No. 19 Illinois faces No. 18 Iowa in Big Ten comeback story

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — What to watch in Big Ten basketball this weekend:

GAME OF THE WEEKEND

No. 19 Illinois at No. 18 Iowa on Sunday. Illinois (15-5, 7-2) is tied for first place with No. 14 Michigan State in a league that has shown some parity in the first full month of conference play. Still the Illini are the surprise team so far, reeling off seven straight wins, including at Michigan last Saturday and at home against Minnesota on Thursday night. It’s the first meeting of the season for these two ranked teams, and they’ll play again when the Illini host the Hawkeyes in the regular-season finale on March 8. Iowa (15-5, 6-3) beat Wisconsin on Monday but lost to No. 15 Maryland by 10 points on Thursday – after defeating the Terrapins by 18 on Jan. 10 in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes lead the Big Ten in scoring offense, averaging nearly 79 points. The Illini, with their highest ranking since 2013, are among the most efficient teams in the conference, shooting 47 percent from the floor.

LOOKING AHEAD

No. 15 Maryland hosts No. 25 Rutgers, which got back in the Top 25 last week for the first time in 40 years. However, the Scarlet Knights nearly blew a 17-point lead before finishing off Purdue on Tuesday. The Terps have Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith each averaging better than 15 points. Smith is shooting 43% from 3-point range.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Freshman D.J. Carton is emerging as a key player for Ohio State, but his future with the Buckeyes seems uncertain. He scored 17 points last weekend in the Buckeyes’ win over Northwestern, is averaging 10.4 points and making 40% of his 3-point attempts. The school announced Wednesday that he would be taking some time off for personal reasons and wouldn’t play in Saturday’s game against Indiana.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

No. 14 Michigan State is 8-2 in its last 10 games. … The top conference teams aren’t losing much on the road. The six ranked teams also have just four home losses among them. … Michigan State leads the Big Ten with a +14.6 scoring margin. … Ohio State’s 38% shooting from 3-point range leads the conference.

ON THE WOMEN’S SIDE

No. 18 Iowa extended its winning streak to nine with a 74-57 rout of Michigan State on Sunday and a 77-66 win over Penn State on Thursday. Guard Kathleen Doyle led the Hawkeyes with 23 points and eight assists in the win over the Nittany Lions. Iowa honored former star Megan Gustafson by retiring her jersey after the game against the Spartans. The Hawkeyes (18-3, 9-1) are alone in first place while averaging more than 80 points. Next up for Iowa is a Sunday game at Michigan (13-7, 4-5), which lost to Northwestern on Thursday night.

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