This Week in Big Ten Men's Basketball 2/2 to 2/8

So what has happened in the last week? The gap widened between the good teams in the conference and the rest. This year has been disappointing as teams expected to make it to postseason play (Northwestern, Maryland, Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) have faltered and now have no chance. We’re now on a collision course as Ohio State and Purdue play for first place this week and next week Michigan State takes on Purdue. Nebraska and Michigan continue to idle right behind the leaders with tournament aspirations looking obtainable for Michigan and dim for Nebraska. Rutgers overtook Illinois and is now the worst team in the conference while Iowa stands close by. Teams 7-11 were all teams that were predicted to make the NCAA tournament by many but have kissed those chance goodbye. The best part about all of this is... IT IS STILL THE BIG TEN! The games are still full of competition, whether it’s Rutgers vs. Illinois or Purdue vs. Ohio State. Players like Keita Bates-Diop at Ohio State, Tony Carr at Penn State, and James Palmer at Nebraska have come onto the scene to lead their team higher than anyone expected. Overall the conference looks to get 4-5 teams into the tournament (Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, and maybe Nebraska) but all 14 teams have been making for great entertainment.
Big Ten Men’s Basketball Standings (As of January, 15th, 2018)
AP Poll/Coaches Rankings (NA=Not Applicable; RV=Receiving Votes)
1. 3/3 Purdue (11-0) 22-2
2. 17/18 Ohio State (10-1) 19-5
3. 5/4 Michigan State (8-2) 21-3
4. Nebraska (8-4) 17-8
5. 24/25 Michigan (7-4) 18-6
6. Penn State (5-6) 15-9
7. Northwestern (5-6) 14-10
8. Indiana (5-6) 12-11
9. Maryland (4-7) 15-9
10. Minnesota (3-8) 14-10
11. Wisconsin (3-8) 10-14
12. Iowa (3-8) 12-12
13. Illinois (2-8) 12-11
14. Rutgers (2-9) 12-12
Friday, February 2nd
Saturday, February 3rd
2:30 PM, Minnesota @ 24/25 Michigan, FOX
Minnesota has had the most disappointing season out of any Big Ten team. Slated to be a national contender in the preseason by many, they now sit at 14-10. Michigan lost star DJ Wilson but have managed to be ranked for the majority of this season. Minnesota is currently riding a 1-7 streak heading into Ann Arbor and their chances of catching Michigan on an off day seem little. Michigan and Minnesota are actually equal on their offensive outputs but Michigan is allowing 10 points less a contest. This game will mean a lot for Michigan’s postseason placing as a loss would really hurt their resume.
Prediction: Michigan 76-64 (Michigan continues to idle in the top 4)
4 PM, 3/3 Purdue @ Rutgers, Big Ten Network
Purdue is a better team offensively, defensively, statwise, talent-wise...basically any way you look at it. Purdue should come in and put a hurting on the Scarlet Knights but we cannot forget how Rutgers has fared against other nationally ranked teams they’ve played. They beat Seton Hall and they took Michigan State to overtime. Is Purdue the next team to come in easy and fall behind early? I wouldn’t be surprised if Rutgers made a game of it, even if they had the lead to end the first half, but I would be very surprised if they were able to get the win. But hey, anything can happen.
Prediction: Purdue 85-62 (Rutgers comes out hot but Purdue extinguishes the flame)
6 PM, Iowa @ Penn State, Big Ten Network
Iowa started off the year as possibly the Big Ten’s worst team, but has got a few wins to raise their respect level. Penn State is coming off a game that was close to Michigan State and a win over Ohio State. Penn State is averaging 76 points a game compared to Iowa’s 81 but the Penn State is allowing 10 points fewer a game (67 compared to 77). This huge gap on defense will most likely be the x-factor of the game. Iowa will have no answer for Tony Carr and the Nittany Lions should get a win at home.
Prediction: Penn State 77-71 (Tony Carr goes off)
8:15 PM, 4/5 Michigan State @ Indiana, ESPN
Last time these two met Michigan State went off and won 85-57. It is safe to say the Hoosiers don’t expect a repeat of this at home but is it really up to them. Indiana was playing their best brand of basketball all year going into their last matchup with the Spartans and they haven’t scored more than 71 since. Michigan State is on a 5 game win streak. Michigan State is averaging 84 a game and only allowing 64. IU, on the other hand, is averaging 72 and allowing 71. It’s safe to say the stats point to MSU. The Spartans have had their run of close calls but always put together some of the best second halves in the nation.
Prediction: Michigan State 87-71 (Michigan State ends their run of close calls)
Sunday, February 4th
12 PM, Illinois @ 17/18 Ohio State, Fox Sports 1
How about Keita Bates-Diop?! With the exception of Trae Young from Oklahoma, he has to be the most surprising player of the year. Bates-Diop is averaging 19.8 points a game and 8.8 rebounds while leading the Buckeyes to a top-25 ranking and top of the Big Ten. Although his offensive output is among the best in the Big Ten, Ohio State is only averaging 78 points a game, tied with Illinois. Luckily for Ohio State, they are only allowing 66 a game compared to Illinois’s 72. In addition to the stats, Value City Arena has been one of the best home-court advantages in the Big Ten this season (except Tony Carr’s buzzer beater).
Prediction: Ohio State 72-63 (Ohio State stays close behind Purdue)
1 PM, Wisconsin @ Maryland, CBS
Wisconsin and Maryland are two underperforming teams with underperforming superstars. Both teams are 1-4 in their last 5 games and their seasons look all but over. Wisconsin’s main problem is offense. They average 67 points per game but have managed totals in the 50’s many times this season. Maryland has not been able to finish out games. They had a great opportunity to get a win over MSU but fell to a huge run in the second half and never returned. I’m betting on Maryland because Wisconsin cannot score. They usually lose games just by their inability to score.
Prediction: Maryland 71-62 (Low scoring affair in Maryland)
Monday, February 5th
7 PM, Indiana @ Rutgers, Big Ten Network
Indiana has had a rough stretch of late and Rutgers has really faltered in conference play. This game makes for an intriguing matchup because of Corey Sanders. The Rutgers sharpshooter is one of the best scorers in the Big Ten and could single-handedly beat this IU team. This being said, Indiana has the talent to get the win. Both are averaging very narrow point differentials meaning when they win it’s generally a close game. I expect this game to go deep into the second half before anyone pulls ahead.
Prediction: Rutgers? 74-73 (SO CLOSE)
Tuesday, February 6th
7 PM, 24/25 Michigan @ Northwestern, Big Ten Network
Michigan comes into this game hot and looking to make a splash in the conference down the home stretch. In these two’s previous meeting, Michigan won 57-48, yes I know, too low scoring of a game. Michigan has an advantage of three points in offense and defense along with one of the more talented starting lineups in the conference. Northwestern had expectations to perform well in the conference this year but the pieces never quite fit. Northwestern’s best chance to win will be to drag out Michigan’s offensive sets and run the floor on the fastbreak. Northwestern has a chance, but Michigan looks good in this one.
Prediction: Michigan 77-73 (There is no sign of last year’s Wildcats team)
9 PM, 5/6 Michigan State @ Iowa, ESPN
Iowa is near the bottom of the Big Ten but looks to make some big waves with a win over Michigan State at home. Michigan State is looking to stay close behind Ohio State and Purdue so their February 10th matchup with the Boilermakers will be meaningful. MSU averages 84 points a game and Iowa, to the surprise of many, averages 81. The difference lies on defense where the Spartans have only allowed 64 points a game to Iowa’s 77. The combo of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson has been playing phenomenal as MSU looks not only to win this game but make a deep run in the Big Ten.
Prediction: Michigan State 85-71 (Turnovers for MSU, but they get the job done)
9 PM, Nebraska @ Minnesota, Big Ten Network
James Palmer Jr., the Miami transfer, has made a name for himself in the Big Ten as Nebraska sits pretty at fourth in conference standings. Minnesota retained one of the best starting fives in college basketball this year, but with controversy and drama came lack of focus and losses. Earlier in the year, Nebraska squeaked a win over the Golden Gophers but the team is playing their best brand of basketball now. Both offenses are nothing to brag about, but Minnesota’s defense (73.5 PAPG) is something to worry about. It’s time for Nebraska to buckle down and make a move in the conference. They need to win all their remaining games, something that is very doable, to earn a spot in March and it all starts here.
Prediction: Nebraska 76-73 (A close game that comes down to the wire)
Wednesday, February 7th
6:30 PM, Maryland @ Penn State, Big Ten Network
This game is interesting because my gut initially tells me Maryland, but when I think about how these teams have played of late, I see Penn State. How even are these teams? Both are 15-9, both average 76 points per game, and both allow 67 points per game. Their rebounds, blocks, and assists per game are all within 1 of each other. They are as even as it gets. What’s the x-factor then? Tony Carr for Penn State is a scoring machine and highly underrated nationally. His performances carry or drown Penn State. This coupled with Maryland’s losing streak makes me lean towards the Nittany Lions at home. 
Prediction: Penn State 79-74 (Maryland started 13-3 and is now 15-10)
8:30 PM, 17/18 Ohio State @ 3/3 Purdue, Big Ten Network
This game means a lot for both teams because the Big Ten title is on the line. A loss for Ohio State and they are tied with Michigan State for second. A loss for Purdue and they are tied for first. BUT if Ohio State wins this game, and Michigan State beats Purdue at home as many predict, that would put Ohio State in sole possession of first place. I favor Purdue in this game, but for the sake of late-season drama, hope Ohio State pulls it off. Purdue out scores the Buckeyes by 7 and allows 3 fewer points a game. In order for Ohio State to win, Bates-Diop will need to be at his all-conference level. Purdue hasn’t played a team this good in a long time. When you consider Michigan lost to Purdue 92-88, it’s not crazy to think a better team like Ohio State could pull off the win.
Prediction: Purdue 87-81 Purdue continues to roll)
Thursday, February 8th
9 PM, Wisconsin @ Illinois, Big Ten Network
Illinois is 2-8 in conference play and currently favored over the Badgers. It has been quite some time since Wisconsin has been this low in college basketball but it’s reality for this season. Wisconsin has a point differential of 1 (67 PPG and 66 PAPG) but Illinois only has a difference of 6 (78 PPG and 72 PAPG). Obviously, these are not two of the Big Ten’s hottest teams but seeing two equal Big Ten teams battle it out when coaches are on the hot seat always makes for an interesting game. Illinois is currently on a 2 game home win-streak, including a 30 point thumping of Rutgers. Wisconsin is riding a horrific 7 game road losing streak dating back to December 4th at Penn State. I think the streaks for both teams will get longer as Illinois outscores the Badgers at home.
Prediction: Illinois 63-52 (Gard needs to fix his scoring problem)