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Big Ten Big Games Weekend Preview

A new weekly feature for basketball season, where we take a minute to preview the biggest non-IU conference games.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Since Big Ten conference plays just started this past week, there aren't too many games this weekend that can be qualified as "very important, must see" matchups. And if you're really motivated, you can probably keep tabs on all of them anyway. However, I'm going to point out the three games this weekend that could mean a lot for the Hoosiers going forward, for the conference in general, and might help confirm or refute what we the writing staff have thought about other teams in the B1G.

Minnesota at #12 Maryland: Saturday, 12pm, Big Ten Network

Why this game is important: Maryland's home opener gives us a look at how the Terrapins will come out after surviving a double overtime thriller at Michigan State a few days ago. Minnesota is a good team whose only losses so far have come to a pair of ranked teams, and also Purdue, so we'll have an opportunity to see whether the Gophers are for real this year.

What we can learn: If either of these teams shows great weakness, we can look for ways to exploit it. If Maryland falls flat, we have to reconsider if their win over the Spartans might have been a fluke. If Minnesota never seriously challenges, the possibility that they might only be able to beat the bottom half of the conference is very much in play.

Illinois at #20 Ohio State: Saturday, 3:30pm, ESPN2

Why this game is important: The loser of this game starts of conference play 0-2, which is definitely not where you want to be on January 3rd if you have hopes for hoisting the Big Ten title at the end of the season. Additionally, if Ohio State drops this game, they'll have lost two Big Ten home games to start conference play, which is really not where you want to be in January if you have high hopes for March. Illinois probably doesn't want to pick up their 5th loss of the season this early either, but their January gets a bit easier, so a loss here isn't as bad for them as it is for the Buckeyes.

What we can learn: Can Illinois win on the road? (They've dropped games at Miami and Michigan so far.) Can Ohio State beat a team with a pulse? (Best win on a quick look at their schedule: by 11 points against Marquette, and there's not a particularly close second choice.)

#4 Wisconsin at Northwestern: Sunday, 8:30pm, Big Ten Network

Why this game is important: Until someone proves otherwise, Wisconsin is the team to beat in the Big Ten right now. Their only loss so far is by 10 to Duke, and other than an eye-opening score against Marquette (49-38?!?), they've looked very good this year. Also, this is literally the only game in conference play on Sunday, so everyone else in the conference will be watching (in theory).

What we can learn: Is Wisconsin as good as they've been hyped up to be? Can Northwestern keep this respectable? And will Badger fans take over the arena?