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12/23 Big Ten Preview: Ohio State, Illinois face tough neutral site games

BTP previews Saturday’s Big Ten slate.

NCAA Basketball: Citadel at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Just when you think Big Ten basketball is on the rise, Rutgers and Penn State fall to lowly opponents, Northwestern gets blown out by Oklahoma, and the conference’s struggles this season continue.

With the holidays around the corner, there aren’t many headliner games but that means conference play is coming up sooner than we think.

Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on in Big Ten play for Saturday:

Game of the Day:

-Ohio State Buckeyes vs. #5 North Carolina Tar Heels

  • Time/TV: 1:30 PM ET/CBS
  • KenPom Spread: North Carolina (-6)

If I’m Ohio State, I’m preparing for North Carolina’s best because they are coming out angry after their upset loss to Wofford at home. That said, the Buckeyes have won five straight with three of their victories coming against low quality opponents.

The Tar Heels are led by junior forward Luke Maye and senior guard Joel Berry. The hero in last year’s NCAA Tournament run, Maye is averaging 19.3 points and 10.6 rebounds this season and has only had single digit points in one game this season. Pitt transfer Cam Johnson couldn’t find a rhythm in his first game back, but he gives Roy Williams another scoring option.

Much like last year, North Carolina is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country. The Buckeyes are going to need to keep the Tar Heels off the offensive glass if they want to capture a key resume building win.

  • Pick Against the Spread: North Carolina

The Rest

-Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Missouri Tigers

  • Time/TV: 8:00 PM ET/ESPN2
  • KenPom Spread: Missouri (-5)

In his first season at the helm, Brad Underwood has experienced major inconsistency with his squad. Coming off a semi-home loss against New Mexico State, the Fighting Illini are looking for that signature win and that comes against Missouri in the 2017 Braggin’ Rights Game in St. Louis.

Missouri is obviously playing without their lord and savior Michael Porter Jr., but have played well together, especially on the offensive end, and have founds ways to win ball games.

Coming into the season, Mark Smith and Mark Alstork were supposed to be the offensive catalysts for the Illini. Needless to say they haven’t found their groove yet and will need to deliver if they want to have braggin’ rights over their rivals.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Missouri

-Florida Atlantic Owls at Minnesota Golden Gophers

  • Time/TV: 3:30 PM ET/BTN
  • KenPom Spread: Minnesota (-20)

Minnesota has had a lot of problems recently, most notably when it comes to shooting the ball. The Golden Gophers don’t turn the ball over, but they are one of the worst shooting teams in the Big Ten which is why they’ve dropped three out of their last six contests.

Jordan Murphy has been nothing short of an incredible this year, but the Richard Pitino needs to get more production from his bench if they want to compete at the top of the Big Ten.

Despite all the questions surrounding this team, Minnesota should have no issues with Florida Atlantic.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Minnesota

-Green Bay Phoenix at Wisconsin Badgers

  • Time/TV: 5:30 PM ET/BTN
  • KenPom Spread: Wisconsin (-18)

The Phoenix are one of the worst teams on KenPom this year. Sitting at 5-7, three of Green Bay’s wins have come against non-division one opponents and their best win is against Eastern Illinois.

The Badgers haven’t played since Dec. 13 so there still may be some rust, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have their way in this one.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Wisconsin