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1/26 Big Ten Preview: Northwestern Tries to Keep Pace

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Two Big Ten games are on the schedule for Thursday night.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

We’re nearing the end of January, and when it comes to college basketball, the men start to separate from the boys. In the Big Ten, it looks like a four (maybe five) team title race: Maryland, Wisconsin, Purdue, Northwestern and maybe Indiana. Those with four losses are lingering still of course, and could go on a run, but more than likely, if a team has four losses, it’s too late.

Among the five still in the title race, Northwestern and Indiana play, but not each other. Let’s take a closer look at the Big Ten’s Thursday games. (The spreads are via Covers.com.)

Big Ten Game of the Day:

-Nebraska Cornhuskers at Northwestern Wildcats

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM CT on BTN
  • Spread: Northwestern (-10)

Odds are good that Northwestern makes the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. Chris Collins really has had the Wildcats trending in the right direction, and it’s now paying dividends. However, not many thought Northwestern would also be in the Big Ten title discussion.

If the Wildcats want to remain in the discussion, they have to beat Nebraska at home. The Huskers are one of those lingering teams with four losses. They’ve had some good wins (at Indiana, at Maryland, vs. Iowa), but are in the midst of a four game losing streak (most recently falling to Rutgers). Conversely, Northwestern’s riding a four-game winning streak.

This is the second meeting of the year between these two teams. Northwestern travelled to Lincoln on January 8th and beat Nebraska, 74-66. (That started the current Husker losing streak and current Wildcat winning streak.) Down four at the half, the Northwestern pulled away in the second half, and really, controlled the last 11 minutes of the game. With the score tied 50-50, Collins’ team outscored Nebraska 24-16.

Northwestern wins this game, but it’ll be close. (In other words, I don’t think they cover, so I’ll grab the points.) This is, however, Northwestern’s year. No Big Ten title this year, but they’ll remain in the upper half of the conference.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Nebraska (+10)

The Rest:

-Indiana Hoosiers at Michigan Wolverines

  • Time/TV: 8:00 PM CT on ESPN2
  • Spread: Michigan (-3.5)

I wonder if this is a loser leaves town situation. Michigan sits with four Big Ten losses, and Indiana three. The Wolverines losing a fifth game, means the end of their already slim Big Ten title hopes, and Indiana’s fourth loss would be troubling too. The Hoosiers still have two games against Purdue, and must travel to Wisconsin and Northwestern.

This is the first meeting between Indiana and Michigan this year. (They’ll play again in two and half weeks.) Both teams have great offenses. The Hoosiers and Wolverines are ninth and nineteenth in adjusted offensive efficiency respectively (according to KenPom). (KenPom is actually predicting a Michigan one-point win.)

Indiana and Michigan are pretty evenly matched (in flaws and strengths), except in one area. Indiana has struggled with turnovers. On the road, it’s imperative to take care of the ball. Turnovers could swing the game to the Wolverines.

I know Michigan is playing well, and they’ll be at home, but I’ll take Indiana and the points. The Hoosiers have the talent to win on the road, and if James Blackmon Jr. gives a good performance, they’ll stay in the game.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Indiana (+3.5)