In a basketball conference as rugged as the Big Ten, you’re going to get dinged up. There will be injuries along the way — not to mention absences related to COVID-19 — and there will be losses. Ding, ding. There’s no way around it.
First-place Illinois — which has used nine different starting lineups already — is no exception.
But with a Big Ten record of 10-2 — and with 13 wins in their last 15 league road games going back to last season — the Illini keep demonstrating a special ability to withstand whatever they have to. That goes for playing without Andre Curbelo or Kofi Cockburn. It goes for dealing with hostile crowds. And it goes for living up to the intense, demanding style of their coach.
“I clench my jaw every time we talk about road games,” Brad Underwood said.
His jaw is going to get a heck of a workout heading into Tuesday’s visit to Purdue, which is a game back at 9-3 and owns a potential tiebreaker edge after its 96-88 double-overtime win in Champaign last month. That was the game of the season in the Big Ten — and easily one of the best in the country — but the rematch is even more momentous.
Can Zach Edey, Jaden Ivey and the Boilermakers ding the Illini twice? There’s no question they’ve got the talent to do it. But who’s dinging whom here? After all, the Illini are on the road again — and loving it.
“I mean, you’ve got to,” Underwood said. “It’s hard to do.”
Here’s what’s happening:
Suns at Bulls (7 p.m., NBCSCH)
Back-to-backs are trouble for NBA teams even when back trouble — as in Zach LaVine’s — isn’t part of the equation. Who’s in and who’s out against the league’s No. 1 team?
Olympic figure skating (7 p.m., Ch. 5)
The men’s short program is featured, with the great Nathan Chen — who has three world titles and six straight U.S. titles under his belt — in blow-the-roof-off-the-joint-or-bust mode.
Olympic hockey (10:10 p.m., USA)
The U.S. women take on world champion Canada, which scored — ahem — 23 goals in its first two preliminary-round games. Some say a gold-medal clash between these squads is inevitable, but are the Canadians unbeatable?
Wisconsin at Michigan State (6 p.m., BTN)
A pair of Big Ten contenders go at it, and the victor will be in prime position for the stretch run. But really, this is just an aperitif because of, well, look at what’s next.
Illinois at Purdue (8 p.m., ESPN)
The Boilers took the first meeting — a double-overtime classic in Champaign — but that was with Coburn in foul trouble for most of the way. Winner gets a bead on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Olympic skiing (10:35 p.m., Ch. 5)
U.S. superstar Mikaela Shiffrin — planning to ski in all five alpine events and make all kinds of history — goes for gold in the slalom.
Bulls at Hornets (6:30 p.m., NBCSCH, ESPN)
With no Lonzo Ball-LaMelo Ball storyline to follow, we’ll just have to settle for seeing if the Bulls can effectively chase around the team that tops the East in scoring and three-pointers made and attempted.
Blackhawks at Oilers (7 p.m., NBCSCH+)
The Hawks spin out of the All-Star break with a three-game losing streak, no hope of making the playoffs and organizational dysfunction up to their ear holes. Other than that, they’re in tremendous shape.
Georgetown at DePaul (8 p.m., FS1)
The only thing standing in the way of another last-place Big East finish for the Blue Demons is Patrick Ewing’s moribund squad. “Hoya paranoia” takes on a whole new meaning when you’re 0-10 in league play.
“NFL Honors” (8 p.m., Ch. 7, NHLN)
The best players and moments of the 2021 season will be recognized in Los Angeles, though it could get kind of awkward when Aaron Rodgers has to remove his Groucho Marx glasses and accept the MVP award.
Bucks at Suns (9 p.m., TNT)
What a matchup, but be warned: It might not be quite as exciting as their last meeting in Phoenix, when Giannis Antetokounmpo threw down the alley-oop slam heard ’round the world to seal Game 5 of the Finals.
Timberwolves at Bulls (7 p.m., NBCSCH)
It’s no walk in the park dealing with Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns, especially with Patrick Beverley lurking around and looking for trouble.
Olympic hockey (10 p.m., USA)
A Team USA vs. Canada matchup would’ve been cooler with NHL players involved as originally planned, but you know what they say — the name on the front of the jersey means more than the unrecognizable one on the back.
Blackhawks at Blues (7 p.m., NBCSCH)
Sure, the rivalry has more bite when both teams are good. But you never know when Stu Grimson and Kelly Chase might hop over the boards and beat the hell out of each other.
Lakers at Warriors (7:30 p.m., Ch. 7)
Does it make a person bad if he occasionally enjoys pity-watching the hilariously doomed Lakers? Asking for a friend.
Northwestern at Illinois (1 p.m., BTN)
The Wildcats are just 2-14 in Champaign in the 2000s. Then again, nobody said this was going to be their century.
Northern Iowa at Loyola (3 p.m., ESPN2)
The Ramblers have won 11 of the last 13 games in this series — the only losses coming in overtime — but UNI is nipping at their first-place heels in the Missouri Valley.
Super Bowl: Bengals vs. Rams (5:30 p.m., Ch. 5)
Rams get it done on their home field? A “who dey?” kind of day instead? Are those potato chip crumbs in your navel? Enjoy.