The opening night of most conference tournaments isn’t exactly the sexiest thing in the entire world. It’s almost always a play-in round for the leagues bottom feeders that’s sparsely attended and his little impact over the conference as a whole.
In the Big Ten, that rings a little more true as any of these teams would need to win five game in five days to capture the conferences crown. Should one happen to pull that off it would be an upset akin to United States 4 - Soviet Union 3 or Appalachian State 34 - Michigan 32 or Balboa over Creed.
That said, it doesn’t take a whole lot of squinting to find some interesting storylines for the two games on tap Wednesday evening. At the very least, we can reasonable expect to see a pair of competitive and close contests to kick things off in New York City.
Big Ten Game of the Day
-No. 14 Rutgers Scarlet Knights vs No. 11 Minnesota Golden Gophers
- Time/TV: 7:55PM ET - BTN
- KenPom Spread: Minnesota (-3)
I’m using the term Big Ten Game of the Day very loosely here. Yes, this is a game and it involves teams from the Big Ten and it is taking place on a day.
But I’m actually interested to see how this one will play out, so I gave it the nod over Illinois and Iowa.
With Piscataway being just a stones throw and a NJ Transit ride away from Madison Square Garden, there might just be some noise in the arena as Rutgers fans flock across the Hudson for potentially their only chance to see the Scarlet Knights in action.
Sure, Steve Pikiell’s first year at the helm of the much-maligned Rutgers program has been a rough one. Of its 15 conference losses 12 were by double-digits, including a pair of 31-point road defeats at Purdue and Illinois.
With the ball Rutgers has struggled mightily, checking in at 306 nationally in offensive efficiency. The Scarlet Knights most reliable offensive presence has been junior guard Corey Sanders, who’s averaging 14.3 points per game and has two 30-plus point outings this year.
Thankfully, Rutgers problems have stayed very much on the court this year. The same, however, cannot be said about Minnesota.
At the beginning of the year, the Golden Gophers were a darling pick to potentially win the Big Ten outright. But over the course of the season, the wheels haven’t just fallen off but the entire bus has broken down.
Minnesota’s season has been defined by off the court scandal and injuries, which has overshadowed an atrocious run through conference play. Jordan Murphy was the only player in the Big Ten this year to average a double-double, yet thanks to Minnesota’s dismal season, only managed to make the All-Big Ten third team.
So what do I think this game boils down to? Well I like the fact that Rutgers should have a significant edge in fan support. The arena might still be fairly empty, but I expect to see much more scarlet than maroon in the stands.
On top of that, Steve Pikiell’s team has been sneaky good defensively this year, with a 31 ranked efficiency according to KenPom.
It’s that ability to shutdown an opponent, along with a slight home court advantage against a Minnesota team that checked out a long time ago that I’m picking the Knights to win outright.
- Pick Against The Spread: Rutgers
-No. 13 Illinois Fighting Illini vs No. 12 Iowa Hawkeyes
- Time/TV: 5:30PM ET - ESPN
- KenPom Spread: Pick’em
Kicking things off in the Big Apple will be the Hawkeyes battling the Illini for the right to be the sacrificial lamb to Michigan on Thursday afternoon.
These teams only matchup this year produced one of the low key games on the season in the Big Ten, as Iowa railed from down 20 to beat Illinois 104-97 in overtime.
Jordan Bohannon was huge in that game, and along with Tyler Cook, Luka Garza, and Isaiah Moss, is one of four Hawkeyes averaging double-digit points per game this year. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that Iowa has an offensive efficiency ranking among the top 30 teams in the NCAA.
Illinois, on the other hand, relies heavily on the duo of Leron Black and Trent Frazier to do a bulk of the heavy lifting offensively. The Illini should also get a boost with Michael Finke rounding back into form two games removed from a lengthy absence.
I like the Hawkeyes in this one though, as while neither of these teams do a lot of things impressively, Iowa absolutely has the capability to light up the scoreboard. On top of that, I think the Hawkeyes are in for some good karma after one of the best feel good stories out of college basketball this year. My hats off to you Jordan Bohannon.
- Pick Against The Spread: Iowa
Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 23-17-1