Monday is a heavy night of Big Ten basketball as we see six teams in action, including a few games that may interest fans outside of the teams’ own fanbases.
Game of the Day
-No. 3 Michigan State Spartans vs. Virginia Tech Hokies
- Time/TV: 5:00 PM ET (ESPN2)
- KenPom Spread: Michigan State -9
- Vegas Spread: Michigan State -11
The Spartans look to start off their Maui trip on a good note as they take on Virginia Tech. The Hokies entered this season with low expectations after losing Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Kerry Blackshear Jr., and their head coach, Buzz Williams.
Starting the season 5-0 under new head coach Mike Young is an accomplishment, however, the level of competition has left something to be desired. After opening the season with a conference victory against Clemson, the Hokies have beaten four of the lowest-ranked teams in all of Division 1 (per KenPom), in Coppin State, South Carolina Upstate, Lehigh and Delaware State. Virginia Tech is led in scoring by two freshmen - Landers Nolley (20.2 ppg) and Nahiem Alleyne (12.6 ppg).
The Spartans enter this matchup with their only loss coming at the hands of Kentucky on opening night. Since, they have beaten Binghampton, a really good Seton Hall team, and Charleston Southern. They’re getting the expected contributions from Cassius Winston (17.5 ppg, 6.8 apg) and Xavier Tillman (12.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg). The pleasant surprise, however, has been the play of the sophomores on the roster. Gabe Brown, Aaron Henry, Thomas Kithier and Marcus Bingham have combined to average just north of 33 points per game. These contributions have been crucial in order to take some pressure off of Winston offensively.
The Spartans have struggled early this season in their three-point shooting, hitting less than 30% of their shots outside the arc. However, they’ve been able to maintain some efficiency offensively by making 58% of their shots inside the arc which is ranked 23rd in the country. Expect more of the same from Izzo’s squad. If they can improve on their three-point shooting, this is going to be a tough team to beat in Maui. I expect the Spartans to win big against the Hokies on Monday before taking on the winner of Dayton/Georgia on Tuesday.
-Kent State Golden Flashes atNo. 10 Ohio State Buckeyes
- TV/Time: 6:30 PM ET (BTN)
- KenPom Spread: Ohio State -17
- Vegas Spread: Ohio State -17.5
Both teams enter Monday night’s matchup undefeated, however, the Buckeyes can boast much more impressive wins thus far. In his third season at the helm, Chris Holtmann has shown that his team is for real after beating off Cincinnati and Villanova in the first week. One of the bright spots for the Buckeyes so far has been the play of freshman guard DJ Carton, who is averaging 11.2 ppg. They look to continue their winning ways as they take on in-state foe, Kent State. The Golden Flashes entered the season projected to be middle-of-the-pack in the MAC under coach Rob Senderoff. Their scoring is pretty evenly-distributed with four guys averaging double-figures. Sophomore Anthony Roberts is leading the way with 15.0 ppg after being named to the All-MAC Freshmen Team last year.
Kent State isn’t necessarily great at one thing and they don’t really have a calling card like efficient offense or elite rebounding, but they’re a respectable team that will attempt to keep things close with Ohio State. Expect the talented Buckeyes to pull away, especially with some extra fire from it being an in-state opponent.
-Wisconsin Badgers vs. Richmond Spiders
- TV/Time: 7:00 PM ET (ESPN2)
- KenPom Spread: Wisconsin -5
- Vegas Spread: Wisconsin -6
This may be somewhat of a home game for the Spiders as the game will be played in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center. However, the Badgers will not enter this game intimidated in any fashion as they are on a four game win streak, including a big win against a really good Marquette team. Despite losing Ethan Happ, Greg Gard has continued his winning ways, led by a lot of veterans. Brad Davison has shown that he can be the focal point of the offense as he is averaging 15.6 ppg while Nate Reuvers is not far behind with 15.0 ppg. One thing the Badgers can improve on is setting up teammates. They currently rank 210th in the nation in assists with 69. That trend will have to change as the season progresses as they are a team that usually relies on good fundamental basketball to win games.
Richmond entered the season as a team in that second tier of the Atlantic 10, clearly behind Dayton, VCU, and Davidson. They’ve shown well so far, winning all four of their games. Their most notable victory came against Vanderbilt, however, Vandy isn’t necessarily a power in the SEC. Regardless, the fact that the Spiders have shown that they have the ability to hang with power conference foes is a good sign for them. Richmond is currently ranked 3rd in the nation in points per game, scoring 92.5 ppg. They have three guys averaging over 18 ppg. They might not be able to stop a nosebleed defensively, but they can put the ball in the hole.
Expect the Badgers to play really good defense against this Spiders team and wear them down. Don’t be surprised if Brad Davison draws a couple more charges, possibly putting some foul pressure on the Richmond guards. Wisconsin will win this one but expect Richmond to put up a decent fight.
-Washington State Cougars vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers
- TV/Time: 6:30 PM ET (not televised)
- KenPom Spread: Nebraska -1
- Vegas Spread: Washington State +1
Fans of good basketball are probably happy this game isn’t televised because this is a matchup of two bad teams. The Huskers and Cougars actually have a lot in common. Each team has suffered two pretty inexcusable losses. Nebraska opened the season with losses to UC-Riverside and Southern Utah while Washington State has fallen to Santa Clara and Omaha. Both teams came into the year with tempered expectations, expected to finish at the bottom of their respective conferences. And both teams have undergone a coaching transition this past offseason with Fred Hoiberg and Kyle Smith taking over their respective programs.
The one thing that both of these teams are good at is not turning the ball over. Washington State has the least turnovers in the country (29) while Nebraska is 13th (44). Expect a game full of missed shots and disappointment. I like Nebraska to win this one, but it’ll be ugly.
-Louisiana Tech Bulldogs at Indiana Hoosiers
- TV/Time: 8:30 PM ET (BTN)
- KenPom Spread: Indiana -10
- Vegas Spread: Indiana -11
The Hoosiers come into this game undefeated, however, they haven’t really been challenged as of yet. Regardless, the guys can only beat who’s on the schedule and they’ve done a really job of that with an average margin of victory of 26. Justin Smith and Al Durham have taken those next steps that fans were hoping for and Trayce Jackson-Davis has stepped into his role seamlessly. Also encouraging is the play of Joey Brunk who is averaging 9.2 ppg after transferring from Butler. The Hoosiers have been getting to the line at an impressive clip, attempting 147 FT so far which ranks 20th in the country.
Overall, Archie Miller has done a really good job of getting his team to mesh well offensively as they are shooting 54% from the field (4th in NCAA) and averaging 90.6 ppg (5th in NCAA). One thing to watch for is whether or not this Louisiana Tech team can slow them down. The Bulldogs are only allowing 57.4 ppg which ranks 19th in the country. While that may be a result of poor strength of schedule thus far, it will be interesting to see how these conflicting playing styles translate to the game. Indiana should win this one handily if they can get their offense flowing like they’ve done in their first five games.
-Bradley Braves vs. Northwestern Wildcats
- TV/Time: 8:30 PM ET (FS1)
- KenPom Spread: Northwestern -1
- Vegas Spread: Bradley -2
This should be a really evenly matchup game that may be fun to watch, despite neither of these teams exactly being world-beaters. The Braves are a veteran team with a point guard that is fun to watch. Darrell Brown is in his senior season at Bradley and has averaged at least 12.5 ppg since he stepped on campus. He’s on pace to start 125 career games which is really impressive. He’s someone that Northwestern will have to keep under wraps if they want to win this game. The two things that Bradley has been really good at this year is offensive rebounding and defending opponents’ from beyond the arc, as they rank in the top-30 nationally in each category.
Northwestern, meanwhile has started the season off like Katy Perry in 2007: Hot N Cold. They lost their season opener with a loss to Merrimack before beating Big East foe, Providence. Then, they lost to Radford by 11 on Tuesday before beating Norfolk State on Friday. It seems like the Wildcats play up or down to their opponents on a nightly basis. One positive sign for Chris Collins is the development of his underclassmen. Pete Nance is showing potential stardom, averaging 15.3 ppg and 9.0 rpg, while Miller Kopp is proving to be a nice second option at 11.8 ppg. Even redshirt freshman Ryan Young has been great taking over for the graduated Dererk Pardon.
This game will be really close and should be fun to watch with the veteran-laden Braves team going against a young Northwestern team with a lot of potential. No matter what the outcome, I won’t be shocked when looking at the final score.