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2/6 Big Ten Preview: Big Ten NCAA Contenders Go On The Road

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Preview the Big Ten’s action on Sunday afternoon.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

With the season rapidly approaching its close, the heat is on across the Big Ten. Teams are fighting for NCAA Tournament positioning and seeding in the Big Ten Tournament. And Tuesday night will be no different, as all three games come with significant NCAA Tournament implications.

Let’s take a look at the day’s games.

Game of the Day

-Michigan Wolverines at Northwestern Wildcats

  • Time/TV: 7:00PM ET (BTN)
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan (-1)

As most fans know, this season’s Big Ten scheduling is a bit unusual. With the compressed schedule, there are a lot of odd quirks to this year’s slate. We’ve seen a number of teams face weeks with three games and quick turnarounds among other developments. It hasn’t been an ordinary schedule, to say the least.

One of those odd quirks will occur on Tuesday night, as Michigan and Northwestern face off for the second time in just eight days. The Wolverines one the first game in Ann Arbor on January 29th and will be looking for the second on Tuesday. It’s rare to see two league teams face off so shortly after the first meeting.

For Michigan, this is an immensely dangerous game. The Wolverines are favored, but only narrowly. KenPom gives Michigan just a 55 percent chance to come out on top and the spread is essentially a pick ‘em. However, this is an important game for RPI implications. Northwestern’s profile isn’t all that impressive and a loss to the Wildcats would be a big hit to Michigan’s postseason hopes.

On the other side, Northwestern is hoping to build some momentum after beating Wisconsin last Thursday. It was the team’s third win in four games and improved Northwestern’s overall record to 14-10 on the season. The Wildcats aren’t anywhere close to being an NCAA Tournament team, but a win over Michigan would certainly excite the fanbase and help the team’s Big Ten Tournament seeding.

The matchup to watch is going to be in the backcourt. Northwestern’s zone defense gave Michigan some significant problems in the first meeting and this will be a big test for Zavier Simpson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. Additionally, Northwestern needs to find a way to get more out of Bryant McIntosh than the six points and 63 offensive rating he had in the first meeting.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Michigan

The Rest:

-Michigan State Spartans at Iowa Hawkeyes

  • Time/TV: 9:00PM ET (ESPN)
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan State (-11)

Since losing at home to Michigan on January 13th, things have been pretty good (on the court) for the Spartans. The team has won six straight, which includes three road wins. However, things are about to ratchet up this week with a huge road game against Purdue. Most consider it the best game anywhere in the country this week.

The tricky part, though, is that Michigan State has to get through Tuesday before it can start focusing on the Boilermakers. And while Iowa has struggled this season, it has won two of its last four games and is still feisty at home. This looks like the definition of a trap game and fans will have to wait and see whether the trap pops up.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Michigan State

-Nebraska Cornhuskers at Minnesota Golden Gophers

  • Time/TV: 9:00PM ET (BTN)
  • KenPom Spread: Minnesota (-1)

This one easily could have been selected for Game of the Day, but was just narrowly edged out by Michigan at Northwestern. And the explanation for why this is such an important game is pretty clear. The Huskers are in the heart of an NCAA Tournament push and this is the team’s most difficult game (on paper) remaining.

Nebraska enters Tuesday’s game with a good amount of momentum. The Huskers have won three straight and five of the team’s last six games. The team has looked like an NCAA Tournament unit over the last few weeks and is rapidly moving up in many of the national projections. Scoring a road win at Minnesota would do a ton to keep Nebraska moving in the right direction.

However, things won’t be easy. Minnesota is reeling after some roster issues, but the Gophers have looked better as of late and nearly took down Michigan on the road last Saturday. Nate Mason and Isaiah Washington were spetacular in that game and will be hoping to continue that success on Tuesday night.

I try to avoid being hyperbolic in these previews, but this legitimately feels like a must win game for the Huskers. We will see what happens.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Minnesota

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Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 17-28-1