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1/5 Big Ten Preview: Northwestern, Rutgers, and Penn State look to rebound

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Two games headline this Big Ten Friday

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Purdue Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Three of the four teams in action tonight are looking to regroup after conference losses. Northwestern, Penn State, and Rutgers all want to get back on track in the conference. Even if that is the primary storyline going into tonight, one cannot overlook the fourth team playing tonight. Wisconsin is currently surging after a bumpy non-conference slate.

In fact, the Badgers are one of the hottest teams in the nation coming into their game with Rutgers. That is obviously unwelcome news for a Scarlet Knights team that has not won since beating Seton Hall on December 16th.

As for Northwestern and Penn State, the two teams match-up fairly evenly which leads me to believe it will be dandy of a game. Although the teams featured tonight may not be the “best” in the Big Ten, we are sure to have some delightful bouts this evening.

Here is a look at both match-ups.

Game of the Day

-Northwestern Wildcats at Penn State Nittany Lions

  • Time/TV: 8:00 PM ET - Fox Sports 1
  • KenPom Spread: Penn State (-6)

Penn State’s loss to Rider on December 22nd still seems to be lingering in the psyche of the Nittany Lions. While they have gone 1-1 since that game, they suffered a stinging loss to Maryland earlier this week. This would not have been so terrible of a loss if not for how decimated the Terrapins are due to injuries. I mean, credit to Maryland, and I mean no disrespect to them by saying that. However, we once thought Penn State could possibly get an NCAA Tournament berth and that loss hurts those chances. Those dreams have faded away, but are certainly not gone forever.

Sophomore Mike Watkins is coming off a career game against Maryland. He scored 17 points and snared 17 rebounds in the loss. Unfortunately for Watkins, no other Nittany Lion turned in that good of game. Even though Tony Carr scored 16 points in that game, he shot a measly six for 23 from the field in the process.

The continuing conversation for Northwestern is how they can perform without Bryant McIntosh. As we saw in their 70-55 loss to Nebraska, they did not fare too well without their star guard. The Wildcats shot under 30 percent from both the field and three-point range in that game against the Huskers. One has to wonder if the loss of McIntosh’s facilitating ability had anything to do with Northwestern’s anemic offense. I think it did.

What makes this game interesting is the fact that these two teams are dying for a conference win. Penn State has not won a Big Ten game since beating Iowa on December 2nd. As for Northwestern they beat Illinois on December 2nd too, but have not won a conference game since. That desire for a victory should lead to a wildly competitive contest.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Northwestern

The Rest

-Wisconsin Badgers at Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET - ESPN2
  • KenPom Spread: Wisconsin (-1)

Here are two teams on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Rutgers has not won a game since December 16th with two of their last three losses coming to teams outside the KenPom top-200. They are now coming off a 31 point loss to Purdue on Wednesday night. To say they are reeling would actually be a total understatement. Especially after the strong start they had in the non-conference.

Then there’s Wisconsin, who struggled early on in non-conference (although they did play a tough schedule). However, they have not lost since December 9th, almost a month ago. Granted, their non-conference schedule got significantly easier in that span. None the less, five straight wins is nothing to scoff at, regardless of opponents.

The Badgers success has always pinned on the play of Ethan Happ and he has been playing extremely well lately. In their most recent win over Indiana, he poured in 28 points and nine rebounds. It is this recent stretch of dominant play from Happ that has put Wisconsin back in the Big Ten contender picture.

The long-standing grievance with Rutgers is their inability to shoot the ball at an efficient rate. In the drubbing they took at the hands of Purdue, the Scarlet Knights shot 33 percent from the field and a vile 15 percent from three. Not to mention, they have been unreliable from the free throw line as well. In the loss to the Boilermakers, Rutgers shot only 56 percent on 16 attempts from the line.

If the Scarlet Knights can start making shots at a higher clip, that is when they will see success in the win-loss column. However, playing in a conference like the Big Ten does not bode well for that. Expect to see Rutgers continue to slide as conference play moves forward.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Wisconsin