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Week Five: BTP Game of the Week: UCLA at Michigan

The Big Ten can bounce back with some intriguing non-conference matchups

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Ohio State Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Thank god for the PAC-12. After a historically bad performance in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the only thing obscuring a disappointing start for the league is the circus out west. Between Arizona and USC’s failures on the court and UCLA’s foolish behavior off of it, the PAC-12 is in disarray.

The Big Ten’s shortcomings, however, can no longer be written off as just a slow start (as I attempted to do here last week… oops.) Breaking the league up into “tiers” feels cliché and meaningless at this point. So does saying that its, “Michigan State first, then Purdue and Minnesota, then everyone else.” But almost a month into the season, I think we know who won’t be winning the Big Ten this year. The three young “I” teams (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa) seem destined to take a lot of “L’s” this year after going 1-8 in week 4 (that one win? Indiana beat Iowa). Rutgers and Nebraska aren’t ready to compete, though props to the Cornhuskers for doing their part to help the Big Ten avoid complete embarrassment against the ACC. Conversely, I’m not ready to write off Wisconsin just yet. The Badgers have earned the benefit of the doubt over the years and a solid win at Penn State is a good sign.

Week 5 (December 6th through December 12th) sees the restart of nonconference play and contains an eclectic mix of rivalry games, some solid but unorthodox matchups and the usual cupcakes. Its finals season for the students-athletes, but on the court this time of year is more akin to the first round of midterms, where tournament resumes are made or broken.

Game of the Week

UCLA Bruins at Michigan Wolverines

Last year in Pauley Pavilion, these two teams put on an incredible show in the first half, with each team putting up 50 points behind a flood of threes. The Bruins pulled away in the second half, but it was an extremely fun basketball game. I’m sure UCLA fans reminisce about those days. Their team was ranked #2 after beating Kentucky in an even more thrilling game. More importantly, LaVar Ball wasn’t the world’s most famous Sports Dad/semi-professional clown.

With the Ball Experience now behind them (sort of), will a talented UCLA team fulfill their potential? In their only blemish this season, the Bruins couldn’t slow down a high-powered Creighton offense. Michigan’s resume doesn’t exactly jump off the page, especially considering their meager second half effort in Columbus on Monday. Still, the Wolverines are always a tough out in Ann Arbor.

This is a Saturday day game (9 AM tip Pacific Time!), during our first week without football in months, pitting two great programs against each other. Those factors, combined with the lack of a marquee matchup that we’ve had in recent weeks, gives this enough to garner “Game of the Week” status.

Honorable Mention

Minnesota Golden Gophers at Arkansas Razorbacks

The Gophers inclusion here is becoming something of a requirement. What can I say? They’ve played some entertaining basketball so far this year backed by solid scheduling from Richard Pitino and Staff. Jordan Murphy continues to put up video game-like numbers (21 points and 13 boards) with a supporting cast that’s talented if not all that deep. Reggie Lynch has stayed out of foul trouble reasonably well of late. That will be a key in league play for this team.

Arkansas has a couple blowout losses, but they’ve been away from home for over two weeks and since 2010 have only lost two non-conference home games. Minnesota already has one solid true road win to their name (at Providence). They’ll try to add to an already impressive resume this week.

Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Iowa State Cyclones

While these teams have anything but impressive, it’s hard not include this bitter rivalry amongst the week’s top matchups. Iowa can’t boast one upperclassmen amongst its top seven scorers while Iowa State has relied on large contributions from guys (Donovan Jackson, Nick Babb) who had much smaller roles last year.

The Hawkeyes upset the Cyclones last year in Iowa City. In Ames, Iowa State will likely be favored to win, but this is a hard one to pin down given the teams’ compositions. Rivalry games tend to bring out a team’s best, so we may find out if either of these teams can play spoiler once conference season comes in earnest.

Worst Game of the Week

Chicago State Cougars at Northwestern Wildcats

The Cougars consistently rate out as one of the worst teams in college basketball, but in the last couple years they’ve challenged the two best programs in their state. In 2015, Illinois needed some late-game heroics to top the Cougars (who would end the year 4-28). Last year, a marginally improved Chicago State squad nearly picked off the Wildcats.

“Chicago’s Big Ten Team” and Chicago State once again face off, this time in Rosemont. A 6PM start on a Monday will all but ensure a sparse crowd, even by Northwestern’s standards, as rush-hour traffic will give casual fans second and third thoughts about trekking out to see these two “Chicago powerhouses” do battle. Sadly, this game also offers Chicago hoops junkies a viable alternative to the pitiful performances of the city’s once-proud professional franchise.

Maybe the Cougars, whose only victories this season have come against a NAIA team and a pseudo-Intramural team (not making that up), will take the Wildcats down the wire once again. If they can, I guarantee you it will not be pretty.

Season Stats

Game of the Week Appearances by Team:

  • Michigan State – 2
  • Wisconsin – 1
  • Purdue – 1
  • Michigan – 1

Game of the Week Honorable Mention Appearances by Team:

  • Minnesota – 4
  • Penn State – 1
  • Northwestern – 1
  • Wisconsin – 2
  • Maryland – 1
  • Iowa – 1

Total Appearances by Team:

  • Michigan State – 2
  • Minnesota – 4
  • Penn State – 1
  • Wisconsin – 3
  • Northwestern – 1
  • Maryland – 1
  • Purdue – 1
  • Michigan – 1
  • Iowa – 1

Worst Game Appearances by Team:

  • Wisconsin – 1
  • Iowa – 1
  • Illinois – 1
  • Nebraska – 1
  • Northwestern – 1