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2/25 Big Ten Preview: Top Ten Showdown In Ann Arbor

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

There are four games tonight in a doubleheader, with the highlight being Michigan hosting Iowa.

Game of the Night

#9 Iowa Hawkeyes at #3 Michigan Wolverines

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET ESPN

The big game tonight is a top ten showdown between the Iowa Hawkeyes and Michigan Wolverines.

At 11-5 the Hawkeyes are probably to far back to make a late push for the Big Ten title, but tonight is important as they currently only sit a game ahead of Purdue for the last double bye in the Big Ten Tournament. Iowa is also hovering at the 2/3 seed line for the NCAA Tournament and a win against Michigan would go a long way to solidifying their hold on a two seed. As for Michigan, they probably have the title locked up, but with a tough stretch to close (Iowa, at Indiana, Illinois, two games against Michigan State) they could lose a one seed if they fade out.

Michigan has shown no signs of struggling after a return from an extended pause from basketball activities, knocking off Wisconsin, Rutgers and Ohio State. All three of those games, however, were closer than the margins Michigan was winning by before their three week break.

Iowa is currently on a four game winning streak, highlighted by a 15 point win at Wisconsin. Behind Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp the Hawkeyes have proven to be one of the best offenses in the nation, though there has been an occasional hiccup or two throughout the season. The top offense per KenPom’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency ratings, they’ll face a formidable opponent in a Michigan team that has a defense just outside of the top ten (as well an offense ranked in the top ten). With this game taking place in Ann Arbor that will provide an even bigger challenge for Fran McCaffery and his Hawkeyes.

Tonight will provide an entertaining battle down low between Luka Garza and Hunter Dickinson. Dickinson has been a huge addition for the Wolverines but he’ll have his hands full tonight against Garza, who will likely once again score at least 20 points. While it’s safe to say Garza will play how he usually does, if Iowa wins it will need to take care of business out on the perimeter behind Wieskamp and Jordan Bohannon. In their losses to Indiana the Hoosiers were able to limit Iowa from outside and that proved to be key for taking down the Hawkeyes. If Michigan can do the same it’s going to be a rough night for the Hawkeyes.

Iowa’s offense has been high flying but people shouldn’t sleep on a Michigan offense that has been highly efficient as well. Dickinson leads the team with 15 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, while Isaiah Livers adds 14.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game while hitting just under 43% from three. Franz Wagner and Eli Brooks also add 12.4 and 9.0 points per game respectively, while shooting just under 40% from deep. Michigan is first in conference play for field goal percentage, second in three point percentage, second in free throw percentage, and has the second best scoring defense.

If this game was in Iowa the Hawkeyes would have a better chance. Iowa has struggled winning big games this year, losing to top ranked Gonzaga, losing to a top 20 (#19 at the time) Illinois team and losing against a top ten Ohio State team. Iowa is obviously very good but whenever they play elite competition they, for whatever reason, come close but can’t find a way to pull it off.

Look for more of the same as Michigan wins a big one in Ann Arbor.

Pick: Michigan

The Rest

Nebraska Cornhuskers at #5 Illinois Fighting Illini

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET BTN

Nebraska finally got a conference win earlier in the month and almost picked up a second win against Penn State, falling just short even though Teddy Allen dropped 41 points. Now they have to travel to Illinois to play the fifth ranked team in the country.

Illinois will be looking to bounce back from a nine point loss to Michigan State. That loss was big because at 12-4 they’re likely not going to reach Michigan. And with Ohio State (12-5) and Iowa (11-5) nearby, the Illini could slip down to third or fourth in conference play pretty easily. Thankfully they have a home game against Nebraska, arguably the easiest game they’ll have in conference play.

Guard Teddy Allen has emerged as a capable player for the Cornhuskers and Trey McGowens has shown flashes, but Nebraska has typically been an inept offense that can’t shoot, can’t convert from the free throw line and is turnover prone. That offensive inconsistency going up against a high flying Illini offense is going to lead to a long night for Nebraska. Even more so as they don’t have much of an answer for Kofi Cockburn or Ayo Dosunmu defensively.

Illinois bounces back and wins big.

Pick: Illinois

#4 Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan State Spartans

  • Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET ESPN

The late game in the ESPN double header, fourth ranked Ohio State travels up north to face Michigan State in what could become a highly interesting game when it comes to potential bracketology scenarios.

The Spartans don’t currently have the prettiest numbers, currently ranked 64th in the KenPom rankings and 75th in the most recent NET rankings. It also doesn’t help that an early season win versus Duke has faded down the stretch, while a potential big win at Virginia fell through when the game was cancelled. Michigan State, however, was still ranked in January before blowing a home game to Purdue and entering a long COVID-19 pause from activities. They also have that Duke win (that is slowly looking a little bit better), as well as wins against Rutgers, Indiana (also on the bubble) and now a top five Illinois.

So that leads us to tonight. Michigan State might not be in the field on anyone’s bracket, but if Tom Izzo can get his team to knock off the fourth ranked Buckeyes tonight in East Lansing? Well, with back to back wins against top five teams you’d have to think they would enter the picture. Even more so as the Spartans will have Maryland and Indiana up next, allowing the Spartans to try to position themselves in front of a pair of bubble teams. Then with a pair of Michigan games to close, there is an opportunity here.

Of course they need to win tonight first. Last time out they get wrecked by Ohio State, though it took a bit of time for the Spartans to get back up and running after their extended delay from basketball. Behind Aaron Henry’s 45 points the last two games, the Spartans have seemingly found some life on offense and with tonight’s game at home you have to think they’ll have a solid chance of the upset.

The Buckeyes five point loss to Michigan ended a seven game winning streak. With Michigan State, Iowa and Illinois to close, Ohio State isn’t going to have any breaks the rest of the season. Duane Washington Jr. and EJ Liddell have been playing fantastic and the experienced senior cast has helped Ohio State considerably down the stretch. On paper the Buckeyes are the more talented and balanced team and have found their identity while the Spartans seem to be all over the place.

That being said, the standard for the Big Ten is to expect the unexpected. Even more so when teams play on the road. Ohio State is the better team but Tom Izzo, who has had plenty of success in March, finally seems to have his team up and running. Can Michigan State make a late run for the postseason? Maybe, maybe not... but they’ll at least continue to entertain that idea after another big win.

Pick: Michigan State

Northwestern Wildcats at Minnesota Golden Gophers

  • Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET BTN

A reminder in case you forgot, but at one point in time Northwestern was ranked 19th in the country, 6-1 record and 3-0 in conference play. Since then they’ve lost 13 games in a row. They’re set to face a Minnesota team that is 2-6 over their last eight games and currently listed by ESPN as one of the last four teams in. Minnesota has wins against Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Purdue, but they’re also 0-8 on the road. Thankfully for the Gophers tonight game is at home.

Northwestern has struggled offensively, averaging less than 56 points per game over the last three. They’ve also struggled in close games, losing five of their last seven losses by single digits. The inability to win close games means even if the Wildcats hang around with Minnesota they still struggle to close out winnable games.

This week for Minnesota is a sort of purgatory when it comes to the bubble. With games against Northwestern and Nebraska, a pair of wins won’t really help them that much. It does get them to a better looking 15-10 record, would inch them closer to .500 in conference play and finally get them a road win. With another road trip next week at Penn State, if Minnesota can take care of business they’ll probably be a quality win against Rutgers or a win or two in the Big Ten Tournament away from locking up a bid. Of course a loss this week could completely kill any shot of making the postseason for the Gophers.

Minnesota has lost their last three games by at least 10 points, including road losses to bubble teams Maryland and Indiana. That’s not good. Richard Pitino needs his team to get things back up and running because if they can’t close out the season they’re going to end up missing the tourney once again.

Northwestern has been more competitive as of late, but they lack the playmakers to sneak past Minnesota on the road.

Pick: Minnesota