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Tony Paul of The Detroit News explains why these are five must-see Big Ten games this season.

Michigan at Purdue, Jan. 7, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)

It's hard to figure what to make of Michigan at this point. The Wolverines have looked so bad and so good at times during the nonconference season. This will be the first indicator as to whether there was actual improvement during the run of four consecutive nonconference cupcakes after getting crushed at SMU. Purdue is big, UM is not, but it can shoot -- enough to work around the big-man deficiencies against teams like Texas and N.C. State. This is one of five games UM will play against Purdue, Maryland and MSU.

Maryland at Michigan State, Jan. 23, time TBA (ESPN or ESPN2)

The Spartans have a couple potentially troublesome games against Iowa early in Big Ten play, but it doesn't play the consensus No. 2 (Maryland) until Jan. 23, eight games into the 18-game Big Ten schedule. That's good news, given the Spartans' star, Denzel Valentine, is out a couple more weeks following a knee scope. He should be back for the second Iowa game Jan. 14, but will he be as effective as he was early in the season? Tom Izzo thinks so, but you just never know until you get back on the court.

Michigan State at Michigan, Feb. 6, 2 p.m. (CBS)

They only meet once this season, these bitter rivals, and that's a darn shame. Given the expanded Big Ten slate of teams, they won't always meet twice in a season during conference play -- though there are rumblings of adding a second game, a "nonleague" showdown, during the years they aren't scheduled twice in Big Ten play. Meeting once is likely good news this year for Michigan, which can't do the things Michigan State can do on the block, and could be really humbled if it's not shooting 60 percent from 3.

Michigan State at Purdue, Feb. 9, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

These Big Ten powers only meet this one time, adding to Michigan State's rather fortunate Big Ten schedule (the Spartans also play Maryland once). This promises to be a very interesting matchp, Purdue's big-and-tall against Michigan State's athletes. The Boilermakers also have freshman forward Caleb Swanigan; he was a top target of Tom Izzo's once upon a time.

Indiana at Iowa, March 1, 9 p.m. (ESPN)

This may seem like the odd one out on this list, but a college basketball season never seems to go exactly according to plan -- and one of the Big Three figures to stumble along the way, while a surprise team figures to rise up. The two best bets for that surprise team today are Indiana and Iowa. IU has been starving for Tom Crean to finally deliver, and Yogi Ferrell's back for a senior year to help him do just that. Meanwhile, Iowa has been well-tested in nonconference play, which hardened the Hawkeyes.


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