This Week in Big Ten Men's Basketball 12/29 to 1/4

For the second week in a row, we saw the Big Ten play a mostly easy schedule. It was a big week for neutral site games. Illinois beat rival Missouri in St. Louis. Iowa beat Colorado in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Buckeyes dropped a game to the North Carolina Tar Heels in the CBS Sports Classic in New Orleans. Friday was a bad day for the conference when Northwestern headed to Norman, Oklahoma where Trae Young dismantled the Wildcats. This was expected, but no one expected Rutgers to lose to Stony Brook and Penn State to lose to Rider, both home games for the Big Ten sides. Rutgers followed this bad performance up with a loss at home to Hartford. Wisconsin won its games, but not in the best fashion. In their game against the worst team in the Division I basketball, Chicago State, they only scored 82 points, the third lowest amount scored against this team this season. Put this into perspective, against Chicago State Iowa scored 95, Purdue scored 111, Notre Dame scored 105, Marquette scored 95, and Northwestern scored 96. So only putting up 82 is not a good performance. On the bright side, the majority of the conference, at least the ones that played, won their games and looked good.
Big Ten Men’s Basketball Standings (As of December 28th, 2017)
AP Poll/Coaches Rankings (NA=Not Applicable; RV=Receiving Votes)
1. #2/2 Michigan State (2-0) 12-1
2. #14/13 Purdue (2-0) 12-2
3. Ohio State (2-0) 10-4
4. RV/RV Michigan (1-1) 11-3
5. RV/NA Minnesota (1-1) 11-3
6. Maryland (1-1) 11-3
7. Penn State (1-1) 10-4
8. Northwestern (1-1) 9-5
9. Nebraska (1-1) 9-5
10. Indiana (1-1) 7-6
11. Wisconsin (1-1) 7-7
12. Rutgers (0-2) 10-5
13. Illinois (0-2) 9-5
14. Iowa (0-2) 8-6
Friday, December 29th
6 PM, Cleveland State @ 2/2 Michigan State, Big Ten Network
Michigan State has scored 100 points in their last two games while steamrolling mid-majors. Cleveland State is a struggling team that allows 71 points per game while only scoring 67. Many would believe that this game will follow the blueprint of MSU’s games against Houston Baptist and Long Beach. A slow start followed by hitting the gas and winning by 50 while scoring 100. I also believe this to happen in this game. Some interesting non-basketball storylines include MSU’s Breslin Center recently having broken pipes leading to flooding. Another non-game related fact about this matchup is that Cleveland State was the original school of ex-Michigan State and current San Antonio Spurs shooting guard, Bryn Forbes.
Prediction: Michigan State 100-61 (Many storylines, but none are an upset)
8 PM, Youngstown State @ Indiana, Big Ten Network
Indiana has been a very hard team to read this year. They dropped multiple games to teams most major conferences would blow out, and both losses were at home. Luckily for IU, Youngstown is 2-10 with 0 wins against Division I opponents. IU has had a tendency of playing sloppy and lacking effort against low-quality opponents before, but Youngstown's defense allows 85 points per game. With such a poor defense coming into Bloomington, we should expect the Hoosiers to get by, even if they don’t play up to their potential.
Prediction: Indiana 87-71 (IU earns a home win)
8 PM, Northern Illinois @ Iowa, NA
Iowa beating Colorado could act as a turning point. The Hawkeyes battled the Buffaloes in Sioux Falls and earned a quality power conference win. As much as that game boosted the program, dropping this one could reverse the momentum. Iowa holds a five-point advantage in points per game while Northern Illinois holds a one-point advantage in points allowed per game. These two share a recent common opponent in Iowa State. Both played at Iowa State and both lost. Iowa lost 84-78 and NIU lost 94-80. Both had almost equal offensive outputs, but against a common opponent, Iowa’s defense appears much better. This, along with Iowa’s subtle 4 game win streak and it being a Hawkeye home game, gives Iowa an advantage.
Prediction: Iowa 84-76 (Iowa gets a late Christmas present)
8 PM, UMBC @ Maryland, Fox Sports 1
Maryland has quietly come out to an 11-3 start and sits tied for fourth in the Big Ten. This is the first game for Maryland after the news that star Justin Jackson will not return to play this season after a shoulder injury. With a new rotation in effect, the Terrapins need to adjust against an 8-5 UMBC. UMBC actually averages 2 points more than Maryland per game, but Maryland’s defense has only allowed 63 points per game this season. Maryland will need their staunch defense to come out this Friday for this intrastate matchup.
Prediction: Maryland 77-63 (No Jackson, No Problem... for now)
8 PM, Stetson @ Nebraska, NA
Nebraska, like many other Big Ten teams, has quietly taken care of business this season. Nebraska has almost had two seasons in this season. There is the season against mid-major and the season against power conference. Against mid-majors, with the exception of their first game, they have never been held under 84 points. When playing quality opponents, they have never exceeded 78 points, even in their wins. So when it’s noted that both Stetson and Nebraska average 76.1 points per game, you can take it with a grain of salt. This game won’t be had for Nebraska and I expect them to keep their trend alive.
Prediction: Nebraska 87-73 (Nebraska gets over 84 points)
Saturday, December 30th
12 PM, Brown @ Northwestern, Fox Sports 1
Northwestern is coming off a huge loss to Oklahoma, a DIII win, and barely squeaking by DePaul. A win against a 6-5 Brown team (2-5 on the road) should not be a hard task for the Wildcats but their season has been anything but predictable. Like many Big Ten teams, the Wildcats have relied on their defense this season, only allowing 66 points per game, a statistic that took hit when giving up 104 to Oklahoma. The sad part about this “home” game for Northwestern is that it is at Allstate Arena is Rosemont, a 16 mile and 40-minute drive away from campus. Brown allows 75 points per game which is the amount that Northwestern averages. I think that this game will be closer than most would predict but that the Wildcats will win just as they did against DePaul. The game will be sloppy but Northwestern’s defense will prove to be the game-defining factor.
Prediction: Northwestern 75-68 (Wildcats win but don’t answer any questions)
12 PM, Miami (OH) @ Ohio State, ESPNU
Ohio State is looking to bounce back after their loss to UNC. Many Buckeyes fans believed their team was the real deal and North Carolina proved them wrong. But Ohio State is still a good basketball team and belongs in the top half of the Big Ten. Miami, like Ohio State, is trying to bounce back from a loss. Their big defeat came at the hands of DePaul. Ohio State has an advantage in points per game and points allowed, along with a harder schedule, and this game being played at home. There are a lot of factors that point to Ohio State coming up with a W this Saturday, but the biggest to me is that DePaul just blasted Miami out of the water. This type of defeat can carry over especially when entering a game where a team is highly doubted and rooted against.
Prediction: Ohio State 83-69 (Ohio State wins their only game against an Ohio opponent)
1 PM, Coppin State @ Penn State, NA
Penn State just suffered a horrible loss to Rider at home, but Coppin is a worse opponent.
Coppin State is 0-14. Earlier this season Rutgers handled Coppin State easily with a 64-39 win. Penn State may be better than Rutgers and should not struggle at all with this opponent. Quick Note: Coppin State has started 0-10 against DI opponents each of the last four years.
Prediction: Penn State 73-39 (Coppin falls to 0-15)
2 PM, Harvard @ RV/NA Minnesota, Big Ten Network
Harvard is 5-7 but has proven they can take on big names and play to their level. Harvard lost to Kentucky but kept the game tight before falling 79-70. Minnesota is 11-3 with all their losses coming in a 10 day period. As of now, it has appeared that Minnesota has moved past their slump. Carrying the Golden Gophers is their 85 point per game offense. How important is this statistic in their matchup against Harvard? Well, Minnesota holds a 20 point advantage! Simply put, Harvard will not be able to keep up with Minnesota if Minnesota has an average game.
Prediction: Minnesota 87-71 (Minnesota runs and runs and runs)
4 PM, Grand Canyon @ Illinois, NA
Grand Canyon is 10-4 and has been playing a great brand of basketball. How good? They were given a 30% chance to beat Illinois at home by ESPN. That is an unusually high percentage for a mid-major team at a power conference’s arena. GCU actually has a better point differential than Illinois (+13 compared to +11) but Illinois has something that can’t be measured. After beating rival Missouri in St. Louis the fans in Champaign have something to cheer about. Illinois is 8-1 at home this year and GCU is 0-2 on the road. Illinois is at home, with huge momentum and massive fan support after the rivalry win. This game may be close, but the homecourt will play a role in the outcome.
Prediction: Illinois 77-71 (Illinois is 9-1 at home, GCU is 0-3 on the road)
4 PM, UMASS Lowell @ Wisconsin, Big Ten Network
Umass Lowell is trying to turn their recent fortune around when they head to Madison. Umass Lowell is 6-6 but 1-4 as of late. Wisconsin is 7-7 but on a 3 game win streak. This a huge game for both teams, but Wisconsin will have much more pressure. Falling below .500 this late in the season is a death wish for the coach of a team like Wisconsin. Both of these teams have an almost nonexistent point differential but at two different paces. Wisconsin has played most of its games in the 60’s while Umass Lowell has been in the high 70’s. Whichever team can control the pace of play will win the game.
Prediction: Wisconsin 69-66 (A close call, but the Badgers are above .500)
6 PM, Jacksonville @ RV/RV Michigan, Big Ten Network
Michigan has surprised most this year, including me. They are 11-3 overall, 7-0 at home, and 1-1 in the conference with quality wins over UCLA, at Texas, and against VCU. Jacksonville is 2-10 against DI opponents (5-10 overall) and 0-6 on the road this year. Unlike most years, Michigan has relied on their stout defense (61 points allowed per game) to get wins. Jacksonville’s defense has struggled, allowing 80 points per game and their offense has not capitalized (72 points per game). Michigan is a heavy favorite in this game and for good reason. NC State just beat Jacksonville 116-64 and Michigan just beat Alabama A&M by 50.
Prediction: Michigan 108-63 (Michigan has fun with it)
8 PM, Lipscomb @ 14/13 Purdue, Big Ten Network
Purdue has proved to be the second fiddle in the Big Ten and still a possible national title contender. Lipscomb is sitting pretty at 9-4 but was dismantled by all power conference opponents they’ve played so far (Texas, Tennessee, and Alabama). Purdue is by far the best team Lipscomb will play this year and if history repeats itself, chances are they won’t be competitive at the end of the second half. Lipscomb has +3 point differential (77 PPG, 74 PA) compared to Purdue’s +22 (86 PPG, 64 PA)! Purdue is overall a much better team and can score the ball easier and play defense more effectively than the Bisons from Lipscomb.
Prediction: Purdue 98-63 (Purdue has fun with it, too)
Sunday, December 31st
12 PM, Savannah State @ 2/2 Michigan State, Big Ten Network
Too often I do not take time to dissect Michigan State’s matchups and just give out stats that are self-explanatory. This time I really should do that, but I won't. Michigan State is in the eyes of many the most talented, well rounded, and overall best team in college basketball. Coming into this game they should have eclipsed 100 points three games in a row. This game should be no different. Savannah State is 1-11 against DI teams (3-11 overall) and scores 80 points a game while averaging 96 points allowed per game. NINE TEAMS HAVE SCORED 100 ON SAVANNAH STATE THIS YEAR. This is unheard of but a heard of thing is Michigan State putting up 100. MSU will win convincingly and have fun.
Prediction: Michigan State 118-63 (Michigan State totals 400+ points in 4 consecutive games)
Monday, January 1st
Tuesday, January 2nd (BIG TEN GETS IN FULL SWING)
7 PM, Indiana @ Wisconsin, ESPN
This is perhaps one of the most interesting matchups of the early Big Ten season. Both of these teams have massively underperformed, both are unpredictable, both have proved that they have talent, but both can’t seem to win. This game will have a lot at stake. It could change the projection for both teams heading into the gauntlet that is the Big Ten. Both have similarly small point differentials, Wisconsin in the high 60’s with Indiana in the mid 70’s. Home court is a huge advantage in the Big Ten and the Kohl Center will provide a much-needed boost for the Badgers. Indiana has the edge when looking at recent games against high profile teams. Indiana proved itself with wins over Iowa and Notre Dame and a close loss to Louisville. Wisconsin lost convincingly to Marquette and close to Temple. If those early season games really showed what these teams had to offer, I would have to say Indiana should win a close one.
Prediction: Indiana 74-69 (Indiana scores a Big Win in the Big Ten)
7 PM, RV/RV Michigan @ Iowa, ESPN 2
Michigan has played like the third best team in the Big Ten so far this year. Major wins over Texas and UCLA proved that they could handle tough opponents and away from home (they played at Texas). Michigan’s 61 points allowed per game defense will head into Iowa City and challenge Iowa’s 80 points per game offense. This game will be close as Iowa is on a streak and at home. In the end, Iowa doesn’t have the offensive firepower of UCLA or Texas and suffers the same fate.
Prediction: Michigan 73-70 (Michigan steals the second road game of the night)
7 PM, Penn State @ Maryland, Big Ten Network
Maryland has already had a warm-up game without Justin Jackson and should have the jitters and tweaks all gone. Penn State started off the year surprising many and faltered with the loss to Rider. Maryland, on the other hand, is looking to enter the polls with a win (13-3 would be their hypothetical record now). Penn State and Maryland have almost identical offensive and defensive points per game averages but as said before, home court means a lot in the Big Ten. Maryland will be in front of a packed house who have eagerly waited for the return of conference play. This game will be Maryland’s 7th win in a row and get them some votes in the polls.
Prediction: Maryland 76-69 (Maryland defends their homecourt)
9 PM, Nebraska @ Northwestern, Big Ten Network
Both Nebraska and Northwestern are currently 1-1 in conference play and 9-5 overall. They score within a point of each other (75.1 for Northwestern, 76.1 for Nebraska) but Northwestern’s defense has been much more effective. Allowing 66.4 points per game this year, Northwestern should be able to stop Nebraska from running the floor and attacking early. This game will be close but Northwestern’s defense late in the game is better than Nebraska’s late game offense.
Prediction: Northwestern 73-65 (Northwestern defends their “homecourt”)
Wednesday, January 3rd
7 PM, Rutgers @ 13/14 Purdue, Big Ten Network
Rutgers started off the year hot and looked like they could finish in the top half of the conference and possibly end up in the tournament. After two bad losses to mid-majors, both of those ideas went out the window. Purdue is overall a much better team. Purdue averages 86 points per game compared to Rutgers’ 72. The area where Rutgers could do damage is by slowing down the game and limiting second-chance points. Rutgers only allows 59 points per game, one of the best in the country (9th in the nation). If Rutgers slows the game and plays the defense they’re capable of, they could win.
Prediction: Purdue 93-65 (Purdue proves why they’re a top team)
9 PM, Illinois @ RV/NA Minnesota, Big Ten Network
Minnesota, lead by their star-studded cast, will host Illinois at the Barn. From this first sentence, it’s easy to see what I think will happen. Minnesota has much more talent and huge homecourt advantage on Illinois. In a game where the two opponents have similar points per game and points allowed and within a few games of each other in their records, homecourt and momentum mean a lot.
Prediction: Minnesota 83-79 (The Barn gets rockin’)
Thursday, January 4th
7 PM, Ohio State @ Iowa, ESPNU
Ohio State will take their top Big Ten standing into Iowa City against a hungry Hawkeye team. Iowa and Ohio State have the same point differentials and this has more weight in my thought process than their records. Iowa has more losses due to close games not closed out and Ohio State has had a few games where things fell their way. Carver-Hawkeye Arena will be loud and ready for a Big Ten win and I believe Iowa will deliver.
Prediction: Iowa 80-79 (The Hawkeyes get their first conference win on Ohio State’s first loss)
8 PM, Maryland @ 2/2 Michigan State, Fox Sports 1
Maryland will enter this game as one of the top teams in the Big Ten. Michigan State will enter this game as one of the best teams in the country. Michigan State has a real chance of winning all of their remaining games this year and are the current favorites to do so as of now. They have the most talented team from stars to role players and the Breslin Center is where we saw them beat #5 Notre Dame by 18. Michigan State also averages 84.4 points per game compared to Maryland’s 78.9. Their defense has also proved itself with allowing only 62.2 points per game compared to Maryland’s 63.9. A team this talented has only one flaw, which is their turnover trouble. If Maryland can capitalize on this, they have a chance.
Prediction: Michigan State 89-79 (And the winner is...Michigan State)