The college non-conference slate is always an intriguing mess. By no means is the basketball very good, but the games are still entertaining as H-E-Double Hockey Sticks (shouts to Will Friedle, wherever you are). While some pundits are already willing to bury the Big Ten because of a few of the losses from the Gavitt Games (Wisconsin/Iowa/Northwestern), Michigan State’s slow start and Indiana’s shocking loss to IPFW in overtime (this one, admittedly, was bad), I’m here to tell you that everything is just fine in the homeland.
Wisconsin lost on the road to a really fun and energized Creighton team that had a raucous crowd behind them (If you’re a hoops nut, seek out the Bluejays, you won’t regret it.). Northwestern lost on a last second bucket against Butler. Iowa is young and inexperienced which generally means more turnovers (17 against Seton Hall) and stretches of defense that make your stomach queasy (the Pirates scored 91 points on 52.1% from inside the arch and 47.1% from behind) and still only lost by eight to last years Big East winner.
Whether you believe in “good” losses or not, we can all agree that only Indiana and MAYBE Wisconsin “under performed” this past week or so.
But focusing on those slip ups takes the attention away from some of the others who have been pleasant surprises to start. Ohio State has finally, finally, FINALLY locked in. Rutgers beat their Big East twin brother in DePaul which has to mean improvement, right? Maryland staked their claim to the D.C. area and have looked solid to start the season.
Everything else is pretty much kosher in the upper tier of the Big Ten. Purdue continues to look like a contender straight out of 1995 and against Villanova they were able to get a bucket in the post any time they actually wanted to. Indiana, despite the loss, is still able to become one of the best offensive teams in the country. Iowa is going to do their dance some where in the middle of the pack. Maryland is spunky. Amir Coffey might have the juice to make the Golden Gophers relevant again. And of course, there’s Michigan State who will never, ever be down and out. It’s Sparty and Tom Izzo folks. These guys will end up being right where they want to be once the calendar flips to March: hiding in the backroom and waiting for the perfect time to jump out of the shadows and ruin someone’s NCAA Tournament.
Oh, and of course, how could I forget? Michigan might just be the best of them all:
Big Ten Game of the Day:
- #25 Michigan at South Carolina
- Time/TV: 5:00 PM ET - ESPNU
- KenPom Spread: Michigan (-2)
The Michigan Wolverines are winning not by their offensive fluidity, but because their defense is holding their opponents to 41% shooting and less than 60 points per game. The Wolverines suffocated Marquette and SMU in back-to-back games and have become one of the most entertaining conference teams I’ve watched in the early part of the season.
Much of that is because of D.J. Wilson, who has become the igniter fluid to the tiny, almost nonexistent defensive spark that existed last season. He’s a hound out there. He may not jump out at you in the box scores, but for those that are watching the actual games, Wilson pops off the screen.
Tonight (and then again against Virginia Tech on November 30th) will be yet another test to see if this defense can hold up against South Carolina’s strong wing play. If John Beilein can keep this current effort up, the offense lead by Derrick Walton can contend with anyone and everyone in the nation.
- Pick Against the Spread: Hail, Hail, Hail
- #24 Michigan State at St. Johns in the Battle 4 Atlantis
- Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET - AXSTV
- KenPom Spread: Michigan State (-9)
Michigan State hasn’t been the most encouraging team to watch to start the season. But, that’s to be expected when extremely young teams are forced to play national brands with just-as-impressive (if not more) recruits on their team.
Rest assured, the Spartans are going to right the ship and figure this out. Everything is going according to Izzo’s plan. Early tests like Arizona and Kentucky force young teams to figure out who they are quicker than playing eight cupcakes in a row. Diversity now is better than diversity later.
One encouraging sign from the last two games is that Eron Harris — who could have easily been found on the side of a milk carton to start the season — has caught fire. The Spartans are going to desperately need his seniority and offensive skills to bail them out of long droughts. The offensive load can’t all rest on Miles Bridges ginormous shoulders.
- Pick Against the Spread: St. Johns lost by six points to an inferior Minnesota team. Gimme the Spartans.
- Jackson State at Ohio State
- Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET - ESPN3
- KenPom Spread: Ohio State (-21)
JaQuan Lyle is finally making my biggest dreams come true after two rocky games to start the season. Against Providence (a game in which Lyle was already needing to prove that he was ready to take that next step in his collegiate career), he scored 21-points, grabbed eight boards and dished out seven assists. Against Western Carolina he scored 17 points, grabbed four boards and dished out five assists.
If Lyle is the guy we/I thought he could be, Ohio State becomes five times the team we anticipated them to be coming into the season.
Jackson State isn’t going to be much of a test when it’s all said and done, it can be another game for Lyle to build upon his confidence.
- Pick Against the Spread: 21 points is a lot for a team that is known for letting teams hand around. I’ll take Jackson State getting the 21-points, but Ohio State with another win.
- Colgate at Penn State
- Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET - BTN
- KenPom Spread: Penn State (-10)
Colgate has lost to Syracuse and NJIT (yes, the New Jersey Institute of Technology) and beat Cornell.
Penn State has lost to Albany in the season opener at home and just snuck by Duquesne and Grand Canyon.
Penn State has the better talent. Penn State should win this basketball game. Penn State has problems on the defensive side of the ball. Penn State is unpredictable right now.
- Pick Against the Spread: Penn State by a hair
- North Texas at Rutgers
- Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET - BTN2GO
- KenPom Spread: Rutgers (-9)
This game is not on normal television.
It’s probably for good reason as the Scarlet Knights are still eight days away from playing anyone with a KenPom rating higher than 150.
- Pick Against the Spread: Rutguhhhhhhhs
Jerome’s Season Record vs. KenPom’s Spread: 6-2