This Week in Big Ten Men's Basketball 12/8 to 12/14

The Big Ten this season has been very underwhelming. Northwestern and Wisconsin were supposed to add two top-tier teams to a conference that was anticipated to be ruled by Michigan State with Minnesota and Purdue vying for second place. Both of those teams have greatly underperformed. Wisconsin sits at an ugly 4-6 and Northwestern has failed to build off their historic season by dropping four games early. Even some of the Big Ten’s upper teams have some ugly losses, Maryland has dropped two respectable games to Syracuse and Purdue and suffered an ugly loss to St. Bonaventure and Minnesota dropped what was supposed to be an easy win to Nebraska. With Big Ten play kicking off last week there have been some surprise results. Ohio State had a comeback win against Michigan, Nebraska surprised Minnesota, and even some of the top teams had a little bit of trouble, it wasn’t until late in the game #3 Michigan State pulled away from Rutgers. Let’s take a look at what these next seven days have to offer in the Big Ten.
Big Ten Men’s Basketball Standings (As of December, 8th, 2016)
AP Poll/Coaches Rankings (NA=Not Applicable; RV=Receiving Votes)
1. #3/3 Michigan State (2-0) 8-1
2. #21/21 Purdue (2-0) 9-2
3. Ohio State (2-0) 7-3
4. #14/15 Minnesota (1-1) 8-2
5. Maryland (1-1) 8-3
6. NA/RV (1-1) 7-3
7. Nebraska (1-1) 7-3
8. Penn State (1-1) 7-3
9. Northwestern (1-1) 5-4
10. Indiana (1-1) 5-4
11. Wisconsin (1-1) 4-6
12. Illinois (0-2) 7-3
13. Rutgers (0-2) 7-3
14. Iowa (0-2) 4-6
Friday, December 8th
No Big Ten Games
Saturday, December 9th
12 PM, RV/#23 UCLA @ NA/RV Michigan, CBS
UCLA has lost all of the Ball brothers and gained a bit of unwanted attention. Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh have gotten the Bruins off to a good start at 7-1 and the team averages almost 87 points per game. Michigan is coming off a loss to Ohio State but still stand at a respectable 7-3. Michigan’s offense has been averaging 75 per game, but their stingy defense has only been allowing 65 points per game. There will be a good matchup to watch with Moritz Wagner and Thomas Welsh battling back and forth. Expect whoever controls the pace of play to take the win. If UCLA is able to run on Michigan at the Crisler Center they’ll pull away into the second half. If Michigan is able to control the pace and stretch out possessions, they could get a win off of efficiency and ball control.
Prediction: UCLA 83-72 (Michigan makes it close until late)
12 PM, William & Mary @ Ohio State, NA
Ohio State comes into this game hot and looks to continue to improve off of their poor season last year. William & Mary sits at a nice 6-2, averaging 86 points per game and allowing opponents to score 80 points per game. Ohio State, although 7-3, has three respectable losses to Gonzaga, Butler, and Clemson. Even though the Buckeyes are averaging 76 points per game, they have an average point difference of 10. This game was not meant to be a tough one for Ohio State, and it won’t be.
Prediction: Ohio State 83-71 (Ohio State takes care of business at home)
12 PM, Marquette @ Wisconsin, Fox Sports 1
Wisconsin has underperformed all year and their offense has been very stagnant with key players leaving last season. Marquette has been where they’ve been expected to be, 6-3 with losses to Purdue, Wichita State, and Georgia. The Golden Eagles’ offense has been hitting on all cylinders (see example of scoring 94 on VCU), and Wisconsin has struggled (see example of scoring 37 against Virginia). Expect the Golden Eagles to push the ball and win the game. For Wisconsin to win, they will need to slow the game down like never before and play a game with an efficiency not seen this year.
Prediction: Marquette 87-64 (Golden Eagle’s offense flies in this rivalry game)
12:30 PM, Gardner-Webb @ Maryland, NA
Maryland has not lived up to their potential of being a top-25 team so far this year but that does not mean they are a bad team by any means. Gardner-Webb has one win against Division 1 opponents and has been blown out by teams like Wright State and Fairfield. Maryland should get an easy win, but if they are caught sleeping the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs would have their chance to strike.
Prediction: Maryland 99-73 (Maryland takes care of the Bulldogs)
2 PM, Indiana @ RV/RV Louisville, ESPN
Indiana is now 5-4 and Louisville is 5-2. Both of these teams wanted to be better off at this point this year and both teams have been undergoing not only a shift in coaching but in culture. This game will be big for both. Louisville recently dropped a home game to an underrated Seton Hall team and looks to get a big win in the KFC Yum Center. Both IU and UL have been putting up around the same numbers on offense, but the Cardinals have been dominant on defense compared to the Hoosiers. This defense and the home court advantage should play into Louisville’s favor.
Prediction: Louisville 76-69 (A close game between two schools in need of a win)
2:30 PM, Nebraska @ RV/RV Creighton, Fox Sports 1
Nebraska has been better than expected this season and looks to extend this into their tough road game at Creighton. Creighton has been good this year at home, only dropping one to UCLA. Nebraska just beat a ranked Minnesota team showing that they can do damage to high octane offenses, but have dropped games to St. Johns, UCF, and was blown out by Michigan State. Creighton's 92 points per game compared to the 74 of Nebraska will be the key to the game. BUT I would not be surprised if Nebraska continued to roll just like their game against Minnesota.
Prediction: Creighton 90-73 (DON’T BE SHOCKED FOR AN UPSET)
4 PM, George Washington @ Penn State, Big Ten Network
Penn State started the year at 5-0 and followed it up by going 2-3. George Washington started off at 2-4 and has won 3 straight since. This game is important for both teams heading into their league play. Penn State needs the win to regain some of their early-season luster and George Washington is trying to regain lost ground by beating a power conference opponent. Statistically, Penn State has the advantage in most areas, other than current win streak. This in addition to their home court advantage should decide this game.
Prediction: Penn State 80-68 (Penn State adds an easy win to their record)
6 PM, Southern Utah @ #3/3 Michigan State, Big Ten Network
The number three team in the nation completely obliterated then #9 North Carolina and #5 Notre Dame. Southern Utah sits at 1-3 on the road. This Michigan State team is the real deal and will be hard to bet against all season unless it’s against Duke again.
Prediction: Michigan State 97-72 (Miles Bridges and Co. take care of business)
6:45 PM, #14/15 Minnesota @ Arkansas, SEC Network
Minnesota looks to rebound after a defeat to Nebraska by heading down to Arkansas. Arkansas has held their own all season including wins over UConn and Oklahoma. Minnesota is the better team when using the eye test. Reggie Lynch, Amir Coffey, Nate Mason, and Robert Murphy all have been playing at levels above their expectations but they still have trouble closing out the close ones (Nebraska and Miami). Arkansas is led by senior guard Jaylen Barford who is averaging 19.9 points per game. This game will be close and come to the wire and I expect the Pitino coached Minnesota to finally close out a close game.
Prediction: Minnesota 87-85 (This game will be better than advertised)
7 PM, Fairleigh Dickinson @ Rutgers, NA
Rutgers held their own against Michigan State not so long ago and has done a good job of beating all the teams they should so far. Fairleigh Dickinson has 3 wins on the season, only one of which is against a Division 1 opponent. This being said, Rutgers should win. The Scarlet Knights have been excelling on defense this year only surrendering an average of 56 points per game. I expect this defensive orientated team to pull away in the second half and not look back.
Prediction: Rutgers 74-55 (Rutgers adds another small-time win to their record)
11:59 PM, Illinois @ UNLV, ESPN 2
The Fighting Illini head out to Las Vegas for a good matchup. Illinois started 6-0 then went on a 3 game slide. After beating Austin Peay, they stand at a respectable 7-3. UNLV started 6-0 then went on a 2 game slide. After beating Oral Roberts, they stand at a respectable 7-2. Both teams have been playing modest defense with allowing 72 points per game and both have not won any true road games this year. See the similarities? Here is something to help distinguish the two’s resumes, UNLV averages 91 points per game compared to 83 for the Illini. My expectation is for these two evenly matched teams to battle it out but for the road game woes to continue. If this game was in Champaign, I would have Illinois on top, but this is not in Illinois.
Prediction: UNLV 87-83 (Two teams needing wins battle it out)
Sunday, December 10th
5 PM, Southern @ Iowa, Big Ten Network
Iowa has not been good this season. They have struggled against power conference teams and even dropped two garbage losses to Louisiana-Lafayette and South Dakota State. Southern has struggled too... but against everyone. This game will be of two struggling teams with offensive woes battling it out. Iowa is much more talented than Southern and will have the big advantage of being in Iowa City.
Prediction: Iowa 85-69 (Iowa gets back to winning)
7 PM, IUPUI @ #21/21 Purdue, Big Ten Network
Not many have been picking Purdue to win the conference this season but that doesn’t mean they lack talent. This year’s Purdue team returned many key players that were instrumental in their team’s success last year. BUT Indiana dropped a home game to Indiana State and Notre Dame did the same against Ball State. Even though Purdue is the far better team all around, they should take note of what playing not to lose has done to their rivals in these games against small instate competition.
Prediction: Purdue 90-67 (Purdue looks to avoid the fates of IU and ND to small Indiana schools)
Monday, December 11th
7 PM, Chicago State @ Northwestern, Big Ten Network
Northwestern has 4 losses, all of which at to power conference opponents. They have been off to a slow start, but still have the capabilities to be one of the best teams in the Big Ten. Chicago State is bad. They have yet to beat a Division 1 opponent, one of their wins was against East-West University, a school playing NAIA and Division III opponents. This is a warm-up game for the Wildcats and will be an easy win.
Prediction: Northwestern 102-63 (Yes, I predict a 40 point win)
8 PM, Drake @ #14/15 Minnesota, Big Ten Network
Minnesota is the second best team in the Big Ten and will take on the 4-4 Drake Bulldogs at home. This, like many of the games before, is a warm-up game for the Golden Gophers and should be an easy win. Don’t count out Drake too fast, they were able to sneak a game past Wake Forest earlier this year and almost got one by Colorado.
Prediction: Minnesota 102-78 (Minnesota gets into Big Ten form)
Tuesday, February 12th
7 PM, Catholic @ Maryland, NA
Catholic is an NCAA Division III school that has been struggling against other D3 teams. Maryland is in the Big Ten and will likely be in the NCAA Tournament. I feel like all that I need to say, has been said, but I’ll continue. Maryland will be heading into this game coming off games against Ohio and Gardner-Webb. Maryland needs to pour down on the Catholic Cardinals and not get complacent. Catholic’s goal won’t be to win but to hold their own and gain exposure out of the game.
Prediction: Maryland 110-69 (A Division III opponent... Come on Maryland)
7 PM, Fordham @ Rutgers, ESPNU
Fordham has been struggling all year and Rutgers, although struggling against power conference opponents, has been taking care of mid-majors like no other. Fordham sits at a point differential deficit, allowing 63 points per game and only scoring 61. Rutgers, on the other hand, has been playing top-notch defense with only allowing 56 points per game, this includes only allowing #3 Michigan State to score 62. Rutgers won’t be contending for the Big Ten and may not even make the NCAA Tournament, but this Scarlet Knights team is the best we’ve seen in a while. Expect their stingy defense to take a toll on Fordham.
Prediction: Rutgers 69-52 (Rutgers add more low quality wins to the resume)
9 PM, NA/RV Michigan @ RV/RV Texas, ESPN2
Michigan will head to Texas to face Mo Bamba and Co. Bamba was once heavily considering Michigan and this will be his first, and most likely only, chance to play the team he almost went to. Wagner and Bamba will battle it out all game, one big playing a more stretch 4 and the other being a prototype for the NBA. The team's offense and defense rank very close to each other in terms of points scored and points allowed. The deciding factor could be home court advantage for Texas. This game is even and will go to the wire.
Prediction: Texas 82-81 (Too Close to Call)
Wednesday, December 13th
8 PM, Longwood @ Illinois, Big Ten Network
This game serves as Big Ten warm up for Illinois and a huge challenge for Longwood. Longwood has 3 wins on the season, all coming in a row, and all three against non-Division I opponents. Illinois and Longwood both allow 71 points per game, but Longwood only scores 67 a game compared 83 for the Illini. This shouldn’t be hard for the Illini.
Prediction: Illinois 85-71 (At least they are a Division I opponent, right?)
8 PM, Western Kentucky @ Wisconsin, Fox Sports 1
This matchup had to potential to be a lot better than it is now. A five-star recruit, Mitchell Robinson, was supposed to attend WKU before his go at the NBA Draft. Wisconsin was supposed to be challenging the top of the Big Ten with All American play by Ethan Happ. WKU lost Robinson but still have held their own this season. WKU beat Purdue early on and lost a close one to Villanova. Wisconsin dropped a few games even with Happ playing at an elite level. Now we’re in a strange situation. Western Kentucky, a 6-2 team averaging 78 points per game will head to a 4-6 Wisconsin team that manages 66 points per contest. This would mean that WKU should be the favorite. I predict a close one in Madison…with Wisconsin coming up big and stealing a win against a good WKU team.
Prediction: Wisconsin 72-69 (Wisconsin earns a much needed win)
Thursday, December 14th
8 PM, RV/NA Valparaiso @ Northwestern, Big Ten Network
Valparaiso started off the season hot!! Northwestern started off the season below expectations. There is a big contrast in how their seasons started, but Northwestern has had a much harder schedule and has held their own against almost all opponents this season (Texas Tech is the one that got out of hand). This game will serve as measuring stick for both teams. Northwestern will play a quality opponent at home before Big Ten play really kicks off and see where they stand. Valpo will need this game if they want an at-large bid to the tournament in March. Valpo comes in with inflated stats against worse opponents and Northwestern is trending upward. This game will be really close.
Prediction: Northwestern 73-71 (This game is going to be closer than many expect)