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3⁄4 Big Ten Preview: Illinois at Rutgers

Six Big Ten teams are in action Saturday, highlighted by Illinois quest for an improbable NCAA Tournament bid

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Wow, I can’t believe we’re doing our last regular season Saturday preview. It seems like only yesterday that we had our Saturday’s filled with teams you’ve never heard of, some so obscure that they didn’t even have a betting line.

Looking back, some of my favorite memories of this year’s conference schedule have went down on Saturday. For instance, the Wisconsin/Rutgers overtime battle at Madison Square Garden and the night game between Indiana/Northwestern at Assembly Hall. It’s safe to say that Saturday’s are for the boys Big Ten.

It’s been a great run so far, with things only getting better from here on out.

You can preview the final regular season Saturday games below, with betting odds courtesy of Covers.com.

Game of the Day:

-Illinois Fighting Illini at Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • Time/TV: 12:00PM ET — ESPNU
  • Covers Spread: Illinois (-4)

It’s hard to believe that Illinois and Rutgers is the ‘Game of the Day’, but that’s where we’re at thanks to the Illini and their improbable performance lately.

In their last six games, they’ve gone 5-1, including two wins over rival Northwestern and a thrilling home win versus Michigan State. They currently sit at 18-12 and have managed to sneak into some people’s brackets already. With that said, I still think they need to win another game (or two) in order to really solidify themselves.

That’s why this game is so important. It’s a must-win for Illinois, as a loss to No. 138 Rutgers would knock them off the bubble for good.

This is the first meeting of the year between these two teams, so Illinois hasn’t had a chance to see Rutgers stifling defense yet. While I don’t think they’ll take them lightly, it would of definitely benefited Illinois to have seen them earlier in the year.

With only pride on the line, I expect Steve Pikiell and company to play their tails off versus Illinois. After all, with no postseason in their future, the Scarlet Knights would love to put their mark on the NCAA Tournament and play spoiler to Illinois dreams of an at-large berth.

Also, the RAC is going to be a very hectic place on Saturday. It’s ‘Senior Night’ for Rutgers and there’s no better way to send them off than with a win.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Rutgers

The Rest:

-Indiana Hoosiers at Ohio State Buckeyes

  • Time/TV: 12:00PM ET — ESPN
  • Covers Spread: Ohio State (-3)

Indiana at Ohio State, also known as the ‘Disappointment Bowl’.

This is a showdown between two of the most underwhelming teams in the Big Ten. In addition, these are the two programs directly responsible for people thinking the conference is having a ‘down year’. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s get to more important business.

So, the only way these teams can get to the ‘Big Dance’ is by winning the Big Ten Tournament. As much as I’d love to get an unexpected team in the tournament, I don’t see it happening from either squad. After all, Ohio State hasn’t won three games in a row during Big Ten play, and Indiana has lost eight of their last ten.

Saturday’s game will be the first meeting of the year between Indiana and Ohio State, but Indiana did win their only showdown last year (85-60).

In this game, I’ve got to lean towards the away team with the points. The Hoosiers may still be under the impression they’re on the bubble, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see a valiant effort from Tom Crean’s team. Plus, they have the law of averages on their side, having only covered one game out of their last six. Take Indiana here, they’re overdue for an ATS win.

Records aside, the battle in the paint between Thomas Bryant and Trevor Thompson should be one for the ages. Thompson has proved to be a force this year and if he sticks around, he could be an All-Big Ten selection next year. Bryant is likely headed to the NBA, but still is impressive around the rim.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Indiana

-Michigan State Spartans at Maryland Terrapins

  • Time/TV: 2:00PM ET — BTN
  • Covers Spread: Maryland (-4)

Wouldn’t this game have more intrigue if it was the nightcap of Saturday’s schedule?

Yeah, I thought so. Let’s hope that this problem is corrected by next year (not likely).

This showdown could have been the ‘Game of the Day’, but since they’re both likely in the tournament already, it doesn’t have quite as much juice as the Illinois game.

I expect an inspired effort from Michigan State in this game, as they tripped up against the Illini in their last contest. The Spartans are still learning how to play without Eron Harris, but this is the perfect chance for them to work out the kinks.

On the other hand, Maryland is coasting until they get to the NCAA Tournament. After starting 22-4, they’ve lost three of their last four, leading people to believe their freshman may have hit a wall.

I disagree.

Call me crazy, but I think the ‘Terps are pulling a Cleveland Cavaliers move. Just waiting until the games mean more to kick things back into high gear.

With that said, I’m rolling with Sparty on the road as they try and increase their projected No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They should come out with a little more juice than the complacent ‘Terps, giving them the overall edge. Plus, the Spartans are only 2-6 on the road this year, so it’s about time they have a good performance away from home.

Even though Miles Bridges is likely the unanimous Freshman of the Year, look for him to have a monster game in this one just for good measure.

Coming off of a perfect Wednesday, I’m rolling with all ‘dogs on the final Saturday of the regular season!

  • Pick Against The Spread: Michigan State

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Casey’s Record vs The Spread: 42-26-1