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Big Ten Saturday Preview: Purdue Boilermakers face their toughest task yet

Purdue vs. Butler headlines a day packed with Big Ten action

Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

It's the week of Christmas and ten Big Ten teams are looking for some early gifts this holiday season; in the form of wins. Undefeated Purdue and Michigan State headline the matchups today while other key non-conference games take place as well. Here is what to watch for in today's Big Ten games.

Game of the Night

#9 Purdue Boilermakers vs. #17 Butler Bulldogs - 5:00 ET (BTN)

Purdue (11-0) finally gets their first ranked matchup of the season when they take on Butler in Indianapolis for the Crossroads Classic tonight. The Boilermakers have been nothing short of dominant this season, winning each game by at least twelve points. They are also currently ranked forth in the nation in rebounds per game (45.0) and eighth in the nation in defense (57.5 PPG). They face a Butler team that already has a ranked win over #17 Cincinnati, along with solid victories over Temple and Tennessee.

The biggest matchup to watch for in this game will be between Butler's Kellen Dunham and Purdue's Raphael Davis. Dunham, who is averaging 19.1 PPG this season, is the Bulldogs' best offensive threat and represents one of the best scorers in the Big East. Davis, on the other hand, is a reigning member of the Big Ten's All-Defensive team and will be in charge of guarding Dunham. It is in this battle of shooting guards that the game will be determined.

Purdue enters as 5.5 point favorites and will try to rely on their frontcourt as much as possible. The killer combo of A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas is simply dominant and will look to continue its success against Butler, a team without a true center. All things taken into consideration, Purdue should win this game. That doesn't mean the Bulldogs won't put up a fair fight.

The Rest

Illinois Fighting Illini vs. South Dakota Coyotes - 3:00 ET (ESPN3)

After starting the season 3-5, Illinois is on a three game win streak and is coming off a close win over Illinois-Chicago this past weekend at the United Center in Chicago. Today, they face off against South Dakota (7-4), a team that features five players averaging double figures. While the Coyotes haven't been overly impressive this season, they were able to knock off Minnesota in double overtime two weeks ago. With Illinois' scares against small time opponents this season, SDU is not a team to be taken lightly.

Fighting Illini head coach recently announced that forward Leron Black will be out indefinitely after complications arose surrounding the health of his knee. This is a big loss to an already depleted Illini interior. Expect Michael Finke and Maverick Morgan to play sizable minutes in this contest, and throughout the rest of the season. It might be close, but Illinois should win this one.

Indiana Hoosiers vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish - 2:00 ET (ESPN2/ESPN3)

Entering the 2015-2016 season, it looked as if this matchup would be much more exciting that it now appears to be. Both preseason ranked, the Hoosiers and Fighting Irish have taken their fair share of tumbles in the non-conference and stand at 8-3 and 7-2 respectively. In this game, all eyes will be on the point guard position. Notre Dame's Demetrius Jackson enters averaging 17.8 PPG and is his team's leading scorer. For Indiana, Yogi Ferrell is averaging 16.8 PPG and is taking the brunt of the Hoosier scoring attack. From a defensive standpoint, it will be interesting to see how they match cup. Jackson is bigger, but Ferrell might have a quicker step. The line has ND by 1, so this could swing either way. If Tom Crean hopes to keep his job, this win could be a step in the right direction.

Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Drake Bulldogs - 4:30 ET (ESPN3)

As of late, Jarrod Uthoff has been mirroring the likes of NBA great Dirk Nowitzki. In a stellar performance against #4 Iowa State last Thursday, Uthoff dropped a career high 32 points, the majority of which were scored in the second half. He has more than filled the shoes of the graduated Aaron White, and will be the catalyst for this Hawkeyes team the rest of the season. Drake (4-6) is not a very good team, but still has three guys averaging over 12.8 points per game. The key will be to stop the Bulldogs' leading scorer Reed Timmer. Iowa should roll here.

#6 Maryland Terrapins vs. Princeton Tigers - 7:00 ET (BTN)

Maryland plays another non-conference home game when they host the Ivy League's Princeton tonight. The Tiger (6-2) are carried by Henry Caruso, a junior forward who is averaging 18.5 PPG, nine more than their next leading scorer. Rasheed Sulaimon should be in charge of guarding Caruso, and will get help from Jake Layman if needed. While Princeton is currently atop the Ivy League standings, they are no match for one of the nation's best teams. Terps all the way here.

Michigan Wolverines vs. Youngstown State Penguins - 6:00 ET (ESPN3)

Michigan continues its non-conference slate Saturday against Youngstown State. With Spike Albrecht now gone for good, an extra pressure has been added to Caris LeVert, who is top five in the Big Ten in scoring with 17.0 PPG. LeVert recently scored his 1,000th point while also recording a triple-double against Northern Kentucky. Whether or not he can continue his success into the conference season remains to be seen. The Wolverines should win this one easily.

#1 Michigan State Spartans vs. Northeastern Huskies - 12:30 ET (NBC Sports Network)

Denzel Valentine leads the Spartans into Boston with the hope of improving to 12-0 on the season. Northeastern (7-3) may be a sleeper here, they already have one upset win on the season over then #15 Miami. They are also undefeated at home thus far and will have the same advantage when hosting MSU this afternoon. David Walker leads the Huskies with 21.5 PPG this season and will likely be guarded by Valentine. The Spartans should have the advantage in the paint with Matt Costello anchoring the post. I would expect Michigan State to win this game, but Northeastern certainly has the talent to give Sparty a run deep into the second half.

Northwestern Wildcats vs. DePaul Blue Demons - 2:00 ET (Fox Sports 1)

Northwestern faces off against crosstown rival DePaul in Chicago this afternoon. Once a basketball powerhouse, DePaul has fallen off the map over the past decades and fails to present a formidable challenge for the Wildcats in this game. Northwestern's Tre Demps has been hot as of late and is averaging 15.6 PPG this season. However if the Cats get out in front early, look for coach Chris Collins to rest his starters. NU should win easy here.

Ohio State Buckeyes vs. #4 Kentucky Wildcats - 3:30 ET (CBS)

Ohio State is in for a ride. It's clearly an off year for the Buckeyes, who at 5-5 are not sitting pretty. Kentucky on the other hand is...well...Kentucky. It's another year of five-star one-and-dones for Calipari, and the Wildcats are looking pretty good. The good news for Ohio State is that versatile freshman Mickey Mitchell will be eligible for the first time this season after being cleared by the NCAA. His mixtape claims him to be the best passer in the nation, and hopefully for Thad Matta, that will be on display today. Mitchell is the one to watch in this game.

Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Drexel Dragons - 7:00 ET (BTN2Go)

Penn State and Drexel is the only game not televised today. The reason? Both teams are pretty bad. But hey, maybe the Nittany Lions can pull off a win against the 1-7 Dragons. After all, Drexel only has the 301st best offense in the nation. It might be time to make some plans Saturday night that don't involve watching this game.