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B1G Saturday Preview: Fighting Illini Face the Buckeyes

The first weekend of Big Ten Conference play opens with a bang as four key games tip off this Saturday. The Gophers go on the road to face the red-hot Terrapins, the Fighting Illini go on the road to face the Buckeyes, Michigan travels to Purdue, and Penn St. goes on the road to face Rutgers.

Sam Thompson of Ohio St. taking a three pointer
Sam Thompson of Ohio St. taking a three pointer
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Game of the Day: Illinois vs. 20 Ohio St; 3:30 PM EST, ESPN 2, Spread: OSU -8

Illinois goes on the road for its second straight game to take on Ohio St. on Saturday. Both teams are coming off disappointing losses to open B1G play. The Buckeyes were upset at home by the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Fighting Illini blew a 13 point second half lead to lose on the road against Michigan. Surely both teams direly need this win in order to get moving in the right direction, as two straight losses is not a desirable way to open play in the B1G conference.

The Fighting Illini (Kenpom #48) enter the game averaging 78.1 points per game on 45% shooting from the field. They allow opponents to score 63.1 points per game and pull in an average of 40.5 rebounds per game. Though this squad has shown promise in its games against teams ranked below 100 in Kenpom (9-0), they have struggled immensely against higher level competition in teams ranked 100 or higher in Kenpom (1-4). Their best win was against Baylor (Kenpom # 12) back in the Las Vegas Invitational in November. The Illini have blown double digit leads and gone on to lose twice this year (Oregon, Michigan) and is not showing too much promise when it comes to winning despite showing talent on the floor. If the Illini want to win this game, they need to play 40 minutes of solid offense and not quit on the defensive end of the floor. Shooters need to hit their shots, and Illinois has to learn to close out games.

On the other side of the floor, the Ohio State Buckeyes (Kenpom #23) enter this game averaging 83.9 points on 52% shooting from the field. They give up only 59.4 a game and grab 39.9 boards per game. Ohio State, similarly to Illinois, has shown loads of promise against weaker opponents, but has failed to capitalize in key games. The Buckeyes are 0-3 against teams in Kenpom's top 100 and are 11-0 against teams below the 100 mark. Their best win this season is arguably against a Marquette team that has struggled greatly all season long.

This is an intriguing match-up for both teams because both are lacking a good win over a strong opponent. Though Illinois' win over Baylor is impressive, it needs a good win after dropping games to Michigan and Oregon. The Buckeyes need to prove that they can beat teams at higher levels if they want to compete come March.

The Rest

Minnesota vs. 12 Maryland; 12:00 PM EST, BTN, Spread: MD -4.5

The Gophers go on the road in what is an interesting match-up against the Terrapins. The Gophers (Kenpom #29), like the Illini and the Buckeyes, have shown a lot of talent on the floor against weaker opponents (10-0) against Kenpom top 100 teams while struggling against stronger opponents (1-3 against Kenpom top 100). Minnesota's best win is against Georgia (KP #32) and it lost a disappointing game to Purdue (KP #83) to open B1G play.The Terrapins on the other hand have been impressive suffering only one loss all season to the Virginia Cavaliers (KP #2). They went on the road to beat Michigan St. (KP # 24) to open up the conference schedule. If the Terrapins can get Dez Wells healthy once more, they can be a very dangerous team come March.

Michigan vs. Purdue; 2:15 PM EST, BTN, Spread: PUR -4.5

A struggling Michigan Wolverine team (KP #77) goes on the road to face Purdue (KP #83) on Saturday. Both teams come off home wins to open the Big Ten season and look to move to 2-0 on the young conference season. Entering Big Ten play, I wouldn't have expected either of these teams to make a 2-0 start but after Saturday one of these two squads will be on a very good track to getting back into tournament contention.

Penn St. vs. Rutgers; 7:30 PM EST, ESPN 2, Spread: Rutgers +1.5

Both Penn St. (KP #84) and Rutgers (KP # 161) look to rebound from opening losses against Wisconsin and Northwestern respectively. Both teams will look to bounce back, especially Rutgers who has now lost its sixth game of the season. A win over Penn St. would be a key win for the Scarlet Knights that may get their disappointing season rolling.