Each Saturday, we’ll gauge the progress of Brad Underwood in getting his Illini back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013:
Assessment: Wins have been exceedingly difficult to come by this season for the Illini, and that trend doesn’t appear to have an end in sight. Illinois has been close, which is all well and good, but this year’s team is starting to flirt with the first single-digit victory season since Gene Bartow’s one-and-done in 1974-75.
TEAM CONF. ALL
Michigan 5-0 16-0
Michigan State 5-0 14-2
Maryland 5-1 14-3
Wisconsin 3-1 11-4
Indiana 3-2 12-4
Minnesota 2-2 12-3
Ohio State 2-2 12-3
Purdue 2-2 9-6
Iowa 2-3 13-3
Nebraska 2-3 12-4
Rutgers 1-3 8-6
Northwestern 1-4 10-6
Penn State 0-5 7-9
Illinois 0-5 4-12
The next week’s worth of games has some decent matchups — and a couple clunkers. Beat writer Scott Richey helps you prioritize your watch schedule:
Rutgers at Minnesota, 11:30 a.m., BTN
The skinny: Steve Pikiell’s Scarlet Knights have arrived! Or maybe that win against Ohio State is like last year’s (on nearly the same day) against Wisconsin. As in not to be repeated.
The pick: Minnesota, 73-69
No. 16 Ohio State at Iowa, 1:30 p.m., BTN
The skinny: Iowa won at Northwestern without Tyler Cook. His status could swing the Hawkeyes’ game against the Buckeyes — especially when it comes to trying to slow down Kaleb Wesson.
The pick: Iowa, 74-73
No. 6 Michigan State at Penn State, 3:30 p.m., CBS
The skinny: Pat Chambers got a four-year contract extension last spring after the Nittany Lions won the NIT. Now, he’s shoving players and Penn State isn’t winning. Too late to reconsider?
The pick: Michigan State, 83-69
Northwestern at No. 2 Michigan, 6:30 p.m., BTN
The skinny: The Wildcats nearly pulled off the upset in early December. Michigan has won seven more since, tying the school record for best start to a season. A 17th straight win is coming.
The pick: Michigan, 72-58
Nebraska at No. 22 Indiana, 5:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1
The skinny: The Romeo Langford vs. James Palmer Jr. matchup is worth tuning in for by itself simply for the sheer number of dribble drives and ridiculous, strong finishes at the rim.
The pick: Indiana, 77-75
Wisconsin at Maryland, 7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1
The skinny: The best way to try and slow down Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ? Well, nobody’s found it this season, but Maryland’s ability to throw Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith at him can’t hurt.
The pick: Maryland, 69-66
Rutgers at Purdue, 6 p.m., BTN
The skinny: Carsen Edwards has only had three games this season where he didn’t score at least 20 points. Odds are he gets closer to his season high (40) than low (11) against Rutgers.
The pick: Purdue 81, Rutgers 67
Iowa at Penn State, 6 p.m., BTN
The skinny: Mike Watkins’ return from suspension might have solidified Penn State’s rotation, but it hasn’t exactly helped in the wins column. And it won’t against the Hawkeyes either.
The pick: Iowa, 70-63
Minnesota at Illinois, 8 p.m., BTN
The skinny: The Gophers have a similar balanced offense with big guards and formidable post play that Illinois couldn’t handle against Michigan even with the continued Ayo Dosunmu breakout.
The pick: Minnesota 78-72
No. 6 Michigan State at Nebraska, 7 p.m., Fox Sports 1
The skinny: The Cornhuskers tied a program record, beating Penn State in Lincoln for their 20th straight home victory dating back to last season. It’s been a good run. It ends when the Spartans hit town.
The pick: Michigan State, 81-78
Maryland at No. 16 Ohio State, 5:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1
The skinny: Ohio State could be in serious must-win mode against the Terrapins if it loses today at Iowa for a third straight game. Not that there isn’t plenty of regular season left, but better to nip a potential losing streak in the bud.
The pick: Ohio State, 75-71
Northwestern at Rutgers, 6 p.m., BTN
The skinny: The Scarlet Knights have an intriguing backcourt between sophomore Geo Baker and freshmen Montez Mathis and Ron Harper Jr. (yes, that Ron Harper). Might be enough for another home win.
The pick: Rutgers, 68-63
How N-G college basketball writer Scott Richey views the race for top Big Ten honors:
PLAYER, POS. PREV.
Ayo Dosunmu, G —
Giorgi Bezhanishvili, F —
Trent Frazier, G —
Kofi Cockburn, 2019 commit —
Kipper Nichols, F —
Richey’s take: That sound you heard when Dosunmuturned up on ESPN’s updated list of NBA draft prospects earlier this week as a potential first rounder was the air going out of Illini fans’ hopes and dreams for sustained success.
Big Ten MVP
PLAYER, SCHOOL PREV.
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin —
Carsen Edwards, Purdue —
Cassius Winston, Michigan St. —
Juwan Morgan, Indiana —
Zavier Simpson, Michigan —
Richey’s take: Happ is going to put together four increasingly impressive seasons at Wisconsin and then struggle to find an NBA home. For all of his post moves and passing and steals and blocked shots, he still can’t shoot.
Freshman of the Year
PLAYER, SCHOOL PREV.
Romeo Langford, Indiana —
Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois —
Ignas Brazdeikis, Michigan —
Jalen Smith, Maryland —
Rasir Bolton, Penn State —
Richey’s take: Langford’s got the top spot — and the highest draft status — at least for now. The latter probably won’t change this season, but Dosunmu’s improved play in the new calendar year has him hot on the Indiana star’s tail.
Coach of the Year
COACH, SCHOOL PREV.
John Beilein, Michigan —
Tom Izzo, Michigan State —
Tim Miles, Nebraska —
Fran McCaffery, Iowa —
Mark Turgeon, Maryland —
Richey’s take: The last time Michigan won 16 straight games to start a season (2012-13) it made the national title game. That was the first of two championship game appearances for Beilein with the Wolverines, and he’s angling for a third.
Michigan State NCAA
Ohio State NCAA
Penn State Home
Richey’s take: Purdue’s strength of schedule will get the Boilermakers to the NCAA tournament, should they ultimately win enough in Big Ten play. But it really is the NCAAs or bust for the Big Ten. Northwestern and Penn State might be in position for a lower-tier tourney, but they likely both opt out.