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2/14 Big Ten Preview: Wisconsin Set to Host Michigan

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Nebraska Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

There are three games tonight on Valentine’s Day involving a number of teams that could desperately use a win. Let’s take a look at the upcoming action.

Game of the Night

Michigan Wolverines at Wisconsin Badgers

  • Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET ESPN2
  • Line: Wisconsin -1.0

Two teams on the outside looking in face off tonight for a much needed win. The Wolverines won three games in a row in early February, looking to possibly reenter the bubble. Bubble talk would have intensified had Michigan been able to win at home against Indiana. Instead they got shut out to close the game and ended up losing by a point. The rest of the schedule provides plenty of opportunities for key wins, but none of the remaining games will be easy.

A 3-8 stretch for Wisconsin has been highly frustrating, especially with how many winnable games the Badgers have dropped. Last time out they blew a 17 point lead to Nebraska before losing in overtime. Outside of a closing game at Minnesota, the rest of the schedule for Wisconsin also remains difficult with two games against Michigan, and home games against Rutgers, Iowa and Purdue.

Michigan has found a playmaker in Jett Howard, but one can argue Hunter Dickinson has disappeared one too many times this season. The offense hasn’t been there at times and the defense is even worse, but against a tepid Wisconsin offense they’ll at least likely be capable of keeping pace with the Badgers. Wisconsin has a top 30 defense but their offense is just inside the top 150. It’s slow, plodding and devoid of any spark, a departure from past Wisconsin teams that played slow but at an efficient rate.

Both of these teams have shown flashes of competency mixed with some of the uglier moments of Big Ten basketball. There’s a solid chance that will be the case once again tonight, with Wisconsin’s defense and home court advantage likely being the deciding point.

Pick: Wisconsin

The Rest

Illinois Fighting Illini at Penn State Nittany Lions

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET ESPNU
  • Line: Illinois -2.5

Over the past couple weeks Penn State has fell from a likely NCAA Tournament team to the outside looking in, largely thanks to a 1-5 stretch. The run also includes bad losses to Wisconsin and at Nebraska. Tonight’s game provided an opportunity for a solid win and with Minnesota and Ohio State on deck, if Penn State wants to make a late season push for the tourney they need to start tonight.

Unfortunately they’re set to face an Illinois team that has gone 8-2 their past ten games. Interestingly enough Penn State has the more efficient offense than Illinois, largely thanks to their backcourt led by Jalen Pickett and Seth Lundy, but inconsistency from the perimeter has led Penn State to more or less live and die by the three. With a defense outside of the top hundred, Penn State’s up-and-down offense has caused problems down the stretch this season.

Winning on the road is hard but Penn State’s home arena isn’t much of an advantage. Illinois has been rolling and Penn State is in free fall with things likely to continue that way tonight.

Pick: Illinois

Nebraska Cornhuskers at Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • Time/TV: 8:00 PM ET BTN

In the second game tonight Nebraska heads east to Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have lost back to back games at Indiana and Illinois and will look to bounce back at home against Nebraska. The two game skid has dropped Rutgers from second in the Big Ten all the way back to a five way tie for fifth place, though they’re still only a game out of second place. That means a loss to Nebraska would be incredibly costly for Rutgers.

Nebraska came back from 17 down to beat Wisconsin at home and also picked up a big home win against Penn State a week before. Of course they haven’t won on the road in over a month and tonight’s road trip to Rutgers won’t be an easy task. Nebraska has been led as of late by Keisei Tominaga, but the offense still hasn’t been great and now they have to go on the road against one of the best defenses in the country.

Rutgers returns to form at home and stifles Nebraska’s offense on their way to a much needed win.

Pick: Rutgers