OK, it's New Year's Day weekend and you're probably planning on getting sloshed on Saturday night. However, it's important that you don't forget about all the Big Ten basketball going on. It's hard to keep track of all the games when you've got a social life to live, but we at BT Powerhouse will help out by ranking this weekend's games according to potential excitement so the fans out there can decide which games are more important than their errands/friends. Let's get it started.
Ohio State at Indiana
When: Saturday at 6:00 PM ET on ESPN2
Why: Sure, Indiana just suffered their first setback of the season with a road loss to Michigan State in a game they led by 9 points with just over 10 minutes left. That's no reason to think that Ohio State will roll them, though. The Hoosiers are returning home to Assembly Hall, the same arena in which they upset Kentucky earlier in December. Indiana is also a deeper team than Ohio State. Tom Crean will likely bring three or four guys off the bench in order to out hustle the Bucks. Another big key for IU will be finding a way to get more touches for freshman sensation Cody Zeller, because OSU is a bit lacking on the interior defensively.
On the other hand, Indiana could barely keep Michigan State's Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne in check and now they have to deal with Jared Sullinger. Also, William Buford is coming off one of his best games ever in a romp over Northwestern. Ohio State is the clear favorite in this game, but Indiana's home court advantage will make things interesting. So will Christian Watford, if he goes nuts again.
Illinois at Purdue
When: Saturday at 4:00 PM ET on ESPN2
Why: This game will serve as a nice appetizer to the Ohio State vs. Indiana hoops supper. The two games are even on the same channel, so you won't even have to find the clicker. Anyway, both of these teams just had close calls against seemingly inferior opponents in their Big Ten openers, so this game may be a race to see who can get their act together first. Purdue will probably win because they're coming home after a tough road win and they have the best player on either team in Robbie Hummel. The super senior leads the Makers in points, rebounds, blocks and awesomeness, and he's got an underrated supporting cast that includes Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith.
Illinois, though, does have a not-so-secret weapon on their hands. Meyers Leonard is a sophomore sensation despite not reaching diaper dandy status last season. He is a big dude who can score and I'm not sure Purdue bigs Jacob Lawson and Travis Carroll have what it takes to guard him. Purdue is better equipped to defend the explosive guard duo of D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul. One of them must have a big game for Illinois to grab the road win.
Minnesota at Michigan
When: Sunday at 4:00 PM ET on BTN
Why: Oh boy. I was impressed by the way Minnesota fought back to force overtime (and double overtime) after falling behind by double digits in Champagne. I was less impressed by the way they fell behind by double digits in Champagne. The good news is that part of the reason Michigan ripped Penn State to shreds on Thursday night was because PSU doesn't have a post presence to make Big Blue's big men sweat a little on defense. Minnesota has Ralph Sampson III coming off a big game and now not having to worry about Meyers Leonard on the defensive end.
The problem with Minnesota is they are missing Trevor Mbakwe and they just don't have a ton of talent on the remaining squad. Julian Welch can shoot it really well, but so can everyone on Michigan, and Tim Hardaway Jr. breaks things down so well that they are open quite often. Maverick Ahanmisi has a wicked awesome name, but he's not a great point guard. If Minnesota wants the upset, they should dump the ball to Sampson and slow the pace of the game to make Hardaway and freshman point Trey Burke uncomfortable.
Michigan State at Nebraska
When: Saturday at 3:00 PM ET on BTN
Why: There is kind of a big drop-off here as we get to Spartans vs. Huskers and I can't think of a good reason why Michigan State shouldn't win. They are coming off their biggest win of the season and are now headed on the road to play a team that just got smoked on its home court by Wisconsin. This is the time when some analysts scream "Trap game!" so that's there if you believe in that sort of thing. The truth is that Nebraska has not played well at home all season, and now they face another team that is much more talented than they are.
The good news for Nebraska is that Toney McCray had a really nice game versus the Badgers, and maybe he can give some support to Bo Spencer, who is a pretty awesome point guard. It probably won't be enough though. I'm interested in seeing if MSU point guard Keith Appling can put another stellar effort together. He looked close to elite versus Indiana.
Iowa at Wisconsin
When: Saturday at 1:00 PM ET on BTN
Why: The only reason I have this lower than the MSU vs. Nebraska game is because Wisconsin is playing Iowa at home, and Wisconsin never loses at home. There's no doubt that Iowa put together a stronger effort this past week than Nebraska did. There's a surprising amount of talent on Fran McCaffery's young squad. I really like the way sophomore shot blocker Melsahn Basabe is developing, and Roy Devyn Marble looked like a legitimate point forward versus Purdue. These players will eventually lead Iowa to victories, but probably not on Saturday in the Kohl Center.
Wisconsin big men Ryan Berggren and Mike Brusewitz can both shoot it and they will pull Basabe away from the basket enough so that Jordan Taylor can unleash his wizard skills. Still, I'm not completely sold on Wisconsin yet. They have a lot of good players like Ryan Evans and Josh Gasser, but I don't know if they have a true partner-in-crime for Taylor like Jon Leuer was. They do have plenty of Keaton Nankivil types, though, and that should be enough to prevail in this one.
Penn State at Northwestern
When: Sunday at 7:00 PM ET on ESPNU
Why: In the first couple of days in 2012, Penn State will own ESPNU. They've got a basketball game on New Year's evening and then a bowl game the morning after. The match-up between Houston's electric offense and Penn State's pretty good defense should be fun to watch. This basketball game, on the other hand, might not be. If you're a Northwestern fan, anything less than a thorough trouncing will be reason for anguish. Even though Penn State has had a lot of success in Welsh-Ryan Arena, this year's team is very young and will struggle to compete in Big Ten play. If Northwestern can't win this one, it will be a really bad sign for the rest of the season.
Junior point guard Tim Frazier has kept Penn State from being completely awful, but like Bo Spencer at Nebraska, he does not have much help. Northwestern's ace shooter John Shurna should be fine as far as scoring is concerned, as PSU will have a tough time defending him. Also for the Purple Cats, freshman Dave Sobolewski has stepped up with 4.1 assists per game so far, and it will be interesting to watch how he develops as a point guard this season.