What to watch in Big Ten basketball:
GAME OF THE WEEKEND
Riding a seven-game winning streak and alone atop the conference standings, No. 9 Maryland (20-4, 10-3) seeks to keep the momentum going at Michigan State (17-8, 9-5) on Saturday night. The Terrapins were winless on the road and mired in a two-game skid before getting on a roll behind sophomore forward Jalen Smith, who’s had a double-double in seven straight outings to help Maryland become the first Big Ten team to reach the 20-win plateau. Maryland’s streak includes victories at Northwestern, Indiana and Illinois. The Spartans ended a three-game slide with a last-second 70-69 victory at Illinois on Tuesday night, and now have the opportunity to get within a game of the first-place Terps. The teams meet again on Feb. 29 at Maryland, where the Terrapins are undefeated. So this is pretty much a must-win situation for the Spartans if they hope to have a shot at top seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
A week ago, Illinois hosted Maryland in a duel for first place. The Fighting Illini dropped that game, then lost again at Michigan State. Now, two games behind the Terrapins and mired in a three-game skid, Illinois (16-8, 8-5) travels to Rutgers (17-8, 8-6) on Saturday looking to get back on track. The Scarlet Knights have lost three of four, but they’re 16-0 at home. Rutgers and Illinois are surprise contenders, but even more stunning is the emergence of Penn State, which enters the weekend alone in second place. The 13th-ranked Nittany Lions (19-5, 9-4) will be looking for their eighth straight victory Saturday at home against last-place Northwestern (6-17, 1-12). It’s been a rocky season for the Wildcats, who have lost eight in a row and 13 of 14. Their only win since Dec. 15 was at home against Nebraska on Jan. 11.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Penn State forward Lamar Stevens earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors after scoring 33 points against Minnesota and 24 in a victory at Michigan State. For an encore, Stevens tallied 16 on Tuesday night in an 88-76 win at Purdue. The 6-foot-8 senior leads Penn State in scoring, averaging 17.5 points, minutes (30.1) and ranks second in rebounding (6.8). He is one of just three active players to have scored over 2,000 points and grabbed 800 rebounds in NCAA Division I.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Penn State’s four road wins in the Big Ten are the most in program history. … Smith is averaging 18.7 points and 12 rebounds during Maryland’s seven-game run. … Nebraska’s lone win in 2020 was at home against Iowa on Jan. 7. The Cornhuskers (7-17, 2-11) bring a nine-game losing streak into a matchup with visiting Wisconsin (14-10, 7-6) on Saturday. … The Big Ten began the week leading the nation with 11 teams listed in the top 40 of the NCAA NET Rankings.
ON THE WOMEN’S SIDE
No. 10 Maryland broke a first-place tie with Iowa by defeating the Hawkeyes 93-59 on Thursday night for its 10th straight victory. The Terrapins (21-4, 12-2) earned a split of the season series with Iowa (20-5, 11-3) and improved to 13-1 at home, the lone loss to current No. 1 South Carolina in November. … Northwestern (21-3, 11-2) reached double-digits in Big Ten victories for the first time since 2014-15 with an 85-55 rout of Michigan State on Monday. The Wildcats committed only four turnovers in the game.
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