Three games pack the Big Ten lineup tonight including a headlining matchup between the recently stagnant Buckeyes and John Beilein's upset minded Wolverines. Elsewhere, Penn State visits Indiana and Iowa travels north to Minneapolis for a meeting with the Gophers, who are still looking for their first Big Ten win. Here are the breakdowns for tonight's contests.
Game of the Night
Michigan Wolverines at Ohio State Buckeyes - 7 ET (ESPN)
Early in the season, Ohio State (13-4) has proven to be one of the most perplexing teams in all of college basketball. In a lineup chock-full of talent they have struggled to win the easy games thus far in the Big Ten. While the Buckeyes have been able to put up major points against weaker competition, this once top 25 team has yet to get a ranked win this season. Their conference record (2-2) hardly reflects the potential Thad Matta's squad has, but in order to get a high seed in the tournament, they will need to come away with victories against sub-par Big Ten opponents like Michigan.
D'Angelo Russell has been nothing but fantastic in his first year, but will need to develop consistency down the stretch. For example, when the Buckeyes squeaked out a 74-72 overtime win last week at Minnesota, Russell scored 25 points in the first half, but only 2 in the second half and overtime combined. Streakiness can be attributed to freshman struggles but when a player like Russell has all the talent necessary to be great, its hard to go easy on him. In Ohio State's upset loss to Indiana on Saturday, Russell dropped 13, but only on 20% (3-15) shooting. Offensive inconsistency has haunted the team during each of their losses this year, averaging 65.0 PPG in games where they don't win as opposed to 87.0 PPG when they do. Don't count out the rest of their stars in Marc Loving, Sam Thompson and Amir Williams, they too have the potential for a big game anytime.
Crossed of in many people's minds, Michigan (10-6) could make a big resurgence if they can come out of Columbus with a win. Following back to back wins over Penn State and Minnesota, the Wolverines have made recently made a mark with their defense, in one case shutting down the Gophers for seven straight minutes in the second half with their 1-3-1 zone. Michigan will need to contain the Buckeyes' shooters who are averaging a stifling 51.0% from the field this year. Caris LeVert will try to take care of business as usual and boost his team's offense over OSU. If Michigan can play defensively like a team that was ranked in the top 25 at the beginning of the season, there's a chance they can pull this one off, but not without bringing their A game.
Penn State Nittany Lions at Indiana Hoosiers - 7 ET (BTN)
A win over Ohio State proved the Hoosiers (12-4) are for real and ready to compete with the big boys in the conference. Yogi Ferrell brings experience to the team and with star in the making James Blackmon Jr. Indiana can be seriously good come March. This is a team that gets the job done and if anything is underrated. They should have no problem at home against Penn State (12-4) who has done nothing but disappoint so far in the Big Ten season. The Nittany Lions only suffered one loss in non-conference play, but it was mostly due to their sheer lack of competitive opponents. D.J. Newbill (21.3) is the centerpiece of this team and if Indiana can stop him, its all but over.
Iowa Hawkeyes at Minnesota Golden Gophers - 9 ET (BTN)
Falling to 0-4 in the Big Ten season couldn't have been what coach Richard Pitino planned for his Golden Gophers. Minnesota (11-6) has played each of their opponents close, but still hasn't been able to pull out a win. Their OT loss to Ohio State was killer but it demonstrated some great hustle and integrity of this squad. Andre Hollins takes care of business but they are very much a cohesive unit, relying not on one man to get the job done. Its clear they want to win and sooner of later this Big Ten season, its going to happen.
Iowa (11-5) has flown under the radar when it comes to noise made so far. A conference opener win over then #20 Ohio State was a quality victory, but not much has been made since. The Hawkeyes blew an 11 point lead to Michigan State last game and will try to get back on track tonight. Aaron White (15.9 PPG) has looked good so far and will be a factor for Iowa tonight. He and the rest of the Hawkeyes will need to contain a very balanced Minnesota scoring attack that is averaging 78.5 PPG on the year. If the defense is strong, they should win this game.