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B1G Sunday Preview and Open Thread: Illinois, Michigan State fight for crucial win

Only three weeks away from Selection Sunday, every win counts for teams on the bubble. Illinois and Michigan State are both in search of victories to heighten their tourney status, while Iowa tries to avoid a major setback at Nebraska. Elsewhere, Ohio State faces off against Michigan in a classic Big Ten battle and Indiana pays visit to Rutgers. What to expect from Sunday busy with Big Ten hoops.

Jaylon Tate (1) and Illinois could stand to gain from a win over Michigan State
Jaylon Tate (1) and Illinois could stand to gain from a win over Michigan State
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Who's in? That the burning question many have as we near the final stretch of the B1G conference season. According to's bracketology, eight Big Ten teams currently make the cut for the NCAA tournament, the highest of any conference in the nation. However, much still remains to be determined. Sunday will be an important day for a couple teams as they try to display their worth to the selection committee. What to watch for on a day packed with B1G hoops.

Game of the Day

Michigan State Spartans @ Illinois Fighting Illini - 7:30 ET (BTN)

Last time these two teams met, the Illini were able to escape East Lansing with a narrow 59-54 win. Solid performances by Malcom Hill (19 points, 6 reb) and Nnanna Egwu (12 points, 9 reb)  coupled with poor Michigan State free throw shooting (7-18, 38.9%) allowed Illinois to steal one from a then struggling Spartans team. However, Tom Izzo once again has his guys playing at the top of their game.

Michigan State (18-8, 9-4) has won three straight since their loss to Illinois, much in part due to superb play from Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine. In the past two games, Dawson has scored 15 and 23 while averaging 11.0 rebounds. Valentine, on the other hand, added 14 at Northwestern and another 17 over Ohio State, including the game winning 3-pointer (appropriately on Valentine's Day). Both upperclassmen will be very important if the Spartans want to keep their run going. The outside game has been key as of late as they are shooting 44.0 % from beyond the arc during the win streak. Valentine is one of their best shooters and look to provide continual scoring from three-point range.

If the Illini (17-9, 7-6) want to sweep the season series, they have to come to play. After officially parting ways with junior guard Aaron Cosby this week, Illinois will try to avoid a second straight loss and bounce back from losing a player from their program. While Cosby was currently suspended for a violation of team rules, there still remains the mental and emotional toll of letting go one of your own. Regardless, its others that are going to need to step up. While some may argue Hill's aggressiveness has teetered since Rayvonte Rice rejoined the lineup, the sophomore continues to take the mid-range and outside jumpers he's grown accustomed to. His play inside, especially on the glass will be important for against the Spartans, one of the best rebounding teams in the nation. Look for coach John Groce to get the ball to Hill early and frequently in hopes of getting him rolling.

Michigan State enters as a slim one point favorite. However, this is a throw-out-the-records type of game, and either team is capable of running away with it. As always in the Big Ten, we see a fantastic coaching matchup (Izzo vs. Groce). It's quite possible this one could be decided on the sidelines instead of the court. Anyway you slice it, it's is going to be a good one to watch.

The Rest

Ohio State Buckeyes @ Michigan Wolverines - 1:00 ET (CBS)

D'Angelo Russell and Ohio State seek to rebound from their last second loss to Michigan State when they visit the lowly Wolverines in Ann Arbor. The Buckeyes (19-7, 8-5) have won five of their last seven and are all but locked in for the NCAA tournament. The enter this game heavily favored, and just a victory away from reaching their 11th straight 20 win season under Thad Matta.

Can Michigan's season be over yet? After reaching the national championship game and the Elite Eight in the past two seasons, the Wolverines (13-13, 6-8) face the genuine possibility of finishing below .500 on the year. While they've lost their fair share of players to injury, a possible NIT berth is not what John Beilein had in mind. With no signed recruits for next year, Michigan will look to build momentum for next season with a win over a rival.

Iowa Hawkeyes @ Nebraska Cornhuskers - 3:00 ET (BTN)

While the bubble team Hawkeyes (16-10, 7-6) enter this game as the marginal favorites, a loss would be seriously damaging to their tourney hopes. After dropping games to Minnesota and Northwestern, Iowa can't afford to lose another to a sub-par conference opponent. Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff lead the way for Fran McCaffery's team that seeks a ticket to the Big Dance for the second straight year.

Like it or not, Lincoln is not an easy place to win. Earlier this year we saw Michigan State and Illinois both fall victim to the Huskers on their home court. Don't be surprised if Nebraska (13-13, 5-9) puts up a strong fight. Terran Petteway is among the elite in all of college basketball and if he gets going, all bets are off. Could we be seeing the undercurrents of an upset?

Indiana Hoosiers @ Rutgers Scarlet Knights - 7:30 ET (BTN)

After a tough home loss to Purdue on Thursday, Indiana (18-9, 8-6) travels east to take on lowly Rutgers. The Hoosiers have done their work and are currently projected as a #7 seed in bracketology. The talent that Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr. and Troy Williams bring to the table is very real with the potential to explode at any given moment. When facing up against the consensus worst team in the conference, there should be no struggles for Tom Crean and company. Hoosiers all the way in this one.