We’re starting to come down the home stretch of the Big Ten season and Thursday’s games will have plenty of ramifications for the conference alignment heading into Madison Square Garden at the end of February.
With only one game separating the conferences top three teams, the results of tonight’s games could produce a significant amount of change in the Big Ten standings.
In addition to the jockeying at the top of the leaderboard, Penn State will look to continue its upward momentum while the Badgers hope to avoid falling into the bottom of the bracket for when the league takes over the Big Apple.
Big Ten Game of the Day
-No. 8 Ohio State Buckeyes at Penn State Nittany Lions
- Time/TV: 8:00PM ET - BTN
- KenPom Spread: Ohio State (-0.5)
Anyone remember when the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes were picked to finish 10th and 11th, respectively, in the Big Ten back in October?
That sure seems silly entering tonight’s game between an Ohio State group that’s in the drivers seat for a conference championship and a Penn State team that’s won five of its last six games to vault itself back into the conversation for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
And while that alone would create enough intrigue to warrant your attention, that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what’s an incredibly important game for both schools.
The Buckeyes will be looking to hold onto its precarious spot as the top team in the Big Ten, with Michigan State sitting only a half game back and Purdue, despite its recent slip ups, remaining very much in the rear view mirror at only a game behind the conference leaders.
With three of its four remaining games coming on the road against some of the leagues hottest teams in Penn State, Michigan and Indiana, the Buckeyes will need to play at a high level if it wants to fend off the Spartans and Boilermakers for Big Ten supremacy.
Penn State, on the other hand, is in desperate need of resume bolstering wins and a series sweep of Chris Holtmann’s team would be quite the feather in the Nittany Lions cap.
Speaking of postseason potential, it was the Lions win over the Buckeyes three weeks ago that kicked off its late season renaissance.
While Tony Carr’s bank in 3-pointer got all the headlines, it was Josh Reaves surprise return to the lineup that served as the spark which reignited the Lions.
After being left in State College for academic reasons, the junior guard was deemed eligible at the 11th hour and driven to Columbus just before tipoff, in what I can only imagine played out exactly like the climax of the classic film The Big Green.
Since his return, Reaves has put up double-digit points in all five of the Lions recent wins, while continuing to be a headache on defense for opposing teams.
In fact, along with Mike Watkins, Jamari Wheeler, and Nazeer Bostick, Penn State can roll out one of the best defensive lineups in the Big Ten, which supports its top 25 defensive efficiency ranking.
Ohio State, meanwhile, has questions surrounding one of its own players as senior Kam Williams remains suspended for a violation of team rules. Chris Holtmann has been mum on the guard’s standing heading into Thursday nights game, however Jon Rothstein reported late Wednesday that Williams is expected to return against the Nittany Lions.
Prior to his suspension, Williams had been contributing 22.3 minutes per game to the Buckeye’s rotation. With his return to the lineup, he’ll provide Ohio State with yet another weapon to go along with Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate, C.J. Jackson and Kaleb Wesson.
When these teams last met, the Buckeyes entered 11.5-point favorites. The Lions recent play, along with this game taking place in Happy Valley, has shaved 11-points off that line with Ohio State being only a .5-point favorite in tonight’s game. And with ties being impossible in basketball, this one ultimately boils down to a pick’em.
I’ve been higher than most on the Buckeyes all season, but the same could be said about my feelings towards the Nittany Lions.
This is a classic head verses heart matchup, but as they say, fortune favors the bold.
- Pick Against The Spread: Penn State
-No. 6 Purdue Boilermakers at Wisconsin Badgers
- Time/TV: 7:00PM ET - ESPN
- KenPom Spread: Purdue (-9.5)
After finding ways to lose back-to-back games in increasingly heartbreaking fashion, the Boilermakers will look to shake itself out of its funk against a Wisconsin team looking to salvage whatever it can from a lost season.
Despite the losses, Purdue continues to get stellar play from the pair of Carsen Edwards and Isaac Haas. Edwards went for 28 points on 8-for-13 shooting against the Buckeyes while Haas dropped in 25 points on a 12-for-22 night in East Lansing.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, continues to be a one-man show living-or-dying with the play of Ethan Happ. The junior forward went for 27 and 29 in the Badgers last two games and remains the teams leading average scorer on the season by a full 9 points.
I get that the Boilermakers are hitting the road for this one, but a Purdue team that’s oozing with talent and playing angry will be too much for the Badgers to handle. Matt Painter will find a way to mitigate Happ and dare anyone else on Wisconsin to beat him.
That won’t happen and Purdue will get back on track in a big way.
- Pick Against The Spread: Purdue
Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 22-14-1