Five games are on the menu in the Big Ten tonight with a lot of questions surrounding each team. Can Illinois make some noise with their backcourt? Can Michigan keep going with their recent winning ways? Will Rutgers get out of their rut? Is Minnesota ready to turn their season around? Can Wisconsin right the ship with Bo Ryan heading into retirement?
We find out all of those things tonight.
Game of the Night: Illinois Fighting Illini vs Missouri Tigers (7:00 PM ET | ESPN 2)
This matchup features the only Big Ten team going up against a power five conference opponent tonight and Illinois has the opportunity to get a nice win on a neutral court to build not only their confidence, but their resume as well. Illinois started the season off really slow with a 1-3 record but they have won six out of their last eight games and it isn't a surprise that the return of shooting guard Kendrick Nunn helped spark Illinois turnaround as Nunn and shooting guard Malcolm Hill are forming one of best backcourts in the country as they average over 18 points a game each.
When Hill and Nunn are playing together the way they are, Illinois can be the type of team that could be a dark horse in the Big Ten and a make a case for an NCAA tournament bid.
Missouri on the other hand, is playing their third game in a row against a power five conference opponent. The Tigers have played four games against such opponents and have gone 0-4 which will obviously hurt their NCAA tournament hopes if they somehow turn things around in the middle of the season. But with the way they have played this year, losing out on an NCAA tournament bid is the least of their problems.
Missouri is 5-5 right now and have already lost three games by at least 14 points including an 88-52 beating by the hands of the 13th ranked Arizona Wildcats.
The Wolverines started the season out with a 2-2 record but they turned that frown upside down and won seven out of their last eight games. While the Wolverines have important wins against the Texas Longhorns and the N.C. State Wolfpack, they are 0-2 when facing ranked opponents so far. It's still early, but the Wolverines handling their business against a 2-9 Bulldogs team that is also winless on the road, should be a given.
The Bulldogs are shooting 58 percent from the free throw line, 28 percent from the three-point line and 39 percent overall from the field. Enough said.
This is the battle of the Knights. Both teams have a couple of things in common as they both have four wins on the season, they share the same nickname and the conclusion for both teams is that their seasons will eventually go "night night." Rutgers has to find a way to redeem themselves and get a win before conference play begins.
Farleigh Dickinson averages 75 points a game which by that alone means they aren't a cakewalk by any means for Rutgers. Rutgers can't look past anybody. This game will be the second to last non-conference opponent Rutgers has all year. If Rutgers can't win their next two games, they could go winless for the rest of the season.
Minnesota's best win of the year against a power five conference opponent has been against the Clemson Tigers. Say no more. The Golden Gophers are hosting their last non-conference opponent in the regular season as they take on a Panthers team that just went on the road to beat the Wisconsin Badgers earlier this month, so if there were any questions about this possibly being an easy game for Minnesota, it most likely isn't.
In order for their record to improve to 7-5 on the season, Minnesota has to stop Panthers forward Matt Tiby who can do almost anything as he averages over 15 points a game, shoots 37 percent from the perimeter, shoots 80 percent from the free throw line and he grabs nine rebounds a game.
-Green Bay Phoenix vs. Wisconsin Badgers (9:00 PM ET| BTN)
With head coach Bo Ryan heading to retirement immediately, Wisconsin is looking at a critical time in their basketball program. At this time last year, Wisconsin had so many expectations as they eventually ended up in the national championship game, but a season later, that has been put to the side as they have been left with so much uncertainty for what the future holds for them.
The Badgers don't have time to sulk about the question marks surrounding their team as they face a high scoring Green Bay team that averages 85.4 points a game which is good enough to be ranked 19th in the country. That 85.4 average is a little impressive considering that Green Bay only shoots 62 percent from the free throw line. Wisconsin's defense isn't too bad either as they have held their opponents to under 70 points in each of their last seven games. Something has to give and Wisconsin better impose their will early and often.