The Big Ten has been nothing if topsy-turvy this season and that means every night is important. In a league that has been defined by Wisconsin and Maryland pulling away from the rest of the league, every night early on is a chance for someone to step up to the plate as a legit challenger.
On Tuesday night the slate is rather light on matchups, but not on importance. So, let’s take a look at what’s on tap for Big Ten basketball tonight.
Michigan (8-6, 1-1 B1G) at Penn State (12-3, 0-2 B1G)
Time: 7pm ET
Matchup Importance: The opening matchup of the small Tuesday night slate of games features a Michigan team needing to find its true North and Penn State trying to prove it is more than a one-man show. Avery Dawkins saved the Wolverines’ bacon in their overtime win at home vs. Illinois, only to follow it up with a loss at Purdue.
Penn State came in to conference play tied for the best record at 12-1, but many questioned their strength of schedule and have been proven right so far. The Nittany Lions have dropped both Big Ten contests so far, including a bad road loss to perceived bottom dwellers Rutgers.
Both of these teams need a win early in Big Ten play as the schedules aren’t all that kind following this game. Michigan faces Minnesota and Ohio State after this, while Penn State will take on Indiana, Purdue and Michigan State in the next three contests. Losing on Tuesday night could precipitate a six-game losing streak to open Big Ten play and that would be a death sentence to PSU’s NCAA tournament chances.
No. 22 Ohio State (12-3, 1-1 B1G) at Minnesota (11-4, 0-2 B1G)
Time: 9pm ET
Matchup Importance: This is a massive game for two teams with even more to prove than either Michigan or Penn State. Many pundits looked at Minnesota as the third best team in the league coming in to the Big Ten season, however they took a puzzling loss to Purdue on the road and got throttled by Maryland in the Terps’ Big Ten home opener. If the Gophers want to compete at the top of the league winning games on the road is a must.
On the flip side, Ohio State has the big names to go with a ranking. It also at least owns one Big Ten win, albeit over a struggling Illinois squad. That said, the Buckeyes’ reputation is largely built on a house of cards right now. They’ve managed to lose every game they’ve played against good competition, including losses to Louisville, North Carolina and Iowa. Even worse is two of the three losses coming at home.
Ohio State needs a good win in the worst way, and right now the Gophers are still considered a team capable of making the NCAA tournament. Let’s just say, this would be the best win of the season so far for OSU if it were to happen.
For Minnesota it would snap a period of struggling, and more importantly prove it can be a player in the Big Ten going forward.