This Week in Big Ten Men's Basketball 12/22 to 12/28

Last week in the Big Ten we saw the predictable happen. Big Ten schools took the week to play lesser nonconference opponents with the exception of Nebraska, Rutgers, and Indiana. Nebraska took a loss to Kansas, but only by one point. Although they dropped a game, they proved that beating Minnesota was not a fluke. Rutgers took on their in-state rival Seton Hall, a team most, like myself, had in high regards. The game came down to the wire but Rutgers walked away with a ranked nonconference win... Yes, you read that correctly. This was the biggest win in Rutgers basketball program since joining the Big Ten and a get win to add to their surprisingly good record. Indiana reminded us all that Notre Dame was overrated and that the Hoosiers aren’t motivated in games against lesser teams. For the second time this year, IU has lost to a small in-state opponent... and by twenty points! They have lost to Indiana State by 21 and IPFW by 20, both teams put up 90+ points on the Hoosiers. In this same week, IU beat a ranked Notre Dame played at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. It’s been safe to say this has not been the season they all hoped for. Northwestern almost lost to crosstown opponent DePaul but pulled away. Illinois dropped a game to New Mexico State further distancing themselves from any hope of making the NCAA Tournament. Other than those specific games, last week was full of Big Ten teams beating up small schools in an effort to rest players and further figure out their proper rotations.
Big Ten Men’s Basketball Standings (As of December, 22nd, 2017)
AP Poll/Coaches Rankings (NA=Not Applicable; RV=Receiving Votes)
1. #2/2 Michigan State (2-0) 12-1
2. #16/16 Purdue (2-0) 12-2
3. Ohio State (2-0) 10-3
4. Maryland (1-1) 11-3
6. RV/RV Michigan (1-1) 11-3
5. RV/NA Minnesota (1-1) 10-3
7. Penn State (1-1) 10-3
8. Northwestern (1-1) 9-4
9. Nebraska (1-1) 8-5
10. Indiana (1-1) 7-6
11. Wisconsin (1-1) 5-7
12. Rutgers (0-2) 10-3
13. Illinois (0-2) 8-5
14. Iowa (0-2) 7-6
Friday, December 22nd
7 PM, Northwestern @ 17/17 Oklahoma, ESPN 2
OU’s Trae Young is the national player of the year front-runner and for good reason. He has been tearing it up and against good competition. The Sooners are 9-1 with wins over USC and Wichita State and their only loss to a good Arkansas team. Northwestern has underperformed all year to everyone’s surprise. They returned the core to their best team in school history and still, it seems like they shot back to the woes of the mid-2000’s. Northwestern’s roster has more players who have the ability to be elite, but none have really acted on it. Young’s record year will continue with beating the Wildcats at home.
Prediction: Oklahoma 80-69 (Young vs the Wildcats, WHO WILL WIN? Young will)
7 PM, Stony Brook @ Rutgers, NA
Rutgers has had an overall good year to this point. They sit at 10-3, they got two of their hardest conference games out of the way and now they have another chance to pad their record with an easy home win. Stony Brook is 4-8 (only 3 wins vs Division I opponents) but as of late they’ve been trending upward. They are 3-3 in their last 6 games with all of their losses adding up to 9 points. They easily could have gone 6-0 in that stretch. This could also show their inability to close out games against similar opponents. Stony Brook will be tested against Rutgers and the Scarlet Knights won’t go easy on them. Expect Rutgers to continue their team trend of beating up the little guy.
Prediction: Rutgers 75-63 (Rutgers gets win #11)
7 PM, Rider @ Penn State, Big Ten Network
This game is another one of the many warmup games for Penn State. It will be their 8th game this year and fourth in a row against a non-quality opponent. Rider is 6-5 but only 1-4 in away games. Rider’s average point differential is only +3 while Penn State’s is +13. Rider is a small school, with a bad record, who has not been winning games big, going to a Big Ten arena where they will face a 10-3 opponent. P.S. Penn State is 7-1 at home this year with their only loss coming in close fashion against Wisconsin.
Prediction: Penn State 89-73 (Penn State marches on)
8 PM, Delaware State @ Nebraska, NA
Nebraska holds a solid 8-5 record this year. They have a big win against a ranked Minnesota team and losses coming at Creighton, at St. John’s, against #2 Michigan State, and 1 point loss to Kansas. Their only fluke could be their loss to UCF. Delaware State is 2-11 overall and 0-11 against Division I opponents. They have one of the worst records in NCAA DI basketball and are not having a good year. This being said, I feel safe to bet on Nebraska taking a W in an easy home game.
Prediction: Nebraska 100-69 (HEADLINE: DELAWARE STATE LOSES)
9 PM, Colorado vs Iowa (Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota) Big Ten Network
This game is interesting not only because of the Big Ten/Pac 12 matchup, but the location. The game will be a neutral site game in South Dakota but is expected to be largely full of Iowa fans. Iowa is 7-6 and Colorado is 8-3. In Iowa’s last 5 games, they are 3-2 with three wins of 30+ points and 2 losses to major conference opponents. Colorado is 2-3 in their last five with one of those wins in OT against South Dakota State and the other against a lowly New Mexico team. The losses come to Colorado State, Xavier, and San Diego. Although their records are different, how each team has played recently shows their true abilities heading into the game. Both teams allow 72.6 points per game but Iowa scores 5 more a game at 81. Iowa will have the advantage of a streak, fans at the neutral site, and their scoring ability. As long as they keep their turnovers to minimum the Hawkeyes should fly to victory
Prediction: Iowa 77-73 (Will a 4 game win streak turn the season around?)
Saturday, December 23rd
1:30 PM, Ohio State vs 5/4 North Carolina (Smoothie King Center, New Orleans/ 2017 CBS SPORTS CLASSIC), CBS
10-3 Ohio State plays 10-2 UNC. What difference can strength in schedule make? Well, Ohio State received no votes once again in either poll and North Carolina is 5th and 4th in the AP and Coaches Poll. The two teams average about the same point differentials, OSU at +12 and UNC at +15, but you need to remember the strength of schedule. UNC is averaging this after being blown out to #2 Michigan State by 18 points. Ohio State is averaging this while playing a largely easy schedule thus far. Ohio State has been playing better than expected so far, but UNC looks too good for the Buckeyes. The Tarheels’ big game experience will show and they’ll get the win in New Orleans.
Prediction: UNC 87-78 (Ohio State drops a tough test)
3:30 PM, Florida Atlantic vs RV/NA Minnesota, Big Ten Network
Florida Atlantic was just blown out by 40 points to a Texas Tech team that I would consider almost equal to Minnesota. FAU averages an impressive 68 points per game while Minnesota allows an impressive 63 points per game. Minnesota is all around the better team here with players like Amir Coffey, Reggie Lynch, Nate Mason, and Jordan Murphy. This will be an easy win at home for the Gophers as they head into Christmas leaving their losses to Nebraska and Arkansas behind.
Prediction: Minnesota 87-64 (The Gophers get it done)
5:30 PM, Green Bay vs Wisconsin, Big Ten Network
Both Wisconsin and Green Bay have suffered bad seasons so far. Green Bay is 5-7 (3-7 against Division I opponents) and Wisconsin is 5-7. Just a game between two 5-7 teams from Wisconsin, right? Well, one is in the Big Ten and the home to Ethan Happ and the other just lost to Indiana State by 22. This game serves to give Wisconsin a win at a home before the break to bolster their spirits and add a W to their record. Wisconsin needs to come out and run their offense and not settle for threes.
Prediction: Wisconsin 67-54 (W for Wisconsin)
9 PM, Illinois vs Missouri (Scottrade Center, St. Louis), ESPN
A rivalry is renewed when these two hit the hardwood. Before Illinois’ string of losses including a bad loss to New Mexico State, this game would have been hyped up much more. Now it’s 10-2 Missouri take on 8-5 Illinois. Illinois is given a 31% chance to win this game, but I think that this is not enough. Even without Michael Porter Jr., the Tigers are hitting an SEC-best in three-pointers per game. Besides this, the two teams are very similar statistically. Illinois averages 82.5 points per game to Missouri’s 80.5. Illinois allows 70.8 points per game while Missouri allows 68. Their field goal percentage is within 5%, their rebounds are within 3 and assists 1. This matchup will prove very entertaining and should make a great game.
Prediction: Missouri 81-80 (This game will outlive the hype)
Sunday, December 24th
No Big Ten Games
Monday, December 25th
No Big Ten Games
Tuesday, December 26th
No Big Ten Games
Wednesday, December 27th
9 PM, Chicago State @ Wisconsin, ESPNU
Chicago State is 2-13, 0-13 against Division I opponents. They are the worst team in Division I basketball. They almost allow 90 points per game and score just over 66. This game is at a Big Ten opponent. Wisconsin will win and it will be easy.
Prediction: Wisconsin 91-50 (Chicago State just can’t catch a break)
Thursday, December 28th
7 PM, Hartford @ Rutgers, NA
Rutgers will try to add another low-quality win to their resume. Hartford is 4-7 and looking to take down a big opponent in Rutgers. Rutgers will win this game based on the fact that their #1 skill is beating low opponents. They are never bothered, the games are never close, they just get in and always take care of business, but they do it using one thing. Rutgers’ defense allows a staggering 58 points per game!!! This is insane and unheard of in modern college basketball. They have been able to slow pace of play and play tight defense all year against all opponents. Rutgers wins following their common formula of great D.
Prediction: Rutgers 61-50 (Rutgers is piling up low quality wins)