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12/29 Big Ten Preview: League Faces Final Weekend Of Non-Con Play

Preview the Big Ten’s slate for Saturday.

NCAA Basketball: Crossroads Classic-Notre Dame at Purdue Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten will have a loaded slate on the final weekend of non-conference play for the season. A total of 10 Big Ten teams will be in action, including an intriguing matchup for Purdue against Belmont at home. It should be a fun day of college basketball.

Let’s take a look at today’s Big Ten action.

Game of the Day:

-Belmont Bruins at Purdue Boilermakers

  • Time/TV: 4:30PM ET (FS1)
  • KenPom Spread: Purdue (-11)

After a disappointing start to the season, Purdue will close out non-conference play at home against Belmont on Saturday. Though the game probably won’t get much attention nationally, it’s actually a relatively intriguing matchup and both teams enter looking to grab a quality win.

Belmont enters the game at 9-1 overall and having won three straight. The Bruins have not only beaten three top 100 teams so far this season, but also beat UCLA just a few weeks ago. Seniors Kevin McClain and Dylan Windler lead Belmont.

For Purdue, this is a key opportunity at home to add a quality win before the restart of Big Ten play. Beating Belmont won’t get the Boilermakers into the Tournament, but Belmont is good enough to add to Purdue’s resume. And after blowing games against teams like Texas and Virginia Tech, this needs to be a win for the Boilermakers.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Purdue

The Rest:

-High Point Panthers at Ohio State Buckeyes

  • Time/TV: 12:00PM ET (BTN)
  • KenPom Spread: Ohio State (-19)

After defeating UCLA in Chicago last weekend, Ohio State has just one more non-conference play before restarting Big Ten play. And this game doesn’t look like a major challenge, considering that High Point is rated 235th nationally on KenPom. The Panthers don’t have a particularly explosive offense. As such, expect Ohio State to cruise to a win and improve to 12-1 on the season.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Ohio State

-UMBC Retrievers at Penn State Nittany Lions

  • Time/TV: 1:00PM ET (BTN)
  • KenPom Spread: Penn State (-17)

Things haven’t been easy so far for Penn State this season. The Nittany Lions are just 6-6 overall after the team fell to Alabama last Friday. And as such, the pressure is building on Pat Chambers and his staff to figure things out heading into Big Ten play.

And on Saturday, Penn State will have a nice opportunity get back on track against UMBC at home. The Retrievers are 7-6 overall and 244th on KenPom. This is a game Penn State should win. Fans will see whether the Nittany Lions can avoid the upset.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Penn State

-Northern Illinois Huskies at Michigan State Spartans

  • Time/TV: 2:00PM ET (BTN)
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan State (-19)

Although things haven’t been perfect for the Spartans so far this season, Michigan State is 10-2 and figures to be in good shape heading into the restart of Big Ten play. Tom Izzo and his team will hope to take care of business against Northern Illinois to grab one more win.

Northern Illinois enters the game at 7-5 overall and is rated 143rd on KenPom. The Huskies are certainly an underdog in this game, but this isn’t a typical “buy” game. Northern Illinois is better than many of those teams. Expect a hard fought game, that results in an eventual win for Michigan State.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Northern Illinois

-Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs at Nebraska Cornhuskers

  • Time/TV: 12:00PM ET (BTN+)
  • KenPom Spread: N/A

This is likely the day’s least intriguing Big Ten game. Southwest Minnesota State enters with virtually no expectations of doing anything other than getting blown out by Nebraska. The only question will be whether Nebraska can pull away early, or if it has to keep its starters in deep into the game.

  • Pick Against the Spread: N/A

-Florida Atlantic Owls at Illinois Fighting Illini

  • Time/TV: 3:00PM ET (BTN+)
  • KenPom Spread: Illinois (-12)

After falling to Missouri last Saturday, it’s hard to feel great about where Illinois is sitting. The Illini are 4-8 overall and have lost four of the team’s last six games. Illinois remains winless against teams rated 115th or better on KenPom.

Saturday won’t make up for the team’s rough start, but it does offer Illinois an opportunity to get a win before heading into a brutal Big Ten slate. In fact, Illinois is projected to be an underdog in the 10 games following Saturday. For that reason alone, Illinois needs to find a way to beat Florida Atlantic, who is just 215h on KenPom nationally.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Illinois

-Maine Black Bears at Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • Time/TV: 3:00PM ET (BTN+)
  • KenPom Spread: Rutgers (-19)

Last Saturday, Rutgers faced an overmatched Columbia team at home and was expected to grab an easy win. However, Rutgers ended up needing overtime to a terrible Columbia team at home. And this Saturday, things project to be very much the same for the Scarlet Knights. It’s a weak opponent coming on the road to face Rutgers.

Maine enters this game at 2-11 overall and 334th overall on KenPom. It might sound odd to say, but the Black Bears are even worse than Columbia. If Rutgers needs overtime to win this game, it will be time to seriously worry about the Scarlet Knights.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Maine

-Wisconsin Badgers at Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

  • Time/TV: 5:30PM ET (CBSSN)
  • KenPom Spread: Wisconsin (-8)

This game easily could have been selected for Game of the Day and for good reason. Wisconsin is clearly the better team heading into this matchup, but the Badgers will be playing on the road against Western Kentucky. It’s one of the rare times you will see a marquee Big Ten program playing on the road against a mid-major team.

Western Kentucky is only 120th on KenPom and 6-6 overall, but has recorded some nice wins as well. The Hilltoppers beat West Virginia on a neutral court in November and Arkansas and Saint Mary’s this month. The Badgers will be the toughest team that Western Kentucky has faced this season, but is capable of pulling off the upset.

The player to watch for Western Kentucky is Taveion Hollingsworth. He’s really good at maximizing possessions, avoids turnovers, and converts at the free throw line. Wisconsin’s backcourt will have its work cut out on Saturday.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Wisconsin

-Radford Highlanders at Maryland Terrapins

  • Time/TV: 6:00PM ET (ESPNU)
  • KenPom Spread: Maryland (-11)

After losing to Seton Hall at home last weekend, Maryland has one more opportunity to boost its resume before heading into the restart of Big Ten play against Radford. And while a win won’t be massive, Radford is 125th on KenPom and will boost Maryland’s resume.

The key to this game will be on the defensive end for Maryland. While Radford isn’t an elite team, it is solid on the offensive side of the floor and is 19th nationally in three-point percentage. Radford also avoids turnovers at an impressive rate. This is going to be a possession game that Maryland needs to control.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Radford

-Bryant Bulldogs at Iowa Hawkeyes

  • Time/TV: 8:00PM ET (ESPNU)
  • KenPom Spread: Iowa (-28)

This might be the least intriguing game (behind Nebraska) for the Big Ten of the day. Iowa enters this game at 10-2 overall and having won its last four games. On the other side, Bryant is one of the worst teams nationally and 3-7 overall. Expect an easy win for Iowa.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Iowa


Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 33-22-1