Big Ten basketball moves forward

With the new year here and non-conference play finished, Big Ten teams look forward to continuing conference games that started with bits and pieces from December. Adding to this is seven teams ranked in the AP top 25 and two teams in the top 10. The seven teams are Michigan (No. 2), Michigan State (No. 8), Ohio State (No. 14), Indiana (No. 21), Wisconsin (No. 22), Nebraska (No. 24) and Iowa (No. 25).

Those “bits and pieces” from December were two games out of a 20 game season for Big Ten teams. This year is the first year that the Big Ten will have 20 games per team for the season, which is a new standard for all NCAA Division I basketball teams.

Right now, five teams (Michigan State, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin) are tied for first in the conference with a 2-0 record. This coming week has some tricky matchups that are likely to shake the Big Ten rankings both in the conference as well as the national spotlight. Here are some games that could shake those standings.

No. 8 Michigan State vs Northwestern (1/2/2018)

On Wednesday, Jan. 2, the Northwestern Wildcats travel to East Lansing to play the Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans (11-2, 2-0) haven’t lost a game at home and look to continue without a loss against Northwestern. The last time the Spartans played  the Wildcats, MSU erased a 27 point deficit from the first half to take the lead during the second half.

Coming into this game, the Spartans’ only losses were against a No. 1 Kansas (now No. 5) and Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center in overtime. Both of those losses were by single digits and came down to the final seconds. Guard Cassius Winston and forward Nick Ward continue to shine as key players for the Spartans offense as they look to keep their undefeated conference record with zero losses.

Forward Vic Law and center Dererk Pardon are experienced players on this team who were members of the first ever Northwestern team to make the NCAA Tournament during the 2016-17 season. Both of them will try to help this team upset the Spartans for their first win in conference play. This game could come down to the wire if Northwestern can keep up with the Spartans.

No. 15 Wisconsin vs Minnesota (1/3/2018)

Thursday, the Wisconsin Badgers face off at home against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. While Minnesota is 1-1 in conference play, their loss was to then No. 16 (now No. 13) Ohio State. This matchup is an intriguing one to watch because key players on both sides can shake up the game.

For the Badgers, forward Ethan Happ and guard D’mitrik Trice are key to the Badgers’ offense. Happ currently averages a double-double (19.7 points, 10.7 rebounds) while Trice averages 15.5 points per game with a 3-point average of 50.7 percent. Happ is another preseason favorite for the Naismith and Wooden awards, so expect him to put more into this game to keep Wisconsin atop the standings.

For the Golden Gophers, go-to players include guard Amir Coffey, forward Jordan Murphy and freshman center Daniel Oturu. Coffey averages 15.1 points per game while Jordan Murphy is the rebounder with an average of 12.6 rebounds per game. Murphy is the senior captain of this team who is becoming a leader while Oturu is the incoming freshman who’s making his impact this season. This game is certainly a matchup to watch and see how both teams fare for this season.

No. 2 Michigan State vs No. 14 Ohio State (1/5/2018)

The Spartans travel to Columbus to battle the Buckeyes in a showdown that should shake up the top 25 as well as the conference rankings. Chris Holtmann is in his second season with the Buckeyes after taking them back to the NCAA tournament following the dismissal of Thad Matta.

Last time the Spartans faced the Buckeyes, MSU headed into Columbus ranked first in the top 25 alongside a deep roster. However, the Buckeyes pulled off the upset and knocked the Spartans off the pedestal. The Buckeyes have had only one loss against Syracuse, but still remain a competitor at a record of 12-1. At home, the Buckeyes look to make some noise to upset the Spartans.

A small fact to note is that this showdown will also be a sibling showdown as guard/forward Kyle Ahrens of the Spartans faces younger brother forward Justin Ahrens for the first time.

No. 24 Nebraska vs No. 25 Iowa (1/6/2018)

Sunday, Jan. 6, the Iowa Hawkeyes aim to earn their first conference win at home against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Nebraska made a rise last year to fifth in the Big Ten conference while Iowa placed 13th during conference play. This is another top 25 showdown where the result could move one team up in the rankings and the other team out of the rankings.

For the Hawkeyes, forward Tyler Cook and guard Jordan Bohannon are star players looking to bring this Iowa team back from the result of last year and hopefully into better standings this year. So far, their losses in conference play have been at the hands of the Badgers and the Spartans. Aside from that, the Hawkeyes have a top 25 win against a then ranked No. 13 Oregon Ducks.

Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers look to continue from last season’s strong finish in conference play. Right now, their two losses come from the Gophers and the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Two players to watch for on the Cornhuskers are guard James Palmer Jr. and forward Isaiah Roby. The battle between these four players will make for an interesting game as one of these teams could be knocked out of the top 25.

No. 2 Michigan vs No. 21 Indiana (1/6/2018)

In his second season, coach Archie Miller travels with the Indiana Hoosiers to Ann Arbor for another top 25 showdown against the Michigan Wolverines. Both of these two teams are also tied for first place in the Big Ten rankings, and one loss here could put one team ahead of the other.

For the Hoosiers, a win against another top 25 team will add to Archie Miller’s resume and show that Indiana is back in the Big Ten. Furthermore, Michigan is undefeated and a loss by the Wolverines could give Indiana extra momentum to continue their run in conference play against other ranked teams.

However, the Wolverines are on a roll right now with zero losses and three wins against top 25 teams. While Michigan will be favored heavily to win, take note that Northwestern managed to bring the game down to the wire in a two point loss to the Wolverines. That being said though, Michigan will present a tough challenge for Indiana.

Two dynamic players that are must-watch players are forward Ignas Brazdeikis for the Wolverines and guard Romeo Langford for the Hoosiers. Langford is Miller’s first five-star recruit during his tenure for the Hoosiers and currently averages 17.5 points per game. A highly touted recruit, he is also a potential lottery pick for NBA teams.

Brazdeikis has quickly become a freshman phenom averaging 16.5 points per game and has been praised by many, including coach Roy Williams. After the departure of key players like Moritz Wagner, Brazdeikis has become another go-to player for the Wolverines. This game is game for both conference standards and player battles.

First place in the Big Ten

Currently, five teams sit atop the Big Ten conference with a 2-0 record. However, the next couple of weeks will shake those standings and will take teams out of the running, add new teams in the race, and show which teams are the real deal.

As of right now, the race for the Big Ten title looks to be a battle between Michigan and Michigan State. Should both teams remain undefeated or tie for first, the winner will be determined in the two game matchup between the Wolverines and the Spartans. Both teams have experienced players who are currently favorites for postseason honors and freshman classes that can deal some damage throughout the season.

Aside from the top two teams right there, other teams could get in on the title run and potentially take it over from both Michigan teams. The two teams that get in on this are the Ohio State Buckeyes and Wisconsin Badgers.

Ohio State and Wisconsin have rosters of players that can handle both Michigan and Michigan State. Ohio State beat both Michigan State and Michigan during the regular season last year and Wisconsin kept themselves in the game against Michigan State during the Big Ten Tournament. This year, both teams return players that have that experience and could interrupt the Spartans and the Wolverines for the title.