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3/8 Big Ten Preview: Three Top 25 Showdowns To Close Regular Season

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NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

There are four Big Ten games on the last day of the regular season, including three games between top 25 opponents.

Game of the Day

#19 Ohio State Buckeyes at #16 Michigan State Spartans

  • Time/TV: 4:30 PM ET

Michigan State has gone from ranked first to unranked and back in to the top 20. It’s safe to say that this season hasn’t exactly gone the way Spartan fans imagined, but at the end of the day the Spartans still have a shot at a Big Ten title if they can beat rival Ohio State. And luckily for the Spartans, the team is playing hot after winning on the road against Penn State and Maryland.

The Buckeyes looked like a potential Big Ten title contender earlier in the year before a rough midseason stretch derailed that. They’ve bounced back nicely down the stretch and their current four game winning streak includes wins over Maryland, Michigan and Illinois. So just like Michigan State, the Buckeyes come into today’s game with plenty of momentum.

Ohio State didn’t win pretty last time out, taking advantage of shooting 18 more free throws than the Illini. The Buckeyes shot 38.6% from the field and 20% from three, but Kaleb Wesson had a big day with 19 points on 7 of 10 shooting. They also get big performances from the bench as E.J. Liddell and CJ Walker added 32 points. Ohio State would benefit if they can get all hands on deck against a Spartans team playing for a title.

Xavier Tillman will be a huge problem for Ohio State and is coming off of a big night against Penn State (23 points and 15 rebounds). The duo of Tillman and Cassius Winston should prove problematic for any team in the country, but with Rocket Watts playing much better as of late the Michigan State starting five will be even more deadly.

Ohio State has been playing a lot better but so has Michigan State. The Spartans seem to be coming together as the postseason approaches, which shouldn’t be a surprise if you have ever followed a Michigan State team coached by Tom Izzo. Look for the Spartans to keep that momentum rolling into the Big Ten Tournament with a win at home today against the Buckeyes.

Pick: Michigan State

The Rest

#25 Michigan Wolverines at #9 Maryland Terrapins

  • Time/TV: 12:00 PM ET (FOX)

The Wolverines bounced back from a two game losing streak with a 24 point dismantling of Nebraska. Now they get a much more difficult challenge as they head east to square off against the ninth ranked Maryland Terrapins. Maryland will be looking to bounce back after losing back to back games against Michigan State and Rutgers, creating a logjam at the top of the conference.

In both of those two losses Maryland has (once again) had problems with shooting the ball from outside. Against the Spartans they shot 30% (6 of 20) from deep, which was better than the woeful 6 of 32 they shot from three against Rutgers. Maryland is only a 30.9% three point shooting team and if Michigan wants to win they’ll be in best shape if they force Maryland to shoot from outside. That might be difficult with Jalen Smith inside, who is averaging 15.4 points and 10.5 rebounds per game for the Terps. But if Michigan can take away their inside game, they could be in good shape.

The return of Isaiah Livers helped jumpstart the Michigan offense but when he struggles the Wolverines tend to struggle as well. In their last two losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State, the forward shot 5 of 21 from the field. If the Wolverines want to finish the year with an upset over Maryland they’ll need a much better performance from the junior. The team also needs more from Jon Teske, who has struggled immensely down the stretch. Teske had a nice game against Nebraska with 12 points on 5 of 11 shooting and Michigan will need more of that down the stretch.

If Livers has a good day and Michigan can force Maryland to shoot from the perimeter they’ll have a decent shot of winning today. But if Maryland can feed Jalen Smith inside and slow down Livers then it’s going to be a rough day for Michigan.

Look for Maryland to figure out their issues on offense and find a way to get by Michigan.

Pick: Maryland

Nebraska Cornhuskers at Minnesota Golden Gophers

  • Time/TV: 1:00 PM ET (BTN)

Nebraska is riding a 15 game losing streak and will try to close the regular season with a win on the road against Minnesota. The Cornhuskers shot 8 of 30 from the line in an overtime loss to Northwestern last week. Earlier this week they hung around with Michigan for a half before getting blown out by 24 while shooting 36.2% from the field and committing 22 turnovers. That’s more or less Nebraska in a nutshell, as the team has been sloppy this season and has a dreadful defense.

At 13-16 Minnesota is also near the bottom of the conference. That being said, though, the team very well could have been an NCAA Tournament team if they could simply win close games. The Gophers are 1-6 their last seven games but those losses include a one point loss to Maryland, two point loss to Wisconsin, three point loss to Iowa, five point loss to Indiana and a six point loss to Penn State (with three of those losses on the road).

The Gophers struggle in close games, as well as closing out games in general, but with Daniel Oturu and Marcus Carr on the court they should have enough offensive firepower to take advantage of a dire Nebraska defense.

You can’t blow a close game if it’s not close to begin with. Look for Minnesota to finish the regular season with a win.

Pick: Minnesota

#18 Iowa Hawkeyes at #23 Illinois Fighting Illini

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET (BTN)

Iowa knocked off Penn State last week but couldn’t continue that momentum as they once again couldn’t stop a tepid Purdue offense. Now they get another shot to slow down a below average offense when they travel to Illinois tonight.

In their last game the Illini went ice cold in the second half and got outscored by Ohio State by 15, ultimately losing in Columbus by eight. That loss put the Illini a game behind Michigan State, Maryland and Wisconsin, who they went 1-5 against this season.

Tonight’s game could also be interesting because both of these teams haven’t exactly been consistent this year. Iowa has a very good offense and considering the Illini’s inability to score consistently, you’d think the Hawkeyes would be in good shape. You also have to consider Iowa’s awful defense that once again got lit up by a bad Purdue offense, meaning you can’t rule out the Illini from finding success on offense.

So what happens? Luka Garza likely has another big day for the Hawkeyes but it’ll take some success from the backcourt if Iowa wants to win tonight. The Illini defense comes out to play and look for Illinois to build from the home crowd and manage to get revenge for a seven point loss at Iowa earlier this season.

Pick: Illinois