Today's action features eleven of the fourteen Big Ten teams in action. Unbeatens #1 Michigan State and #11 Purdue are in play, while #6 Maryland and Wisconsin also host important games. Here's what to watch for on a day packed with Big Ten basketball.
Game of the Night
#1 Michigan State Spartans vs. Florida Gators - 6:00 ET (ESPN2/ESPN3)
The undefeated Spartans (10-0) will play host to Florida (6-2) Saturday night in a rematch of the 2000 NCAA National Championship game (which MSU won 89-76). While having lost two losses on their schedule, this Florida team is still strong. Both defeats came against ranked teams Purdue and Miami (FL), and were fought hard into the second half. While it goes without saying, this game will be no cakewalk for Michigan State.
Florida is led by first year head coach Mike White, who took over this season for Billy Donovan after he left to coach the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA. The Gators are led by senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who leads the team in points and rebounds with 14.0 and 8.6 respectively. He will likely be guarded by Michigan State freshman Deyonta Davis, who is currently third in the Big Ten with 2.4 blocks per game. This should definitely be the matchup to match down low.
But while the Finney-Smith/Davis battle will be intriguing, all eyes will be on Michigan State's Denzel Valentine who has been absolutely fantastic for the Spartans this season. The fourth year vet is reaping the benefits of experience, and is second in the Big Ten in points (18.8 PPG) and rebounds (8.9 RPG), as well as first in assists (7.7 APG). Needless to say, Valentine has placed himself at the forefront of the Naismith Award race about a third into the season. As far as a complete player goes, 'Zel is about as close as they get.
The Spartans enter as 9.5 point favorites, but don't expect this to be a blowout from the start. Last Wednesday, we watched Michigan State struggle early against Louisville in the Big Ten/ACC challenge. However, the odds are that MSU will prevail and improve to 11-0 on the season.
Illinois Fighting Illini at Illinois-Chicago Flames - 2:00 ET (ESPN3)
Illinois (5-5) is finally back to .500 after a win Wednesday over the Yale Bulldogs in the Big Ten/Ivy League challenge. While the Fighting Illini have struggled early this season, Kendrick Nunn has been red hot, averaging 21.0 PPG since returning from a hand injury on November 27th. The junior shooting guard is shooting 45.0% from downtown thus far and went 6-8 from three vs. Yale. Expect him to set a sizable shot count in this one.
While technically a neutral site game, this one is played at the United Center in Chicago, the home of the Bulls. Essentially, this is a homecoming game for over half of the Illini roster, as 50% of players are from the Chicagoland area. On the other side, UIC (1-5) has yet to beat a Division 1 team this season. If Illinois drops this one, I'd be very surprised. the Illini enter as favorites, and big time.
Indiana Hoosiers vs. McNeese State Cowboys - 6:30 ET (BTN)
Indiana (7-3) looks to add a non-conference win when they host McNeese State on Saturday night. While the Hoosiers have suffered bad losses this season to Wake Forest and UNLV, they have blown out the competition the past two games (albeit against Morehead State and Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne). After a slow start, Yogi Ferrell seems to have regained his swagger, dropping a career-high 38 points against IPFW. For Indiana to completely break out of their slump, Yogi will have to play like the All-Big Ten player many expected him to be this season. This starts with putting together another solid performance against McNeese tonight. I'd expect IU to win big here.
#6 Maryland Terrapins vs. MD-Eastern Shore Fighting Hawks - 4:15 ET (BTN)
Despite having lost to North Carolina earlier this season, Maryland is still a consensus top 10 team in the nation. They play host to their directional school, UMES, Saturday afternoon. Melo Trimble has been spotty at times this year, but is coming off a 25 point performance against UConn this past week. The key for Trimble, the preseason POY in the Big Ten, is getting to the line. Against UConn, he went 14-15 from the charity stripe and has hit 83.3% of his shots from there on the season. If he is able to continue his work in the lane, he will be all the more dangerous for opponents the rest of the season. Terps will roll in this one.
Michigan Wolverines vs. Delaware State Hornets - Noon ET (ESPNU/ESPN3)
Coming off the news of Spike Albrecht's retirement from basketball, this will be an emotional game for the Wolverines. Albrecht announced Friday that he is stepping away from the game of basketball after his most recent hip injury rendered him out for the remainder of his senior season. Albrecht has been an integral part of this team over the past couple seasons, and will likely be best remembered for his performance against Louisville in the 2013 National Championship game.
Michigan (6-3) might be just a bit underrated at this point in time. All three losses came against ranked opponents, the most recent of which was to #19 SMU this past week. With a warm home crowd and an inspired effort likely on the way, I'd expect Michigan to come out firing and never look back. Besides, Delaware State is 0-8 on the season. For the Wolverines, this is as close to a layup as they will ever see.
Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys - 8:30 ET (BTN)
Minnesota is 5-4, and has not looked great thus far. Despite four scorers averaging double-digits, the Golden Gophers have managed to drop games against Texas Tech, South Dakota and South Dakota State. Sure, it's a rebuilding year up in Minneapolis, but regardless this team has not looked great. On the other hand, Oklahoma State (5-3) has not looked good either. Their schedule thus far includes losses to George Mason and Missouri State, two sub-par mid-majors. OKST opens as 1.5 point favorites, but this one could swing either way. For its time slot, this will be the only game on Saturday night.
Ohio State Buckeyes at Connecticut Huskies - Noon ET (CBS)
It has been an ugly season for the Buckeyes (4-4) thus far. While Thad Matta admitted entering the season that 2015-2016 would be a rebuilding year, few expected OSU to be this bad. Losses to UT-Arlington, Louisiana Tech and Memphis are all sore spots on a resume that will likely not be getting any looks come March. That being said, freshman Daniel Giddens has been a bright spot for Ohio State as he leads the conference in blocks per game with 3.3.
UConn (5-3) dropped out of the top 25 recently, but still poses a strong threat at home in Gampel Pavillion. The Huskies boast four players that average double-digits in scoring, including former Ohio State recruit Sterling Gibbs. The matchup to watch? How about Matta and Kevin Ollie? Matta, an eleven year coaching vet at OSU, has voiced tremendous respect for the third-year Ollie, who led UConn to a national championship in his first season with the Huskies. Who wins this one? My money is on UConn, the favorites by 8.5.
Penn State Nittany Lions vs. ULM Warhawks - 2:00 ET (BTN2Go)
In the only non-televised Big Ten game Saturday, Penn State (6-3) will host Louisiana-Monroe (4-3) in PSU's 2nd game back at Rec Hall, their former arena which is now used by the gymnastics and volleyball teams. This gives a much more intimate feel that brings a stronger home court advantage to the Nittany Lions. ULM is not that great, but they still can give Penn State a run here. Be on the lookout for PSU's Brandon Taylor, who is averaging 16.1 PPG this season.
#11 Purdue Boilermakers vs. Youngstown State Penguins - 2:00 ET (ESPN3)
The Boilers (10-0) will try to remain perfect on the year when they take on Youngstown State (4-5) at home Saturday afternoon. Purdue has been nothing short of dominant thus far, and the numbers show. The team has the 4th ranked defense in the nation (56.9 PPG) and is 8th best in rebounds (45.1 RPG). The Boilers should blow YSU out, and with style.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights at George Washington Colonials - 4:30 ET (CBS Sports Network)
If there ever was a microcosm for the changing of the basketball guards, this game would be a perfect fit. On one end, the Scarlet Knights are 4-5 and ranked last in the Big Ten. Meanwhile, George Washington (8-1) has emerged as a very strong team from the Atlantic 10, a conference very much on the rise. The Colonials knocked off then #6 Virginia earlier this season, proving they are for real. I see GW getting the dub here.
Wisconsin Badgers vs. Marquette Golden Eagles - 1:30 ET (ESPN2/ESPN3)
Well, it looks as if this just isn't Wisconsin's year. After a season opener loss against Western Illinois, the Badgers fell to Wisconsin-Milwaukee this week. Eek. Now they face off against significantly better in-state rival Marquette (7-2) who will be looking for blood. For the Golden Eagles, freshman Harry Ellenson has been studly, averaging 16.7 PPG and 8.8 APG. Will Nigel Hayes answer with a star caliber performance of his own, or will Marquette snag an elusive win at the Kohl Center? Barring MSU, Florida, this is the game to watch this afternoon.