Yep, it’s November.
For all of the tip-off classics and Gavitt Games, the DNA of college basketball in November is still tune-up games where top programs pay smaller schools to come in and take a whupping. And that’s what we’ve got on tap for tonight. Anything can happen—Evansville beat Kentucky—but the Big Ten should be looking at three comfortable wins on a blustery Tuesday evening.
Game of the Night:
-Bucknell Bison at Penn State Nittany Lions
- Time/TV: 6:30 PM EST, BTN
- KenPom Spread: Penn State -15
Don’t look now, but with a blowout win over Georgetown in the Gavitt Games, undefeated Penn State is all of a sudden the hottest team in the Big Ten conference. We all knew Lamar Stevens was great, and I thought that Penn State’s success would come down to the question of how much production they could get out of Mike Watkins. But it’s been a pair of sophomore guards, Myreon Jones and Myles Dread, who have really stepped up for Pat Chambers’ team. According to KenPom, this is easily the best offensive team he’s ever had, and while those numbers are a little inflated from blowout wins against Maryland Eastern Shore and Wagner, at this point I’m leaning towards the Nittany Lions being a top-half Big Ten team.
If Bucknell wins this game, it’ll be on the backs of their three-point shooting. Through four games, the Bison are hitting over 41% of their threes, and while they do have two losses already on their record—to Vermont (quality loss) and Canisius (much less so)—both were one possession games. This is an in-state game, and Penn State is easily the best team on their schedule (sorry, Syracuse!), so you have to think Bucknell is going to come in and give their best shot.
Penn State’s going to win; it’s just a matter of how close the game will be and if the Lions and pick up any style points along the way.
- Pick against the spread: Penn State
-Fairfield Stags at Maryland Terrapins
- Time/TV: 8:30 EST, BTN
- KenPom Spread: Maryland -23
These two teams have a common opponent—both of them have already played Holy Cross. Maryland won that game by 24; it took Fairfield overtime to get the 68-63 victory, their only dub of the season thus far.
Since the outcome of this game is not in doubt, let me take a minute to reflect on Mark Turgeon’s non-conference scheduling philosophy: it sucks. If you think you have one of the best 15 teams in the country, one that could plausibly push Michigan State for the Big Ten title, why in the world would you open the season with six home games against Holy Cross, Rhode Island, Oakland, Fairfield, and George Mason? Particularly when you have football fans who are ready for meaningful basketball.
It’s true that most games in November are cupcakes, but most teams play somebody who’ll give them a challenge.
- Pick against the spread: Fairfield
-Redford Highlanders at Northwestern Wildcats
- Time/TV: 8:00 PM EST, None
- KenPom Spread: Northwestern -6
Penn State isn’t the only Big Ten team that came out of the Gavitt Games smelling a lot sweeter than when it went in. Northwestern picked up a nine-point victory over a very good Providence team. (One which beat Purdue handily in a secret scrimmage last month.) That’s not to say Northwestern is good. They lost to Merrimack at home. It was Merrimack’s second D-I game ever. But maybe there’s more to this young roster than meets the eye.
I do know one thing, the Cats have the best name in the Big Ten. Sorry, Thorir Thorbjarnarson, there’s a new champ in town, and his name is Boo Buie. The frosh has seen limited minutes so far, and it’s not clear if he’s very good at much besides fouling and turning the ball over, but his name is fun to say, and when you’re previewing a game against two bad teams that isn’t on TV, you have to find something fun to write about.
Northwestern does have another freshman, Robbie Bearn, who was perfect from the field and from the line against Providence. And rounding out the list of rookies is 6’10” Ryan Young. There’s a youth movement in Evanston. Maybe these guys will gel and be better than anyone expects.
- Pick against the spread: Northwestern