This Week in Big Ten Men's Basketball 12/15 to 12/21

By Zachery Bonzheim
The Big Ten’s less than outstanding season continues as only three teams received any votes in either major poll... that’s right, only three. Michigan State has continued their domination and split first place votes with Villanova in both major polls. Purdue has not let their two losses get in their way and Minnesota continues their roller coaster year. The good thing about Big Ten is the middle of the conference looks tough and will add prestige throughout conference play. Ohio State, Maryland, Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State and Nebraska all stand strong and have their NCAA tournament hopes alive and well. Rutgers and Illinois both have picked up a hand full of wins (9 for Rutgers and 8 for Illinois) but both teams have not beaten a major opponent so far. Wisconsin and Indiana both struggled heavily early on but get off to a 1-1 start in Big Ten play. Iowa is off to a rough start losing to all major opponents this season and surrendering two very ugly losses to Louisiana and South Dakota State. All in all the conference’s underwhelming year is at a point of decision. There are the top teams and the bottom teams, but Ohio State, Maryland, Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State and Nebraska all have a chance to add to their records these upcoming weeks and turn the conferences season around.  
Big Ten Men’s Basketball Standings (As of December, 15th, 2016)
AP Poll/Coaches Rankings (NA=Not Applicable; RV=Receiving Votes)
1. #2/2 Michigan State (2-0) 9-1
2. #17/17 Purdue (2-0) 10-2
3. Ohio State (2-0) 8-3
4. Maryland (1-1) 10-3
5. RV/RV Minnesota (1-1) 9-3
6. Michigan (1-1) 9-3
7. Penn State (1-1) 8-3
8. Northwestern (1-1) 7-4
9. Nebraska (1-1) 7-4
10. Indiana (1-1) 5-5
11. Wisconsin (1-1) 5-7
12. Rutgers (0-2) 9-3
13. Illinois (0-2) 8-4
14. Iowa (0-2) 5-6
Friday, December 15th
No Big Ten Games
Saturday, December 16th
12 PM, Michigan vs Detroit Mercy (Little Caesars Arena), ESPNU
Detroit Mercy’s high flying offense has not had the game results one would expect from a team averaging almost 90 points per game. Sitting at 4-6 with 2 wins against non-Division I opponents and the other two wins coming in an OT against Houston Baptist and a two-point victory over Saint Louis. It is safe to say, UDM has not had the season they’ve hoped. Michigan dropped two games earlier this season and bounced back huge with wins against UCLA and Texas. I doubted Michigan heavily last week, but they proved me wrong. Adding two wins against future NCAA Tournament teams puts the Wolverines in a terrific position heading into their last few games before Big Ten play really kicks off.
Prediction: Michigan 87-56 (Michigan puts on a show in Detroit)
12 PM, Butler vs Purdue (Bankers Life Fieldhouse), FOX
Purdue’s season has been off and running. After a strong start, Purdue suffered a two-game skid. Purdue cleaned it up and rattled off 6 wins in a row including wins against Arizona, Louisville, Northwestern, and Maryland. Butler started off the year 3-2 and followed it up with 5 wins in a row including wins against Ohio State and Utah. Two 2 loss teams, both on hot streaks, and playing a neutral site game (Although Indianapolis is home to Butler). Both teams have a stout defense, both averaging 66 points allowed per game. The big difference here is offense. Caleb Swanigan left Purdue but their offense hasn’t missed a stride. Vincent Edwards, Isaac Haas, Carsen Edwards, and Dakota Mathias are all averaging over 13 points per game all leading to the Boilermakers putting up 85 points a night. Butler’s 75 points a game is respectable, but a lot less than Purdue's. Butler will have the crowd on their feet all game but Purdue’s four offensive weapons will be too much.
Prediction: Purdue 86-75 (Purdue and Butler make it rock in Indy)
12 PM, Seton Hall @ Rutgers, Big Ten Network
A classic New Jersey rivalry game will take place this Saturday. Rutgers has taken care of most of their opponents this year and sits at 9-3. Seton Hall has also had a good season... their 15th in the nation and 9-1 with wins over Indiana, Texas Tech, VCU, Vanderbilt, Monmouth, and Louisville. Seton Hall has proved themselves time and time again this season and deserves a higher ranking. But hold on, Rutgers took Michigan State to the wire before the Spartans pulled away. If this Rutgers team wants to beat Seton Hall they need to contain the dynamic duo of Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado. These two ignite both sides of the ball for the Pirates. After all of this, this is a rivalry game. And crazy things happen when teams put everything on the line in the name of respect.
Prediction: Seton Hall 81-77 (Rutgers gives Seton Hall and scare and proves they can play)
2 PM, Northwestern @ DePaul, Fox Sports 1
DePaul sits at 6-4 with 6 wins against non-major conference teams and 4 losses to every major conference opponent they’ve faced. Northwestern is 7-4 with 6 wins against non-major conference teams and 4 losses to all but one major conference opponent they’ve faced. Similar seasons thus far for both of these Chicago schools and similar situations to the games we’ve covered so far; a cross-town rivalry game with two teams who have had similar fates so far. This game will be important because it will shape how their remaining season unfolds. A win for DePaul and they gain credibility and confidence. A loss for Northwestern and their postseason and projected Big Ten finish look very bleak. The difference is, Northwestern looks like they’ve already changed. After their massive win against Valparaiso, they regained some of their mojo. Heading into this game with confidence, the overall talent of the Wildcats should carry them to a victory.
Prediction: Northwestern 74-63 (Northwestern shows up for their crosstown rivalry)
2 PM, Drake @ Iowa, Big Ten Network
Iowa’s season has not panned out as many Hawkeye faithfuls had hopped. They sit at a subpar 5-6. Drake is 5-5 with their best performances coming with a win over Wake Forest and a 1 point loss at Minnesota. Iowa’s best win is... a 10 point win over UAB? Iowa has no quality wins this season and beating Drake won’t be one, but this is a must win. Iowa needs to get easy wins heading into Big Ten play to look respectable. Drake has nothing to prove except that Minnesota and Wake Forest weren’t flukes. The team's average near identical numbers all around but Iowa’s opponents have made these much harder to achieve. Although Iowa is, in my opinion, the worst team in the Big Ten this season, I believe the Hawkeyes will get it done in Iowa City.
Prediction: Iowa 75-72 (Drake almost beats two Big Ten teams in the same year... ALMOST)
2 PM, Michigan State vs Oakland (Little Caesars Arena), ESPNU
Debatably, the nations’ top team will come into downtown Detroit to take on one of the Midwest’s historically best mid-majors. Oakland is in a down year and is 6-4 with bad losses to Eastern Michigan and Toledo and two respectable losses to Syracuse and Kansas. The only blemish on the Spartan’s record is against Duke and they have recorded wins against Notre Dame, UConn, North Carolina, and two Big Ten opponents. In past years Michigan State and Oakland have played at the Palace of Auburn Hills and often these games go down to the wire. Oakland plays with a chip on their shoulder against the Spartans and the trio of Kendrick Nunn (ex-Illinois star), Martez Walker, and Jalen Hayes average just over 60 points a game. My prediction is Michigan State’s pure talent will pull the Spartans away, but both teams will near the century mark
Prediction: Michigan State 98-89 (High scoring game in downtown Detroit)
2:30 PM, Indiana vs Notre Dame (Bankers Life Fieldhouse), FOX
These two rivals will battle it out in Indy. Notre Dame is a team with aspirations of reaching the Final Four and Indiana is a team at the bottom of the Big Ten in their head coach’s first year. These are two teams with opposing narratives heading into this game. For the sake of the rivalry, we wish it was different, but unfortunately, it’s not. Indiana has a talented team, but so far they have lacked effort and seem to be just running through the motions. This alone gives a huge edge to Notre Dame. Bonzie Colson is up for national awards and I expect him to ball out this game. It would not be shocking to see him even post a triple-double. Indiana has the talent to make it close, but whether they have the will is the true question.
Prediction: Notre Dame 80-68 (The Bonzie show stops in Indy)
6 PM, Appalachian State @ Ohio State, Big Ten Network
Ohio State’s season has surprisingly been good so far. They were expected to falter early and often but they have shown resiliency and willingness to win. After coming off wins over Wisconsin and Michigan I believe the Buckeyes are going to come into this game confident...maybe even too confident. Appalachian State has been averaging 87.6 points per game and can fill the stat sheets fast. If Ohio State comes out slow and relaxed, Appalachian could make a move and keep it the rest of the game.
Prediction: Ohio State 90-76 (DEAR OSU, DO NOT LET OFF THE GAS)
8 PM, New Mexico State vs Illinois (United Center), Big Ten Network
Illinois has underperformed this season largely due to their failure to close out games against major conference opponents. New Mexico State is a mid-major with a good record against horrible opponents. It’s hard to say which team I’d rather be. Either way, Illinois has more talent on the team and the stats prove it. The Illini, who have lost 4 games, still average 84 points per game and allow 74. The Aggies score around 74 per game and allow 64, but not so fast! In three most recent games against Division I opponents, NMSU failed to reach 70 points. Illinois’ defense will be too much and they will get the win.
Prediction: Illinois 87-70 (The United Center finally sees a basketball team from Illinois win)
8 PM, Kansas @ Nebraska, Fox Sports 1
Kansas came into the season looking like possibly the best team in the nation and many picked them to win it all. Fast Forward to Now: Kansas suffered two straight losses to Washington and Arizona State, two games they added to their schedule as easy power conference wins. Arizona State is a very good team so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. That still does not explain their loss to Washington. Now Nebraska; they came into the season with moderate expectations and at 7-4 they are on track to finish as expected, average. Nebraska was able to notch a solid win against Minnesota, showing their true potential. Washington and Nebraska are very similar teams with Nebraska’s proof of potential following the Minnesota win, and Kansas’s proof of mortality following their losses, I would not be surprised by an upset. Nebraska needs to let Kansas’ poorer players shoot and keep pressure heavy on their guards. Kansas needs to shake off the spider webs and get back to playing Jayhawk basketball.
Prediction: Kansas 74-59 (Don’t let my predicted score fool you, UPSET POSSIBLE )
Sunday, December 17th
4 PM, Penn State @ George Mason, NA
Penn State’s season has been good so far and I don’t expect a 5-6 George Mason team to post such a threat. Don’t believe me? Here’s their compared stats: Points Per Game, Penn State-78, George Mason-68; Points Allowed Per Game, Penn State-66, George Mason-72. I could go on and on, but Penn State has the advantage in field goal percentage, rebounds per game, assists per game, blocks per game, steals per game, overall record, and current win streak. You could say that Penn State is in the Big Ten should add even more to their advantage. This is another warm-up game for the Nittany Lions, but on the road.
Prediction: Penn State 85-69 (Penn State picks up a win on the road)
Monday, December 18th
6 PM, Houston Baptist @ Michigan State, Big Ten Network
Houston Baptist is 1-7 against Division I opponents. This game in the Breslin Center. Michigan State is #2 in the nation, but arguably the best team. Michigan State has Jaren Jackson and Miles Bridges. Need I say more? Michigan State will fine-tune their squad in this game and their overall talent will prevail.
Prediction: Michigan State 102-72 (Yes, I predict a 30 point win)
8 PM, Fort Wayne @ Indiana, Big Ten Network
IPFW is 6-5 with no quality wins yet and Indiana is 5-5 also with no quality wins (well, one Big Ten win vs Iowa). IPFW’s offense has been booming averaging 82 points per game and well into the high 80’s in wins. Indiana has looked like an AAU team at times and at other times like a Final Four contender. They took Duke down to the wire and go destroyed by Indiana State, in the same season. After their loss to Indiana State, IU has not lost again to a mid-major. Indiana is the better team given their talent and conference, but their lack of effort has cost them multiple times. If a slow Hoosier team shows up they could drop again to a small school in their home state.
Prediction: Indiana 82-70 (Indiana puts in effort and is rewarded)
Tuesday, December 19th
7 PM, The Citadel @ Ohio State, Big Ten Network
A 4-6 Citadel team comes into Columbus to play one of the Big Ten’s bright surprises. The Buckeyes intent for this game is as most would assume, to get the rotation ready for Big Ten play and for the team to stay active over the break. Aside from the difference in talent, record, and conferences, the biggest factor in the game is going to be their defenses. Ohio State has been on average holding teams to below 70 points per game while the Citadel on average gives up 92 points per game. Ohio State will come away with an easy win at Value City Arena and send the fans home happy.
Prediction: Ohio State 92-69 (DEE-FENSE DEE-FENSE DEE-FENSE)
7 PM, Binghamton @ Penn State, NA
Binghamton comes into this game having played no major conference opponents and still sits at 7-4. Penn State has been surprisingly good thus far in Big Ten play and looks to add an easy win in an effort to get their team ready for the bulk of conference play in the new year. Binghamton’s lack of big game experience along with mediocre results in one of the easiest schedules in the nation so far says it all.
Prediction: Penn State 78-54 (Penn State takes care of business)
8 PM, Lewis University (NCAA DII) @ Northwestern, NA
Northwestern will host an NCAA DII opponent to solidify their rotation along with gives younger underclassmen chances to get game time experience. I am never a fan of Division I teams playing lower division teams in the regular season, especially if that DI team is in a conference like the Big Ten. Easy win for the Wildcats, but it is a game that never should have happened.
Prediction: Northwestern 100-54 (Come on, DII, this late in the season?!?!?!)
9 PM, Southern Utah @ Iowa, Big Ten Network
Iowa comes into this game as big favorites and for a good reason. Even if this Hawkeye team is the worst in the Big Ten, they are still better than most mid-majors in the nation. This Iowa home game will be fun for fans to watch. Iowa’s overall efficiency will be great to see. Averaging more assists, rebounds, steals, and a higher field goal percentage than Southern Utah and against harder opponents is the tale of the tape. This, along with Iowa’s comparatively stout defense (74 to 83 points allowed per game), will help the Hawkeyes ease into victory.
Prediction: Iowa 78-54 (Wait, has Iowa resurrected their season?!)
Wednesday, December 20th
8 PM, UT San Antonio @ Nebraska, Big Ten Network
When you first look at UTSA’s stats you notice they average 86 points per game. When looking closer you realize they also put up 125 against Ottawa University of Arizona and 92 against East-West University, both non-Division I schools. Nebraska in their own right is looking to continue on their path of average. But in all seriousness, if Nebraska losses to Kansas, then they will have won every game they were favored in and lost every game they were expected to lose, the exception being the win vs. Minnesota. I believe Nebraska will continue their season’s theme of doing what’s expected of them and winning this game, but I think UTSA may make it interesting by pouring in baskets (but not 85 of them).
Prediction: Nebraska 84-79 (Nebraska: Nothing out of the ordinary)
Thursday, December 21st
This may be one of the least exciting days in Big Ten basketball this season. Six Big Ten teams take on small mid-major schools, many of whom are not the most competitive in their own conferences. To save everyone time, I am writing one description for this day. All of the following games are for the Big Ten teams to polish their rotations, give players game experience, and keep players busy and in the flow of the game over break, not to mention easy wins. These mid-majors are trying to snatch a big-time win, but most have very small chances of doing so. The Big Ten teams all are heavily favored in each matchup as they all have homecourt and much more talent.
6 PM, Tennessee State @ Purdue, Big Ten Network
Prediction: Purdue 89-49 (Nothing out of the ordinary)
7 PM, Fairleigh Dickinson @ Maryland, ESPNU
Prediction: Maryland 85-55 (Nothing out of the ordinary)
7 PM, Long Beach State @ Michigan State, NA
Prediction: Michigan State 98-65 (Nothing out of the ordinary)
8 PM, Tennessee Tech @ Indiana, Big Ten Network
Prediction: Indiana 86-65 (Nothing out of the ordinary)
8 PM, Oral Roberts @ Minnesota, NA
Prediction: Minnesota 93-64 (Nothing out of the ordinary)
9 PM, Alabama A&M @ Michigan, ESPNU
Prediction: Michigan 91-62 (Nothing out of the ordinary)