No. 12 Illini’s offense facing test against No. 19 Wisconsin

A look at the upcoming week around the Big Ten Conference:

GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 19 Wisconsin (14-5, 8-4) at No. 12 Illinois (12-5, 8-3), Saturday. The Badgers are in a win-one, lose-one pattern now and need to get on a roll if they hope to stay in the Big Ten race. The Illini are in a nice rhythm, having picked up a huge win over Iowa last week and an overtime win at Indiana Tuesday. The game matches the Big Ten’s No. 2 offense in Illinois against the No. 1 defense. In the previous meeting, in January 2020, Illinois won 71-70 for its first victory over the Badgers since 2011.

LOOKING AHEAD: The Big Ten might have 10 teams in the NCAA Tournament, and it doesn’t look like Michigan State will be one of them. Tom Izzo’s Spartans are 8-7 overall, 2-7 in conference play and were No. 92 in the Wednesday’s NET rankings. The Spartans have played in 22 straight NCAAs, but they’re mired in a four-game losing streak for the first time since 2007 and face a difficult final stretch of games that includes meetings with Michigan (twice), Iowa and Ohio State.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Ron Harper Jr. scored all 13 of his points in the second half and hit a clutch shot with two minutes left to key Rutgers’ 64-56 win at Northwestern on Sunday. Harper is averaging 17.3 points but isn’t scoring at the rate he was earlier in the season. Still, Harper’s all-around game makes him the centerpiece on a team pushing toward its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1991.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn leads the nation with 12 double-doubles. … Nebraska will have gone 26 days between games when it visits Michigan State on Saturday. The Cornhuskers paused team activities because of a COVID-19 outbreak. … When No. 7 Ohio State visits No. 8 Iowa on Thursday, it will be the first time since 1961 they’ve met when both are ranked in the top 10. … Maryland was 1 for 12 on 3-pointers in the first half and 8 for 13 in the second in its 61-60 win over Purdue on Tuesday. … Minnesota’s Marcus Carr had a streak of 18 double-figure scoring games end against Purdue and was held without a point in a first half for the first time since Dec. 9, 2019, at Iowa.

ON THE WOMEN’S SIDE: No. 10 Maryland’s 92-52 victory over Michigan State last week was its 100th in league play since joining the Big Ten in 2014-15. The Terrapins are 100-13 (.885) in conference games. … No. 11 Ohio State and Maryland entered Thursday as the only two teams in the country with five players averaging better than 11.5 points. … No. 22 Northwestern’s Veronica Burton is a candidate for best all-around game with 20 points, a career-high 15 rebounds, nine assists and four steals against Ohio State on Monday. … Rutgers returns from a month-long COVID-19 pause when it plays at No. 17 Indiana on Thursday night.


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