Big Ten conference play is in action for the first weekend of the new year and nobody is more excited that your guys here at BT Powerhouse. This Saturday's action features 12 of the 14 teams in the conference, including ranked Michigan State, Maryland and Purdue. We've highlighted the best games to watch and where to watch them, so let's walk through a marquee day of B1G hoops.
Game of the Night
#14 Purdue Boilermakers vs. Iowa Hawkeyes - 6:00 ET (BTN)
This game has the potential to be most intense Big Ten showdown of the night. Purdue (14-1, 1-0) is coming off back-to-back wins over Vanderbilt and Wisconsin, and is looking like one of the top teams in the conference. The Hawkeyes (10-3, 1-0) are coming off a huge upset win over #1 Michigan State and carry their momentum into West Lafayette with motivation to continue the underdog theme.
The swing of this game will be decided in the paint. The Boilers have faired well using their unorthodox strategy of bringing All-Big Ten caliber center A.J. Hammons off the bench, starting 7-2 Isaac Haas in his place. However tonight they will be faced with Iowa's Adam Woodbury, a seven-footer in his own right and a tenacious defender. While both Haas and Hammons have the upper hand when it comes to pure athleticism, Woodbury is aggressive and relentless in the post. Specifically to the Hammons/Woodbury matchup, it should be interesting to see how A.J. handles the pressure.
But while the big men will certainly be the focus, that's not to takeaway from what both backcourts have been able to accomplish thus far. Iowa's Mike Gessell is coming off a spectacular 25 point performance against MSU, and will have to put up with two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Raphael Davis. That leaves much of the Hawkeye scoring on the shoulders of Peter Jok, who is also having a career year.
When it is all said and done, we're getting a matchup of two very solid teams, both of which are likely bound for the NCAA tournament. Regardless of how this shakes out, it should be the best one to watch of the night.
Michigan Wolverines vs. Penn State Nittany Lions - Noon ET (BTN)
After a comeback victory over Illinois earlier this week, Michigan will attempt to continue it's second half dominance when they take on Penn State. The Nittany Lions are coming off a near-upset over #4 Maryland, surprising many doubters across the conference. The Wolverines' Caris LeVert has been stellar thus far, but unexpected standout Marc Donnal was the one who came through big against the Fighting Illini. It should be interesting to see if head coach John Beilein continues to give Donnal opportunities to shine. Any way you look at it, Michigan has the advantage in this game.
Wisconsin Badgers vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights - 2:00 ET (BTN)
Its finally starting to sink in that this year's Wisconsin is not the Wisconsin of 2014-15. Kaminsky is gone, Dekker is gone, Bo Ryan is gone, and gone with them it appears is the Badgers' dominance. Wisconsin is now 8-6 and appears an NCAA tournament bubble team at best. Nigel Hayes, while talented, has not been enough to lift this young team to the next level. However, a combination of Hayes and Bronson Koenig would beat most duos in the nation. That's why the Badgers should be able to hold off this dismal Rutgers team at home.
Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. #1 Michigan State Spartans - 3:00 ET (ESPN2)
Michigan State reemerges from their first defeat to take on Minnesota in Minneapolis. With Denzel Valentine sidelined for the short term, the Spartans will have to rely on other members of their team to get by. In this case, be looking for a big game out of Bryn Forbes. The senior shooting guard has been red-hot from beyond the arc this season, hitting 47.5% of his threes. With added opportunities on the horizon, look for Forbes to seize the opportunity. Regardless of who steps up big, this is Michigan State's game to lose. The Spartans should win in double-digits.
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Indiana Hoosiers - 4:00 ET (BTN)
After averting a complete non-conference trainwreck, Indiana has looked very solid as of late. They enter this game on a six-game win streak, their most recent win coming over Rutgers earlier this week. After a slow start, Yogi Ferrell has picked up the pace and is coming off a 20 point performance against the Scarlet Knights. Michigan Max Bielfeldt has also been putting up numbers, and is coming off a double-double. Look for the senior to have another big game against a weaker Nebraska frontcourt. This is a game that IU should win based on talent alone, but given the fact that its in Lincoln, anything to happen. I still would bet on an Indiana win by a slight margin.
Northwestern Wildcats vs. #4 Maryland Terrapins - 8:00 ET (BTN)
This is the most underrated game of the night. Northwestern (13-1, 1-0) is coming off a win over Nebraska in their Big Ten opener, and is getting the least respect of any one-loss team in the nation. While the Wildcats have yet to play a "quality" team yet, they will get their first shot at a big game when they host the Terps Saturday night. Northwestern may be without star center Alex Olah, but recently unredshirted freshman Dererk Pardon has stepped up big in his absence, going for 28 points in just his second career college game. However, Pardon will face the task of repeating his performance against one of the best teams in the nation. Maryland's Diamond Stone is coming off a career-high 39 point game, the most points by a freshman in Maryland history. The Terps are favored heavily, but Saturday night will give the country an opportunity to see what Northwestern is truly made of.