Tonight is a huge game for our Boilermakers, and they don't even get to play in it. In about an hour, Michigan State will try to silence the Kohl Center crowd in a game that has huge implications for the Big Ten title race. I'm sure that I don't need to tell anyone here that Boilermaker nation is temporarily donning our Cheeseheads, drinking milk, and... doing whatever it is that one does in Wisconsin. Of course, this isn't the only game important to the Boilers this week, and after the jump we will touch on the other ones.
Michigan State at Wisconsin; Michigan State travels to Wisconsin tonight (tipoff at 9 PM, ESPN) to take on the Badgers. Bucky's 5th Quarter has a preview of the game;
Wisconsin's formula for winning at home includes protecting an early lead. It worked against both Duke and Purdue, who like Michigan State, were ranked No. 5 in the country when they came to the Kohl Center this season. Falling behind at home might be OK against Michigan and Penn State, but it won't work tonight against the Spartans.
Wisconsin 65, Michigan State 61
Even Michigan State's blog, The Only Colors, is predicting a hard fought loss, but says that offensive rebounding might be the key to sneaking away with a win.
Wisconsin ranks first in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage, allowing their opponents to gather just 24.9% of offensive misses.
In a game between two teams that traditionally prevent each other from getting easy initial looks at the basket, 10-12 second-chance points could go along way toward a Spartan win.
You may be aware that it's been a while since Michigan State won in Madison. KenPom doesn't see it happening this year, either, predicting a 65-59 Wisconsin win in a 62-possession game. Might as well have the numbers confirm what hard experience tells us: winning on the Badgers' home court will always be an uphill battle--regardless of the state of Bo Ryan's roster.
Michigan State at Illinois; Michigan State makes their second appearance on the list, and rightfully so since those are the taillights the Boilers are chasing. They finish their tough road trip with a visit to Champaign, before returning home to host our Boilermakers. College GameDay will be at the game, so hopefully the home crowd can channel some magic for the Illini. Michigan State losing either (both?) of these games would be a huge victory for the Boilermakers championship hopes. The game tips off at 9 PM Saturday night and will be broadcast on ESPN.
Those are the important conference games this week, taking a quick look around the nation;
Pittsburgh at West Virginia; We should be hoping for the Mountaineers to win this one, and help bolster that quality win of ours. Both teams are ranked 21st and 6th as of this writing, and the game is 7 PM tomorrow.
Villanova at Georgetown; Number 2 takes on number 8. We should be rooting for 'Nova's second loss to bring them back toward the rest of the nation. This is a chance for them to get a loss and let some other teams make a case for the #1 seed they have. The game is noon on Saturday, broadcast on ESPN.
Wake Forest at Virginia; Again, we are rooting for Wake to make the Boilers' ACC beatdown look better. This should be a tough game for Wake, as Virginia is a pretty decent team this year and both squads are fighting for their lives in the ACC. Another Saturday nooner on the worldwide leader.
Those are the important games for us this week. Well, except for that exhibition match against Bloomington High School on Thursday. I'm off to go root for the Badgers.