The final Friday of non-conference basketball has come upon us. Let us all wallow in the fact that we have to pack away the cupcake teams of the world for another year. Now, it is almost time for serious basketball to begin on a nightly basis. Before that however, there are few manageable hurdles to jump for a few teams.
Outside of maybe a few of games, tonight’s contests are relatively predictable. Many of us will predict the Big Ten teams to be the victors in these match-ups. Consequently, many of us will be correct in our picks by the evening’s end. There are a few nuances to the oppositions that are worth noting though.
Let’s have a look at tonight’s games.
Game of the Day
-UMBC Retrievers at Maryland Terrapins
- Time/TV: 8:00 PM ET - FS1
- KenPom Spread: Maryland (-17)
Of all the non-Big Ten teams featured in this preview, UMBC is the team ranked highest in KenPom. The Retrievers currently sit at 197th in said rankings, to Maryland’s 34 overall ranking. Since losing to Purdue at the beginning of this month, the Terrapins have been on a tear, winning five straight games.
In those five wins, four of them have been by 17 or more points. Yes, the quality of opponent in these games could be called into question, but they have been impressive regardless. Perhaps the most notable storyline is their stingy defense, only allowing 64 points per game in this solid stretch.
A huge blow was dealt to the Terrapins yesterday as it was announced that Justin Jackson will miss the rest of this season with a torn labrum. The injury may not hurt Maryland in this game, but it surely puts a damper on the team heading into conference play.
UMBC is coming off an impressive win over Horizon League favorite Northern Kentucky. In that win over the Norse, senior guard Jarius Lyles scored 31 points and dished out six assists. Lyles has played nearly every minute for the Retrivers so far this season, averaging almost 36 minutes played per game. Whether or not this leads Mark Turgeon to play Anthony Cowan more will remain to be seen. However, this is the most marquee pairing of the night.
- Pick Against the Spread: UMBC
-Cleveland State Vikings at #2 Michigan State Spartans
- Time/TV: 6:00 PM ET - BTN
- KenPom Spread: Michigan State (-30)
Since beating Notre Dame in late November, Michigan State has had a relatively easy ride. Every single one of their games since has resulted in a double digit win. In fact, all of their 12 wins have come by more than 10 points, which is quite astounding, given a few of their opponents.
Going up against a lower tier Horizon League team should be no problem for the Spartans. Expect this win to be their 13th, and it will not be close either.
- Pick Against the Spread: Michigan State
-Youngstown State Penguins at Indiana Hoosiers
- Time/TV: 8:00 PM ET - BTN
- KenPom Spread: Indiana (-21)
Indiana is in line for a down year and that has come as no surprise to the casual fan. However, their opponent tonight, Youngstown State, is currently ranked 330th in KenPom. The Penguins have dropped their past eight games, and their only wins this season have come against Division III foes. Quite frankly, their resume is extremely unimpressive even though they are in decent conference.
Youngstown State likes to play up and down (ranked 10th in the country in adjusted tempo), but yet their offensive is sluggish to say the least. It has been hard to watch Indiana at times this season, but they will have no issue with the Penguins tonight.
Also, can we talk about how nonthreatening a Penguin is?
- Pick Against the Spread: Indiana
-Northern Illinois Huskies at Iowa Hawkeyes
- Time/TV: 8:00 PM ET - BTN Plus
- KenPom Spread: Iowa (-15)
If you were to give me the Iowa Hawkeyes of late November, early December I would say this game would be extremely competitive. However, Iowa has hit a really nice stride and moved themselves over the .500 mark in the process. After losing four in a row they have now rattled off four straight victories. Their most recent win over Colorado will serve as a benchmark for how good this team can be this season as they looked rather impressive in that game.
On the other hand, Northern Illinois has been an odd team to survey so far. While they do have some decent wins over Green Bay and Illinois-Chicago, they have squandered some opportunities to gain ground. Losses to Milwaukee, Iowa State, and Marquette have cooled any energy that once swirled around this team.
They do feature a good point guard in Eugene German, who averages nearly 20 points per game. Couple that with Jordan Bohannon, and you have a decent point guard match-up.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, I think the Hawkeyes are in to good of a groove to drop this one.
- Pick Against the Spread: Northern Illinois
-Stetson Hatters at Nebraska Huskers
- Time/TV: 8:00 PM ET
- KenPom Spread: Nebraska (-16)
Oddly enough, I have seen more Stetson games than I care to admit this season. I saw them get demolished by North Dakota State in Fargo in November. I also watched them drop a close game to Fort Wayne a couple weeks back. With that being said, I have seen two games too many. Yet, I would not call myself a Hatters expert though.
Stetson features some really good athletes, but not a terrible amount of skill all-around. Think of them as the Atlantic Sun equivalent of Rutgers. They do not shoot the ball very well and they will go as far as Divine Myles will carry them. Myles is their leading scorer at 17 points per game, but he does have some glaring weaknesses. As a guard, he scores most of his points driving to the basket, so all the Huskers need to do is take lane away from Myles.
Not that Nebraska needed any help as they should be in good shape to beat this team regardless of Myles’ performance.
- Pick Against the Spread: Nebraska