There are three games tonight with four different ranked Big Ten teams in action.
Game of the Night
#11 Iowa Hawkeyes at #21 Wisconsin Badgers
- Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET ESPN
The best game of the night is also a matchup between two slumping teams.
Wisconsin was in the top 10 about a month ago and at one part where in the top five. Over the past month they’ve gone 4-4, including a loss to Penn State and blowing a double digit halftime lead to Michigan. If we’re playing the trends, though, Wisconsin has followed a loss with a win all seven times this season.
As for Iowa, they peaked at #3 in the country and a month ago were sitting at 12-2 (6-1). Since then they’ve gone 3-4, losing twice to Indiana, as well as a loss to Illinois and Ohio State. They’ve managed to win their last two games, but matchups against Rutgers and Michigan State favored the Hawkeyes offensively. Iowa has lost enough that they’re probably out of Big Ten contention, so now they’ll be playing for a 2 or 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. With road trips to Wisconsin (tonight), Ohio State and Michigan, as well as home games against Penn State and Wisconsin, Iowa desperately needs to build some momentum.
Wisconsin’s offensive production has tailed off throughout conference play, with the Badgers coming in at 10th in the league in field goal percentage during conference play. They’re also only ninth in three point percentage and while a good free throw shooting team, they are second to last in free throw attempts with 14.1 per game. In comparison Iowa is third in field goal percentage, first in three point percentage and shoot the third most free throws per game (20.9). Their offense has stalled out at times, most notable against Indiana, but if Iowa can spread the ball around they have more than enough firepower to get past Wisconsin.
That’s honestly the biggest issue here for the Badgers. They can try to impose their style of play and slow things down, but Iowa can shoot pretty much anywhere on the court and are the more efficient team offensively. The Badgers, who fielded a team with a number of capable three point shooters, has seen most of their shooters numbers tumble throughout the winter. If they can’t make some shots it’s going to be a difficult task to keep pace with Iowa. Wisconsin does have the advantage of the game taking place in Madison, though the lack of fans slightly lessens that advantage.
Wisconsin has the personnel to slow down Iowa but they also need to find the offensive firepower to pick up the win. Can they do it? Well, yeah, the Big Ten has been full of upsets and Iowa has been trending downwards in the back half of the season (something not foreign to Fran McCaffery and the Hawkeyes). It’s just too hard to see Wisconsin keep pace with Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp, though.
It’ll be ugly but Iowa wins.
#4 Ohio State Buckeyes at Penn State Nittany Lions
- Time/TV: 8:00 PM ET BTN
Ohio State is 9-1 over their last 10, only losing to Purdue. That has allowed the Buckeyes to reach #4 in the polls and crawl towards a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They might be not be able to reach the top of the Big Ten, though, thanks to having three more losses than Michigan. And with Michigan, Iowa and Illinois all on deck, it’s going to be a rough stretch to the finish.
The Buckeyes will get what is arguably their easiest game for the rest of the season tonight when they travel to Happy Valley. Penn State is only 4-9 in conference play and is coming off of back to back single possession losses to Michigan State and Nebraska. They have beat Wisconsin, Maryland and Rutgers, but they’ve been far too inconsistent this year. They almost took out Ohio State in their first appearance, mainly because they forced 17 turnovers and held the Buckeyes to 31.8% from three. Ohio State has since cleaned things up, though, committing less than nine turnovers per game since.
Penn State has had a knack for late season upsets in recent years. Could it happen tonight? If Ohio State looks ahead to their remaining schedule or starts to let the hype get to their head it very well could. Fortunately for Ohio State fans their senior heavy team should have enough composure to not underestimate the Nittany Lions and will find a way to escape Happy Valley with a win.
Pick: Ohio State
Rutgers Scarlet Knights at #3 Michigan Wolverines
- Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET FS1
Michigan returned from a three week absence with a win at Wisconsin, doubling up the Badgers in the second half to come back for an eight point win. It was a big win for Michigan as they hold a comfortable lead in the conference heading into a rough stretch that includes road trips to Ohio State, Indiana and Michigan State, as well as a home game against Iowa.
Rutgers is 5-1 their last six games and has seemingly salvaged their season. With a schedule that softens up dramatically after tonight, a win over Michigan would solidify their tournament resume. Of course winning in Ann Arbor won’t be an easy task.
Michigan was definitely rusty in the first half, but bounced back in a big way in the second against the Badgers. Offensively the Wolverines limit mistakes and have a much more balanced attack both inside and out. Rutgers is reliant on a backcourt that doesn’t shoot particularly well from outside and doesn’t have the interior talent to stop the Wolverines frontcourt. Mix that with the game taking place at Michigan and the Wolverines should improve to 15-1.