It's the Tuesday we've all been waiting for. After a month and a half of non-conference action, the Big Ten season is finally upon us and the stakes are high. Northwestern and Rutgers kick it off earlier in the day, but more intriguing match ups including Michigan vs. Illinois highlight the afternoon. Anyway you slice it, today is a great day to be a B1G basketball fan. Let's take a closer look at each game.
Game of the Day
#12 Maryland @ Michigan State - 5:00 ET (ESPN2)
Coming into this season, Michigan State was expected to be better than the bottom half of the Big Ten. However, a tough non-conference schedule has landed them in the middle of the pack, looking to crawl back into the mix. While losses to #4 Duke and #11 Kansas came as expected, overtime miscues led to the Spartans (9-4) dropping games to both unranked Notre Dame and Texas Southern. This type of basketball is not often associated with Tom Izzo, and will have to be fixed. Fortunately for the Spartans, they get the Big Ten's leading rebounder in Branden Dawson back after missing over a week due to a wrist injury. His post presence is key for a team that is top 40 in the nation in rebounding. Guard Travis Trice is coming off an 11 assist game against the Citadel last week and is extremely important making sure ball movement remains the status quo. The team's unselfishness has allowed them to be 5th in the country is assists per game with 18.3.
On the complete other side of the court is #12 Maryland. The Terrapins came into the season with small expectations yet have blown them out of the water, going 12-1 in the non-conference season only losing to #7 Virginia. Freshman guard Melo Trimble has been a stud, averaging a team high 15.8 points in the first 13 games of his career. While the Terps got a quality win against #13 Iowa State, taking home a victory at the Breslin Center would show the country Maryland basketball is for real. While they has played well early, no part of the Terps game is beyond stopping. Even though both teams seem to be on very different trajectories, there is no denying the significance of this game. Michigan State can perform and don't be surprised if Izzo's squad comes out looking like the elite team they have the potential to be. It's a Big Ten collision course, and the battle site is East Lansing. This should be a good one to watch.
Iowa @ #20 Ohio State - 1:00 ET (ESPN2)
The Buckeyes (11-2) are by and large the best offensive team in the conference. They're top 10 in the nation in points (85.3), assists (18.2) and field goal percentage (52.6%), and show no signs of slowing down. Marc Loving is on fire, shooting a scorching 57.8% from three this season. His increased role in the offense almost makes up for last year's loss of point guard Aaron Craft.
Even while Iowa (9-4) has four early losses, three of them came against ranked teams, the other to a Northern Iowa squad that is now in the AP Top 25. Senior Aaron White leads an experienced Hawkeyes team primed for another run at the NCAA tournament. Head coach Fran McCaffery is looking to prove that last year's bid was no joke and sticking close with a talented Ohio State team could be the first step in that direction. Even so, the Buckeyes should be the favorites, barring an offensive implosion.
Illinois @ Michigan - 3:00 ET (ESPN2)
Of all the games on Tuesday, this may well be the one that can swing either way. Michigan (7-5) has struggled mightily against lesser opponents, making national headlines with losses to New Jersey Institute of Technology and Eastern Michigan at home. This could be a precursor to another weak performance in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines are still learning to compensate for the losses of Mitch McGary, Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III to the NBA draft and it has shown early. That being said, they were able to stick with a difficult Villanova team earlier in the season at the Legends Classic in Brooklyn. Michigan is unpredictable and its hard to see which team will come out to play this afternoon.
Illinois (10-3) enters conference play with something to prove. Barring their loss to Oregon, there were no major surprises early in the season. Rayvonte Rice has played fantastic, averaging 17.7 PPG and 6.5 rebounds. His ability to shoot the three also poses a significant treat against defenses that play the zone. Rice and teammate Malcom Hill will need get going early in order to lead this high scoring Illini team. Michigan enters as slim favorites, but the Illini should certainly have enough firepower to keep up.
Note: There is speculation that Jim Harbaugh may be introduced as Michigan's football's new head coach at halftime.This could get the Crisler Center pretty riled up, to say the least.
Northwestern @ Rutgers - 12:00 ET (ESPNU)
In a matchup of the bottom of the Big Ten, there is not much to look forward to. Junior Tre Demps leads a low-scoring Northwestern team with 11.5 points while dishing out a meager 2.3 assists per game. The early strength of the Wildcats (9-4) has been defense, holding opponents to 59.8 PPG, the 4th best in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights (8-5) haven't made much of themselves lately and stumble into the Big Ten after barely beating Monmouth 59-58 on a buzzer beater. If the Wildcats can shut down Rutgers' Kadeem Jack and Myles Mack, they have a real chance of stealing this one on the road.