On Saturday, the Big Ten sets up for a group of matchups that could not only have an impact on the seasons of several teams, but could impact at least four potential Big Ten postseason bids and possibly even lead to coaching changes in the offseason. Let's take a look.
Game of the Day
Michigan State vs. Indiana; 12 PM ET; ESPN; IU -1
It all comes down to this: the final weekend of the regular season for Big Ten Basketball. Subsequently, many teams will use their final match ups as either a blessing or a curse: to put themselves into the NCAA Tournament, or to move themselves further off the bubble. Indiana is in dire need of a win. After dropping three of their last four games, the Hoosiers have moved away from the field of 68 and onto the NCAA bubble. Currently one of Joe Lunardi's "Last Four In," the Hoosiers undoubtedly will be in trouble if they drop a third straight game, and a second straight game at home. Despite the fact that the Hoosiers will be giving it their all, especially on senior day, Travis Trice and the Michigan State Spartans have one of the most dangerous squads in the Big Ten, so nothing will come easy for them.
In Indiana's last three losses, the name of the game has been rebounding. Indiana got blown out on the boards by Purdue, losing the margin 38-21. Iowa and Northwestern were able to out-rebound the Hoosiers by 4 and 5 boards respectively. Indiana has certainly struggled on the boards all year, resulting from its lack of size and lack of a true "big man." As a result, it often relies heavily on the three point shot, or as critics will say, it will "live or die by it." Despite 10 threes for Indiana in its last outing, it lost to Iowa by a 14 point margin due to allowing 23 free throws, and turning the ball over 14 times. The Hoosiers will need to sharpen up in this respect, as Michigan State is one of the best defensive teams in the Big Ten, and utilizes the leading rebounder in the Big Ten, Branden Dawson with 9.3 per game.
In the last outing between the two teams, Indiana got absolutely murdered on the boards. Allowing Michigan State to pull down 50 rebounds (you read that right, 50!), and losing the battle of the boards by an abysmal margin of 22 led to a disappointing 20 point loss. Dawson was allowed to pull down 13 boards, and he added a cool 14 points to help the Spartans to an early-conference victory. It is undeniable that Indiana needs to do a better job on Dawson if they want a chance at this one. Sure, the seniors will be playing tough on Senior Day, but the Spartans have won 5 of their last 7, and they certainly won't be giving away anything for free, as they will look to improve their seeding in the Big Ten Tournament.
Northwestern vs. Iowa; 12 PM ET; BTN; Iowa -12
Iowa will hope to secure a spot in the double-bye portion of the Big Ten Bracket with a win over the Wildcats. If the B1G Tourney were to start today, the Hawkeyes would be a 4 seed, earning the double-bye, and a win will keep them safe from having to play the second day. Iowa has been hot lately after a win at Indiana, but the Wildcats have won five of their last six. Northwestern is playing its butt off, and the mature play of Tre Demps was evident in Northwestern's most recent overtime win over Michigan. This one will certainly be interesting, as Northwestern won the last meeting in overtime.
Rutgers vs. Michigan; 2:15 PM ET; BTN; Mich -10
Michigan will have to be careful in this one, as it could, though unlikely, find itself dropping down to the 10th seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan will likely have the 9th seed locked up though, unless it drops senior day to struggling Rutgers and Northwestern is able to pull one out in Iowa City. As it seems both of these teams will need to win the Big Ten Tournament to get into the NCAA Tournament, don't expect these teams to play with any less effort. The seniors in Michigan will give it all they have in front of their home crowd for their final game in Ann Arbor.
Illinois vs. Purdue; 4:30 PM ET; BTN; Pur -4.5
This one may arguably be the biggest game of the year for both teams. Illinois and Purdue find themselves dancing around on the bubble, and whichever team wins this match up will move closer to the NCAA Tournament. Purdue is currently in the Tournament according to Joe Lunardi, but Illinois is on his "Next Four Out" list. Illinois needs this one badly in order to get themselves closer to an NCAA Tournament bid. A loss for Purdue would hurt, considering they're already on a two game losing streak. A lot is riding on this one, so expect both teams to go all out.