Since April, the conventional wisdom in the Big Ten has been that the two Michigan schools would be the best in the league, and that’s been borne out by the results so far. But sitting tied with Michigan and one game back of Michigan State are the Maryland Terrapins, who are the hottest team in the Big Ten right now. A win at the Breslin Center would catapult Mark Turgeon’s team into a tie for first place. Until February 24 when Michigan and Michigan State finally cross paths, this is likely to be the biggest game of the season so far.
Game of the Night
-Maryland Terrapins @ Michigan State Spartans
- Time/TV: 6:30 PM EST, FS1
- KenPom Spread: Michigan State (-11)
The two most impressive wins of the past week belong to these two teams. While Purdue feasted on two easy home games and Michigan stumbled in Madison, Michigan State went on the road to a touch Nebraska environment, and Maryland took on a hungry Ohio State in Columbus. Both teams won convincingly.
That’s not where the similarities end, either. Both teams have two of the league’s top ten players—an elite point guard and a total hoss of a big man. Both teams are susceptible to turnovers and don’t turn opponents over very often themselves.
That said, in almost every statistical category where Maryland is good, Michigan State is better. Of particular note are assists (where Michigan State is No. 1 in the nation) and bench minutes. (Maryland is not deep.) Though on the latter point, Maryland is current fully healthy—despite coming out of the game against Ohio State, Eric Ayala is cleared to play Monday—whereas Michigan State is still dealing with injuries to juniors Joshua Langford and Kyle Ahrens.
In the past two games, Maryland big man Bruno Fernando has held his own against Ethan Happ and Kaleb Wesson, not dominating either matchup but putting up slightly more efficient numbers. Bruno is quickly becoming one of my favorite players in the Big Ten, and I’ll be excited to see if he can match or exceed the production of Nick Ward.
My absolute favorite player in the Big Ten, however (other than those who play for my alma mater, naturally), is Cassius Winston. The guy does not get enough national credit, love, and attention. To be able to dish out dimes like he does while shooting above 45% from deep and over 80% from the line is pretty incredible. Anthony Cowan can match the free throw shooting, but not the three-point shooting.
This is the only meeting between these two teams this season, and that’s too bad. I’m sure the Izzone will be out in full force, and I hope they get as rowdy and offensive as the Maryland students would have been if this game were played in College Park. This is Big Ten basketball. Tune in.
Pick Against The Spread: Michigan State is better than Maryland, but they aren’t 11 points better. Terps cover.
-Nebraska Cornhuskers @ Rutgers Scarlet Knights
- Time/TV: 8:00 PM EST, BTN
- KenPom Spread: Nebraska (-8)
Nebraska and Ohio State are tied in the Big Ten with four losses apiece. (No, I don’t care that Nebraska is technically half a game up because they have one more win. The loss column is what counts.) Two weeks ago, that Ohio State team came into Piscataway as a ranked team and lost. Scarlet Knight fans are hoping that history repeats itself.
The computers say that Nebraska is a much better team than Ohio State, though. Despite the home loss to Michigan State proving that the Huskers aren’t among the upper echelon of the Big Ten, they are much better than their four losses suggest. To expect anything but a Nebrasketball romp is probably unrealistic.
And yet the biggest weakness that Nebraska has is giving up offensive rebounds. That just happens to be Rutgers’ biggest strength. Unfortunately for Rutgers, it’s not as big a strength with Eugene Omoruyi still sidelined, but Omoruyi was only fourth on the team in that category, behind the two Shaqs and Myles Johnson.
Rutgers needs this to be a slugfest. Rebounds and physicality have to be the emphasis, as well as foul trouble. Rutgers’ bench isn’t very good, but the gap between Rutgers’ bench and Nebraska’s bench is a lot less than the gap between Rutgers’ starters and Nebraska’s starters. Isaiah Roby is somewhat foul-prone. Go after him.
For Nebraska the keys will be poise and composure. Get a hot start, take the air out of the RAC, and blow out a bad Rutgers team.
Pick Against The Spread: Nebraska. Without Omoruyi, the hoped-for Rutgers turnaround in Year 3 of Steve Pikiell is probably going to have to wait until Year 4.
Season Record Picking Against KenPom’s Spread: 20-22-1