The Big Ten has a loaded slate on Saturday with eight teams in action and two matchups with serious Big Ten and postseason implications. It’s the type of Saturday fans look forward to for weeks with these types of matchups on the docket.
Let’s take a look at the schedule.
Game of the Day:
-Ohio State Buckeyes at Indiana Hoosiers
- Time/TV: 8:00PM ET (FOX)
- KenPom Spread: Maryland by 5
If you follow me on Twitter by now, then you know one of my frequent complaints about the Big Ten and its television partners is the routine lack of marquee games on Saturday nights. Instead of setting up showcase games with electric crowds, the league seems all too comfortable with having three league games played simultaneously on early Saturday afternoons. It’s a mistaken that absolutely impacts on recruiting and perception.
But this isn’t one of those Saturdays.
Well, because the Big Ten got it right here, putting a monster showdown on national TV between Indiana and Ohio State. The game’s being played in Bloomington and there’s little doubt the crowd will be ready for action, as fans hope Indiana can build on its recent four-game winning streak with a win over the Buckeyes. On the other side, Ohio State will hope to get back on track after a horrendous January. We’ll see if the momentum carries the day or the trend reverses.
On the court, the matchup to watch will in the frontcourt where strength meets strength. Indiana boasts an impressive group with Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson while Ohio State has freshman star Brice Sensabaugh and Zed Key. The groups are going to battle diligently on the boards and Key will have his hands full with Jackson-Davis, who’s currently putting together an All-American caliber campaign. Whoever wins here likely wins the game.
This game also quietly boasts some Big Ten title implications. While the Hoosiers are three games behind Purdue in the standings, Indiana is arguably better positioned to challenge the Boilermakers than anybody else, as the teams still play twice over the coming months. A loss here probably ends Indiana’s hopes once and for all. Overall, this feels like a matchup where Indiana’s talented frontcourt and crowd will overwhelm a struggling Buckeye squad.
- Pick: Indiana
-Minnesota Golden Gophers at Northwestern Wildcats
- Time/TV: 12:00PM ET (BTN)
- KenPom Spread: Northwestern by 13
On paper, there isn’t much to think Minnesota comes out with a win here. Northwestern is coming off two quality wins, playing well, and gets this matchup at home. Meanwhile, Minnesota has lost four straight and six of the team’s last seven games. All of this plays into why Northwestern enters Saturday’s matchup favored by double-digits.
However, while Minnesota’s 7-12 record is unimpressive, the team has been playing opponents tough. The Gophers easily could have beaten Michigan and Indiana over the last week and the team knocked off Ohio State on the road earlier this month. The key will be Jamison Battle. If he plays well, Minnesota has a shot. Otherwise, this is probably a Northwestern win and it might not be all that close.
- Pick: Northwestern
- Time/TV: 3:00PM ET (FOX)
- KenPom Spread: Illinois by 1
This is another game that easily could have earned Game of the Day honors, as it pits two of the Big Ten’s better and more consistent programs against one another in a crucial matchup. And like the other major matchup noted above, this one also features two teams heading in different directions. While Illinois enters the game having won five of the team’s last six games, Wisconsin is reeling after losing five of the team’s last six games.
The key to this one will be Wisconsin’s offense, which has been putrid over the last few weeks. The Badgers can’t finish at the rim and keeps getting forced into difficult shots. If that continues on Saturday, Illinois is going to win this one comfortably. Chucky Hepburn is the player to watch. He needs to have a good night to avoid a loss.
- Pick: Illinois
- Time/TV: 4:30PM ET (BTN)
- KenPom Spread: Maryland by 10
While the spread here suggests things will be easy for Maryland, fans who’ve watched both teams this season certainly wouldn’t agree. Nebraska has a quality defense that travels and is more than capable of pushing an inconsistent Maryland team. The key here will be how Nebraska defends Jahmir Young, as Maryland lives and dies with him as a team.
This is also a sneakily important game for the Terps, who are hoping to ascend off the NCAA bubble and get into comfortable position with March quickly approaching. A home loss to Nebraska would be a huge blow to those hopes.
- Pick: Maryland
Picks Record: 76-26-0