The Big Ten has had an impressive start this season, winning all 21 matchups and picking up two marquee wins with Michigan State knocking off a #1 ranked Kentucky team and Wisconsin taking care of business against Florida. There's been a few lower points, like slim wins posted by Purdue (vs. Northern Kentucky), Indiana (vs. LIU-Brooklyn) and Iowa (vs. Nebraska-Omaha), but wins are wins and the conference looks to add another three to the tally. Only the Illinois game will have actual television coverage (it's on BTN) on a night relatively low key compared to the theatrics seen last night.
Bucknell (-1) at Penn State 7 PM EST
The Nittany Lions weren't perfect in their opening game versus Wagner, but the team saw solid production from their backcourt stars Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill. It was nice for Penn State to see Frazier back and seemingly not miss a beat, carving up another defense for the Nittany Lions. Of course it was expected that Frazier and Newbill would be the real deal, the big issue is the teams frontcourt and lack of depth. While it was only one game, the team didn't receive the production it needed down low and has notable issues with depth and talent from the bench. It's not a huge issue versus teams like Wagner, but it might be decidedly more tricky against Bucknell tonight.
Their opponent tonight is coming off of an impressive season last year that saw them start off with an upset of Purdue and end up all the way in the NCAA Tournament. They couldn't pull off the upset in this years opener, losing by 4 to Stanford, but they kept it close the entire game. The Bison play small, with their tallest starter measuring at 6'8, but with Penn State's lacking frontcourt it shouldn't be a huge issue. Bucknell likes to play small and can shoot the ball effectively, though they struggled from three in the opener. If Bucknell can get back on track from deep it'll be a huge issue for a Penn State team that struggles to score outside of Frazier and Newbill.
The key to the game will undoubtedly be Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill. If they can find ways to score than Penn State should be fine. But if either of them have an off night, the team will likely need to see considerably more production from it's bigs and that's a huge issue for Penn State. It might be the story of the season, with this team currently looking like it'll only go as far as it's backcourt duo can carry them. Look for Penn State to try to get their forwards rolling because if the frontcourt doesn't step up it's going to be a long season in Happy Valley.
Central Connecticut State at Purdue 7 PM EST
It wasn't pretty but Purdue found a way to take care of business versus Northern Kentucky. The team started to show some signs of life on offense, but any progression there was overlooked thanks to a Norse squad that hit threes at all the right times and almost pulled off the upset. After surprisingly clutch free throws from Ronnie Johnson, Purdue escaped with a one point victory. Now the Boilermakers will likely be off to a much, much better start as they'll return seven foot center A.J. Hammons. Even if the offense stays the same, his defensive presence alone will be beneficial for Purdue. That and his ability to clean up on the glass, especially against a Central Connecticut State squad that was outrebounded by Yale and started no one taller than 6'7 in the opener.
Hammons height should give him an even greater advantage and expect Painter to have the offense run through him. It should be a big night for A.J. after sitting out the last three games. Painter could also run a big lineup to create a huge advantage with Hammons and Simpson down low. Purdue's ability to produce down low is a relatively new wrinkle to Purdue's motion offense and the previously mentioned Hammons and Simpsons will be one of the keys to how much Purdue improves on the season.
Painter also made it a point of focus to work on the teams ability to score from outside. So far the sample size is too small but we've seen some potential. Freshman Kendall Stephens and senior Sterling Carter are both effective three point shooters, giving Purdue more options from outside than they had last year. Wing Errick Peck is also a capable outside shooter, making a clutch three pointer to help Purdue avoid the upset in their opener. If Terone and Ronnie Johnson can improve their shooting from outside than Purdue could be a passable three point shooting team. Of course simply having scoring options outside will be key to both of the Johnsons as it'll help open up the lane as both have an impressive ability to drive to the bucket.
Central Connecticut State took a 7 point lead into the half versus Yale but ended up falling by 16 points. The teams leading scorer is guard Kyle Vinales, coming off of an impressive 30 point performance. Outside of that there weren't any major scoring threats for the Blue Devils and that could be a problem tonight. The Blue Devils have a serious size disadvantage here and will struggle with a Purdue squad that is relatively more athletic. The key to success for Central Connecticut State is to keep the pace slow enough and keep Purdue out of rhythm. Purdue has had problems in the past with consistency and if they can keep them from finding their touch, they should be able to keep the scoring low enough to contend for the win. The odds of the upset increase even more if they can get Purdue into the routine of settling for unnecessary three pointers.
Purdue had a rough go in their first game back and showed far too many signs of being last years team all over again. Of course the team was without Hammons and should take on a completely different look here. Purdue's non-conference schedule is considerably easier this season and they'll need to win all of these games, unlike last year where they dropped matchups versus Eastern Michigan and Bucknell. Look for Painter to stress his teams defense and the Boilermakers to bring a much better performance to the table tonight.
Valparaiso at Illinois (-14) 7:30 PM EST BTN
The Illini have gotten off to a quick start this season and will look to keep it rolling when they face off against Valparaiso. While Valpo is a step up in competition, Illinois has been playing great and should be capable of taking care of business. Both Joseph Bertrand and Rayvonte Rice have been impressive and provided a spark for an Illini team trying to replace the likes of Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. If they can keep it up it'll be a huge benefit to an inexperienced Illini squad.
Besides Bertrand and Rice, the team saw Jaylon Tate have an impressive game on Sunday. If he can keep up his assists, he'll likely put his foot in the door and contend with Tracy Abrams for the starting spot at the point. Abrams has experience on his side but he doesn't distribute the ball effectively and commits far too many turnovers. Also look for Groce to continue trying to get his freshman more involved as their development will likely be key to the season (as well as add valuable depth). Nnanna Egwu seems to be the starting center by default, though he's been a decent contributor so far. He needs to be more dominating and efficient down low, but he's at least taken care of business in their first two games.
Valpo is 2-0, coming off of wins versus Murray State and North Park. Valpo's numbers are skewed thanks to the North Park game, but they still managed to shoot over 70% from the field in their last outing and a downright lethal 12 of 18 from the three. Don't expect anywhere near those numbers (or open looks), but if Valpo can hit at a solid rate, they could keep it closer than expected. LIU-Brooklyn made some noise against the Hoosiers and this game seems the most ripe for an upset, though I think Valpo's stat line will be more in the vein of their opener versus Murray State. If Valpo shoots 43% tonight and only 68% from the line, expect a double digit Illinois win. Either way, the Crusaders will have their hands full with a young and talented Illini squad.