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2/11 Big Ten Preview: Michigan, Penn State look for tough road wins

The Wolverines and Nittany Lions will try to improve their NCAA Tournament resumes in challenging road matchups today.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Northwestern Jim Young-USA TODAY Sports

It’s never easy winning on the road in the Big Ten regardless of the competition — Sunday will be a great example of that for a pair of NCAA Tournament hopefuls.

No. 20 Michigan and Penn State will both enter unfriendly confines today, looking to build their NCAA Tournament resumes with road wins. The Wolverines will battle the underwhelming Wisconsin Badgers, and the Nittany Lions will head to Champaign to try and knock off the always exciting Fighting Illini. Neither of the home teams in these matchups have much to play for at this point in the season, but that doesn’t mean these will be easy wins for Michigan or Penn State.

Both of these game spreads are within one possession so get ready for what should be an exciting day of Big Ten hoops. Check out more details on each game in the previews below.

Big Ten Game of the Day:

-No. 20 Michigan Wolverines at Wisconsin Badgers

  • Time/TV: 1:00PM ET/CBS
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan (-1.5)

Both of today’s games should be good, starting with a nationally televised game between Michigan and Wisconsin. This will be the lone meeting between these two teams, and with the game taking place in Madison I believe it’ll be a close one.

Michigan has picked up some nice road victories this year — at Michigan State and Texas are two very impressive wins — but they’ve struggled outside of Ann Arbor recently. The Wolverines have dropped their last three road games, including a nine-point loss at Northwestern earlier this week. Michigan was outscored 32-20 in the second half of that game and held to only 52 points in the game, which matched their season low for points in a game.

Wisconsin picked up only their second road win of the year on Thursday at Illinois, which snapped a five-game losing streak. The Badgers are 2-8 across their last 10 games with both wins coming against the Fighting Illini. Wisconsin is averaging only 62.8 points per game across this stretch, however in both of their wins the Badgers scored more than 70 points and shot above 50 percent. They didn’t do either of those in any of the eight losses.

Piggybacking off that, it’s been proven that when Wisconsin is able to get it going on offense they’ll have a chance to win but they struggle when they don’t. Of the Badgers 11 wins, they’ve score 70 or more points and shot 50 percent or better from the field nine times. Conversely, in their 15 losses they’ve been held to less than 70 points and shot less than 50 percent 13 times. So it’s pretty simple — Wisconsin can win if they find their mojo on offense. The bad news for Wisconsin is that Michigan has a top 15 defense nationally when it comes to points allowed per game.

The matchup to focus on in this game is pretty simple — Mo Wagner vs. Ethan Happ. Both of these big men lead their teams in points and rebounds and all year have created mismatches in the post. One area where Wagner has the upperhand is his shooting range and being able to step outside to make some three-point shots. That area of his game could give him the upperhand in this matchup.

As I mentioned above, this game taking place at Wisconsin is a big advantage for the Badgers and should result in it being a close game. If it was in Ann Arbor, I believe it’d be a pretty convincing win for the Wolverines. Michigan has more depth than the injury-depleted Badgers and more scoring threats than Wisconsin as well. The Wolverines have struggled away from home lately, but I’m confident they’ll make enough plays on the offensive end to sneak away with a solid road win.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Michigan

The Rest:

-Penn State Nittany Lions at Illinois Fighting Illini

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

These may not be two of the true blue bloods of the Big Ten but that doesn’t mean this won’t be an exciting game. Especially when you factor in that this is somewhat of a must win for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State enters this game looking to continue a nice little stretch that has featured four wins in their last five outings. One of those wins came at No. 14 Ohio State and the lone loss during that stretch was at No. 4 Michigan State, who needed a huge comeback to top Penn State. The Nittany Lions’ recent play has started to get them on the NCAA Tournament radar as a bubble team.

Illinois hasn’t experienced the same kind of success as Penn State, but has also played pretty well recently. The Fighting Illini are 2-2 in their last four games, and like the Nittany Lions made life tough for the Buckeyes. Illinois was unable to pull off the upset in Columbus last Sunday, however, it did show that they are better than what their record indicates.

I’m personally excited for this game because it features two of the most underrated/least recognized stars in the Big Ten — Tony Carr and Trent Frazier. Carr has been arguably the Big Ten’s best scorer all year long, averaging 19.3 points per game — that ranks second in the league. Frazier has played himself onto the Big Ten All-Freshman team with his strong play as of late. He has started the last nine Fighting Illini games, and during that stretch he’s averaging 17.6 points and 3.3 assists per game. This backcourt duel should be extremely fun to watch.

Another factor to watch in this game is whether or not Penn State can protect the ball against an extremely aggressive Illinois’ defensive attack. Penn State averages nearly 13 turnovers per game, which ranks in the bottom half nationally. Illinois is forcing 18 turnovers per game, which ranks third in the country. So you can see where this might be an advantage for the Fighting Illini.

This is an extremely hard game to pick, and I really could see it going either way. Penn State has been playing well lately, and I believe they’ll have a sense of urgency to pick up this win. If they don’t, then it’s going to take an incredible finish to get them into the NCAA Tournament.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Penn State

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Record against the spread this season: 21-14-1