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Big Ten Weekend Preview: Spartans and Buckeyes highlight the docket


A pair of top 15 teams will battle in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday.

Two games with massive bubble/seeding implications will take place on Sunday.

And for the 37 combined Nebraska and Penn State hoops fans out there, those two juggernauts will square off in State College.

Here’s the Big Ten Weekend Preview.


Top Match-up: 12 Michigan State at 3 Ohio State, Saturday, 6pm ET, ESPN

Ever since Thad Matta was hired in 2004, these two teams have had a major say in who wins the Big Ten regular season crown. It looks like the 2012 season will be more of the same, as the two powerhouses will meet with first place on the line.

All-American candidate Jared Sullinger has scoffed at a potential sophomore slump, putting up massive numbers (17.4 ppg, 9 rpg) despite being the focal point of every opposing defence he`s faced. Swingman William Buford has been the perfect complement to Sullinger, as the senior is averaging 15.5 ppg after a 29 point outburst versus Purdue on Tuesday night. Steady-as-always point guard Aaron Craft is one of those “glue guys” every coach wants to have on his roster. His on ball defending and court awareness have been well documented, but what might get slightly overlooked is his ability to break down his man and really create positive situations in the lane for Ohio State’s offense.

In what was pegged as somewhat of a re-building year, Tom Izzo’s Spartans have completely overachieved. After losing games to North Carolina (on an aircraft carrier) and Duke (at Madison Square Garden) to start off their year, Michigan State has gone 18-3 since, which included a 15 game winning streak. For Sparty, everything starts and finishes with the play of senior utility-man Draymond Green. While not technically the point guard, most of Michigan State’s sets run through him as he has the ability to score, distribute, and rebound the ball at a high level, while still facilitating the offense. His 15.2 ppg, 10.6 rpg, and 3.6 ppg have him firmly in the conversation for Big Ten Player of the Year.

The play of DeShaun Thomas (14.6 ppg, 53.9 FG percentage) for the Buckeyes and Keith Appling (11.8 ppg, 3.9 apg) for the Spartans could likely determines who wins this game. Thomas might just be the best pro prospect on the floor (no offense, Jared) with the size and versatility to overwhelm whoever is forced to guard him. Appling has one of- if not the quickest- first step in the Big Ten (ask Wisconsin’s Ryan Evans) and can really do damage when he gets into the lane. Appling has struggled shooting it lately (7 for his last 26 from the floor) and will need to come out of this slump for Michigan State to have a chance at the upset.

Value City Arena has been an absolute black hole for visiting teams since Matta’s been the head man in Columbus. The raucous hometown crowd coupled with a three headed monster like Sullinger-Buford-Thomas will be too much for Izzo’s group to overcome. Ohio State 76 Michigan State 67.


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Bubbly Game #1: Illinois at 23 Michigan, Sunday, 1pm ET, CBS

After losing again on Thursday, this time at Indiana, the Illini are starting to get into desperation mode. Now 16-8 (5-6 in the Big Ten) Illinois is squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble, with a brutal stretch ahead of them to finish the season. This game is looking more and more like a must win for Bruce Weber`s squad, so it`s probably not great that Michigan is a perfect 13-0 at home this year.

Michigan needs to get their supposed go-to-guy Tim Hardaway Jr. out of his elongated slump. The sophomore swingman is shooting an abysmal 13-47over his last four contests, a trend that needs to be turned around for the Wolverines to have a shot at garnering a high NCAA Tournament seed.

While the Illini might have more raw talent in their line-up with the likes of Brandon Paul, DJ Richardson, and Meyers Leonard, this is a tough spot for them to go in and get a win. Freshman sensation Trey Burke (14 ppg, 4.9 apg) will eat up whoever is guarding him, creating easy opportunities both down low for big man Jordan Morgan, and outside for senior sharpshooters Stu Douglass and Zack Novak. Illinois can and probably will keep it close, but Michigan will ultimately prevail in a tight one. Michigan 65 Illinois 58.


Bubbly Game #2: Northwestern at Purdue, Sunday, 6pm ET, BTN

Later on Sunday evening, the Wildcats and Boilermakers will matchup in a game that will have massive NCAA Tournament implications for both squads. Each team is 5-6 in the league and both did little to impress the selection committee in the non conference parts of their schedule.

Northwestern has been playing well lately, having won three in a row to balance out the three game skid that preceded it. John Shurna and Drew Crawford continue to be one of the Big Ten`s best scoring tandems, averaging a combined 36.4 ppg. Freshman point guard Dave Sobolewski has been a welcomed addition to Bill Carmody’s starting line-up, contributing 9 ppg while sporting a very impressive 3.2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

After giving Ohio State all they could handle in an 87-84 nail-biter on Tuesday, Purdue needs to hold serve at home and win this game. DJ Byrd and Kelsey Barlow combined for 38 points in the near-upset of the Buckeyes, which was a great sign as secondary scoring has been a huge issue for the Boilers all year. Fifth year senior forward Robbie Hummel (15 ppg) has had to shoulder much of the offensive load, so the duo of Byrd and Barlow stepping up must have been very encouraging to Matt Painter.

While Mackey Arena is an extremely difficult place to get a win, this just feels like a place Northwestern can sneak in and steal one over a fellow Big Ten bubble team, thus improving their chances of making The Big Dance for the first time in school history. Northwestern 69 Purdue 65


Another interesting matchup: Nebraska at Penn State, Saturday, 1pm ET, ESPNU

I lied. To say this is an interesting matchup is like calling the battle between my sisters picking what to watch on TV is interesting. In both cases, nobody wins.

While neither of these teams were picked to do much damage in the Big Ten, (and are holding up their end of the bargain) they both have very solid point guards: Penn State’s Tim Frazier and Nebraska’s Bo Spencer.

Frazier has quietly had a great year, averaging a gaudy 18.3 ppg, 6.3 apg, and 4.8 rpg. While Spencer is the engine that fuels the Cornhuskers, putting up 15.3 ppg, 3.4 apg, and 2.7 rpg including a clutch 23 points in an upset win over then-No 13. Indiana.

In the Battle of the Big Ten Basement, I think Frazier steps up and has a big game, giving the Nittany Lions only their third conference win of the year. Penn State 70 Nebraska 62


By Scott Capron
DFN Sports Staff Writer



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