Rivalries are one of the biggest reasons why we love college basketball. Every year there seems to be an instant classic somewhere along the way, and the bad blood doesn’t get any better year-to-year.
We’ll break down some of the biggest rivalry games in the Big Ten this season and see who’s going to earn their bragging rights.
Illinois vs. Northwestern
Illinois and Northwestern will face off twice this season, with both teams showing improved play so far. Illinois’ senior Malcolm Hill is third in the conference in scoring and has rejuvenated this team, with the help of fellow senior Tracy Abrams and his 59 percent three point shooting.
Northwestern has been one of the most pleasant surprises in the country, as they have started 11-2, with their two losses coming to now-ranked Butler and Notre Dame. This is just a tough, well-coached team by Chris Collins, son of former NBA head coach Doug Collins. I would compare this Northwestern team to Wisconsin in that they play hard nose defense, and control the pace of the game, which is led by captain and point guard Bryant McIntosh.
- Who Wins: I think Northwestern will take both games simply because they are the better team with better players, plain and simple. Illinois doesn’t have enough good on ball defenders to stop Scottie Lindsey, Vic Law and McIntosh.
Indiana vs Purdue
This is the best matchup in the conference and we’re lucky that these teams play twice, which will make for two epic bouts. These games will be highly intense, especially by each of the teams’ big men. Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas for Purdue, and Thomas Bryant and OG Anunoby will be the battle to watch in each of these games. However, I think these games will come down to the guard play and who can control the three point line, where these teams rank number one and two (Purdue and Indiana respectively) in the conference in percentage.
- Who Wins: I think this will be a push with each team winning on their home courts, but for the sake of picking the better team, I’ll take Indiana because of the better guard play with James Blackmon and Robert Johnson.
Iowa vs. Nebraska
The Cornhuskers and Hawkeyes will square off twice this season and will most likely be the least entertaining games of the bunch. Iowa comes in as the second ranked scoring offense in the conference at 84.6 points per game, but is last in points allowed.
No one seems to be as valuable to their team as Iowa’s senior guard Peter Jok, who leads the Big Ten in scoring at 22.6 points per game. This Iowa team goes as he goes, which is similar to the situation in Lincoln, where the Cornhuskers are led by their senior guard Tai Webster. While Webster is somewhere near the top in the conference in scoring, assists and rebounding for guards, his team has struggled all year scoring the ball and defending it. The Cornhuskers will most likely finish in the bottom two in the Big Ten this season.
- Who Wins: Iowa is clearly the better team with arguably the best player in the conference in Jok. My gut is telling me that Iowa will most likely take both games from Nebraska.
Maryland vs. Penn State
The only game between these teams has Maryland traveling to the Bryce Jordan Center in Happy Valley. However, it may not be so happy after the matchup.
Maryland has a shot to win any game in the conference as long as Melo Trimble is still on the floor. Trimble has bypassed the NBA draft for two years, but this could very well be his last season for head coach Mark Turgeon. Trimble is fifth in the Big Ten in scoring, but he doesn’t have a whole lot of help beyond that with this relatively young Maryland team.
Penn State comes in with one of the youngest teams in college basketball, with not one senior on their roster. They’ll have all five starters back next year, all of whom are averaging in double figures, so things could be looking up for the Nittany Lions.
- Who Wins: I believe Maryland will take this game based on the inexperience of this young Penn State team. However, watch out for the Nittany Lions with Tony Carr and Mike Watkins next year, who could really make some noise in the conference.
Michigan vs. Ohio State
The Wolverines will host the Buckeyes in early February and it should be a great matchup, as both teams sit at 10-3 after their non-conference schedules. Michigan’s team defensive statistics are interesting and somewhat misleading as they are last in both defensive field goal and three point percentage in the Big Ten, but are number one in the conference in points allowed per game at just 60.8 per game. I believe the latter statistic is the one that represents the Wolverines better as their defense can be as stout as anyone in the country.
The Buckeyes have six players (Jae’Sean Tate, Marc Loving, Kam Williams, JaQuan Lyle, Trevor Thompson, and Keita Bates-Diop) averaging in double figures and at any point anyone can get hot. Each of the six players averaging in double figures have led the team in scoring in one game at some point in the season.
- Who Wins: I’m going to take Michigan in a hard fought game in Ann Arbor. I think this game will come down to the turnover battle, where Michigan is number one in the conference in turnover margin.
Minnesota vs. Wisconsin
This matchup also has two games on the teams’ schedules. After finishing second to last in conference with just two Big Ten wins last season, Minnesota has been one of the biggest surprises in the conference this season. Three out of the four leading scorers are all returners from last season, and the Golden Gophers added highly ranked freshman Amir Coffey, who added some skill and size to a team in need of some good players. Wisconsin returns its big three of Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ, all of whom average over 13 points per game. Wisconsin also has one of the stingiest defenses in the country, ranking in the top 20 at just 61.2 opponents points per game.
- Who Wins: I think Wisconsin wins because of their defense and I don’t think Minnesota has enough offense to keep pace with the Badgers’ big three.