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Thursday Preview: Hawkeyes and Hoosiers Face Major Challenges

Eight Big Ten teams are in action on a jam-packed Thursday. Here's what you need to know.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

It's going to be a busy night for the Big Ten on Thursday, as eight teams will be in action. The conference will be looking for a little redemption, as the Big Ten is 0-2 against teams ranked in the AP top ten after Minnesota dropped the Battle of the Pitinos to Louisville in the Bahamas and Michigan State came up short against Duke in the State Farm Champions Classic in Indianapolis. Iowa gets the next crack at a top-tier team as they take on Texas in the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden tonight.

The Big Ten as a whole boasts a 24-3 record thus far in the young season, and has five ranked teams in the latest AP poll, but needs to perform against top programs if it is to retain its place as the best conference in the country.

With eight teams in action on a jam-packed Thursday, let's take a look at the Big Ten slate.

Game of the Night:

Iowa vs. #10 Texas - 7 p.m. ET (Espn2/WatchESPN)

The Hawkeyes have ripped through some inferior competition in their two outings of the season, averaging 88.5 points in blowout wins over Hampton and North Dakota State, and have ascended to No. 24 in Ken Pomeroy's rankings. Texas, which comes in at 15th according to KenPom, and sits at 10th in the AP poll, has similarly beaten down two weaker opponents, averaging 85 points per game. This has the makings of a shootout in the Garden.

The Longhorns are deep, with nine players averaging at least 16 minutes per game, and boast one of the top freshman in the country in 7-footer Myles Turner, the third-ranked recruit in the country according to Scout. Through his first two collegiate games, the Dallas native is averaging 12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and an astronomical 4 blocks.

Rick Barnes also returned his two leading scorers from a year ago to Austin in senior forward Jonathan Holmes and sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor. Holmes is putting up 12 points and 7.5 boards through the first two games, while Taylor is leading the team with 15 points per contest, adding 5 rebounds and 3.5 assists.

Iowa, which lost its first game in the NCAA tournament last March to Tennessee, is trying to replace last season's leading scorer and undisputed team leader, Roy Devyn Marble. Senior forward Aaron White, a third-team All-Big Ten selection as a junior, figures to be the number one offensive option for Fran McCaffery's squad. White is averaging 14.5 points, 7.5 boards, 5.5 assists, and 1.5 steals per game in the early going, serving as a do-everything player for the Hawkeyes. Three others in Gabriel Olaseni (13.0), Jarrod Uthoff (12.5), and Anthony Clemmons (11.5) are averaging double-figures for a deep team that's playing a ten-man rotation.

Last season, Iowa climbed the rankings through the first few months of the season, only to see things fall apart down the stretch. The team's achilles heel was facing off with ranked opponents, against whom the Hawkeyes were just 2-7. Perception of the Iowa program, and the Big Ten as a whole, hinges on improvement against elite competition. The Hawkeyes can take a positive first step in that direction against the Longhorns on basketball's most famous court tonight.

Penn State vs. Charlotte - 5 p.m. ET (ESPNU/WatchESPN)

Patrick Chambers has Penn State off to a 2-0 start in his second season at the helm. Senior guard D.J. Newbill, a second-team All-Big Ten performer last year, is off to a fast start, averaging 17.5 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists for the Nittany Lions. Talented newcomer Shep Garner is starting alongside Newbill, and has put up 13 points per game to give Penn State a high-scoring backcourt tandem.

The Nittany Lions will be taking the floor in the Gildan Charleston Classic against a veteran Charlotte team returning four starters and picked to finish third in Conference USA. The 49ers are led by senior guard Pierria Henry, last season's leading scorer and a preseason all-conference selection. Henry had 12 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals in Charlotte's opener against Elon.

#24 Michigan vs. Detroit - 6 p.m. ET (BTN)

The three-headed monster of Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, Jr., and Zak Irvin is off to a huge start offensively for the Wolverines through the first two games. Michigan is averaging 85 points a game, and this trio is a big reason why. Irvin is shooting 64 percent from both the field and the three-point line, averaging 22 points through two contests and looking like an impact player as a sophomore. Walton is putting up 18.5 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists, and asserting himself more, as evidenced by his 17 trips to the free throw line (making 13). LeVert is proving why he's received so many preseason accolades, showing off a complete game to the tune of 13 points, 7 rebounds, 7.5 assists, and 1.5 steals per game.

Detroit, a Horizon League member, is 1-1 after dropping its first game of the season to Oregon on Monday. The Titans boast a familiar name to Wolverine fans on its roster, as senior Juwan Howard, Jr., son of the former member of Michigan's Fab Five, embarks on his final season. The 6'5 Howard, who led Detroit in scoring at 18.5 a game as a junior, comes in averaging 16 points and 5 boards per game in the early going.

Purdue vs. Grambling State - 7 p.m. ET

Matt Painter's Boilermakers lost their top two scorers from a year ago with the graduation of Terone Johnson and transfer of his brother Ronnie. Picking up the slack through two blowout wins have been a couple of young guns. Freshman Vince Edwards is averaging 19.5 points and 8 rebounds, while sophomore Kendall Stephens is chipping in 17 a game and shooting nearly 70 percent from three-point range. One question mark for Purdue in the early going, though, is the slow start for junior 7-footer A.J. Hammons, who is contributing just 5.5 points and 3.5 boards through two games.

Grambling State has played only one game against a Division I opponents, getting walloped by 52 points at the hands of George Washington. The Tigers are led by senior forward A'Torri Shine, who was second on the team in scoring a season ago at 13.8 per game, and put up 11 in the loss to GW.

Maryland vs. Fordham - 7:30 p.m. ET

Maryland is off to a 2-0 start in its first season as a member of the Big Ten, shooting over 55 percent as a team and scoring 87.5 points per game. Senior Dez Wells, who led the Terps in scoring with nearly 15 a game last season, is putting up 22.5 per game in the young season. Junior Jake Layman is adding 15 points and 6.5 rebounds for fourth-year coach Mark Turgeon.

Fordham, which lost by 19 to Penn State on Sunday, is trying to replace its top two scorers from last year. The Rams return junior guard Mandell Thomas, who gave them 11.9 points a game a season ago, and were led in their loss to the Nittany Lions by two freshmen. Guard Nemanja Zarkovic had 14 to pace the team, while forward Chris Sengfelder added 10 points and 8 rebounds.

Minnesota vs. Franklin Pierce - 8 p.m. ET (BTN Plus)

The Gophers bounced back from their opening night loss against Lousiville by dispatching Western Kentucky on Tuesday, 76-54. Team captain Andre Hollins, who had 22 against the Cardinals, had a quiet night against the Hilltoppers, accounting for just 5 points on 2-8 shooting. Fellow captain DeAndre Mathieu, who was smothered by Louisville's constant defensive pressure, had a bounce-back game, scoring 11, grabbing five boards, dishing out 6 assists, and swiping 5 steals.

Richard Pitino's squad should have no trouble dispatching the Division II Ravens.

Indiana vs. #22 SMU - 8 p.m. ET (BTN)

The Hoosiers are out to silence some critics and bounce back from last season's disappointments. Junior point guard Yogi Farrell is one of the Big Ten's best, and he's joined by an extremely talented, albeit young, roster. Indiana is currently sixth in the country in scoring through games, averaging 99.5 a game, thanks in large part to a 116-point explosion in the opener against Mississippi Valley State. Farrell is contributing 17.5 points and 6 assists, while a pair of freshmen in James Blackmon, Jr. (22.0) and Robert Johnson (18.0) are pacing the attack.

Larry Brown's SMU squad is 1-1 after dropping Monday's matchup with No. 13 Gonzaga, but the Mustangs are highly ranked (41st) by KenPom, and should provide a stout test. Sophomore forward Ben Moore is putting up 16.5 points, 8.5 boards, and 2 blocks a game, teaming with senior big man Yanick Moreira (11.5 points, 6 rebounds) to give Brown a formidable frontcourt. After dropping the NIT final last spring to Minnesota, SMU would like nothing more than to get a little payback against the Big Ten.

Northwestern vs. North Florida - 8 p.m. ET

Year two under Chris Collins is off to a 2-0 start in Evanston, though the Wildcats have struggled a bit offensively. Northwestern is averaging just 67 points and shooting 41 percent in the early going. Junior center Alex Olah continues to improve, averaging a team-high 12.5 points and adding 7 rebounds a game. Sophomore wing Sanjay Lumpkin is scoring 11 and grabbing 8 boards, while senior guard JerShon Cobb, the leading returning scorer from a season ago, is delivering 10.5 per contest.

North Florida, which is 1-1 after dropping its opener against South Carolina, is led by sophomore guard Dallas Moore. The Saint Petersburg native, who led the team in scoring as a freshman, is again pacing the Ospreys with 21.5 a game.