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2/2 Big Ten Preview: Top 20 Showdown Between Wisconsin and Illinois

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a doubleheader set for tonight, with Purdue traveling to Minnesota and Illinois hosting Wisconsin.

Game of the Night

#11 Wisconsin Badgers at #18 Illinois Fighting Illini

Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET BTN

A top 20 showdown between the two teams at the top of the conference, this game has even bigger ramifications when you realize that both Michigan State and Purdue are all essentially right there alongside Wisconsin and Illinois. The margin for error is slim in the Big Ten, even if everyone keeps picking each other off, and this being the only game between Wisconsin and Illinois makes it even more important as the winner will hold the head to head tiebreaker.

Wisconsin is set for a busy week with a road trip to Illinois followed by a home game against Penn State this weekend and then a road trip to Michigan State on Tuesday. Equally busy is Illinois, following tonight’s game with a road trip to Indiana and then a road trip to Purdue bumped up because of the Boilermaker’s rescheduled game against Michigan.

The Badgers have quietly gone 9-1 over their last ten games, including wins over Purdue and Ohio State. I say quietly because the team has also struggled and almost lost to Nicholls State, Illinois State, Maryland, Northwestern, Nebraska and Minnesota over that stretch. They keep winning, largely because of Johnny Davis, but it hasn’t been pretty.

Illinois was undefeated in conference play until Purdue and Maryland knocked them off. They bounced back with wins against Michigan State and Northwestern, though failed to reach 60 points in both outings. The Illini will get Andre Curbelo back in the lineup, potentially huge as Illinois will need him back 100% if they want to make a run for conference title.

The Badgers are most successful when Johnny Davis gets it going, so look for them to continue to feed him. Brad Davison is experienced and adding 15.7 points per game while shooting just under 40% from three. The Badgers probably don’t have an answer inside for Kofi Cockburn, but if they can shut down the Illini’s backcourt it could go a long way to picking up the win.

Illinois should win tonight with the game taking place on their home court, especially with the Badgers just sort of scraping by. But against the odds I’ve got Wisconsin picking up the win thanks to their defense and ability to limit mistakes on both sides of the ball. The Illini have a high ceiling, but as of late there always seems to be something keeping them from reaching that level. Badgers add another big win to their resume, even if tonight’s game isn’t pretty.

Pick: Wisconsin

The Rest

#4 Purdue Boilermakers at Minnesota Golden Gophers

Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET BTN

In the first game tonight the Gophers will host Purdue. Minnesota is 1-6 their last seven games and while they’ve managed to keep it close in almost all of those losses, still have struggled getting over the hump. They did get Eric Curry back against Wisconsin this weekend, but remain thin basically everywhere. Jamison Battle and Payton Willis can score, but the Gophers will be undersized going up against Purdue’s dynamic bigs and don’t have enough offensive weapons to compete in an offensive showdown.

Their best bet? Hope that they can slow down the game and take advantage of Purdue making mistakes. As good as the Boilermakers have been this year, they’ve struggled from the line and commit too many turnovers. If Matt Painter’s squad can clean up in each of these areas it’s highly unlikely they’ll lose tonight. Minnesota will likely hang around, but Purdue does too much on offense and should avoid the upset.

Pick: Purdue