2) 14-4
5. Nebraska (3-2) 12-6
6. Indiana (3-2) 10-7
7. Maryland (3-3) 14-5
8. Minnesota (2-3) 13-5
9. Penn State (2-3) 12-6
10. Northwestern (2-3) 11-7
11. Wisconsin (2-3) 9-9
12. Rutgers (1-4) 11-7
13. Iowa (1-5) 10-9
14. Illinois (0-5) 10-8
Friday, January 12th
7 PM, Nebraska @ Penn State, Big Ten Network
Nebraska and Penn State have held their own in recent weeks. Perhaps the biggest positive surprise this season in the Big Ten has been either Ohio State or Nebraska. Nebraska held their own against a tough nonconference schedule, one that included Kansas, beat Minnesota and kept their game against Purdue close up until the end. Penn State has had an up and down year. They got a win over Maryland but dropped a pair of “easy-wins” to Wisconsin and Indiana (I realize there are no easy wins in the Big Ten). Coming off a loss this Penn State team should be fired up and ready to regain ground lost in the conference race. Penn State is both averaging three more points per game and allowing five less than Nebraska. This on top of their home court advantage should mean a close win for Penn State.
Prediction: Penn State 71-68 (Both teams go to 3-3 in the conference)
Saturday, January 13th
12 PM, Michigan @ 4/4 Michigan State, Fox
Michigan State has had their trouble in the recent week, a loss to Ohio State and taking Rutgers to OT doesn’t usually equate to a number four ranking. Michigan is coming off a one-point loss to Purdue, a result that had many questioning whether there was actually such a difference between the top teams, Michigan State and Purdue, and the upper middle tier, Michigan, and Ohio State. Last week's results made believers out of many. Michigan is now seen as a threat to win the conference. This game at the Breslin will be huge for both of these teams. Michigan State is looking to avenge a big loss last year and add a signature win, while Michigan is looking to swap places with the Spartans in the Big Ten standings. Michigan State’s defense is equal to Michigan’s but the Spartans have one of the best offenses in the nation. But, if Michigan is able to slow down the game like Rutgers did, they could give the Spartans trouble.
Prediction: Michigan State 85-74 (Michigan State’s emotion shows)
12 PM, 5/7 Purdue @ Minnesota, ESPN2
Purdue is coming off a close win over Michigan and heads to an even tougher location. Minnesota’s year has almost fallen off the rails. The team was predicted to compete not only for a Big Ten championship but finish deep in the tournament come March. With their position in the Big Ten slipping, Minnesota needs a signature win to get respect in the polls and the conference. Expect Minnesota to keep this game very close, but I think the overall talent of Purdue should give them a win. This game also reminds me heavily of the Ohio State vs Michigan State game. Ohio State was not predicted to even win and ended up blowing the Spartans out. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we end up seeing the Golden Gophers storm the court.
Prediction: Minnesota 83-79 (UPSET ALERT)
Sunday, January 14th
4:30 PM, Northwestern @ Indiana, CBS
Northwestern’s season has been one of the biggest bummers for the Big Ten. After losing three straight Big Ten games, the Wildcats dismantled Minnesota at home to earn a quality win, a win that also kept them from the bottom of the Big Ten. Indiana is coming off a string of close games where they went 2-1. Both of these teams are in a win-now position. It would be hard, but both could make the tournament if they finish off the season on a good note. This game would be a quality win for both. Both teams average 74 points per game but Northwestern’s defense is 5 points better. Being a home game for Indiana, they look just about equal. This game will come down to which team’s big names step up. Morgan and Johnson for IU will be essential as will McIntosh, Lindsey, and Law for Northwestern.
Prediction: Indiana 78-77 (SO CLOSE, SO EQUAL)
7 PM, RV/RV Ohio State @ Rutgers, Big Ten Network
Ohio State is now in the lead of the Big Ten title race. They stormed by Michigan State and if they keep up that playing level, they should win their remaining games in January. Rutgers is coming off a loss, but an overtime loss to Michigan State. When considering who they were playing and where, it’s hard to think that Rutgers almost won. Ohio State will head to Rutgers for this Sunday night matchup. Both teams are coming off their arguably best performances of the year and both against Michigan State. If Ohio State has their shots falling like they did last week, they should blow the Scarlet Knights out. If Rutgers is able to slow down the pace of play like they did against MSU, they have a real opportunity to get a quality home win.
Prediction: Ohio State 78-67 (Rutgers has a real shot to make my prediction seem silly)
Monday, January 15th
6:30 PM, Maryland @ RV/RV Michigan, Fox Sports 1
Maryland will head into this bout with Michigan coming off their second 20+ point loss in three games. Michigan is coming off one of their best performances of the year in a game that was almost court storming worthy. Even though Michigan lost to Purdue at home, their home court advantage was evident. Maryland will face an equal to better opponent in a hostile environment. Both teams need wins to strengthen their resumes, but I feel that their recent trends will continue.
Prediction: Michigan 77-66 (Maryland is almost in desperation mode)
7 PM, Minnesota @ Penn State, Big Ten Network
How about this Penn State defense! The Nittany Lions have allowed 65 points per game this season, which is one of the better marks in the Big Ten. Minnesota is almost in desperation mode and has allowed 75 and 83 in their past two games. When Minnesota lost Reggie Lynch, they lost a rim protector, and that’s how Penn State will take advantage of this game. I expect this to be a low grind it out type of game with lots of slashing from both teams’ guards and lots of fouls. Minnesota’s momentum will hold them down in this matchup.
Prediction: Penn State 69-63 (Minnesota is in desperation mode)
9 PM, Illinois @ Nebraska, Big Ten Network
Illinois is coming into this game as the worst team in the Big Ten. To start the year they looked like a fringe tournament contender and now they are just hoping for a win. Nebraska looked like a team who might only get a handful of wins this season and now has quietly worked their way up near the top of the conference standings. Nebraska should win this game and they will do it with their defense. They allow, on average, 70 points per game but in their last three home games, they have not allowed over 68, including only giving up 59 to Wisconsin. Illinois has not had success on the road all year and especially in the Big Ten. Nebraska will get the win and Illinois will wonder who to blame for the season.
Prediction: Nebraska 79-69 (Still, no one gets to 70)
Tuesday, January 16th
7 PM, Wisconsin @ 5/7 Purdue, ESPN
Wisconsin will take they're slow paced, low scoring offense to highflying Purdue. Purdue is in the discussion for best team in the Big Ten and one of the top teams in the nation. Wisconsin is in the discussion of “how can a season go so wrong.” Purdue has all things pointing its direction. They have better stats, more talent, they’re home, but what if they get too comfortable? Rutgers almost beat Michigan State when MSU came out lackadaisical and Rutgers came out to win. My biggest worry in this game is if Purdue comes out just to play and Wisconsin comes out ready to knock off the top team in the conference. Focus will be everything.
Prediction: Purdue 87-69 (Purdue struggles out of the gates, but gets things going)
Wednesday, January 17th
7 PM, Iowa @ Rutgers, Big Ten Network
This is an interesting matchup between two of the lower teams in the Big Ten. Rutgers struggled for a while there but has seemed to figure some things out. Iowa struggled for a while and still seems to be struggling. I think Iowa is going to struggle to put numbers on this pesky Rutgers defense and that Iowa’s defense will not hold up in this slow paced game. Iowa has allowed three 90 point games in a row in conference play. Rutgers won’t have the ability to put up 90 with the pace they play, but their offense will take advantage of the subpar defense.
Prediction: Rutgers 75-69 (Rutgers adds another win)
9 PM, Ohio State @ Northwestern, Big Ten Network
This game is at Northwestern but in reality, it’s at an off-campus arena on a Wednesday night. I don’t expect this game to hold much of a home-court advantage. These two teams are within 1 point of each other on points allowed and Ohio State holds a large edge in their scoring ability. I think Ohio State will come into this game and take care of business and people will start considering Ohio State a legitimate threat to win the Big Ten title.
Prediction: Ohio State 83-69 (Northwestern misses playing on campus)
Thursday, January 18th
8:30 PM, Minnesota @ Maryland, Fox Sports 1
This is an interesting game because both teams have basically hit the panic button by now. Two teams that started off the year with the ability to finish in the top-25 have been out of that picture for a while. We also will witness a fast-paced, high scoring game between two of the fastest teams in the Big Ten. Both teams will also be missing one of their top players. Such an equal matchup, but who will win? Maryland has an advantage with the homecourt, but Minnesota has slightly more talent. Maryland has a better defense, but Minnesota has a better offense... SO EVEN. The key to this game will be effort and hustle plays. The team that wants it more, that is diving on the ground, putting more effort on defense, and staying true to their coach will win.
Prediction: TOO CLOSE TO CALL but... Maryland 84-83
9 PM, Michigan @ Nebraska, Big Ten Network
Michigan will head to Nebraska for this late night game. Both teams are looking to make believers out of the conference. Nebraska has had a home-court advantage all year and hopes this will carry into this game. These teams are almost equal offensively but Michigan holds a steep advantage on defense. Nebraska will be relying on its stars to carry the team, while Michigan will hope to win by playing D and shooting threes. 
Prediction: Michigan 72-70 (Michigan gets ranked)