Tonight we are treated to one of the best matchups of the Big Ten season, Michigan State vs. Maryland. These two teams represent some of the best that the conference has to offer and it should be a fantastic game to watch. Elsewhere, a streaking Indiana team hosts Northwestern at Assembly Hall and Nebraska goes for a second-straight upset when they host Michigan. Here's what to watch for in a day packed with Big Ten hoops.
Game of the Night
#11 Michigan State Spartans vs. #7 Maryland Terrapins - 6:30 ET (ESPN)
Once thought to be the pick to win the conference, Michigan State has faced some serious issues over the past couple weeks. A loss against Nebraska this Thursday in Lincoln marked the third-straight defeat for Tom Izzo's team, an unlikely scenario for the once #1 team in the nation. The Spartans will try to regroup when they play who appears to be the new Big Ten favorite: Maryland.
This is going to be a fantastic battle between some of the best players in the nation. While Denzel Valentine is just returning to form following a foot injury, he will need to play like the All-American he is capable of being when matched up against stellar point guard Melo Trimble. The two studs are among the small group of front runners for the Big Ten Player of the Year and meet for the first time since Michigan State took out the Terps in the semifinal for the Big Ten Tournament last season.
To win this game, MSU is going to need contributions from all of their players. Despite the injury to Tum Tum Nairn, guys like Eron Harris will really need to step up in their production to play their best game to date. This also includes on the defensive end. As of late, the Spartans have been weaker in putting together strong defensive possessions, which in turn leads to a lack of points off turnovers. This is something that MSU thrived off of all last year and will need to revive if they want to get their season back on track.
For Maryland, the key is going to be pounding the paint. According the KenPom.com, the Terrapins are one of the best teams in the nation at effective field goal percentage (58.2%, 5th in the country) and do so by feeding the ball in post to Diamond Stone. The freshman has been huge in the offensive scheme for Mark Turgeon and will have the size advantage when going up against the smaller Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis.
Overall, this should be a game that goes wire to wire. KenPom predicts a 72-69 for MSU, and I wouldn't stray far from that prediction. Make sure you tune in to watch this one.
#25 Indiana Hoosiers vs. Northwestern Wildcats - Noon ET (ESPN2)
Still undefeated in conference play, Indiana may be the hottest team in the Big Ten right now. The Hoosiers (16-3, 6-0 B1G) are currently riding an eleven game win streak, and as confirmed by a blowout win over Illinois this week, they're showing no signs of slowing down. Yogi Ferrell has been nothing short of a stud and Thomas Bryant is leading the Big Ten in field goal percentage at 71.5% on the season.
They meet a Northwestern team thats is desperate for a win. The Wildcats have fallen off the NCAA radar as of late with losses to Penn State and then Maryland in OT this Thursday. If NU is able to escape with a win here, it would be huge for their NCAA tourney hopes. That being said, Indiana is highly favored, as they should be, and will try to win their twelfth game in a row.
Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini - 8:30 ET (BTN)
Illinois' season is already going down the gutter, as is Minnesota's. The question here will be can Illinois get their first road win of the season? Yes, this matchup certainly doesn't have the talent and sparkle of a MSU-Maryland showdown, but it is likely to be a dogfight. Both defenses are far below average, meaning guys like Malcolm Hill and Nate Mason are going to have a field day. Sure, it may sounds simple, but this one is going to come down to who scores more points in a shorter amount of time. I expect this game to be very streaky.
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Michigan Wolverines - 1:00 ET (ESPN2)
The Huskers are coming off their biggest win of the season, an upset 72-71 victory at home over Michigan State. While they have looked very below average the rest of the season, we'll see if they can ride the momentum of the win into this difficult matchup against the Wolverines. Michigan is proving to be one of the upper tier teams in the conference and should have the upper hand in this contest. Derrick Walton Jr. is playing well right now and is coming off a 22 point outing against Minnesota. This bodes well for the Wolverines who need production in the absence of Caris LeVert to injury. I like Michigan to win this game on the road.