This Week in Big Ten Men's Basketball 2/9 to 2/15

Did we just go a week with only two changes in the standings?!?! The only changes were Ohio State delivering a loss to Purdue for a two-way tie at first place and the swapping of 10th and 11th place by Wisconsin and Minnesota. Nebraska finally got some recognition and received some votes, Michigan should stay up in the top 20, Purdue lost but will still be top 10, Ohio State should jump into the top 10, and Michigan State win or lose will stay top-10 come next poll. The Big Ten may be the most top-heavy conference in basketball. The difference in skill and resume between the top five teams and next five is polarizing. So far this whole season has led up to a few days, the first day was Ohio State beating Purdue and the next day is this Saturday. Michigan State will welcome Purdue in a top-5 matchup with Big Ten championship implications on the line. If Michigan State wins, there is a real possibility that there could be a three-way tie for 1st, and if Purdue wins the top-3 spots will be solidified. This next week is important because all of the top teams in the conference have reasonable routes to win out and lock up high seeds in March.
Big Ten Men’s Basketball Standings (As of February 8th, 2018)
AP Poll/Coaches Rankings (NA=Not Applicable; RV=Receiving Votes)
1. 3/3 Purdue (12-1) 23-3
2. 14/16 Ohio State (12-1) 21-5
3. 4/4 Michigan State (11-2) 23-3
4. RV/NA Nebraska (9-4) 18-8
5. 20/20 Michigan (8-5) 19-7
6. Penn State (7-6) 17-9
7. Northwestern (6-6) 15-10
8. Indiana (6-7) 13-12
9. Maryland (5-8) 16-10
10. Wisconsin (4-9) 11-15
11. Minnesota (3-10) 14-12
12. Iowa (3-10) 12-14
13. Illinois (2-10) 12-13
14. Rutgers (2-11) 12-14
Friday, February 9th
7:30 PM, Minnesota @ Indiana, FOX Sports 1
Minnesota is on a 6 game skid and head to Assembly Hall for a battle with the Hoosiers. IU made their game with Michigan State close and, if they play that way again, they should get a win over the defeated Golden Gopher team. Both teams have bad point differentials, IU is +1 and Minnesota is +3. For those that don’t know, that means they on average score 1 or 3 points more than the opposing team. With losses piling up for both teams and neither having great stats, I am forced to look at who is playing better with the eye test. IU looks the part. They almost got a win over MSU and they beat Rutgers. Minnesota has been looking like a bottom feeder for the better part of 2018 and it is hard to put confidence into them.
Prediction: Indiana 76-69 (Minnesota drops their 7th in a row)
Saturday, February 10th
12 PM, Northwestern @ Maryland, ESPN2
Let’s talk about momentum real quick. Maryland is 1-4 in their last five and Northwestern is 4-1. Now let’s talk about stats, Maryland scores 75 per game and allows 67 a game. Northwestern scores 71 and allows 66. The momentum and stats tell opposing narratives about which is the better team. This game is in Maryland so they get that advantage and most of their losses have been on the road as of late. This game should be very competitive even if both teams look NIT bound at the best. Northwestern will try to play slow, while Maryland will try to run up and down the court and out of the gym. Whoever can control the pace into the second will have a substantial chance to win.
Prediction: Maryland 72-71 (Maryland earns a win at home)
4 PM, 3/3 Purdue @ 4/4 Michigan State, ESPN
Even if College Gameday chose to be in Virginia over East Lansing, the whole nation will be watching this game. Michigan State has been one of the hottest teams in the country as of late no matter how close the games. Purdue is coming off their first loss since the Bahamas and will be playing angry. Both of these teams have arguably the best starting fives in the country. The Hoophall Award Semi-Finalists came out with Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston, and Jaren Jackson Jr. being named top 10 in their respective positions. Purdue was right there with them with Vincent Edwards, Carsen Edwards, and Issac Haas earning equal honors. Ohio State has had a year, but it is hard to argue that these teams are not the most talented in the conference. These teams average equal points allowed and points scored a game so stats don’t help. The matchups are equal all around but this is Michigan State’s game to lose. Turnovers and fouls will determine the equal game.
 Prediction: Michigan State 89-87 (Did Michigan State just play into #1 in the nation?)
4 PM, Rutgers @ RV/NA Nebraska, Big Ten Network
This game will be overshadowed by the other Big Ten game at 4:00, but features two of the Big Ten’s most exciting players. Corey Sanders and James Palmer, Jr. will face guard each other for quite a bit of the game as their excellent scoring repertoires will be on display. Nebraska is a better team overall and I have been high on them all year. In the first week, I said: “Don’t be surprised if Nebraska takes fourth in the Big Ten” and look where we are! Both have a point differential of 5 but Nebraska has been scoring in large volumes that Rutgers cannot compete with and some of Rutgers’ blowout early in the year have skewed their stats ever since.
Prediction: Nebraska 77-65 (Nebraska’s path to the NCAA tournament is clear... win out)
6 PM, Iowa @ 14/16 Ohio State, Big Ten Network
Ohio State is by far the more talented team here and is coming off an away win over a top-3 team. Iowa is 3-8 in 2018 so there to give confidence to the underdogs. One thing in their favor is if Ohio State comes out with one thing on their mind, and it’s not the current game. Iowa could jump out to a lead and hold it if Ohio State doesn’t come out ready to play. This wouldn’t be uncommon as many teams lose focus after a signature win. For the sake of drama down the home stretch of conference play, we all hope Ohio State losses, but I don’t think Iowa gets it done.
Prediction: Ohio State 87-71 (Ohio State has their eyes on the Big Ten Championship)
Sunday, February 11th
1 PM, 20/20 Michigan @ Wisconsin, CBS
Heading to Wisconsin isn’t as feared as it has been in the past. Wisconsin is 1-4 in their last five games and Michigan is a 3-2. Michigan seems bound for the tournament no matter what but a loss here would surely take them out of the top 25. Wisconsin has had a horrible offense this season, only averaging 67 points per game, 288th in the nation and 4th worst among power conference teams. Michigan allows 63 points per game to Wisconsin’s 66.5, meaning that Michigan has an advantage in nearly every category. The only hope for Wisconsin is to repeat Northwestern's tactic of slowing the game down and keeping Michigan in slow offensive sets.
Prediction: Michigan 69-61 (Michigan painfully gets a win)
7 PM, Penn State @ Illinois, Big Ten Network
Both of these teams average 77 points per game but the difference will be Penn State’s combination of Mike Watkins and high scoring Tony Carr. Penn State has a defensive advantage, but when Watkins is in foul trouble, they have been susceptible to giving up baskets in bunches. Same thing with Tony Carr…when Carr isn’t hitting the Nittany Lions offense falls flat. Penn State and Illinois both know Carr and Watkins are keys to the game so game planning will be important.
Prediction: Penn State 73-71 (Penn State wins the close one)
Monday, February 12th
Tuesday, February 13th
7 PM, Maryland @ RV/NA Nebraska, Big Ten Network
Maryland will head to Lincoln for a tough matchup. Nebraska has been rolling as of late and can essentially play themselves into a single digit seed come March. Maryland has a one point advantage in points per game and points allowed, but Nebraska’s homecourt and momentum are much better factors to look at. James Palmer, Jr. has proven to be one of the better players in the Big Ten, and perhaps the best player in the conference that has not received national recognition. And the Huskers will be expecting a big game from him this Tuesday.
Prediction: Michigan 77-73 (There is no sign of last year’s Wildcats team)
9 PM, 4/4 Michigan State @ Minnesota, ESPN2
Michigan State will either enter this game as a top-10 team or a top-3 team and Minnesota as the Big Ten’s biggest disappointment. At this point, an NIT seems unlikely for the Golden Gophers who took a huge step back in their programs progression this year. MSU outscores Minnesota 84-78 and defends better at 65-74. This game will be MSU’s to lose but every away game they play puts a huge target on their back. The upset is not impossible.
Prediction: Michigan State 85-71 (Turnovers for MSU, but they get the job done)
9 PM, Northwestern @ Rutgers, Big Ten Network
Rutgers welcomes Northwestern to New Jersey this Tuesday where the Wildcats and the Scarlet Knights look to battle it out. Rutgers is scoring at an atrocious rate of 65 points per game despite having star scorer Corey Sanders. Northwestern isn’t far behind with 70 points a game. Rutgers is 0-5 in their last 5 compared to 4-1 for Northwestern, including a win over ranked Michigan. Northwestern will get it done and Rutgers will continue their annual Big Ten downward spiral.
Prediction: Northwestern 72-64 (Northwestern pulls away late)
Wednesday, February 14th
6:30 PM, Iowa @ 20/20 Michigan, Big Ten Network
Michigan welcomes the Hawkeyes to Ann Arbor as the Wolverines look to win out in conference play. Iowa’s offense has been surprisingly good at 81 points per game to Michigan’s 74. The problem for Iowa is that their defense is horrible. Allowing 78 points per game is not something winning teams do. Michigan won’t struggle to score on Iowa and Iowa will face a stingy defense in Michigan. The Wolverines should win this one, but a loss here could end their chances of a top-4 finish in the Big Ten. 
Prediction: Michigan 79-74 (Iowa has won 3 games in 2018...)
8:30 PM, Illinois @ Indiana, Big Ten Network
Illinois surprised Indiana earlier this year and looks to do it again. Illinois comes into this game with a better offense (77 ppg vs 71 ppg) but IU has a better defense (70 papg vs 73 papg). The game is in Bloomington giving the Hoosiers and advantage, but Illinois has really been playing the better brand of basketball as of late. IU’s big names, Juwan Morgan and Robert Johnson, need to step it up to earn a rivalry win.
Prediction: Illinois 83-81 (Illinois sweeps the season series)
Thursday, February 15th
7 PM, 3/3 Purdue @ Wisconsin, ESPN
There is a real possibility that Purdue comes into this game on a two-game losing streak. Even with that, it’s hard to expect the Boilermakers to stumble against this Badgers team. Purdue has one of the best lineups in college basketball and averages 83 points per game to Wisconsin’s 67. Even with how slow Wisconsin plays, Purdue still gives up fewer points (64 papg vs 66 papg). Greg Gard’s job may be in trouble and being pummeled by Purdue isn’t going to help him.
Prediction: Wisconsin 83-62 (Purdue comes out unscaved)
8 PM, 14/16 Ohio State @ Penn State, Big Ten Network
“And Tony Carr pulls up...” Sorry if that brought up bad memories to all the Ohio State fans up there but here’s your chance for redemption. Ohio State and Penn State actually average the same points scored and allowed, which is odd when you think how one team is in the first place and the other is sitting at sixth. The match up here will be Bates-Diop and Tony Carr, two scoring machines with the teams on their backs. Penn State will have a full house and thirsty for a season sweep...and a court storming. I expect this game to be very close and I really would not be surprised if Penn State repeats with late-game heroics.
Prediction: Penn State 81-79 (THE BIG TEN’s TOP THREE ARE ALL TIED AT FIRST)