After a sometimes enchanting, occasionally mystifying, non-conference slate, the Big Ten season begins officially this evening. The conference only has three ranked teams in the AP Top 25, leading one to question if any other program can separate themselves from the middle of the pack.
Big Ten Game of the Day:
-Michigan State at Minnesota
- Time/TV: 9:00pm/ESPN2
- KenPom Spread: Minnesota (-4)
Probably the most compelling match-up of the day pits a gaudy record (Minnesota) against an over-hyped disappointment (Michigan State). The Golden Gophers have looked impressive in cruising out to a 12-1 record, thanks to a top 25 ranked defense that’s obscenely improved from last year. While eight of those twelve wins have come against sub-100 competition, that could be just the exercise this young group needs.
Sparty really struggled against their ridiculous opening schedule, dropped all four of their challenging contests to Arizona, Kentucky, Baylor, and Duke, along with that fruitless home loss to Northeastern. More than that, they’ve looked completely out of sync at times, and downright woeful without Miles Bridges, still out to an injury. It’s going to be an uphill battle for Tom Izzo to push his consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances to 20.
Stakes is high tonight at the Barn.
- Pick Against the Spread: Minnesota
-Northwestern at Penn State
- Time/TV: 3:00pm/ESPN2
- KenPom Spread: Northwestern (-3)
Alright, Wildcats. Wanna prove that you’re a new program, that you’ve got what it takes to make your first tourney appearance? Go whip the pants off up-and-down Penn State on the road. This won’t be the most crucial contest of the season, but Northwestern opens with 4 out of 5 away from Evanston, in what could be a real pressure cooker of a schedule. They can’t afford to lose to bad teams, even away from home.
As for the Nittany Lions, they’re not terrible, just still finding a rhythm playing they’re highly regarded freshman class big minutes.
- Pick Against The Spread: Northwestern
Illinois at Maryland
- Time/TV: 5:00pm/ESPN2
- KenPom Spread: Maryland (-4)
Two teams, both alike in kind, with little history between them, meet for just their third time in the conference. Both post impressive records that rank low in metrics. Both ride individual players (Malcolm Hill for Illinois, Melo Trimble for Maryland) as far as they possibly can. Both face high expectations from fan bases frustrated by early round exits (or zero appearances in said dance).
They won’t match up most of the night, but Hill vs. Trimble could be a fun little feisty contest.
- Pick Against the Spread: Maryland
Rutgers at Wisconsin
- Time/TV: 7:00pm/ESPN
- KenPom Spread: Wisconsin (-17)
Don’t be fooled by the 11-2 record. Rutgers is still not good. They have not beaten a single squad ranked above #198 and didn’t put up much fight against Miami, Fl and Seton Hall. But my goodness are they improving. These stats will even out as the conference schedule progresses, but the 98.6 defensive rating (down from 106.9 a year ago) is nothing short of astonishing.
Having said that, Wisconsin is still Wisconsin. The most experienced team in the league, with the best players, and the surest identity. According to ESPN, “Nigel Hayes is the only active Division I player with at least 1,500 points, 600 rebounds and 200 assists.” Ethan Happ is averaging almost 10 boards and 3 assists a game. Watch out, Scarlet Knights.
- Pick Against The Spread: Wisconsin
Nicholas’ Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 17-10-2