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1/18 Big Ten Preview: Mid-Tier Clarity. Maybe.

Is Maryland the third-best team in the Big Ten? We’ll see.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The middle of the Big Ten is a mess. There are six conference teams with three or four losses. That includes Nebraska and Wisconsin, who the computers love more than Maryland. But Maryland is sitting two games up with just one Big Ten loss. Is this classic KenPom bias against the Terps? Or is it possible Maryland really is the best team in the conference outside the state of Michigan?

Minneapolis and Piscataway have already been taught to Fear the Turtle, but Mark Turgeon’s team still doesn’t have a road win against a likely NCAA Tournament team. They can cement their place in the conference with a W in Columbus.

Game of the Night

Maryland Terrapins @ Ohio State Buckeyes

  • Time/TV: 6:30 PM EST, FS1
  • KenPom Spread: Ohio State (-3)

Meanwhile Ohio State is coming off three straight conference losses. There’s no shame in the loss to Michigan State, but the losses to Iowa and especially Rutgers sting for a team that just a few weeks ago looked like it was going to be a mainstay in the Top 25. The frustrating thing is that those last two losses happened in two completely different ways. Bad offense against Iowa—Kaleb Wesson had as many turnovers as shot attempts—and bad defense against Rutgers, where they gave up 10 points per possession more than usual.

Ultimately this game will be more about Maryland than about Ohio State. And that’s not just because of how the two teams have been trending. Maryland’s Achilles heel is live ball turnovers, which Ohio State forces relatively few of. In order to slow down Maryland’s attack, the Buckeyes are going to have to hope the Terrapins throw a lot of bad passes that lead to fast break points. The other “effort” category is rebounding, where Maryland holds a significant edge.

Pick Against The Spread: Maryland probably isn’t as good as they’ve looked in the past few games, and Ohio State probably isn’t as bad. But the computers are already taking that into account; the Buckeyes are the favorite. That three point spread is essentially the effect of home court advantage. KenPom thinks this is a pick’em on a neutral court. I’d take Maryland straight-up on a neutral court, so I’ll take them against the spread here.

The Rest

Northwestern Wildcats @ Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM EST, BTN
  • KenPom Spread: Northwestern (-1)

Both programs have this game circled as a winnable game. Both programs need it. The Cats and Scarlet Knights each sit at 1-5 in the Big Ten, with Northwestern’s coming in the last minute at home against Illinois. Rutgers’ win against Ohio State is more impressive, but this is also a team that lost to Fordham.

If Rutgers is going to have a chance—especially with Eugene Omoruyi still out—they are going to have to do it with defense. If you ever hear someone say “What an offensive display from Rutgers!” they don’t mean offensive, they mean offensive. The only players in red who have an offensive (no additional pun intended) rating over 100 are the two Shaqs, Carter and Doorson. Geo Baker has a lower rating than Ron freaking Harper, who is 12-54 for the year from three.

Northwestern isn’t a world-beater by any means, but they have Vic Law and Derek Pardon. Or will they? Law didn’t play in Sunday’s loss at Michigan. If he’s still banged up, the Cats will look to AJ Turner to pick up more of the scoring load and Miller Kopp to play extended minutes. Relative to Law, both those guys are turnover machines, which could lead to some easy fast-break points for Rutgers.

Pick Against The Spread: If Law plays, Northwestern. If not, turnovers and rebounding could help keep the Scarlet Knights even, but since I can’t make contingent picks—Northwestern. Final answer.

Season Record Picking Against KenPom’s Spread: 18-22-1