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1/3 Big Ten Preview: Conference play settles down with one-sided matchups

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Minnesota and Purdue look to breeze past their opponents at home Wednesday night.

NCAA Basketball: Florida Atlantic at Minnesota Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

After a night featuring four Big Ten matchups, things cool down a little bit with Rutgers at No. 13 Purdue and Illinois at Minnesota. While the Boilermakers may be more entertaining to watch, the Illinois at Minnesota matchup is a more intriguing and appealing game.

You can preview both of the games below. All spreads are based on ESPN.

Big Ten Game of the Day:

Illinois Fighting Illini at Minnesota Gophers

  • Time/TV: 9:00PM ET - BTN
  • ESPN Spread: Minnesota (-7.5)

The Illini head into Williams Arena coming off two straight victories over Missouri and Grand Canyon. However, the Gophers have been even better as of late, winning their past four games after a tough loss to the No. 22 Arkansas Razorbacks, eventually placing them out of the AP Top 25.

Illinois features a highly energetic and active team with two solid forwards leading the way. Leron Black, the leader and manager of the Illinois offense, averages 14.8 points-per-game and 5.9 rebounds-per-game, while shooting an impressive 54 percent from the field . Along with Black is Michael Finke, who does some of everything too, averaging 11.5 points-per-game and 5.8 rebounds-per-game.

What makes this Illinois team better than previous years however is their ability to force turnovers, ranking second in the Big Ten at a +4.3 turnover margin. For a team that can be inconsistent on the offensive side of the ball, it will be important for the Illini to be active on defense all night against Minnesota.

The only thing that Illinois may not be able to overcome tonight is the terrific duo in Jordan Murphy and Nate Mason. Jordan Murphy has delivered a double-double performance every game this season, averaging 19.1 points-per-game and 12.6 rebounds-per-game. Nate Mason missed Minnesota’s last game vs. Harvard and could potentially miss tonight’s game against Illinois.

If Nate Mason does indeed play, I like Minnesota’s chances of getting out to an early lead and holding that lead. If he doesn’t play, Freshman point guard Isaiah Washington will have to pick up the load to help the Gophers secure a victory.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Minnesota

The Rest:

Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Purdue Boilermakers

  • Time/TV: 7:00PM ET - BTN
  • ESPN Spread: Purdue (-19.0)

If this game took place in Brunswick, New Jersey instead of West Lafayette, Indiana, maybe the Knights would have a chance of beating the 13-2 Purdue Boilermakers. But after two straight losses to Stony Brook and Hartford at home, I don’t see Rutgers standing a chance tonight.

Rutgers has surprised the Big Ten at times this year, with a win over No. 21 Seton Hall and a close loss to No. 24 Florida State. However, Scarlet Knights showed right after that maybe they’re still the same team from previous years, losing to non-power five teams in Stony Brook and Hartford. Rutgers is not a team right now that has the confidence to beat a team like Purdue.

Meanwhile, Purdue must be feeling fantastic, having won their past nine games including a win at the magical Hinkle Fieldhouse that hosts Butler, which just knocked off the number one team in the country in Villanova. Purdue has too much talent in their starting lineup to not win tonight, and are more than capable of getting Purdue to a 3-0 record in conference play.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Purdue