The early tournaments get underway in earnest this week across college basketball. Three Big Ten teams—Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Northwestern—will be searching for signature early-season victories this evening, while Indiana, Maryland, and Purdue are all heavy favorites.
Big Ten Game of the Day
-#16 Wisconsin vs. Georgetown
- Time/TV: 8:00pm/ESPN 2
- KenPom Spread: Wisconsin (-5)
Wisconsin has yet to find a real signature victory in this young season, playing especially unintelligent basketball on the road against Creighton. They come out scorching yesterday against Tennessee, only to squander a fifteen point first half lead, before rallying in the second to pull away. Ethan Happ finally busted lose, going for 16 points on 7 shots. But after him, Koenig, and Hayes, the Badgers have been especially thin.
Tonight they’ll get a Georgetown team that’s been up and down over the first few games of the season. As goes Rodney Pryor, so go the Hoyas. In their two wins, he’s exploded for 29 points per game on 66% shooting. In the two losses—the collapse against Maryland and a flop hosting Arkansas State—he’s fizzled for 10.5 points on 37% from the field.
Along with L.J. Peak, Pryor’s backcourt mate, the Hoyas will task the defensive prowess of Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter. But if it’s one thing the Badgers know how to do, it’s slow the game down and play defense. Look for a tight match-up of two teams still finding out who they are.
- Pick Against the Spread: Wisconsin
#3 Indiana at Fort Wayne
- Time/TV: 9:00pm
- KenPom Spread: Indiana (-10)
That big win over Kansas and a pair of beatdowns over UMass Lowell and Liberty have vaulted the Hoosiers to number three in the nation. It’s early yet but nearly every key player has improved from last season. If this keeps up, Indiana will be a very dangerous team all season long. Four players are averaging 2.7 assists or more for Tom Crean’s club.
- Pick Against The Spread: Indiana
-Stony Brook at Maryland
- Time/TV: 7:00pm/Big Ten Network
- KenPom Spread: Maryland (-15)
A victory for the Terps is all but guaranteed against a Stony Brook Seawolves program that Steve Pikiell left last season to helm Rutgers. Despite their improbable comeback vanquishing of Georgetown a week ago, Maryland hasn’t been all that impressive, allowing Towson and American to keep it close. Melo Trimble is only shooting 26% from 3 so far this season.
- Pick Against the Spread: Stony Brook
-Arkansas at Minnesota
- Time/TV: 8:00pm/ESPN 3
- KenPom Spread: Minnesota (-1)
Oh boy, the Golden Gophers of this year are already better than last season’s abysmal squad. They’ve bested two teams in KenPom’s top 100, which they accomplished all of last year and are halfway to equalling their win total. This is thanks to the continued maturation of junior guard Nate Mason and Big Ten Freshman of the Week, Amir Coffey, who posted 30 points Friday night in a win over St. John’s.
They welcome an Arkansas team to the Barn that is similarly looking to rebound after a disappointing season, and is playing just their second Big Ten road game in 31 years. Should be a tight contest throughout.
- Pick Against The Spread: Minnesota
-Northwestern vs Notre Dame
- Time/TV: 6:00pm/ESPN 2
- KenPom Spread: Notre Dame (-2)
January 12th, 2014. That’s the last time the Northwestern Wildcats beat a ranked opponent, a 49-43 win over Illinois. But last night, they flat run Texas out the gym, setting up a showdown in the Legends Classic final against Notre Dame. Let’s not get too crazy: there’s a lot of season left here and we are talking about Northwestern. But if Vic Law and Bryant McIntosh can lead the Wildcats to 20 wins, with winning bouts against the Longhorns and the Irish (two venerable tournament programs), then Northwestern’s first Big Dance bid could officially happen.
If they want it, it starts tonight.
- Pick Against the Spread: Notre Dame
-#17 Purdue vs. Utah State
- Time/TV: 8:30pm/CBS Sports Network
- KenPom Spread: Purdue (-10)
Utah State has started 3-0 by blowing out bad competition, while Purdue just barely failed their test against Villanova at home. The expectation is that the Boilermakers will run the Aggies off the court, punishing them with their size and length. But anything can happen on these neutral courts, in a sunny locale over a holiday week. Caleb Swanigan has so far proved that last season was no fluke; he’ll match up against senior forward Jalen Moore, averaging 18 points a game. Should be a fun little battle. Winner gets Texas Tech or Auburn on Thanksgiving.
- Pick Against the Spread: Purdue
Nicholas’ Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 3-1