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Saturday Big Ten Preview: Michigan hosts Michigan State

Preview all of Saturday’s Big Ten action here.

Syndication: Lansing State Journal Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

With the Big Ten title race getting more interesting as Purdue falls and Northwestern rises, join us to preview Saturday’s action around the conference as the regular season winds down.

There’s four games today, the usual slate. Let’s dive in:

Game of the Day

Michigan State Spartans at Michigan Wolverines

  • Time/TV: 7:00 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan by 1

This is a matchup full of history. Two of the best programs in the conference, in-state rivals, facing off with plenty on the line for each.

But this one means more. This game is Michigan State’s first game since the on-campus shooting in East Lansing earlier this week. Athletic competition was suspended in the wake of the tragedy for the campus community and athletes to process and grieve. Classes for the Spartans have been cancelled all week and Michigan State’s game against Minnesota was cancelled.

It was announced on Thursday morning that Saturday’s game in Ann Arbor would be played as scheduled, and Spartans head coach Tom Izzo said the following, per The State News:

“We can’t do anything about what’s happened,” Izzo said. “Except hopefully do a better job of making sure it doesn’t happen again. But we can do something about moving forward. Because there’s probably a brother or sister of one of those three that has to live. There’s a mom, and a dad, and hopefully a smile on your face, whether it’s a Michigan fan being mad at me, or a Michigan State fan being happy, hopefully, it just brings everybody together.”

The decision was made between the two athletic departments, with both teams’ athletic directors remaining in contact throughout the process. Mental health counselors spoke to players and staff at Michigan State as well.

Games around the conference, such as Rutgers and Indiana, have included demonstrations in support of Michigan State. Michigan itself has planned numerous ways to honor the Spartans on Saturday.

Michigan State’s student newspaper, The State News, has compiled a list of funds for donations and support for those affected. Find it here.

  • Pick: Michigan State

The Rest

Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Wisconsin Badgers

Time/TV: 11:00 a.m. CT (Big Ten Network)

KenPom Spread: Rutgers by 1

Rutgers and Wisconsin will face off at the Kohl Center with both teams trending in different, albeit not diametrically opposed directions.

The Scarlet Knights had been having a strong season and were near the top of the conference standings prior to losing Mawot Mag, one of Rutgers’ best defenders, to injury. As a team with a defensive identity and occasional struggles on offense, it’s resulted in a losing streak against Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska.

All three losses ended with the Scarlet Knights largely unable to contain on defense as the game wore on with the inability to create on the offensive end, the games have slipped away despite looking winnable.

Which is why Wisconsin represents such an intriguing matchup.

The two teams play similar brands of basketball, both win low-scoring affairs with physical defense. Something has to give.

Wisconsin is in the middle of one of its worst seasons in recent memory, the Badgers have also fallen to Nebraska recently. However, they’ve shown promise in their previous three matchups. Games against Penn State and Nebraska went to overtime with the former resulting in a victory.

The Badgers’ most recent win, over the unpredictable Michigan Wolverines, came despite a lengthy scoring drought in the second half.

All things considered, Wisconsin simply has recently had more fight in it late than Rutgers has and gets the Scarlet Knights at home.

  • Pick: Wisconsin

Illinois Fighting Illini at No. 14 Indiana Hoosiers

  • Time/TV: Noon ET ( ESPN)
  • KenPom Spread: Indiana by 4

Illinois and Indiana meet for the second time this season in Assembly Hall at noon. If you remember the first matchup in Champaign, you’ll understand the significance of this one.

A hype video released by Illinois Athletics, assistant coach Chester Frazier posting a video of a pregame chestbump of Illini enemy and Hoosier legend Eric Gordon from years ago and plenty of fans packing State Farm Center to watch Indiana win in dominant fashion as Trayce Jackson-Davis took over the game.

Both programs were expected to contend for the conference title during the preseason and both have had up and down roads along the Big Ten since with varying degrees of recovery after rocky starts.

Illinois is coming off of a road loss to Penn State that followed a win over the same Rutgers team that previously fell to Indiana. The Illini boast a considerable amount of length, but haven’t been able to back it up with shooting from the arc.

Indiana lost a close one to Northwestern and will look to get back on track at home where the Hoosiers’ sole loss on the season was to that same Northwestern squad.

The Illini are either unwilling or unable to defend Trayce Jackson-Davis, as shown in the teams’ prior matchup. Indiana should continue its home winning streak behind the play of its centerpiece and send Illinois home facing far more questions than answers.

  • Pick: Indiana

Penn State Nittany Lions at Minnesota Golden Gophers

  • Time/TV: 8 p.m. CT
  • KenPom Spread: Penn State by 9

Penn State’s 3-pointer-happy offense at last showed signs of life during a 93-81 home win over Illinois. The Nittany Lions snapped a lengthy losing streak that saw their NCAA Tournament hopes all but fade into the night.

Jalen Pickett, averaging 18.1 points per game, remains one of the best players in the country and showed out against the Illini with an incredible 41 point performance. It was more than enough to power Penn State past Illinois in a 93-81 win.

Penn State’s other major, non-losing streak blemish? The away record. The Nittany Lions have won a single game on the road this season, also over Illinois during the Illini’s rough start to the season back in December.

It’s worth keeping in mind as the Nittany Lions head into the cold night against Minnesota in the Barn, known for producing strange late-night matchups regardless of either team’s record.

Minnesota, led by second year head coach Ben Johnson, is firmly at the bottom of the Big Ten with a 1-12 conference record. That sole win came on the road against a freefalling Ohio State program currently just one spot above the Gophers in the conference standings.

On paper, there’s simply no reason for the Gophers to win this. Penn State has a high powered offense and Minnesota, like just about every other team, doesn’t have an individual answer for Jalen Pickett.

But... the Barn is weird. Penn State is bad on the road and these are just about the weirdest conditions for any team on the road this year. I think Minnesota somehow finds a way to steal a home win and shock Penn State

  • Pick: Minnesota