Northwestern vs. Michigan – This is a big one for both teams. Northwestern is pushing for an NIT berth (not the automatic it once would have been for a Big Ten team with 20 wins) and Michigan absolutely has to have a win to keep its NCAA hopes alive. Michigan won the only regular season meeting by 9 in Ann Arbor only a couple of weeks ago.
To me, a big part of this one rides on Alex Olah. He’s been dominant against M in every game he’s played against them over the past two years, but NU too often goes away from him and/or doesn’t keep him on the blocks, where M really struggles to deal with him. If Northwestern is smart and focused in getting Olah the ball consistently, I think they pull off the upset. I’m picking the Cats to do just that.
Illinois vs. Iowa – The Illini won in a blowout today but that was essentially an IM team they were facing from Minnesota with all the injuries and suspensions. Iowa, even an Iowa struggling to find itself down the back stretch of the regular season, is an entirely different deal.
Illinois will need an off the charts type game from Hill and Nunn to have a shot here. The Hawks won the sole meeting between the two teams by 12 points in C/U. I expect a similar margin of victory here as Iowa looks to re-establish some momentum heading into the Tournament.
Penn State vs. Ohio State – This could be the best game tomorrow (NU/M is close). They only met once, and OSU won a 20 point blowout in Columbus but PSU has been playing better since that game. PSU has the size necessary to compete with the Bucks inside and though OSU is longer on the perimeter, I think Garner is capable of going off even against sound Buck defense.
To me, I think it comes down to mistakes. OSU is more turnover prone than PSU on the season but both teams have had their moments. It seems that the Bucks have settled down a little bit in that area down the stretch. I’m picking OSU to win a tight one, but it’s going to require a sound game from Lyle and Harris, something that is no guarantee by any means.
Nebraska vs. Wisconsin – As with the other three matchups on Thursday, these two met only once, with UW winning by 11 in Madison. Nebraska blew out Rutgers today as expected. When Nebraska has been at their best this year, they’ve played a bit quicker in terms of pace than we’d seen previously from Tim Miles’ teams. He has two legit scorers in Shields and White, and some other guys who can at least occasionally do damage from the perimeter.
The thing is, I think they struggle in a game where pace is slowed down and precision and execution is at a premium. That’s what WIsconsin got to be very good at doing once they began to hit their stride in conference play. I would expect UW to manage to dictate the tempo again in this one and win, perhaps relatively easily.