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1/10 Big Ten Basketball Preview: Michigan State Travels to Wisconsin

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Michigan State Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten returns with a double header of conference games tonight, tipping off with Michigan State heading west to the 18th ranked Wisconsin Badgers. Let’s take a look at the upcoming action.

Game of the Night

Michigan State Spartans at #18 Wisconsin Badgers

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET ESPN
  • Line: Even

An emerging Michigan State heads to Madison to face Wisconsin in the big game of the night. After back-to-back losses to Notre Dame and Northwestern, Michigan State has won six games in a row. Of course their best win during that stretch is either at Penn State or a home game against Michigan, so Wisconsin should prove to be a bigger challenge.

The Badgers finally ended a six game winning streak with a loss at Illinois. Of course that six game winning streak seems a bit overhyped with four wins by five or less (two in overtime) and closing out the run with tough wins against Western Michigan and Minnesota at home. Against Illinois the Badgers defense looked uncharacteristically bad and they couldn’t find their shot, going 8 of 29 from three and 5 of 12 from the line.

Interestingly the top 20 Badgers are currently ranked just outside the top 50 by KenPom, thanks mainly to their 99th ranked offense. The Spartans aren’t setting the world on fire offensively, either, with both teams faring better on the defensive side of the ball. That could set for a plodding Big Ten slugfest that the conference has been known for. To further complicate the matter, Tyler Wahl’s status for tonight is still uncertain. The forward is the best offensive player on the Badgers roster and without him at Illinois the Badgers couldn’t get things rolling.

If Wahl doesn’t play Michigan State certainly has the talent to win, especially if they can get Joey Hauser going. That being said, winning on the road has typically been a tough test in the Big Ten. With tonight’s game set to take place in Madison, look for Wisconsin to find just enough offense to scrape by thanks to their home court advantage.

Pick: Wisconsin

The Rest

Illinois Fighting Illini at Nebraska Cornhuskers

  • Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET BTN
  • Line: Illinois -3.5

In the second game tonight the Illini will look to win their first back-to-back games since the tail end of November when they beat Lindenwood and Syracuse. After a dreadful loss at Northwestern where the Wildcats went ice cold in the second half, Illinois got a huge win versus Wisconsin and avoided a surprising 0-4 start in conference play. They’ll need to pick up some wins in a hurry to climb out of the hole they’ve dug themselves in and an improving Nebraska team on the road won’t be as easy as years past.

Nebraska has bounced back from a three game December skid with a 3-1 run that includes a 16 point win over Iowa. They struggled on the road at Minnesota, barely winning in overtime, but have played considerably better at home. The biggest issue here is the Cornhuskers still haven’t found their offense, ranking 150th in adjusted offensive efficiency rankings by KenPom. Derrick Walker has emerged, but Nebraska doesn’t have enough playmakers to consistently hang with most Big Ten schools.

Illinois saved their season by avoiding an 0-4 start but that will mean little if they come back out and faceplant at Nebraska. Luckily they have just enough offensive firepower that they should be able to outpace a Nebraska team that has looked sluggish offensively most of the season. It should be closer than Illini fans would prefer, but look for Illinois to pick up a second conference win.

Pick: Illinois