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11/23 Big Ten Preview: The Slow-Paced Battle for Atlantis

Plus seven other games!

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis-Oklahoma vs Wisconsin Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the day after Thanksgiving. Feeling a little sluggish? Don’t worry, we’ve got the slowest basketball game of the year on tap.

Game of the Day

-Wisconsin Badgers vs. Virginia Cavaliers

  • Time/TV: 2:00 PM EST, ESPN
  • KenPom Spread: Virginia (-3)

Efficient offense, grinding defense, long possessions. There might not be two teams in the country who are more stylistically suited to each other than Wisconsin and Virginia. If you want up-and-down, fast-paced, fast-break basketball, this is not the game for you. If instead you want to watch a chess match of X’s and O’s, offensive and defensive positioning and rotation, and mistake-free basketball, we got you covered.

There are 353 D-I men’s basketball teams. Wisconsin averages 65.8 possessions per game, fifth slowest in the country. To which Virginia says, “Take it easy there, Speedy Gonzales.” The Cavaliers’ 63.0 possessions per game is easily the slowest in all the land. But Virginia’s defense is the second-most efficient in the country; their offense is ninth-most efficient. Wisconsin is right up there, too, with the No. 14 offense and No. 15 defense.

In a game where you can expect so few possessions, every possession matters that much more. A 6-point lead in this game will be like a 12-point lead in any other game. Since neither team is turnover-prone and both are good-not-great rebounding squads, this game will come down to shooting percentage, the mix between 2’s and 3’s, and who can get to the free throw line more. It’s a basketball stats nerd’s wet dream. Everyone should watch.

  • Pick against the spread: Virginia. I think Wisconsin was one of the more underrated teams coming into the 2018-19 season, but Virginia was even more underrated. That UMBC loss diminished the Cavs’ reputation more than it should have. Tony Bennett might just be running the best overall program in college basketball right now, and since it’s not March yet, I’m not betting against them.

The Rest

-Michigan State Spartans vs. Texas Longhorns

  • Time/TV: 2:00 PM EST, ESPN
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan State (-2)

After beating UCLA in dominating fashion on Thursday night, Michigan State now gets Texas on Friday evening in what figures to be a pretty fun game. The Spartans enter as the favorite, but the Longhorns are more than capable of pulling off the upset.

Texas is a defense-first team and is led by Dylan Osetkowski and Kerwin Roach. However, the Longhorns rotate extensively and are 76th in overall team bench minutes. This is a game where Michigan State will probably need to use its depth.

  • Pick against the spread: Michigan State

***

There are a ton of other Big Ten games on Friday, only one of which merits a full-blown preview, so let’s just list them all in chronological order:

  • Robert Morris @ Purdue, 2:00 PM, BTN
  • Boston U @ Rutgers, 2:00 PM, BTN Plus
  • La Salle @ Northwestern, 3:00 PM, No TV
  • Chattanooga @ Michigan, 4:00 PM, BTN
  • Marshall @ Maryland, 6:00 PM, BTN
  • UC Davis @ Indiana, 7:00 PM, BTN Plus
  • Cleveland State @ Ohio State, 8:00 PM, FS1

All of those are home games, and all except Maryland are bodybag games where the Big Ten shouldn’t struggle to get an easy W.

Marshall will be an interesting challenge for the Terps and a nice palette cleanser after the Wisconsin/Virginia game. The Thundering Herd are the fourth fastest-paced team in the country, and they force a lot of turnovers. Maryland hasn’t been very good about protecting the ball this season. In fact, looking at Maryland’s KenPom page, I see something I’ve never seen before. Ivan Bender, who is admittedly a benchwarmer but has played in every game so far this season, is turning the ball over on 67% of his used possessions. Yikes.

Speaking of Maryland and KenPom, the Terrapins have apparently decided to embrace the classic Maryland meme—they keep winning games but dropping in the KenPom rankings. To be fair, that mostly comes from not blowing out bad teams by as much as expected. (If you think you’re full after Thanksgiving dinner, that’s nothing to the empty calories Mark Turgeon packed on by scheduling all these cupcakes.) Maybe Maryland isn’t very good this year, or maybe the scores are so close because the Turgeon General keeps giving Ivan Bender six minutes a game. I don’t know. But Marshall will be the first top 100 opponent that Maryland has faced, so we might finally learn something about how good they can be.

KenPom Spread and Picks:

  • Purdue (-23). That seems too high for a Thanksgiving hangover game. I’ll take the Colonials.
  • Rutgers (-11). As you all know, I’m high on Rutgers and their newfound prowess from 3. Scarlet Knights.
  • Northwestern (-10). The Cats looked completely out of sorts against Fresno. This team hasn’t learned how to play away from home yet. Not sure they will learn by tomorrow. Explorers cover.
  • Michigan (-29). Michigan’s defense is so good right now, they could probably hold the Noogs under 30 if they made it a point of emphasis. Normally I shy away from huge spreads, but I’ll take the Wolverines.
  • Maryland (-9). I’m buying the meme until it fails. Maryland wins but doesn’t cover. Again.
  • Indiana (-22). I said 23 was too high for Purdue, so to be consistent I gotta take UC Davis. Indiana is back at home, but they’re banged up.
  • Ohio State (-23). One of my rules of thumb is that little brother in-state schools will always play up when they get a chance to face one of the state’s flagships. I’m probably more bullish on the Buckeyes than anyone else I know, but Cleveland State covers Friday night.

Season Record Picking Against KenPom’s Spread: 7-8-1