Tonight's slate of games is a rare weeknight triple header on BTN with plenty of postseason implications. While the first game of the night has little impact on the postseason, both Purdue and Illinois will be involved in major games tonight later on in the night. While it's more or less make or break time for the Illini, Purdue's road trip to East Lansing isn't a must win but could solidify a tournament spot if the Boilers land the upset.
Game of the Night
Purdue Boilermakers at Michigan State Spartans - 8:00 ET (BTN)
The game of the night is easily Purdue's road trip to East Lansing. On one hand the Boilermakers dropped a winnable game in Columbus that could have locked up their postseason spot, putting more pressure to finish strong. On the other hand, though, this isn't a must win game for the Boilers. If Purdue can't pick up a win tonight they'll still be more then alive, especially since a win this weekend against Illinois would put them back in solid shape and essentially knock out one of Purdue's biggest contenders for a bubble spot. The Spartans are riding a two game losing streak and are seeing their seeding for the tournament become worse and worse as the season wears on, making this a nice potential win for the Spartans to get things back on track. Also, Purdue can lock up a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament with a win here, which could actually cost them a potential BTT win, but also means they'd be two wins from making it to the title game.
It'll be interesting to see how Purdue fares against Michigan State, especially in East Lansing as the Boilermakers are riding back-to-back 20+ losses on the road against the Spartans. Center A.J. Hammons and senior guard Jon Octeus have been playing very, very good for Purdue, while Basil Smotherman has been effective the last couple games. If Purdue wants an upset here they'll need another big day from Hammons and to effectively convert from outside, likely needing big days from guys like Octeus, Smotherman and Rapheal Davis. With Kendall Stephens being madly inconsistent there will also be pressure on guys like Dakota Mathias to step up from the perimeter. As for Michigan State, they would definitely benefit from a better night from the charity stripe and need better performances from their frontcourt, especially Branden Dawson. Of course if Bryn Forbes can go 5 of 5 from deep or Denzel Valentine can blow up the Spartans could ride their backcourt to victory.
At the end of the day Purdue's size advantage with Hammons and Isaac Haas could be the key for Purdue, though they'll have to find a way to slow down Michigan State's guards while keeping turnovers at a minimum.
Ohio State Buckeyes at Penn State Nittany Lions - 6:00 ET (BTN)
Kicking off the night this evening is Ohio State traveling to Penn State for the Lion's senior night. Ohio State is coming off of a major victory over the Boilermakers and will try to improve their resume even more if they can avoid a road upset against a hungry Penn State team. While Penn State is riding a five game losing streak, they have came close against Maryland, Wisconsin and Iowa...but also were blown out by lowly Northwestern and lost to the Buckeyes by 20 in Columbus. D.J. Newbill bounced back last game against the Hawkeyes after a disastrous three point performance against Northwestern and will need to have a big day if Penn State wants the upset. That might mean very little though, as Ohio State star D'Angelo Russell is coming off of a huge 28 point performance last weekend where he carried the Buckeyes to a win.
Nebraska Cornhuskers at Illinois Fighting Illini - 10:00 ET (BTN)
At 5-11 in the Big Ten Nebraska has been a massive disappointment this season and now they're simply trying to find a way to avoid playing on the first day of the Big Ten Tournament. A win against Illinois would keep their chances alive while a loss would probably keep them active on the first day of play in Chicago. And unfortunately for Nebraska they have yet to win a road game in the Big Ten and haven't won a true road game since the beginning of December. The game will be even bigger for Illinois as they're currently most likely on the wrong side of the bubble and need a pair of wins this week to keep their hopes alive. If the Illini drop a game to Nebraska their odds will more or less evaporate (unless they can make a very deep run in the Big Ten Tournament), making their Senior Night a must win. Oh, and it's a weeknight game that tips off at 10 PM ET for the sole reason of allowing the Big Ten Network to have a triple header. Nice...well not really, but money.
After edging Michigan in overtime the Illini have done a whole lot of nothing besides beating down Northwestern, losing three of their last four and fading down the stretch. The last time the Illini faced off against Nebraska they lost by ten points, but that was on the road without Rayvonte Rice and Illinois only mustered a measly 27.3% from the field while shooting 6 of 29 from the perimeter. The Illini are coming off of an impressive outing versus the Wildcats where five guys scored in double digits, led by Rice's 19 points, but a lot of that stemmed from a 14 of 29 shooting performance from deep. While a regression is likely, if Rice can stay hot the Illini should be in solid shape as Nebraska's offense has been absolutely atrocious this season. If Nebraska wants to steal a win here it'll need a much better performance from star Terran Petteway.