This You Gotta See: Olympic hockey golds, NBA All-Star fun and a huge week for the Illini
One has to wonder whether first-place Illinois, which still leads the Big Ten by a half-game at 11-3, is serious about grabbing its first regular-season league title since 2005.
How bad was mighty Illinois on Sunday in the second half of a 73-66 win against Northwestern?
So bad, the Illini took a walk in the park and — allowing the Wildcats to go on an inexplicable 19-2 tear — turned it into a run for their lives. So bad, any offensive possession that didn’t end in a turnover was cause for a minor celebration. So bad, coach Brad Underwood laughed in front of the bench when he couldn’t find any more tears of frustration to cry.
So bad, one really has to wonder if the first-place Illini, who still lead the Big Ten by half a game at 11-3, are serious about grabbing their first regular-season league title since 2005.
Then again, Purdue (11-4) was arguably even worse Sunday in a one-point win against lowly Maryland. Wisconsin (10-4) stumbled and bumbled in a loss to Rutgers — which had never won in Madison — a day earlier. The Illini, Boilermakers and Badgers all delivered these cringe-worthy performances on their home floors.
Who wants to win this thing?
Look at this as “sweeps week” for the Illini. They already managed not to lose to Northwestern. Next come visits to underrated Rutgers — which has already won at home against Purdue, Michigan, Iowa, Michigan State and Iowa State — and MSU. If the Illini turn all that into a 3-0 week, they’ll be viewed far and wide as one of the best teams in the country.
But will they? Are they really good enough? Is any team in the Big Ten good enough?
Here’s what’s happening:
Spurs at Bulls (7 p.m., NBCSCH)
Not to tell Billy Donovan how to do his job, but if we were running the show? We’d consider concocting a game plan that doesn’t involve letting the Spurs score 130-plus points like they did against the Bulls last month.
Blackhawks at Jets (8 p.m., NBCSCH+)
In all fairness, Winnipeg’s 5-1 romp in the teams’ last meeting came in early November, when the Hawks were just plain terrible. As opposed to now, when they’re merely awful.
Butler at DePaul (8 p.m., FS1)
Say this for Tony Stubblefield: His team is showing more life than Dave Leitao’s squads often did at this point in the season. OK, so it’s not the highest bar.
Illinois at Rutgers (6 p.m., BTN)
Back-to-back-to-back wins for the Scarlet Knights against Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin? Now that’s impressive. Not as impressive as it would be if it were football season, but still — impressive.
Kings at Bulls (7 p.m., NBCSCH)
Has it been only a week since Domantas Sabonis was traded to Sacramento? It must feel like a decade.
Purdue at Northwestern (8 p.m., BTN)
Look, if Rutgers, Indiana and Michigan could all beat the Boilermakers, why can’t Northwestern? Yes, smarty pants, it was a serious question.
Olympic hockey: women’s gold medal game (10:05 p.m., Ch. 5)
Barring a giant semifinal upset, it’s furious rivals Team USA and Canada for all the marbles and a puckload of pride.
Blue Jackets at Blackhawks (7:30 p.m., NBCSCH)
Hawks defenseman Calvin de Haan has scored one goal since Jan. 22, 2021, but it came against — that’s right — Columbus. Are you thinking what we’re thinking? It’s hat-trick time.
USWNT vs. Czech Republic (10 p.m., ESPN)
The SheBelieves Cup gets underway in Carson, California, with four Red Stars — Mallory Pugh, Tierna Davidson, Morgan Gautrat and Alyssa Naeher — on the U.S. roster.
NBA Rising Stars (8 p.m., TNT)
Ayo Dosunmu isn’t the biggest name on Team (Gary) Payton — that would be LaMelo Ball — but he absolutely deserves this honor. Squaring that with the punishment of a trip to Cleveland is another matter.
Illinois at Michigan State (11 a.m., ESPN)
Anybody else remember the nose-breaking forearm Dosunmu took from Mady Sissoko last year in East Lansing? Let’s hope the Illini remembered to pack their hard hats and their brass knuckles.
Drake at Loyola (5 p.m., ESPN2/ESPNU)
Last hurrah for this rivalry before Loyola’s move to the Atlantic-10? If the Ramblers are going to repeat as Missouri Valley champs, they have to avenge a loss three weeks ago to the Bulldogs.
NBA All-Star Saturday Night (7 p.m., TNT)
The Skills Challenge, Slam Dunk competition and Asterisk contest are always a good time. Hang on, did we say “Asterisk” contest? We meant “3-Point Without Steph Curry Participating” contest.
Olympic hockey: men’s gold medal game (10:10 p.m., USA)
The U.S. men weren’t among the favorites to get here, but that was before they handled Canada 4-2 in the preliminary round. A rematch, perhaps?
Daytona 500 (1:30 p.m., Fox-32)
Denny Hamlin is going for his fourth victory in this iconic race, which would tie him for second with Cale Yarborough behind the one and only Richard Petty (seven). But you knew all that already.
Panthers at Blackhawks (2 p.m., NBCSCH)
You’ve got to hand it to the Panthers, who have proved since firing Joel Quenneville that they’re still one of the NHL’s very best teams. And they didn’t even replace him with Jeremy Colliton.
NBA All-Star Game (7 p.m., TNT)
Wait, DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine aren’t on the same team? Ah, well, that’s OK. Neither are Kevin Durant and James Harden, and look how well they get along.