Big Ten PG: An Amazing Match-Up

Welcome to Big Ten Point Guard!

Will Victor Oladipo be 100 percent tonight vs. MSU?

Hopefully, each week I’ll have a quick read on the Big Ten basketball scene as well as what’s happening in the nation at large. Most weeks this will appear late Monday or midday on Tuesday.

Without any further ado, let’s get right to it:

Big Ten Notables

* An ‘Amazing Match-Up’ – Tonight’s showdown at the Breslin Center between No. 1 Indiana and No. 4 Michigan State has the potential to be a historic night.

For starters, ESPN has moved NBA analyst (and former MSU star) Magic Johnson to the broadcast table alongside Mike Tirico and Dick Vitale for this mega match-up. This will be Johnson’s first college basketball telecast.

Of course, the stakes are high – the winner will move into first place in the Big Ten with four games to play. A coveted one seed in the NCAA Midwest Region (at Indianapolis) could also be determined if one team parlays this win into a strong finish to the season.

But Indiana will be bucking history of its own – the Hoosiers have not won at the Breslin Center in their last 17 visits dating to 1991.

The Hoosiers won the teams’ first meeting on Jan. 27 at Assembly Hall (75-70). Wing Victor Oladipo led the Hoosiers with 21 points, seven rebounds, six steals and three blocks in that win over MSU. But Oladipo left IU’s rout of Purdue on Saturday (83-55) with an ankle injury.

“We practiced some (on Sunday) and he went through that,” said IU coach Tom Crean, a former assistant for MSU coach Tom Izzo. “He is doing a great job of rehabilitating it and has done a great job with (trainer) Tim Garl. I think it’s getting better, so I don’t anticipate that he won’t be ready to go.”

Izzo said it is clear that Indiana, which has won three in a row and eight of its last nine games, is coming together at the right time.

“Oladipo has just brought so much to this team, and then (Will) Sheehey has a real edge to him,’’ Izzo said. “I think (Sheehey) and (Christian) Watford have helped them a lot and (Cody) Zeller has been phenomenal the last five or six games.

“I think they've kind of been the premier team in the league all season. They are very balanced. But if you look at the Big Ten (statistics), we have five guys averaging in double figures, too. It’s kind of an amazing match-up.”

This game is the start of a murderer’s row for MSU, which must visit No. 18 Ohio State Sunday and No. 7 Michigan next Tuesday and host No. 19 Wisconsin March 7. But the Spartans are as hot as anyone around with five straight wins.

* Wolverines In Flux – Michigan had lost three of its last four games and tumbled out of No. 1 in the polls before stabilizing itself with Sunday’s home win over Penn State (79-71). The Wolverines sit two games out of first place in the Big Ten, but will host co-leaders Michigan State and Indiana down the stretch.

"We talk about it in little bits, but just because guys look at the standings," said UM coach John Beilein. "We're not in control of all that. We're only in control of, can we get better? Because if we get better, we'll win some more games. If we win some more games, we can be in that position.

“We're not sitting here trying to do the math trying to figure out if we have a chance to win a championship."

Beilein said he hopes his team is geared back up for a big stretch run.

"There's just all kinds of motivating ways to make sure they understand that it is urgent you play at a higher level, you play hard, really hard and you play smart," Beilein said. "That's the toughest thing to do. There's a lot of ways, whether there's extra running, whether you raise your voice, whether you make practice go longer, a lot of different ways to praise them and there's limits on what you'll stand for before there's extra circumstances brought to practice."

* Badgers Bearing Down – Remember when Wisconsin stumbled out of the gates 6-4 after a lackluster loss at instate rival Marquette on Dec. 8?

Well, with each passing game, coach Bo Ryan’s Badgers look like they are in this thing for the long haul. The latest example was Sunday’s 71-49 blowout of then-No. 13 Ohio State in Madison. The Buckeyes were no match for UW, which shot nearly 60 percent from the floor in building a 17-point halftime lead.

The win helped Wisconsin stay within two games of the Big Ten lead. The Badgers face only one ranked team – No. 4 Michigan State – at East Lansing down the stretch. UW has five wins over Big Ten teams ranked in the national top-15.

"You know, I don't know what the players sometimes think when they're away from, but we never bring it up," Ryan said of the Big Ten standings. "It's not anything in any discussions. There have been times in the past where I mentioned there's been a lot of sweat dropped on this floor by a lot of guys before you, and you might want to think about ever taking a possession off or not playing hard all the time. You know you represent more than just yourself when you play here.

"But I've never mentioned numbers, championships, where we want to position ourselves or need to be up at this level. I've never done that. In this league, you finish higher than average, you tend to get a chance to play some more, and you know what these guys want to do at the end of the year. That's never been a secret.”

* Will Buckeyes Bounce Back? – Ohio State was ranked as high as No. 3 nationally early in the year. But the Buckeyes have fallen to a season-low 18th in this week’s rankings after losing three of their last four games. (And the lone win in that stretch – a late pullaway job at home to defeat Northwestern 69-59 – was nothing to write home about.)

OSU’s string of three straight Big Ten titles looks to be in jeopardy. The Buckeyes would need to win out and get some major help to keep it alive, it seems.

After the lopsided loss at Wisconsin, Matta was asked about pulling his starters midway through the second half: “I was trying to find somebody that could make a layup, make a free throw.”

Wisconsin’s offensive outburst reminded Matta of his 2011 team’s 93-65 rout of Wisconsin, where the Buckeyes hit an NCAA-record 14 of 15 three-point attempts (including the last 14 in a row).

“I’m sitting over there thinking: ‘I’ve seen this before but I’ve been on the other side of it,’” Matta said. “They were rolling.Two years ago we made 14 straight threes against them and they were guarding us. It was one of those types of things for them.”

Speaking on Tuesday, Matta talked about how his team has responded to the loss.

“We’ve talked about doing what we do and doing it at the level we need to do it,” Matta said. “We have to play. We didn’t play (well) – and I’m not taking anything away from Wisconsin. But that one’s over. My biggest concern is what do we do next?”

* An Amazing Comeback – Don’t look now but Iowa – left for dead at one point in terms of an NCAA bid – has won three games in a row to get to 17-9 overall. The latest win was a miraculous comeback from down 16 to take a huge 72-51 win over Minnesota on Sunday.

“I’ve been involved in comebacks like that,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “Rarely are you down 15 and win by 20.”

Minnesota figures to have a spot in the NCAA field, but this was a road win the Gophers could have definitely used.

“I do not know if I have ever seen such a dramatic turnaround in such a short amount of time out of any team that I have coached,” Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. “It is about as disappointing of a loss that I have had.”

The Hawkeyes still have some work to do, coming in at a distant 81st in RPI. But a 4-1 finish (including a loss at No. 1 Indiana) would get them to 21-10 heading into the Big Ten tournament. The Hawkeyes also play Nebraska home and home and also host Illinois and Purdue.

In that comeback win, five Hawkeyes were in double figures led by Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White.

* Players Of The Week – Michigan’s Trey Burke was the Big Ten player of the week, while Michigan State’s Gary Harris was the freshman of the week.

Burke averaged 23.5 points (on nearly 60 percent shooting) with 4.5 assists and 2.5 steals in games against Michigan State and Penn State. Harris averaged 15.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals in wins over Michigan and Nebraska.

* Looking Forward To Chicago – If the season ended today, here is a look at the seedings for the Big Ten tournament. It is set for March 14-17 at Chicago’s United Center. The tournament moves back to Chicago for the first time since 2007 after a five-year run in Indianapolis.

As of now, those pairings would be:

Projected Opening Round (March 14): Iowa (8 seed) vs. Purdue (9), noon Eastern (BTN); Ohio State (5) vs. Penn State (12), 2:25 p.m. (BTN); Minnesota (7) vs. Northwestern (10), 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2); Illinois(6) vs. Nebraska (11), 8:55 p.m. (ESPN2).

Projected Quarterfinals (March 15): Indiana (1) vs. Iowa-Purdue winner, noon (ESPN); Michigan (4) vs. OSU-Penn State winner, 2:25 p.m. (ESPN); Michigan State (2) vs. Minnesota-Northwestern winner, 6:30 p.m. (BTN); Wisconsin (3) vs. Illinois-Nebraska winner, 8:55 p.m. (BTN).

Semifinals (March 16): Quarterfinal winners, 1:40 p.m. and 4:05 p.m. (CBS).

Championship Game (March 17): Semifinal winners, 3:30 p.m. (CBS).

Big Ten Notable Games This Week

* Indiana at Michigan State, Tuesday, 9 p.m. (ESPN) – A top-five match-up at the Breslin Center between two bitter rivals. Need we say more?

* Minnesota at Ohio State, Wednesday, 7 p.m. (BTN) – Both teams have lost three of their last four and have seen their projected Big Ten and NCAA seeds slip. OSU has won five straight at home over Minnesota and five in a row overall in the series.

* Illinois at Michigan, Sunday, 1 p.m. (ESPN) – Illinois has won four in a row for a late-season charge. A win at Michigan would give the Illini a huge boost down the stretch.

* Michigan State at Ohio State, Sunday, 4 p.m. (CBS) – MSU won a 59-56 squeaker over OSU in mid-January in East Lansing. The Buckeyes have already lost home games to Kansas and Indiana and would not like a third defeat at Value City Arena.

National Games To Watch This Week

* Virginia at Miami (Fla.), Tuesday, 9 p.m. (ESPNU) – The surging Cavaliers have won seven of their last nine games, but are still unranked. Miami is honing in on an NCAA one seed.

* Florida at Missouri, Tuesday, 9 p.m. (ESPN) – The Gators have the SEC title almost on lockdown with a two-game lead with six to play.

* Kansas at Oklahoma State, Wednesday, 9 p.m. (ESPN2) – Can the Cowboys build off their big overtime win over Oklahoma? Can the Jayhawks win a key Big 12 game on the road?

* St. Louis at Butler, Friday, 7 p.m. (ESPNU) – The winner will try and stay on pace with VCU in the Atlantic 10. St. Louis won the first match-up Jan. 31 at home (75-58).

* Georgetown at Syracuse, Saturday, 4 p.m. (CBS) – The last scheduled meeting between these longtime Big East rivals. This one will be a match-up of top-15 teams at the Carrier Dome.

* New Mexico at Colorado State, Saturday, 4 p.m. (NBC Sports Network) – The top two teams in the Mountain West – and both are ranked – collide in Fort Collins. Search down the dial for this one to do some bracket scouting.

* Cincinnati at Notre Dame, Sunday, 2 p.m. (CBS) – Notre Dame battled back from a 19-3 deficit to win at Pittsburgh on Monday.

* Syracuse at Marquette, Monday, 7 p.m. (ESPN) – Another match-up of Big East co-leaders. This is a big week for Jim Boeheim’s Orange.

My National Top 20

Here’s what I have: Indiana, Miami (Fla.), Florida, Michigan State, Gonzaga, Duke, Michigan, Louisville, Syracuse, Kansas, Georgetown, Arizona, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Butler, New Mexico, Marquette, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Memphis.

Big Ten Standings, Schedule

Indiana 11-2 23-3
Michigan State 11-2 22-4
Michigan 9-4 22-4
Wisconsin 9-4 18-8
Ohio State 8-5 18-7
Illinois 6-7 19-8
Minnesota 6-7 18-8
Iowa 6-7 17-9
Purdue 5-8 12-14
Northwestern 4-9 13-13
Nebraska 3-10 12-14
Penn State 0-13 8-17

Tuesday’s Game

Indiana at Michigan State, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Wednesday’s Games

Minnesota at Ohio State, 7 p.m. (BTN)
Wisconsin at Northwestern, 9 p.m. (BTN)

Thursday’s Games

Penn State at Illinois, 7:15 p.m. (BTN)
Iowa at Nebraska, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)

Sunday’s Games

Illinois at Michigan, 1 p.m. (ESPN)
Michigan State at Ohio State, 4 p.m. (CBS)
Northwestern at Purdue, 6 p.m. (BTN)

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