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3/2 Big Ten Preview: Wisconsin Tries to Get Back on Track

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Two Big Ten games on the final Thursday night of the regular season.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin’s on the ropes, but still in second place (alone) in the Big Ten. Right now, the most the Badgers can hope for is a share of the regular season conference championship. (Purdue’s at Northwestern to finish the season, so there’s a chance.)

Iowa’s not a push over though, and will come to Madison and play with effort. (It’ll be another opportunity for a young team to grow.)

Minnesota’s been a late season surprise. Only a month ago, the Gophers were 3-6 in conference, but have since ripped off seven straight wins and find themselves tied for fourth place in the standings (with Michigan State).

The Cornhuskers don’t have a post season future, outside of a major run in the Big Ten Tournament, but a win at Minnesota would offer a positive glimmer. Let’s take a little closer look at the Big Ten’s Thursday Night games.

Big Ten Game of the Night:

-Iowa Hawkeyes at Wisconsin Badgers

  • TV/Time: 8:00 PM CT on ESPN
  • Covers Spread: Wisconsin (-11.5)

Iowa’s a unique match up for Wisconsin, particularly considering the Badgers’ recent struggles (losing four of five). Iowa’s record isn’t great, but Peter Jok has scored in double-figures in six straight games, including a 35-point performance in an overtime win against Indiana.

The youth is coming along for Fran McCaffery, and Jok can swing a game. Wisconsin ought to be worried about that possibility. If Jok gets hot, it could mean a tight contest.

Likely Zak Showalter will draw the assignment on Jok, as the team’s best perimeter defender. But, he’s giving up a little size, and taking on somebody who’ll be in attack mode. Wisconsin’s team defense will be put to the test; they’ll have to maintain discipline off the ball.

Unless Jok goes off, I don’t see Iowa winning. Defensively, the Hawkeyes aren’t quite there, and Wisconsin’s offense is efficient enough (still 34th in adjusted efficiency). Plus, the Badgers could exploit Iowa on the offensive glass, which will aid them if the shots aren’t falling.

Even with all that, I’ll take Iowa and the points, but Wisconsin to win the game. (The Badgers are 3-7 against the spread in their last 10.) The offense has been tough to watch at times, and if the shooting’s not a little better, Wisconsin won’t be able to run away with it.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Iowa (+11.5)

The Rest:

-Nebraska Cornhuskers at Minnesota Golden Gophers

  • TV/Time: 6:00 PM CT on ESPN
  • Covers Spread: Minnesota (-8.5)

Who knew Minnesota would pull it together, and start peaking at the right time? I’m sure some fans thought so, but there were moments, particularly when the Gophers were 3-6 in conference, that it probably felt like a same story, different year scenario.

Now, it looks like Richard Pitino’s team will make the NCAA tournament, and finish in the upper half of the conference. The Gophers added talent and firepower, but they’ve buttressed their recent success on the defensive end. (Minnesota’s ranked 13th in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.)

The Gophers have length and athleticism on the perimeter (Dupree McBrayer, Amir Coffey, Akeem Springs), and now with Reggie Lynch (averaging 3.4 blocks per game), they have a physical rim protector too.

Coffey’s been great as a freshman, and Springs is a nice addition. But, more recently, Jordan Murphy has turned up his game. In the last six games, Murphy’s had five double-doubles. (Prior to the last six games, he only had five all season.)

For the Cornhuskers, it’s another year of looking ahead to a promising future. Nebraska has three wins in its last 13 games, and has struggled to score. They’re just really young, and haven’t be able to play with consistent efficiency.

Similar to Wisconsin-Iowa, the points are too enticing though; Minnesota wins but doesn’t cover.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Nebraska (+8.5)