The final week of the Big Ten season is almost here. After three and a half long months, Selection Sunday is just a few weeks away, sure to bring both joy and heartbreak to college basketball teams all across the nation. These final eight days are crucial for programs on the bubble as they seek final resume boosting wins to scoot them in. Sunday is no exception. Purdue tries for a potential season-changing win at Ohio State that could all but punch their ticket to the Big Dance. Meanwhile, Michigan State goes for a huge upset as they try to hand Wisconsin their second loss in a row. What to watch for this Sunday in B1G college hoops.
Game of the Day
Michigan State Spartans @ Wisconsin Badgers - 4:00 ET (CBS)
Both the Spartans and the Badgers are coming off upset losses and will look to redeem themselves when they meet in Madison Sunday afternoon. After blowing a late lead and losing in overtime to Minnesota, Tim Izzo and Michigan State (19-9, 10-5) will need to bring out their best on Wisconsin’s home court. Denzel Valentine has continued to provide the Spartans with offense, leading a lineup full of upperclassmen. Izzo has had much success since playing senior PG Travis Trice off the bench, as it has demonstrated consistent scoring from the second unit. This, coupled with the double-double machine we call Branden Dawson makes the Spartans a feared opponent, no matter the competition. These "Big Three" are vital not only for this matchup, but are important if Michigan State is serious about making an underdog tourney run. Currently at an #8 seed in ESPN.com’s bracketology, a win here could help them recover significantly from the blow of their Minnesota loss.
Wisconsin (25-3, 13-2) is coming off only their third loss of the season, this one coming to a surging Maryland Terrapins team. This came despite a solid performance 18 point performance from Frank Kaminsky. Maryland’s Dez Wells posed huge problems for the Badgers, scoring 26 points while grabbing 7 boards with 4 assists. As a stretch four, he proved problematic for Bo Ryan, combating the Badger’s airtight fundamental play with sheer athleticism. A similar problem could arise when Wisconsin has to deal with Dawson. The 6’6’’ senior is the top rebounder in the conference, and despite a slight height disadvantage to Sam Dekker, he has more muscle and a better presence in the paint. If Michigan State chooses to utilize thus matchup, it could create a slight mismatch on the offensive side of the ball. That being said, Dekker is faster and has a much better shot. He will likely be outside the key on offense and look for opportunities to shoot the ball.
Wisconsin’s Traevon Jackson remains out for this game, still recovering from a broken foot suffered earlier this season. This is obviously disappointing for both the Badgers and Jackson as Sunday is Senior Day for Wisconsin’s graduating players. He was averaging 9.4 points and 2.4 assists before the injury, but has been more than filled in for by the play of Bronson Koenig (12.0 PPG, 2.2 APG).
Wisconsin remains unbeaten in conference play at home this season and enters at 9 point favorites. However, this game has the potential to be closer than the line. Mark this one down, its gonna be a good one to watch.
Purdue Boilermakers @ Ohio State Buckeyes - 7:30 (BTN)
A.J. Hammons leads Purdue into Columbus as they seek the season sweep over cross-state rival Ohio State. In their last meeting, Purdue was able to squeeze out a narrow 60-58 victory over the then #20 Buckeyes, led by a 20 point game from Raphael Davis. Purdue head coach Matt Painter hopes Sunday will produce the same outcome. Once thought to be a March Madness longshot, the Boilermakers have gone on an impressive run in conference play and are currently in the projected tourney field. While many may argue that Purdue is far from a lock, a win at Ohio State would definitely change things. However, snagging a victory against a solid Big Ten team the road is far from easy.
The main concern for Purdue will be figuring out how to stop D’Angelo Russell. The Buckeye point guard is up for awards all across the board, many commemorating him as one of the top players in the NCAA. While Russell is only in his first year of college, most experts expect him to declare for the NBA draft following this season given his status as a consensus top 5 pick. In the February game against the Boilermakers, Russell scored 20 points but was unable to make the final push to get his team the win. This time, he is going to need the help of his more experienced teammates. Jay’Sean Tate has been playing at an exceptionally high level as of late, demonstrating the strong basketball fundamentals that even many of the top players in the country are lacking. He, along with Amir Williams and Sam Thompson will need to play hard and smart against a formidable Purdue front court that features two seven-footers in Hammons and Isaac Haas. Look for double teams and different defensive looks from Thad Matta as they try to disrupt the Boilermaker post-game.
Ohio State enters as 9.5 point favorites, a considerably generous number given the strength of this Purdue team. While this isn't a must win for either side, each could seriously benefit from a game like this. This too should be close and could come down to the wire. It’ll be fun to watch.