The B1G 3: A major bubble matchup awaits for Rutgers and Michigan
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There are a lot of Big Ten basketball games each week. And that can make the task of figuring out which matchups are worth watching somewhat labor-intensive. So we’re doing the work for you.
Specifically, we’re narrowing it down to the best 3 B1G games. Because things always go best when measured in multiples of 3.
Here are our top 3 games for the week of Feb. 21-27, ranked in order of entertainment value.
Rutgers (16-10, 10-6) at Michigan (14-11, 8-7)
When: Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET, BTN
Why it’s B1G: Even before the Juwan Howard situation became a situation, this was going to be the most significant game played in the Big Ten this week.
The loser isn’t eliminated from NCAA Tournament at-large contention, but a win for either team represents a major opportunity to impress the committee. The Scarlet Knights probably need 2 wins against their 3 upcoming opponents — Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana.
Obviously, it’s much better for Rutgers to get that process started early.
Michigan’s schedule is ripe with opportunities for quality wins. With Rutgers, Illinois, Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State looming, 3-2 with a win to open the Big Ten tourney is probably sufficient for the Wolverines.
But there’s no telling how much their own head coach has complicated the picture with his role in Sunday’s postgame scuffle at Wisconsin. Or whether the already-thin Wolverines will have a full complement of players available.
Regardless of what discipline is handed out, a lot more eyes will be on Ann Arbor than usual Wednesday night.
No. 18 Ohio State (16-7, 9-5) at No. 12 Illinois (19-7, 12-4)
When: Thursday, 9 p.m., FS1
Why it’s B1G: This could be the last gasp for the Buckeyes to stay in the Big Ten title race — provided they also escape Monday night’s home game against Indiana without a stumble.
It also matters for Illinois, which needs to keep winning in order to keep pace with Purdue and Wisconsin at the top of the league standings.
For strategy junkies, it will be fascinating to see what Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann does to combat Illini center Kofi Cockburn.
Little-used Joey Brunk is the only Buckeye who comes close to Cockburn’s 7-1 frame, so will he see more playing time? Holtmann frequently plays forward EJ Lidell as a 6-7 center when utilizing a smaller lineup, and Liddell’s potential to pull Cockburn out of the paint could be a major offensive advantage for Ohio State.
Holtmann and Brad Underwood are 2 of the Big Ten’s best coaches, and this should be a heck of a chess match.
No. 15 Wisconsin (21-5, 12-4) at Rutgers (16-10, 10-6)
When: Saturday, 6 p.m., BTN
Why it’s B1G: Win or lose at Michigan, it will be a heck of an atmosphere at Jersey Mike’s Arena in an important return home for the Scarlet Knights.
Should Rutgers knock off the Wolverines, a second win over the Badgers in as many weeks could be all it takes to seal the deal on an NCAA Tournament berth. And when you’ve only had 1 of those in the previous 30 years, it goes without saying that’s a big deal.
Wisconsin isn’t exactly going to Jersey Mike’s for a sub and a bag of chips.
The Badgers enter the week deadlocked with Illinois and Purdue for first place. Wisconsin remains in play for a 3-seed in the NCAA tournament and possibly better. This would be a high-quality road win regardless of how the metrics rate Rutgers.
Purdue at Michigan State (Saturday, Noon, ESPN): It’s worth noting that the top game in the honorable mention spot has ended up being the most interesting game of the week the past 2 weeks. So don’t be surprised if it happens again.
The Spartans are sliding, but this is a major opportunity to right the course. These are the top 3-point shooting teams in the Big Ten, so this could be a very high-scoring affair.
Michigan State at Iowa (Tuesday, 7 p.m., ESPN): The high-scoring thing we just mentioned applies just as much to this matchup, if not more so.
The Hawkeyes just earned their first Quad 1 win of the season against Ohio State, and now have a chance to make it 2 in a row. Michigan State has lost 4 of 5, and it certainly feels like the Spartans need to split this week’s games to prevent from spiraling.