The B1G 3: There's plenty at stake in marquee Big Ten basketball showdowns
Editor’s note: Are you into college hoops this season? We’ve launched a free college basketball newsletter called Blue Chip Grit. It’s completely free, and you can unsubscribe at any time. Click here to subscribe.
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 Feb. 8-13, ranked in order of entertainment potential.
No. 13 Illinois (17-5, 10-2) at No. 3 Purdue (20-3, 9-3)
When: Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Why it’s B1G: Some things don’t require a great deal of explanation, but we’ll give you some anyhow.
These are the 2 best teams in the Big Ten, period. Either — or both — are capable of reaching the Final Four. And the winner in West Lafayette on Tuesday night will be extraordinarily well-positioned to win the Big Ten regular-season title.
If Illinois wins, it opens up a 2-game lead on the Boilermakers. And if Purdue wins, the Boilers take the season tiebreaker over the Illini thanks to beating them twice.
That previous meeting, by the way, happens to be the best game played in the Big Ten this season. The Boilermakers outlasted the Illini in a 96-88 double-overtime classic.
A factor that could swing this one in Illinois’ favor? More Kofi Cockburn. Cockburn was in foul trouble from the get-go in the first meeting, spending long stretches on the bench and playing only 22 minutes before fouling out. He also suffered a concussion that forced him out of Illinois’ next 2 games.
Purdue big men Zach Edey and Trevion Williams feasted as a result, combining for 34 points and 15 rebounds.
Illinois kept the first Purdue game close because of sixth man Andre Curbelo, who had his best showing of the season with 20 points. He has combined for 14 points in the 3 games he’s played since. The Illini might need Curbelo to dig back into that well if they’re going to earn the road win.
No. 14 Wisconsin (18-4, 9-3) at No. 17 Michigan State (17-5, 8-3)
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m., BTN
Why it’s B1G: Same bat night, different bat channel as the Illinois-Purdue showdown for first place.
The stakes for this matchup are also quite straightforward.
If Purdue wins the nightcap of this quasi-doubleheader, the Badgers or Spartans will be tied with the Boilermakers and Illini for first place. And if Illinois wins, the loser of the Wisconsin-Michigan State game will be 2 games out of first in the loss column. Given the stage of the season, that’s a tough spot to scramble out of.
Given that the Spartans are coming in on the heels of a disappointing road loss at Rutgers, you can probably expect Tom Izzo’s fellas to come out scrappin’.
Johnny Davis and the Badgers will need to survive what figures to be a strong initial punch from Michigan State.
Offensively, these teams couldn’t be much more different. Wisconsin has the nation’s lowest turnover rate, while Michigan State is 311th in that category. But MSU makes up for it with the nation’s eighth-best 3-point shooting percentage, whereas Wisconsin is 276th in 3-point shooting.
No. 3 Purdue (20-3, 9-3) at Michigan (11-9, 5-5)
When: Thursday, 9 p.m., ESPN
Why it’s B1G: This makeup date of a COVID-related postponement is intriguing for several reasons. And many of them have to do with the timing.
First, this game is just 48 hours after Purdue’s biggest game of the season. If the Boilermakers are coming in off a crucial win over Illinois, the letdown potential here is quite obvious. Case-in-point: Indiana getting thumped by Michigan immediately after the Hoosiers season-defining win over Purdue.
The other interesting timing aspect is that the Wolverines and Boilers just played on Saturday, with Purdue escaping 82-76. Can Juwan Howard make enough adjustments to flip the outcome in Ann Arbor?
This is a must-win game for Michigan’s flagging at-large tournament hopes. It’ll be interesting to see how much fortitude this group of Wolverines has.
Ohio State at Rutgers (Wednesday, 7 p.m., BTN): The Scarlet Knights have already beaten Purdue and Michigan State at Jersey Mike’s Arena, so they’re certainly capable of adding another Big Ten title contender to the list. Rutgers is very much on the outside of the NCAA tournament picture, but a win here gets the bubble floating closer to Piscataway.
Indiana at Michigan State (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., FOX): I would expect this to be a meatgrinder — Indiana’s defense is second in the Big Ten in effective field-goal percentage, and Michigan State’s is third. But Mike Woodson’s first coaching matchup against Tom Izzo feels like one that could be settled in the final minute.