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11/16 Big Ten Preview: Time To Take Rutgers Seriously?

Everyone’s favorite joke of a team might not be such a joke anymore

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Purdue vs Rutgers Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

You knew that eventually Rutgers would start looking like a legitimate power conference team. But “eventually” could mean two years or twenty years. Would you believe me if I told you the answer might be Friday night?

Game of the Night

-St. John’s Red Storm at Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • Time/TV: 7:00 EST, BTN
  • KenPom Spread: St. Johns (-3)

First let’s ask if St. John’s is any good. If you watched the Red Storm much last year, your answer is probably no. Chris Mullin’s squad dropped their first eleven Big East games. But then of course they turned around and beat Duke and Villanova, back-to-back. They finished the season ranked No. 74 in KenPom. That’s not great, but it’s respectable.

This year, KenPom has the Johnnies at No. 39, and it’s kind of baffling how. Three starters are back, but none of them were particularly efficient last season. And their four-point win over Bowling Green at home doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence. KenPom projects that St. Johns wins 19 games this year. Give me the under.

But that said, this is still a huge opportunity for Rutgers. A game against an old Big East rival from the same media market is going to be a big game no matter what, but this could be our first evidence that Rutgers has finally turned the corner. Their Achilles heel last year was shooting, and through two games the Scarlet Knights are shooting 56.5% from three, third best in the country. Wow. That’s not turning the corner so much as turning the corner at 100 miles an hour at Le Mons. If they can maintain that against an opponent the caliber of St. Johns, it’s time to start talking about the impossible: Rutgers could finish with a record over .500.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Forget the spread. Rutgers, straight up. The Big Ten has had some good wins in the non-conference this year, and I’m drinking the conference Kool-Aid.

The Rest

-Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Connecticut Huskies

  • Time/TV: 6:30 EST, ESPN2
  • KenPom Spread: Iowa (-5)

Speaking of good non-conference wins, how about Iowa over a ranked Oregon team? Not only is that a good win for the Big Ten and for Fran’s team, Iowa gets to avoid Syracuse, who is probably the best team in the 2K Classic but was upset by Connecticut.

The new-look Huskies and their first-year coach Dan Hurley are an enigma at this point. They were bad last year, but they were coached by Kevin Ollie then. (Though let’s not forget that Kevin Ollie has a National Championship.) Their highest-usage guy is Christian Vital, who has an abysmal 83.0 offensive rating, but all the rest of their rotation players are at 114 or better. This will be a good test for Iowa’s defense, which is also something of an enigma at this point.

  • Pick Against The Spread: I’ve been too much of a Big Ten homer this year, and I’ve got more homer picks below, so I’ll say the UConn fans that will no doubt pack Madison Square Garden will give the Huskies the spark they need to get past the Hawkeyes. Connecticut.

-Purdue Boilermakers vs. Davidson Wildcats

  • Time/TV: 6:30 EST, ESPNU
  • KenPom Spread: Purdue (-9)

The last time these two teams met, Davidson featured a fella by the name of Steph Curry, but he wasn’t Steph Curry yet, and he was more or less shut down by Purdue’s Chris Kramer. At one point that game was 21-0 in favor of Purdue. Why do I know that? Because I was there. It was 2009 and life was—well, actually, life was pretty terrible in 2009, but that game was good.

This Purdue team is nothing like the 2009 Boilermakers, but they do have a defensive stopper that some people claim could be as good as Kramer. That’s crazy talk, but Nojel Eastern is damn good at defense, and he’s more athletic than Chris Kramer ever was. Meanwhile Davidson is sitting on a guy whose offensive rating is nearly 130, Jon Axel Gudmundsson. In addition to his top-five name, Gudmundsson is shooting 56.2% from three this year. Dude had over half of Davidson’s points against Wichita. Hm, maybe this game will be more like 2009 than I thought.

  • Pick Against The Spread: In 2009, Purdue won the game by 18. I can’t pick against my alma mater. At least not until later in the season when my overdeveloped sense of pessimism kicks in.

-Hofstra Pride at Maryland Terrapins

  • Time/TV: 7:00 EST, BTN Plus
  • KenPom Spread: Maryland (-14)

Stop me if this sounds familiar: Maryland wins the game, but falls in the KenPom rankings. A few seasons ago, this happened so often that Maryland vs. Ken Pomeroy was on most people’s lists of greatest college basketball rivalries. Well, it’s happening again. We may be headed for another season where Maryland fans point at their talent and their gaudy record while Maryland haters (which to be honest is pretty much the rest of the league at this point) point out that they barely beat some bad teams.

So is Hofstra a bad team? Yeah, they are, because people will laugh at Maryland if they drop this game. But they have some good players. Justin Wright-Foreman and Eli Pemberton both have offensive ratings above 120, and that’s not inconsistent with the numbers they put up last season. If Maryland has an off night, those two could go off. But it’s more likely that Maryland has an off night, wins by 4, and drops six spots on KenPom.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Did you not just read what I wrote about Maryland winning close? Hofstra covers.

- Binghamton Bearcats at Northwestern Wildcats

  • Time/TV: 7:00 EST, ESPNU
  • KenPom Spread: Northwestern (-19)

More home court cupcakes for Chris Collins’ squad. And why not? You’re going to sell out the first few games no matter what; why not rack up the easy wins? Sure, that’s going to hurt your strength of schedule, but nobody has the Wildcats pegged as an NCAA-caliber team this season.

So what can we say about Binghamton? Three things:

  • They have yet to win a game against a D-I opponent this season.
  • They have yet to play a D-I opponent in the KenPom top 200 this season.
  • They have yet to play a game against a D-I opponent that was within ten points.

Cats roll.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Northwestern. The spread is based on an assumed KenPom ranking of 295 for Binghamton, and I have a feeling the Bearcats are going to keep falling.


Season Record Picking Against KenPom’s Spread: 3-5