If you know a Big Ten fan, perhaps you should offer him or her a hug around this time of year.
After all, it can be fairly wearisome turning on the TV every Saturday only to watch the conference take its lumps from conferences like the MAC on the field and from programs like College GameDay in the SEC-crazed media.
But fear not my Midwestern brethren. Basketball season is almost upon us.
And the Big Ten has a good chance to be the bully on the corner of the hardwood block.
Sporting News released its preseason Top 25 this week, and the conference claims three of the top five teams (Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan). Wisconsin and Michigan State also find themselves in the rankings.
So if the Big Ten is arguably the best conference in the country come basketball season, there has to be some prime-time games that will set the tone for the entire year.
Read on to see 10 of the Big Ten showdowns we can’t wait to see.
Part of what makes this showdown in Columbus so intriguing is the very real possibility that the Hoosiers may enter the Buckeye state with a picture-perfect 22-0 record.
While I’m not guaranteeing that this will happen, the fact of the matter is all of Indiana’s difficult games before this one are at home (North Carolina, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin). And the Hoosiers, especially a Hoosier team this talented, are tough to beat in Assembly Hall.
Ohio State is one of the primary contenders, if not the primary contender, to challenge Indiana for the conference crown. Indiana freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell will definitely be grown up by February, but this will be his first scuffle with Aaron Craft’s defense.
Turnovers will probably ensue.
If the Hoosiers do take care of early business at home and the young Buckeyes perform up to their capabilities, this could be one of the games of the year in the entire nation, not just the Big Ten.
If that’s the case, Buckeye Nation will be ready to rock on February 10.
Indiana’s trip to Ann Arbor will be the last game of the regular season for both conference contenders.
There is a significant chance that the stakes could be enticingly high. In fact, the Big Ten title could be on the line, the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament could be on the line, and a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament may be there for the taking for both teams.
No pressure or anything, guys.
While Ohio State offers a defensive challenge for the Hoosiers, the Wolverines may be the only team in the Big Ten with enough weapons capable of outscoring Indiana if the game turns into a shootout.
Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Mitch McGary are sure to beat plenty of teams this season. If Indiana is one of those teams, there could be plenty of spoils awaiting their victory.
The Big Ten championship trophy has become intimately familiar with Ohio State and Michigan State in recent years.
In fact, six of the past seven conference crowns have been won or shared by the Buckeyes and Spartans. These two teams will undoubtedly have an impact on the 2012-13 version of the Big Ten title race as well.
Never was this budding rivalry stronger than last season. The Spartans came into Columbus and shocked the Buckeyes in the first matchup, but Ohio State returned the favor in the final game of the regular season behind a heart-stopping William Buford buzzer-beater.
Michigan State eventually took the rubber game in the Big Ten tournament championship game, as if there was any other stage that the final game would be played out.
Despite the conference tournament crown the Spartans won last year, the “Izzone” will certainly want some revenge for Buford’s final shot in the 2011-12 season in this one.
While the winner of the basketball version of this game doesn’t get the Paul Bunyan Axe like the football victor does, it will not be without importance.
Minnesota is a borderline top-25 team thanks largely to a (finally) healthy Trevor Mbakwe and the return of Rodney Williams and Austin Hollins. In fact, there may not be a more athletic starting five in the entire conference than what the Gophers have to offer.
And that’s why this game is so interesting. Wisconsin isn’t exactly the showtime Lakers, even with the addition of Sam Dekker, so there will be somewhat of a style clash.
If Minnesota hopes to return to the NCAA tournament (and possibly even win a game or two when there) it needs to come out on top in games like this. The Gophers may not quite be up to par with Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State, but defeating the Badgers, especially at their place, would go a long way toward impressing the selection committee.
It would also add some fuel to this underrated rivalry.
For better or worse, images of Eric Gordon (and his family) come to mind when the Hoosiers visit Champaign.
After all, it wasn’t that long ago that the jilted Illini fans were hurling insults, jeers and even small objects at the family of the teenager who dared to change his mind about where he would be attending school.
Few things inspire as much passion in the heartland as basketball, even if that passion does border on outright hatred sometimes. As long as that hatred is somewhat controlled, it is what makes some of the Big Ten rivalries so remarkable.
The last time the Hoosiers traveled to Illinois, they were humiliated by the score of 72-48 (in the 2010-11 season). But this is a different Indiana team, and you can bet the cream and crimson will be looking for a convincing victory in Champaign.
They haven’t won there since a certain freshman propelled them in a double-overtime thriller.
The basketball version of arguably the greatest rivalry in all of sports will never be confused for the football one. As great as Thad Matta and John Beilein are as coaches, they don’t exactly conjure up the same type of nostalgia as images of Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler prowling the sidelines.
Nevertheless, the 2012-13 showdowns between the Buckeyes and Wolverines should be a treat for both fanbases and college basketball fans in general.
Ohio State and Michigan match up incredibly even across the board. Both teams have established scoring options (Deshaun Thomas and Tim Hardaway Jr.), enticing prospects (Mitch McGary and LaQuinton Ross) and are directed by star point guards (Aaron Craft and Trey Burke).
It is that point guard battle that will make this game particularly interesting. Last season Craft got the best of Burke in the first game, but Burke handled Craft in the rematch. However, Craft got the last laugh at the conference tournament by annihilating Burke on a big stage (Burke shot 1-of-11 and turned it over eight times, thanks in large part to Craft’s suffocating defense).
It seemed like whenever one point guard won the game and individual battle, it provided the loser with even more motivation for the next showdown.
And that is exactly why this rematch (the first game is in Columbus) makes the list of the Big Ten games we can’t wait to see.
Last season marked the first time since the 1985-86 season that Michigan won a regular-season Big Ten championship.
John Beilein clearly has the program on the right track, although the Wolverines had to share that conference crown with the hated Buckeyes and Spartans.
If Michigan basketball truly wants to be considered as one of the best programs in the conference and nation (after all, Sporting News tabbed the Wolverines with its No. 5 ranking), then it has to first claim supremacy in its own state.
The Spartans completely dominated Michigan throughout the majority of the 2000s, although the maize and blue did have a modest three-game winning streak before falling in East Lansing last year.
In addition to providing a dramatic backdrop for this intense rivalry, Michigan’s trip to Michigan State could have conference championship implications, making it one of the best games on the conference’s slate in 2012-13.
Michigan State’s trip to Madison last season was one of the most exciting—and controversial—games of the entire year.
The Spartans won in overtime 63-60, but only after the referees decided that Ryan Evans’ game-tying three came after the clock expired. The controversial part was that a clock on the side scoreboard said there was 0.2 seconds left when the shot left his hands, although the time had expired on the clock above the backboard.
Unfortunately for Badger fans, the referees are supposed to go by what the backboard clock says when looking at instant replay.
Despite Michigan State’s dominance of the Big Ten for the past decade (along with Ohio State), trips to the Kohl Center have been anything but enjoyable. Last season’s victory snapped an eight-game losing streak in Madison for the Spartans, and it also marked Bo Ryan’s first home loss to Michigan State.
It’s a safe assumption that memories of that game will be on the forefront of Badger fans’ minds when Tom Izzo and his squad come to town for a rematch in January.
As mentioned, Michigan State and Ohio State have basically ruled the Big Ten for the past seven years. However, Wisconsin is the resident thorn in each program’s side.
The Spartans’ snapped their eight-game losing streak in Madison last year. Not to be outdone, the Buckeyes snapped their nine-game losing streak at Wisconsin last year as well.
Even when Ohio State was ranked No. 1 in the nation and held a 24-0 record and a 15-point second-half lead (the 2010-11 season) it couldn’t hold off the Badgers’ comeback in the Kohl Center.
While the Buckeyes’ struggles in Madison provide a talking point every time they make the trip, the fact that there is no love lost between these two programs is not manufactured.
When Wisconsin made that aforementioned comeback in the 2010-11 season, Jared Sullinger claimed that he was spat on by a Wisconsin student that rushed the floor. Bo Ryan’s response was to point out that the Badgers had won the game, so deal with it.
Ohio State fans didn’t take too kindly to that and let the Wisconsin coach hear about it when the Buckeyes annihilated the Badgers in the rematch in Columbus.
Sullinger may be gone, but come February 17 the rivalry between Ohio State and Wisconsin will be as strong as ever.
A game between Northwestern and Purdue may not appear as enticing on the surface as a showdown between Ohio State and Indiana, or Michigan and Michigan State.
However, depending on the circumstances, this game may receive an inordinate amount of attention from the legions of sports writers who graduated from Northwestern.
It is well-documented that the Wildcats have never been to the NCAA tournament. It seems that every year they get painfully close, only to be thwarted by crushing defeats near the end of their schedule.
This year’s slate has Northwestern playing Purdue, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State in the final four games. If the Wildcats are on the bubble again, which, given recent history, is a safe bet, they will need a solid win or two to boost their resume.
Beating Penn State won’t cut it, and it may be too much to ask for this year’s Northwestern team to upset Ohio State or Michigan State. That leaves this showdown at Purdue that could serve as the Wildcats’ best hope to finally reach that elusive NCAA tournament.
If they can pull it off, there will be plenty of writers anxious for press passes to that first postseason game.