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Big Ten Preview 12/9: Minnesota, Illinois face tough road tests

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

With two conference games under team’s belts, it’s back to non-conference match ups for the Big Ten. There’s still a long time until January, so these games will give teams chances to grab some resume building wins outside of the conference schedule.

Let’s take a look at Saturday’s slate:

Game of the Night

Minnesota Golden Gophers at Arkansas Razorbacks

  • Time/TV: 6:45 PM ET/SEC Network
  • KenPom Spread: Arkansas (-2)

After losing a tough one at Nebraska, the Gophers are looking to bounce back at another rowdy road venue. This game is huge for Richard Pitino’s squad as they’ve dropped two of their last three contests. Minnesota has one of the best starting fives in the country, but will need more production from their bench to snag a victory in Fayetteville.

The Razorbacks enter Saturday’s game at 6-2 and best two wins are against Oklahoma and a struggling UConn team. Jaylen Barford has been the catalyst for Arkansas and will face his toughest challenge yet with Minnesota’s backcourt in Nate Mason and Amir Coffey.

The guards for both teams will be the story of this game. The team with the backcourt who can dictate the tempo and pace will come out on top.

Pick Against the Spread: Minnesota

The Rest

UCLA Bruins at Michigan Wolverines

  • Time/TV: 12 PM ET/CBS
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan (-3)

The Wolverines have looked decent to start the year, but they’ve had some suspect losses to Ohio State and LSU. The team has the talent, but they are still figuring out how to gel with each other which may take some time.

Mo Wagner has been as good as advertised this year averaging 15.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. The story of the young season has been the addition of Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews. Through the first 10 games, Matthews is averaging 14.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.6 assists while stepping up as a leader for this team.

UCLA seems to be taking the first step in the “Post Ball Era” and we will see whether it benefits the program or not. Much like the Wolverines, the Bruins have talented players, but they are still trying to piece things together. Steve Alford’s team was able to beat Wisconsin in November, but that victory isn’t looking as great right now, and this is a perfect opportunity for them to get another quality win.

Pick Against the Spread: UCLA

Marquette Golden Eagles at Wisconsin Badgers

  • Time/TV: 12 PM ET/Fox Sports 1
  • KenPom Spread: Wisconsin (-5)

We knew coming into the season that the Badgers would struggle, but then part of us though they’re Wisconsin and they always win despite who’s on the roster. Well, Greg Gard’s team is 4-6 and are still trying to find a way to get over the hump.

A bright spot for the Badgers has been their defense as they rank 23rd in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom.

For the Golden Eagles, their biggest weapon is their offense, as they’re 19th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency.

Guards Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey are the main reason for Marquette’s success on the offensive end as they both know how to put the ball in the basket.

If Wisconsin is able to limit that backcourt duo, they should be able to get a nice victory in Madison.

Pick Against the Spread: Marquette

Illinois Fighting Illini vs UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

  • Time/TV: 12 AM ET/ESPN 2
  • KenPom Spread: UNLV (-3)

The Illini have lost three of their last four, including two overtime losses against Big Ten foes Northwestern and Maryland. Saturday’s match up provides another tough test as the Illini will be playing UNLV at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Illinois will need to focus all their attention on forwards Brandon McCoy and Shakur Juiston. A freshman, McCoy is averaging 20.0 points and 11.2 rebounds a game and has been dominating opponents down low. The Illini’s offense has been below average this year while UNLV boasts one of the best defenses rosters in the nation.

Pick Against the Spread: UNLV

Indiana Hoosiers at Louisville Cardinals

  • Time/TV: 2 PM ET/ESPN
  • KenPom Spread: Louisville (-11)

The Hoosiers were able to win their first Big Ten game in the Archie Miller era on Dec. 4 against Iowa. Juwan Morgan has been the man this year for Indiana and will need to continue his strong play against the lengthy Cardinals.

De’Ron Davis has shown signs of improvement, but will have to stay out of foul trouble in order to stay effective against Louisville big men Anas Mahmoud and Ray Spalding. David Padgett’s team may not be the best offensively, but their defense should keep the Hoosiers at bay and get them a victory at home.

Pick Against the Spread: Louisville

Nebraska Cornhuskers at Creighton Bluejays

  • Time/TV: 2:30 PM ET/Fox Sports 1
  • KenPom Spread: Creighton (-11)

The spread may be heavily in favor of Creighton, but I could totally see Nebraska make this one interesting. The Cornhuskers are coming off a convincing home win against Minnesota, and have a lot of momentum going into this in-state rivalry.

Nebraska’s defense has been solid this year, but the Bluejays have one of the most explosive offenses in the country which will give the Tim Miles’ squad some issues especially with the game being in Omaha.

Pick Against the Spread: Creighton

Southern Utah Thunderbirds at Michigan State Spartans

  • Time/TV: 6:00 PM ET/BTN
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan State (-33)

All I have to say is this game should be a bloodbath. This game is the first of the Spartan’s cake walk portion of their non-conference schedule. Michigan State was able to get a road victory at Rutgers earlier this week which should give them plenty of momentum to dominate Southern Utah.

Pick Against the Spread: Southern Utah

William & Mary Tribe at Ohio State Buckeyes

  • Time/TV: 12 PM ET
  • KenPom Spread: Ohio State (-14)

The name William & Mary won’t scare anyone, but the Tribe are one of the best three point shooting teams in the country. The Buckeyes have been struggling on the defensive end, and this game will be a real test for them. Chris Holtmann’s group is on a two game winning streak, so making sure they get a win here is vital.

Pick Against the Spread: William & Mary

Gardner Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs at Maryland Terrapins

  • Time/TV: 12:30 PM ET
  • KenPom Spread: Maryland (-20)

After two straight losses to Syracuse and Purdue, Maryland has been able to bounce back with back to back victories over Illinois and Ohio. Turnovers have been an issue for the ‘Terps, but they have enough offensive firepower to make up for it which should make this one ugly quick.

Pick Against the Spread: Maryland

George Washington Colonials at Penn State Nittany Lions

  • Time/TV: 4:00 PM ET/BTN
  • KenPom Spread: Penn State (-13)

Pat Chambers’ team is off to a solid start and should be able to recover from their close loss against Wisconsin this week. Tony Carr has been the man and his team relies on him to carry a good portion of the load. The Colonials could give Penn State a difficult time, but the Nittany Lions should come away with it in the end.

Pick Against the Spread: Penn State