Weekends contain precious time away from work and a chance to escape away from real life for most of us. But, in the middle of January it also means plenty of people begin to focus back on college basketball following bowl season and holiday cheer.
So, it’s a perfect time for us to debut a new weekly feature, where we give you the low down on the games you should care about the most from Thursday through Sunday across the Big Ten.
With four days and plenty of games to choose from, how does one prioritize? Well, we’ll give you the weekly six — six games that will be worth your while tuning in to and making time for.
So, let’s just dive right in.
1. Maryland at Ohio State (Thurs., Jan 11 at 7pm ET, ESPN)
It is never too early to look at the standings in Big Ten basketball, and that’s especially true this season as only two teams remain undefeated in league play. One of those teams is Ohio State and they are coming off the high of a win over Michigan State the last time out.
For Maryland, sitting at 3-2 in Big Ten play means they need to get a win here in the worst possible way to stay in the title picture. Going three-games down and down another game in the tie-breaker scenario this early in the season is no good. The good news is that the league seems to be top-heavy and Maryland seems to have the horses to get the job done on any given night.
Of course, the Terps on the road versus the Terps at home are two different teams. Can they overcome that and catch a Buckeyes team high off the big win the last time out? Or will Ohio State continue to assert its dominance in the Big Ten with another win over a potential contender.
2. Michigan at Michigan State (Sat., Jan 13 at noon ET on FOX)
The loss to Ohio State has sent the Spartans reeling, or so it seems. What else are you to take away from following that loss up by nearly losing to one-win in the Big Ten Rutgers on Wednesday night? Miles Bridges was held scoreless for over 30 minutes and finished with just 11 points and it took overtime to dispatch of the Scarlet Knights.
Michigan is a sneak opponent too, sitting at 3-2 in Big Ten play and just one game off of the Spartans in conference. The Wolverines also come off a crushing one-point loss (70-69) to Big Ten leading Purdue earlier this week. You can bet they are hungry to get that loss back against a quality opponent like MSU.
Oh, and did we mention this is one of the most bitter in-state rivalries in all of college basketball too? If you only pick a pair of games to watch this weekend, we suggest you mark this one on your calendar no matter what.
3. Purdue at Minnesota (Sat., Jan. 13 at noon ET on ESPN2)
Something happened to the Gophers as they traveled to the strange confines fo the Allstate Arena to take on Northwestern earlier this week. Whatever it was wasn’t good, as Reggie Lynch’s suspension from the team and then a 23-point beatdown from an equally struggling Wildcats team resulted.
Purdue comes in having escaped by the hair on its chin over Michigan earlier this week and must tackle playing at one of the tougher venues in the conference as well.
There’s a lot of off-court stuff going on that is affecting the Gophers basketball program. But, that’s not an excuse for failing on it, and they need to show they can compete against top competition or this is going to be a long season for Richard Pitino and Co. in Minneapolis.
4. Northwestern at Indiana (Sun., Jan. 14 at 4:30pm ET on CBS)
Did the real Northwestern finally show up on Wednesday night? I joked on Twitter last night that the game felt like it was the football season all over again and our Philip Rossman-Reich joked about an eight-game win streak coming.
Eight-game win streak on its way! https://t.co/KljLVVemWc
— Philip R-R (@RiseNU) January 11, 2018
A trip to Bloomington, Ind. to take on a struggling Hoosiers squad awaits the Wildcats in an attempt to claw their way back to the NCAA tournament for back-to-back seasons. Expectations were super high surrounding this team, perhaps too high, but they have a chance to really turn a bad Big Ten start in to something special if they can start a streak against fellow mid-pack Big Ten teams.
Indiana needs this win badly too, as the Hoosiers are 3-2 in conference play and just 10-7 on the season as a whole. After a 10-point loss to Wisconsin, the Hoosiers have won back-to-back games by the same 4-point margin against Minnesota and Penn State on the road and at home respectively.
We’re not sure what to make of either of these teams, so it is fitting they matchup at this point. Someone is going to look like they are heading in the right direction and the loser looks like they are back to struggling. I find that type of matchup fascinating, but I’m strange like that.
5. Ohio State at Rutgers (Sun., Jan. 14 at 7pm ET on BTN)
Should Ohio State survive a home game with a tough Maryland squad on Thursday, a trip to Piscataway awaits the Buckeyes. I know, a 1-4 Rutgers squad against a potentially undefeated OSU…it doesn’t just jump off the page at you. But, hear me out here.
In fact, hear out what has happened the last two games for the Scarlet Knights. They beat Wisconsin at home without playing good basketball (see their free throw fest to extend a lead while making two field goals in the final 7:57 of the game) and then they put the fear of god in to Michigan State in a 76-72 overtime game that ended with the Spartans winning. So, don’t think for a second that the Scarlet Knights aren’t capable of giving OSU a game and then some.
6. Iowa at Illinois (Thurs. Jan 11 at 8pm ET on FS1)
It is desperation time for two of the old-school premier names in the Big Ten, as in its win or get out of the race for anything this season time. Both the Hawkeyes and Illini come in to Thursday night’s game winless at 0-4 (Illinois) and 0-5 (Iowa).
So, why would this game make the list? It seemingly is meaningless in the big picture. Well, the truth is, games like this can be highly entertaining because there’s nothing to lose for either team at all. Illinois made a bold change going with Brad Underwood after underwhelming for all of the John Groce era, but it’s been a rough transition year, while the Hawkeyes have struggled to find an identity that works after two years of roster depletion due to graduation.
At the end of the day, someone is going to be last place in the Big Ten and if that is Iowa we are certainly living in strange times.