Saddle Up: Big one in the Big Ten

February, 2, 2010
2/02/10
3:40
PM ET
Saddle Up is our nightly look at the hoops your TV wants you to watch. Here's Tuesday night's rundown:

No. 5 Michigan State at No. 16 Wisconsin, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Michigan State is good on the road. Wisconsin is good at home. Immovable object, unstoppable force, you get the idea: Something's got to give in Madison tonight, and I have no idea what it will be.

Someone has to win, though, and if the tempo-free numbers have anything to say about it, that someone should be Wisconsin. The Badgers are No. 5 in the country in adjusted efficiency while the Spartans are No. 18, a difference that largely comes down to the Badgers' defense. Wisconsin doesn't force many turnovers, but they prevent teams from hot shooting nights and they rebound on the defensive end better than any team in the country. Michigan State has been getting better and better lately, so their numbers might not be a true reflection of their current state, but it's hard to look at Michigan State's strength -- offensive rebounding -- and think the Badgers don't have a serious advantage when it comes to the boards.

Of course, the numbers aren't the end-all. Still, this is Michigan State's biggest conference test of the season, and it comes as the Spartans just so happen to be playing their best basketball -- both at home and on the road -- of the year. This game is going to be slow, methodical, physical, defensive and awesome. Who else is excited?

Mississippi at No. 3 Kentucky, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: OK class, quiz time. Who knows what everyone is going to be talking about before, during, and after Kentucky's home matchup with Ole Miss tonight? Yes, that's right: CalWallGate 2010. (I just made up that name. Pretty terrible, right?) Is John Wall still mad at John Calipari? Have the two reconciled their differences? Is this really a "teaching moment?" Expect this to be a topic of conversation, to say the least.

The more pertinent question is whether Wall can rebound from his string of merely human performances -- or whether he needs to. Kentucky is so talented, and so many of its possessions end up in DeMarcus Cousins' hands, that Wall doesn't have to take games over on the offensive end to get the Wildcats a win. He merely needs to control the game, keep his turnovers in check, find Eric Bledsoe for open looks on the perimeter, and get the ball inside to Cousins, and somewhat-overlooked forward Patrick Patterson, and the Cats should handle fringe top 25 opponents like Ole Miss with relative ease.

John Wall doesn't have do it all. He just has to do some of everything, and efficiently so. If he does, UK will be just fine.

Everywhere else: Villanova is on fire these days. Seton Hall will try to do what so few Nova opponents have been able to -- put out the flames. (Or at least toss a little water on them. Anything to quell the burning. OK, I'll stop now.) ... Meanwhile, the second of two Big East games featuring marginal road teams at vicious home foes -- this one would be Providence at Syracuse -- will be tipping off. ... Kansas State goes to Nebraska, which got its first Big 12 win of the year in Saturday's 17-point win over Oklahoma. ... BYU will continue its roll through the Mountain West when TCU comes to Provo. ... Northwestern is still a potential tourney team! Repeat: Northwestern is still a potential tourney team. Games like tonight's -- a possible home victory over Michigan; nothing flashy, but necessary for the committee's ease of mind -- are key to that cause. At 3-6 in the Big Ten, the Wildcats can't afford another bad one.

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