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Big Ten Friday Preview & Open Thread: COLLEGE BASKETBALL IS BACK

As the Big Ten gets ready to get the ball rolling, BTPowerhouse previews the first day of action.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday, the Big Ten regular season begins. In total, 11 Big Ten teams will get into action, including the preseason conference favorite, the Maryland Terrapins. Along with this, five other teams with serious NCAA Tournament aspirations also tip-off.

Let's take a look at the action.

Game of the Night: Gardner-Webb at Iowa Hawkeyes (9:30PM ET - ESPN 3)

The Hawkeyes are looking to take the next step from being a middle of the pack Big Ten contender to a threat to be a conference title contender. But that is easier said than done with the heavy hitters in front of them with Maryland, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue all having a say in the matter. Additionally, Iowa is coming off an embarrassing exhibition loss last weekend and is looking to get back on the right track.

The Hawkeyes currently are projected as one of the last four in according to Joe Lunardi's ESPN Bracketology for the 2015-2016 season. While they are not a top five team in the Big Ten on paper, they should be taken seriously. The Hawkeyes, head coached by Fran McCaffery, kicked Maryland's teeth in last season at home 71-55 and the score wasn't as close as it indicates.

The Bulldogs on the other side of the court have a quality forward in Tyrell Nelson who led the Big South conference in field goal percentage last season at 60 percent and also led the Bulldogs in points per game averaging nearly 14 points a night.

The Bulldogs are another mid major non conference opponent that a Big Ten school should worry about on Friday. During the 2014-2015 season, the Bulldogs nearly beat a power five school in the LSU Tigers on opening day, beat the Clemson Tigers on a neutral site and beat Purdue on the road.

The Bulldogs averaged 74.7 points a game last season which was good enough to be 30th in the country. The Hawkeyes should pull this one out, but don't be surprised if they have their hands full.

The Rest:

Illinois Fighting Illini vs North Florida (8:00PM ET - BTN Plus)

The Fighting Illini begin the team's campaign to get back to the NCAA Tournament on Friday night. After finishing last season with two of Illinois' worst losses all season, fans will be hopeful that the team can get things back on track on Friday against the Ospreys. The Illini will have to play through some injuries on Friday night. Some of the players dealing with injuries are Leron Black, Jalen Coleman-Lands, and Kendrick Nunn. Though Nunn is expected to be sidelined, Black and Coleman-Lands will likely play. One other key player to watch in this game will be Mike Thorne. He is expected to start at center after transferring from Charlotte and his play could tell a lot about Illinois.

- Eastern Illinois at Indiana Hoosiers (7:00PM ET - BTN Plus)

The Hoosiers take on the Panthers to open the regular season and the Hoosiers intend to resume where they left the 2014-2015 season: Shoot threes, and then some. Senior guard Yogi Ferrell returns as the leading scorer for the Hoosiers averaging 16.3 points a game during the 2014-15 season and is certainly one of the candidates to be Big Ten player of the year. For the Panthers, they return senior guard Trae Anderson who is one of the biggest guards you will find in college basketball at 6'4 weighing 245 pounds. Anderson led the Panthers in scoring last season averaging 13.2 points a game. The Hoosiers should win handily, but they shouldn't sleep on the Panthers. This is the same Panthers team that nearly beat the Cincinnati Bearcats on the road last season.

- Mount St. Mary's at Maryland Terrapins (7:00PM ET - BTN)

The Big Ten's preseason favorite will start its regular season on Friday night with a matchup with the Mountaineers. Though this is expected by most to be a pretty easy win for the Terps, there should be a few interesting things to watch in this game. To start, the debuts of Robert Carter and Diamond Stone in the team's frontcourt should be interesting. Both played decently in the exhibitions, but this is another chance to demonstrate their respective skillsets. Mount St. Mary's was also a respectable defensive team last year, so Melo Trimble could have his work cut out.

- Northern Michigan at Michigan Wolverines (7:00PM ET - BTN Plus)

The Wolverines will tip-off the season on Friday night against an in-state foe and try to put the program's horrendous 2014-15 season in the rearview mirror. For Michigan, the primary things to watch will be the return of Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton from injury. Both missed large portions of last season and will look to pick up where they left off. One other important thing to watch will be whether Moritz Wagner plays as his redshirt situation is still up in the air. Junior guard Zak Irvin is not expect to play due to injury.

- Florida Atlantic at Michigan State Spartans (7:00PM ET - ESPN 3)

The Spartans are looking to make a run deep into the NCAA tournament once again under head coach Tom Izzo and will get the campaign started on Friday night. The Florida Atlantic Owls finished the 2014-2015 season with an overall record of 9-20 and they are entering their second season under head coach Michael Curry. It's safe to say that the Owls are in rebuilding mode for the future. The future for the owls could be bright. But it won't be in two days against the Spartans. The Spartans are on a mission. Perhaps the biggest thing to watch will be the debut of Denzel Valentine, who is expected to compete for Big Ten Player of the Year this season.

- UMKC at Minnesota Golden Gophers (9:00PM ET - BTN Plus)

The Gophers are hoping from a bounce back after last season and will get things started on Friday night. The first game shouldn't be too difficult, but there will be a few interesting things to watch. The first will be to see what the rotation looks like upfront. Expected starter Bakary Konate is dealing with an injury and as such, seeing what other players can emerge will be important. Watch for Gaston Diedhiou and Joey King in particular. The other major thing to watch will the backcourt. Nate Mason is expected for a great year and true freshman Kevin Dorsey sat out last Friday's exhibition, so there will be some intrigue from the position.

- UMass Lowell at Northwestern Wildcats (8:00PM ET - BTN Plus)

The Wildcats are set to be one of the Big Ten's most interesting teams this season and will tip-off for the season on Friday night against UMass Lowell. Northwestern is going to be a heavy, heavy favorite in this game largely because UMass Lowell is projected to be one of the worst teams in the country this season. As such, the most interesting thing will be to see who fills out the wing rotation for the Wildcats. Expected starter Vic Law went down for the season earlier this week and seeing how can fill in will be crucial to Northwestern's chances. Keep a close eye on Aaron Falzon and Scottie Lindsey.

- North Carolina A&T at Purdue Boilermakers (7:00PM ET - BTN Plus)

The Boilermakers were one of the bigger surprises down the stretch in Big Ten play last season and will hope to carry that momentum into this season. Purdue will be a heavy favorite in this game and as such, most of the focus will on how players perform and not the final score. The player who will attract the most attention is true freshman Caleb Swanigan, who is expected to start immediately for Purdue. Additionally, seeing how Purdue sorts out the point guard rotation will be particularly interesting. Watch for transfer Johnny Hill and Dakota Mathias.

- Rutgers-Newark at Rutgers Scarlet Knights (7:00PM ET - BTN Plus)

The Scarlet Knights had a disappointing 2014-15 season and will be looking to improve this year. Unfortunately, with Kadeem Jack and Myles Mack out the door, it could be an uphill battle. Though much of this year's success will be tied to incoming freshman Corey Sanders, he will be sitting out the first game, so he won't be a player to watch in this one. However, two other key newcomers to watch will be Deshawn Freeman and Omari Grier. Seeing how both fit in could tell a lot about Rutgers this season.

- Western Illinois at Wisconsin Badgers (9:00PM ET - BTN)

The defending Big Ten champions will start the season on Friday night in a much different fashion than the last few years. This will be a new look Badgers team with many new faces. Of course, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig return, but there are a ton of question marks around these two players. Some of the more important players to watch in this game will be Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter. Both played last season, but will be expected to expand their roles heading into this season. Ethan Happ could also be a key player to watch after coming off a redshirt season.