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12/4 Big Ten Preview: Penn State and Michigan look to make major statements

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Albeit on opposite ends of the basketball spectrum

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Two conference games. A decent amount of mystery and intrigue. And the potential for Michigan to further state its case as the uncrowned best team in the nation.

What more could you want from a Tuesday slate of December games?

Big Ten Game of the Day:

-Indiana Hoosiers at Penn State Nittany Lions

  • Time/TV: 7:00PM ET - BTN
  • KenPom Spread: Penn State (-2)

With zero disrespect towards Michigan, the nod for Big Ten Game of the Day falls to Indiana-Penn State, if only because I foresee a much more competitive game in State College on Tuesday night than the one in Evanston.

You know how sometimes a win can feel like a lose? That’s what I imagine the Hoosiers felt like Saturday afternoon after picking up a nail-biting 68-66 win over Northwestern but losing senior forward Juwan Morgan to a leg injury. The status of IU’s second-leading scorer remains murky for tonight’s game, and whether or not Morgan can go has the potential to swing this contest.

Without Morgan, the job of leading Indiana offensively against Penn State’s top 10 overall defense falls squarely on the shoulders of wunderkind Romeo Langford. The star forward has been as good as advertised, but contending with the Lions’ stout defense without his running mate is a tall order for anyone, let alone for a freshmen playing in only his ninth game.

And that’s before you consider his likely assignment on the defensive end being Mr. 22.4-points-per-game (we’ll work on that nickname) Lamar Stevens.

Penn State is coming off a disappointing, if not totally unexpected, road loss to Maryland on Saturday evening. Close tilts between the Terps and Nittany Lions are pretty much par for the course, but color me much more interested to say how Penn State responds.

In years past, one tough, close loss had the propensity to snowball on the Lions, with one defeat slowly turning into three or four in a row. But if Penn State is truly ready to turn a corner this year, tonight’s home game against Indiana is one it really needs to win.

No, there’s no such things as must-wins this early in the season, but for the mental boost and breathing room a victory would provide Pat Chambers’ team, a Penn State win would go a long way.

Without knowing the status of Morgan, this one is a tough game to handicap. But even if the senior forward does play, he can’t possible be at 100% and I believe a hungry Lions squad pulls this one out at home.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Penn State

The Rest:

-Michigan Wolverines at Northwestern Wildcats

  • Time/TV: 9:00PM ET - BTN
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan (-5)

Like I said earlier, relegating the Wolverines to ‘The Rest’ status is actually a compliment, as I expect them to pretty easily handle the Wildcats Tuesday night.

If the bandwagon has room for one more, allow me to hop on and anoint Michigan the best team in college basketball at the eight game mark of 2018-’19.

I, for one, am confident enough to say I didn’t see this start for the Wolverines coming. I figured the loss of so many major parts from last year’s National Runner-Ups would be too much to overcome and John Beilein’s team would be good, but not great.

Boy was that dumb.

Freshmen Ignas Brazdeikis has been a revelation, relishing the bright lights of high-major hoops by hanging 24 points on North Carolina before dropping a modest, by his standards, 12 points in a win over Purdue.

Michigan is deep, extremely well-coached, and, dare I say, better than last year’s Final Four group.

Northwestern, in its own right, is much-improved from last season’s disappointing team as well, but hasn’t quite seen an opponent like Michigan yet.

It’s most impressive win to-date came on a neutral court against Utah, but at 3-3 a win over the Utes don’t look to be the litmus test some thought it would once be.

If the Wildcats plan on protecting home court tonight it’ll need big games from Vic Law and Dererk Pardon (and, honestly, probably Ryan Taylor and A.J. Turner as well).

Chris Collins’ team is good enough to contend for a postseason berth this year, but there’s a difference between fighting for the bubble and playing for a National Title. Northwestern is doing the former while Michigan competes for the latter. And on Tuesday, the latter wins going away.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Michigan

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Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 7-9