A top-five team in the nation? A surging program with a perfect conference record? A NCAA tournament contender with the possible return of a star? Yes, this Big Ten Saturday has all that you can ask for.
Four games line the slate, which starts at noon ET continues throughout the day. March Madness implications are certainly in play as bubble teams OSU and Northwestern search for important wins in the conference. Sure, there's a lot of uncertainty as far as how the day will unfold. However, one thing is for sure: this is gonna be fun to watch. Here are more in-depth looks at each of the games tipping off today.
Game of the Day
#3 Maryland Terrapins vs. Ohio State Buckeyes - Noon ET (ESPN2)
Once thought to be the party crashers of the Big Ten, Ohio State has begun to slow down after taking a seven-game wining streak into conference play. While not even close, a 25-point loss on the road Indiana last week may have been exactly what this team needed to refocus. The Buckeyes (12-6, 4-1 B1G) rebounded with a blowout win over Rutgers and now have the opportunity to knock off the #3 team in the nation on the Terps' home court.
Maryland (15-2, 4-1 B1G) has already lost once this week on the road at Michigan. Melo Trimble, the Terps' All-American caliber point guard, scored a career-low of 2 points and was ineffective for most of the night. If this team wants to continue to be mentioned among the top squads in the nation, Trimble cannot continue to have off-nights like that one. Look for him to play much better basketball today.
An interesting matchup to watch will be between the Terps' Jake Layman and OSU's sophomore Keita Bates-Diop. Both forwards have been important offensive weapons for their respective teams this season, Layman averaging 11.1 PPG and Bates-Diop adding 11.8 PPG. While Layman is a better threat from three-point range, Bates-Diop is one of Ohio State's best defenders. Don't be surprised if this battle of the big men takes place outside of the post.
Overall, OSU has the capacity to genuinely challenge Maryland here. The Buckeyes have proven they can beat top-caliber teams (see win over #4 Kentucky), so don't be surprised if it happens again. Still, Maryland is projected a 72-63 win on KenPom. I like the Terps in this one, but I don't expect them to cover the spread.
Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers - 2:30 ET (BTN)
After a surprising, and dominating, win over Purdue last weekend, Illinois will look to carry their momentum into this home matchup against the Cornhuskers. The Illini (9-8, 1-3 B1G) are getting major contributions from juniors Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill. Combined, the two are averaging 36.9 PPG, third most for a scoring duo among the six major conferences. If Illinois wants to continue their movement in the right direction, this is an important win to have. Nebraska (10-8, 2-3 B1G) has won two-straight and poses a dynamic duo of their own. Andrew White (17.3 PPG) and Shavon Shields (15.5 PPG) are the heart of the Husker offense, but will need help from their teammates to get this road win. Illinois enters as 3.5 point favorites, reflective of the idea that this is going to be a tight game. This should be one of the more competitive games to watch on the day.
Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Indiana Hoosiers - 12:30 ET (BTN)
Indiana may be the hottest team in the conference right now. Since losing to #7 Duke on December 3rd, the Hoosiers have won nine-straight and are coming off a blowout win over Ohio State. A big reason for this streak has been IU's ability to shoot the three. The Hoosiers are shooting a collective 44.3% from long range as a team, which is good for 5th best in the nation. Even with the loss of sharpshooter James Blackmon Jr. for the season, nearly every player on this roster can hit from beyond the arc. This is a big problem for Minnesota, who is 285th in the country in defending the three-pointer (37.2%). Look for Tom Crean to get the ball in the hands of his guards early as they try to heat up "the Barn". Indiana is favored by 10, and shouldn't have a problem disposing of the Gophers.
Northwestern Wildcats vs. Penn State Nittany Lions - 8:30 ET (ESPNU)
This is a game that Northwestern must win to continue building it's tourney resume. At 15-3 (3-2 B1G), the Wildcats are on the outside looking in and need to keep winning to remain in the conversation. Bryant McIntosh has been sensational as of late and is coming off a 28-point, 5-assist game against Wisconsin earlier this week. The sophomore point guard continues to will this team through to the end.
On a sidenote, per Inside NU, Alex Olah is listed as a "game-time decision" for the Wildcats. The senior center has missed the last six games with a foot injury and has been testing it out in practice this week. His 12.8 PPG and 6.5 RPG will be a huge addition for Northwestern once he returns for good. But regardless of his status for this game, the Wildcats should win handily. Penn State is a bottom four team in the conference, and at 1-4 in Big Ten play, the Nittany Lions have a very slim chance to win here. KenPom.com projects a 71-61 win for Northwestern, and I wouldn't stray far from that prediction.