Nearly halfway into the Big Ten schedule, the No. 15 Iowa Hawkeyes and No. 7 Michigan State Spartans each put themselves in a precarious situation heading into Tuesday's game at Carver Hawkeye Arena, airing at 7 p.m. on ESPN and WatchESPN for those who won't be among the 15,000-ish in the arena in Iowa City.
Iowa and Michigan State were the two victims on Michigan's commanding march to the top of the Big Ten last week—Michigan topped Iowa (75-67) on Tuesday, Michigan State (80-75) on Saturday—and the two will fight for the upper hand at catching the Wolverines at some point. Heading in to play Tuesday, Michigan is 7-0, the Spartans are 7-1, and the Hawkeyes are 5-2. Barring a meltdown from one of the three teams (or a team like Wisconsin or, say, Ohio State damn near winning out), it's likely at this point this will be the three-team round robin that will decide the Big Ten champion.
The Hawkeyes' high-scoring offense has been the outward identity of Fran McCaffery's team in its breakout season, but Iowa has won as many games as it has because of how well it plays on both sides of the ball. Iowa's defense is eighth in the country with a defensive effective field goal percentage of 42.9.
One typical strength of Tom Izzo's Michigan State teams has been offensive rebounding, but this year's Spartans aren't exemplary on the glass. Their 32.7 offensive rebounding percentage is their lowest since the 2003-04 season, and Iowa's defense has done a fine job of preventing teams from crashing the offensive glass, allowing a 28.4 offensive rebounding percentage for its opponents. That's 56th in Division I.
Three other ranked teams take various floors Tuesday night:
Loyola (Ill.) Ramblers at No. 4 Wichita State Shockers, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN3: By now, you probably know Wichita State is still undefeated, and you probably know the Shockers are nearly halfway through the Missouri Valley schedule, and you might even know the biggest threat to 18-0 heading into the MVC tournament looms a week from now on Feb. 5 when the Shockers visit Indiana State.
But what you probably don't know is anything at all about Loyola. The Ramblers turn the ball over a lot, don't get to the free-throw line much and only have one win inside KenPom.com's top 150 (that was a 93-87 overtime win Saturday against No. 103 Northern Iowa). But hey, anything could happen.
No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats at LSU Tigers, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN: LSU reached as high as No. 34 in KenPom.com's team ratings this season, but the Tigers are 3-4 in calendar year 2014 with unseemly losses to Rhode Island, Ole Miss and Alabama (the fourth loss was an 18-point home loss to Tennessee that opened LSU's SEC schedule).
Still, the Tigers have the players and general architecture of a team that has played well and can play well again, and their matchup Tuesday night against Kentucky is one that doesn't overwhelmingly favor the visitors in blue and white. Willie Cauley-Stein has struggled defensively in conference play for the Wildcats—he has 11 blocks in six SEC games, and six of those were Saturday against an injury-laden Georgia team—and he has not played well against heavier big men this season, which is what he'll face Tuesday in LSU's Johnny O'Bryant.
Still, none of the conjecture above matters if Julius Randle decides to go off—and sometimes, he's so dominant that it simply does seem like a decision he makes no matter what defenses are doing.
Even further, none of the conjecture above including that about Randle will matter if the game isn't played, which isn't an impossibility given forecasts of ice in Baton Rouge. LSU released a statement Monday evening saying the game would go on as scheduled as of then, but if you have to send a press release confirming the game will be played and that the league will continue to monitor the situation, things aren't perfect, either.
St. John's Red Storm vs. No. 20 Creighton Bluejays, 9 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1: Creighton didn't hit a billion threes Saturday in a 76-63 home win over Georgetown on Saturday like it seemed to last week against Villanova, but KenPom.com's adjusted offensive efficiency still rates the Bluejays' offense as the best in the country by two full points per 100 possessions over No. 2 Duke. Creighton's current adjusted offensive efficiency—points per 100 possessions against an average Division I defense—is 127.4. KenPom.com's ratings only go back to 2003, but the highest a team has ever finished a season with is 124.0, the 2004-05 Wake Forest team with had a pretty good point guard that got Pittsnogled in the NCAA tournament's round of 32.
St. John's started out Big East play 0-5 but has won two games in a row since, and the Red Storm's defense is 59th in Division I according to adjusted defensive efficiency.