One month. As of Sunday, only one month remains before the NCAA tournament committee releases their official March Madness bracket for the 2015 season. These next four weeks are crucial for teams seeking a chance to be seeded and compete for a national title. While some have all but secured their place, many remain in need of big wins down the stretch in order to boost their resume. Sunday will be an important test for those bubble teams, and could provide them with monumental victories or colossal meltdowns. Here are the breakdowns for all of the Big Ten action on the day.
Game of the Day
Illinois Fighting Illini @ #5 Wisconsin Badgers - 1:00 ET (CBS)
The Illini (17-8, 7-5) are back in the mix. Head coach John Groce has his team on a solid four-game winning streak, which has allowed the team to sneak into an #11 seed in ESPN.com Joe Lunardi's bracketology. This comes following the reinstatement of star guard Rayvonte Rice after he had missed a combined nine games due to a wrist injury and suspension. Yet even while the Illini are on a hot streak, beating Wisconsin poses an entirely different task.
Wisconsin (22-2, 10-1) is on a seven-game streak of their own and shows no signs of slowing down. Frank Kaminsky remains his usual self, coming off another double-double on Tuesday at Nebraska. For Illinois, the key will be slowing him down. Nnanna Egwu gives the Illini the best shot of taking on the All-American, and will need to stay out of foul trouble early. Egwu, the recently crowned leading shot-blocker in Illinois history, has the size and defensive tenacity to stick with the big fella, but over 40 minutes there's sure to be some wear and tear.
There should be a very solid battle of the guards as well. Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn have taken drastic steps in the past few months and look to have big games against the Badgers. With Rice returning to the lineup, there's the possibility that each defers to the senior, but a balanced scoring effort gives the team its best opportunity for success. They will need to matchup against Josh Gasser and Nigel Hayes, two very capable Wisconsin scorers. They combine to average slightly over 20.0 PPG, compared to Hill and Nunn's 26.4. At 6'7'' 250lbs, Hayes has a large form and won't be stopped easily. For that reason, Illinois might use Leron Black to provide some help on D.
It's a commonly known fact that the Kohl Center is an all-but-impossible place to win. The Badgers' only loss there this season came to Duke, a consensus top 5 team in the nation. Wisconsin enters 13 point favorites and will try to get ahead quick. It would take outstanding performances across the board for the Illini to pull this one out, but its not too likely. Badgers get the edge in this one.
Iowa Hawkeyes @ Northwestern Wildcats - 3:00 ET (BTN)
Fresh off a disappointing home loss to Minnesota, Iowa looks to rebound when they take on Northwestern in Evanston Sunday afternoon. The Hawkeyes (15-9, 6-5) need to avoid another bad loss to stay out of the bubble realm. Despite the eye-poking scandal, big man Adam Woodbury has seriously stepped up his game. His double-digit point performances against Michigan and Maryland give him serious credibility as an inside option. Look for him to get the ball in the paint against the Wildcats in order to establish a presence early. Also, guards Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff will look to get open looks against a depleted Northwestern backcourt. Edge goes to the Hawkeyes.
Nebraska Cornhuskers @ Purdue Boilermakers - 5:15 (BTN)
Terran Petteway and company are essentially out of the tourney picture. Purdue, on the other hand, is riding the edge. The Boilermakers (16-9, 8-4) are in the Next Four out and will need a couple key wins to slide back into the pool. Leading scorer and rebounder A.J. Hammons will need to play well these next couple games to secure Purdue's set on both sides of the court. As long as he's working well in the paint, the Painter (head coach Matt) will keep giving him the ball. Plus, Raphael Davis poses an additional option to score the ball. Purdue gets the advantage.
Minnesota Golden Gophers @ Indiana Hoosiers - 7:30 ET (BTN)
Does Minnesota suddenly have life? A three-game winning streak is good and all, but the Gophers (16-9, 5-7) still have a ton of work to do if they want to make the tourney. A win over the Hoosiers would be a step in the right direction. While Indiana has all but secured their spot in the Big Dance, they still have room to fight as to where they are seeded. Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. can shoot lights out and could lead IU a long ways come March. Hoosiers get the edge in this one.