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2/26 Big Ten Preview: Wisconsin Looks to Keep Pace in Big Ten Race

Plus Illinois and Nebraska take the court in Lincoln.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

March is nearly upon us and there is intrigue throughout the Big Ten.

The conference leader, Purdue, stumbled on the road yesterday in Ann Arbor to a red-hot Michigan team that (probably) solidified its NCAA tournament bid. That leaves the door open for Wisconsin to earn at least a share of the Big Ten crown. They have their own challenge today as we’ll preview below.

Elsewhere, Maryland and Northwestern both lost yesterday, while Minnesota won. This has created a mess around the coveted double-bye in the conference tournament. An opening is there for Michigan State if the Spartans can win their final three games.

The bottom of the conference remains wide-open as well with Indiana picking up an improbable victory against Northwestern last night. The result of Sunday’s night cap will shape many scenarios as the Big Ten enters its final week of conference play.

So, given that there is so much to be decided, let’s take a little closer look at an important set of Big Ten Sunday games.

Big Ten Game of the Day:

-Wisconsin Badgers at Michigan State Spartans

  • TV/Time: 4:00 PM ET on CBS
  • Spread: Wisconsin (-2)

A massive game today in East Lansing.

The sputtering Badgers (1-3 over their last four games), need this one today for confidence and Big Ten title hopes.

Michigan State (17-11, 9-6) is currently in as a 10-seed, according to Jerry Palm, and a win on Sunday would give them their sixth RPI Top 50 win. It would also keep them firmly entrenched in a battle for either the 3rd or 4th seed in the Big Ten tournament, earning them a double-bye.

Expect a healthy dose of Ethan Happ today for the Badgers (22-6, 11-4). The Spartans are undersized and do not have much front court depth. The challenge for Wisconsin is when the double team comes.

Opponents are double teaming Nigel Hayes and Happ and the Badgers are struggling to find open shooters. The shooters have had their share of struggles as well, but Wisconsin has to come up with a plan to effectively handle the double team, or their offense will continue to struggle.

Michigan State hasn’t lost at home since January 24th against Purdue. The Spartans will continue to soldier on without Eron Harris and need production out of guards like Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid, Josh Langford and Alvin Ellis III. Langford was excellent in their victory on Thursday over Nebraska with 17 points and five rebounds.

Perhaps more important today is the big freshman Nick Ward. The Spartans need him active on defense, aggressive on offense and out of foul trouble. Other than a foul-plagued game against Purdue last weekend, Ward has been good over his last five games. If Ward can neutralize some of Wisconsin’s size advantage, Michigan State will have a great chance today.

Expect this one to be a classic Michigan State-Wisconsin rock fight. The Spartans will try to run a bit to get Wisconsin uncomfortable defensively, but the blueprint is out there for how these teams will play each other.

I like Michigan State at home in a raucous Breslin Center with a big game from Miles Bridges and timely three-pointers. I’ll take Michigan State in a close victory.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Michigan State (+2)

The Rest:

-Illinois Fighting Illini at Nebraska Cornhuskers

  • TV/Time: 7:30 PM ET on BTN
  • Spread: Nebraska (-3.5)

The Big Ten’s other game on Sunday has implications for two teams who are trying to not play on Wednesday of the Big Ten Tournament.

Currently, Nebraska (12-15, 6-9) and Illinois (16-12, 6-9) sit just above the bottom four seeds at 6-9 in the conference. A loss by either team puts them into a tie with a group of three teams at 6-10. Any chance to make some noise in the Big Ten Tournament will likely need to come from a Thursday starting gate. No team in the 11-14 seeding has made it past Friday in the Big Ten Tournament’s current bracket configuration (2015).

The reason to watch tonight is guard play. Both teams boast some great guard play that should drive any result from tonight’s game. The Cornhuskers will put the ball in the hands of young Glynn Watson Jr. Team leading scorer (17.8 points per game) Tai Webster is alongside Watson Jr.

The Illini have senior Malcolm Hill (17 points per game) and younger players such as Jalen Coleman-Lands and Te’Jon Lucas. The young Lucas in particular has more than doubled his regular season scoring average (5.0) over the last four games (10.7)

It is hard to predict this one based on the inconsistency of both teams. Illinois has been playing slightly better as of late, but I think Nebraska will take this one at home.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Nebraska (-3.5)