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1/24 Big Ten Preview: Boilermakers and Spartans highlight the night

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Can Michigan State fend off Purdue at home?

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Purdue Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten basketball returns from its usual free day on Monday with a hearty three-game slate tonight. Three AP top-25 teams take the floor; Wisconsin and Maryland look to defend their home floor while Purdue seeks a win to stay in the hunt for the conference title.

Wisconsin (16-3, 5-1) and Maryland (17-2, 5-1) are favored by 14 and 11 points respectively, but an upset loss by either of the programs could open the door for a new sole possession leader of the conference.

All spreads based on Covers.com.

Big Ten Game of the Day

-Purdue at Michigan State

· Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET - ESPN

· KenPom Spread: Purdue (-3)

Purdue travels to East Lansing in the clear cut favorite for the prestigious and noteworthy Game of the Day honor. The Boilermakers suffered a head scratching 83-78 defeat to Iowa on Jan. 12 but regrouped to rattle off consecutive 20+ point wins against Illinois and Penn State.

Wooden Player of the Year candidate Caleb Swanigan of Purdue notched his D-1 division leading 16th double-double of the season on Saturday against Penn State. Swanigan has challenged Big Ten front courts all season, perhaps most memorably having his way with the defensive savvy Ethan Happ on Jan. 8, where the sophomore went for 18 points and 13 rebounds.

Nick Ward and Miles Bridges see most of the front court minutes for Michigan State, and the freshmen duo will have their hands full. Ward will likely draw Swanigan and will need to provide physicality without fouling to give Michigan State a chance to remain undefeated at home in conference play.

On the offensive side, the Spartans need Eron Harris. Harris is the lone senior of the starters and will be relied upon to make a shot that ends a Boilermaker run or provide a spark for his team. Harris is averaging 12.5 points a game.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Purdue

The Rest:

-Penn State at Wisconsin

· Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET - BTN

· KenPom Spread: Wisconsin (-15)

Wisconsin’s energy level last Saturday against Minnesota was noticeably flat. The offense was stagnant and unusually one-dimensional in the team’s first weekend game of the conference schedule. For a considerable portion of the second half, Ethan Happ in the low post was the Badgers’ only move.

Luckily for Greg Gard’s bunch, a late push in the closing minutes of the game led by Bronson Koening forced overtime in Minneapolis, where the Badgers just snuck by the Golden Gophers 78-76.

In their last four games, Penn State has secured improbable wins over Minnesota and Michigan State and not-so-surprising losses to Purdue and Indiana—a game that the Hoosiers narrowly edged out the Nittany Lions on a buzzer-beating three pointer.

For Penn State to have a chance in Madison, they will need to improve their shooting from long distance. Wisconsin is not a team that often allows easy looks in the low post, which may force the hand of shooters Shep Garner and Tony Carr.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Penn State

-Rutgers at Maryland

· Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET - BTN

· KenPom Spread: Maryland (-12)

Considering the youth of Maryland, it is truly impressive that they have yet to drop a game in which they were highly favored. Although the Terrapins have yet to be on the wrong side of an upset, they have certainly flirted with the possibility.

On Jan. 14, Maryland only beat Illinois (who is third to last in the Big Ten) by six points. Then, a few days later, Maryland’s eight point margin of victory against Iowa was a little tighter than anticipated.

To the surprise of no one, Rutgers has struggled in conference play this season. But, at the very least, the team has shown some signs of life. Their backcourt of Corey Sanders and Nigel Johnson can score—just not all that efficiently.

Bottom line: if Rutgers want to give Maryland a run for their money, a dazzling performance from Sanders and Johnson will be needed. And then some.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Rutgers