The B1G 3: Looking ahead at the week's best Big Ten basketball games
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.
Without further ado, here’s our B1G 3 for the week of Jan. 25-30, ranked in order of entertainment potential.
No. 10 Michigan State (15-3, 6-1) at No. 24 Illinois (13-5, 6-2)
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m. EST, ESPN
Why it’s B1G: This one doesn’t require much explanation.
The Spartans head to Champaign with sole possession of first place in the Big Ten, and the Fighting Illini are one of the 3 teams perched a game back in the loss column.
If Michigan State wins, it has a 2-game lead on Illinois. The Illini wouldn’t be knocked out of the title race by any means, but the degree of difficulty moves up several notches with a loss.
Unfortunately for Illinois, the home-court advantage of State Farm Center could be mitigated by on-court shorthandedness. Center Kofi Cockburn missed the Maryland game with a concussion, and Brad Underwood was uncertain he would have his leading scorer available when he spoke with reporters Monday afternoon.
The good news is guard Andre Curbelo should be at full-strength. Underwood revealed Curbelo was limited at Maryland due to the flu, but he’s expected to be full-go against Michigan State.
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For the Spartans, ball protection has been a major issue. They are the most turnover-prone team in the Big Ten, which will make it difficult to maintain the league’s pole position into March. However, Illinois is an unlikely opponent for exploiting that issue — the Illini are 13th in the B1G in forcing turnovers.
No. 16 Ohio State (12-4, 5-2) at No. 6 Purdue (16-3, 5-3)
When: Sunday, noon, CBS
Why it’s B1G: Both teams are trending toward getting top-4 seeds in the NCAA tournament. But in the rugged Big Ten, neither is secure in that position. This is the type of win that provides security for each in that regard.
The Boilermakers are in the curious position of being sixth in the country while also being in sixth place in the Big Ten. If they are to re-emerge in the Big Ten title race and push their way back into the discussion for a No. 1 seed — a place they’d like to be with a tournament pod in Indianapolis — the Boilers have to defend Mackey Arena.
For the Buckeyes, a win here represents a chance to gain more respect from the computers than they’re getting from the humans.
Ohio State is 23rd in the NCAA NET rankings, which is a spot behind Iowa. The Hawkeyes are also one of 5 B1G teams ahead of Ohio State in analyst Ken Pomeroy’s computer rankings. Beating Purdue would provide a correction in those formulas — while losing might prove they have the right idea.
Michigan (9-7, 3-3) at No. 10 Michigan State (15-3, 6-1)
When: Saturday, 12:30 p.m., CBS
Why it’s B1G: When isn’t it?
In terms of Big Ten basketball rivalries, Michigan-Michigan State ranks behind only Indiana-Purdue in animosity. So you’re already guaranteed a rowdy student section.
But on top of that, this game has some actual stakes.
At this juncture, the Wolverines aren’t even considered to be a bubble team. But with games like this still on the schedule, there are plenty of opportunities for them to play their way back into the field. The Wolverines just earned their first Quad 1 victory at Indiana, and now have a chance to make it 2 in a row.
In the words of Carl Weathers, Michigan would have a stew going, baby.
Michigan State won’t be as desperate, but should still be quite hungry.
Pending the outcome of the Illinois game, the Spartans may need a win to avoid a losing streak and falling out of first place entirely. Conversely, if Michigan State wins that game, they’ll have a chance to further their first-place stranglehold against Michigan.
And no matter what happens Tuesday night, Saturday’s game is a chance to send the hated Wolverines closer to the path of NIT indignity.
This matchup should amount to guaranteed fun.
Purdue at Iowa (Thursday, 9 p.m., FS1): First team to 80 wins? Or might we push the envelope to 90? There almost certainly won’t be a higher-scoring game in the Big Ten this season.
Northwestern at Michigan (Wednesday, 6:30 p.m., BTN): The Wildcats are at a similar season crossroads as the Wolverines. Neither team can really afford to lose this one, so count me in.