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2/23 Big Ten Preview: Michigan Returns to Action Without Juwan Howard

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NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

There is a double header tonight on BTN involving both Michigan and Wisconsin in their first game since the melee that took place at the end of regulation.

Game of the Night

Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Michigan Wolverines

Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET BTN
Line: Michigan -5.5

In Michigan’s first game back they’ll not only be without head coach Juwan Howard, but they will also be missing forwards Moussa Diabate and Terrence Williams II. Diabate has been valuable for the Wolverines, averaging 9.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting just under 60% from the field. Associate coach Phil Martelli, former head coach of Saint Joseph’s for more than two decades, will be the interim coach for the Wolverines.

Michigan was looking considerably better after a 7-7 start, going 6-2 over an eight game stretch. Their last three games included a pair of losses to ranked Ohio State and Wisconsin. While the Wolverines weren’t exactly looking like an NCAA Tournament team, they had a stacked schedule remaining that could have paved the way if they had got hot to close out the season. Now without their head coach things are going to be considerably more difficult, with tonight’s game actually the easiest of the five remaining (Illinois, Michigan State, Iowa and a road trip to Columbus are set to follow).

The Scarlet Knights reentered the bubble talk with wins over Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Illinois. Purdue got some much needed revenge and took care of business at home, so now Rutgers will look to pad out their resume with a few more wins heading into the Big Ten Tournament. Rutgers does have a home game against Wisconsin this weekend, but with plenty of bad losses scattered across the season, Rutgers can’t afford to lose a game to Michigan. That is made somewhat more difficult when you realize Rutgers doesn’t play as well away from home.

The Knights did beat Michigan earlier this year, winning by eight at home. Hunter Dickinson had a big day for the Wolverines, something he keeps doing, but the team shot 20% from three. It should be noted Diabate had a big night, tallying up 15 points and 9 rebounds, and will have to sit out.

Ron Harper Jr. has been huge for Rutgers down the stretch and his status heading into Purdue was unknown after an injury to his non-shooting hand against Illinois. He was much more limited against Purdue, scoring only 12 points on 4 of 9 shooting. While he wasn’t 100%, there was also likely more emphasis from Purdue after getting burned earlier in December. Paul Mulcahy has emerged down the stretch as a viable scoring option, Caleb McConnell is an anchor on defense and Geo Baker continues to have his moments.

If Harper can bounce back from last weekends quiet performance and if the Rutgers defense can cause problems on the perimeter for Michigan, they are more than capable of winning. There’s a chance Michigan may attempt to rally around all the suspensions, but this is a team that has been relatively thin outside of Dickinson and Eli Brooks and losing a key contributor and head coach doesn’t help that. Rutgers very well may see some regression to the mean in the near future, but they still have enough talent on hand to knock off a shorthanded Michigan program.

Pick: Rutgers

The Rest

#13 Wisconsin Badgers at Minnesota Golden Gophers

Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET BTN
Line: Wisconsin -4.5

In the late game tonight Wisconsin looks to keep pace with Purdue on the road against rival Minnesota. While the Badgers currently hold the tiebreaker, both teams are set to face off in the near future. The Badgers will be without reserve Jahcobi Neath, who was suspended for one game by the Big Ten.

When these two teams last met Wisconsin hung on to win 66-60 at home. Minnesota didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but they hung around like they have in most games this year. Now they’ll be looking to play spoiler at home against their rival. Minnesota is 2-7 their last nine games and their offense has had some serious issues, though they did bounce back with a surprising 17 point win over Northwestern.

The rivalry aspect and the fact that this game is in Minnesota could help pave the way for an upset, especially with Wisconsin’s tendency to play in close games all season. But Minnesota lacks the depth and scoring to hang around a much more talented and efficient Badger program that knows they can’t overlook the Gophers if they want a chance to win the Big Ten.

Pick: Wisconsin