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11/26 Big Ten Preview: Izzo Meets A Familiar Foe

Plus four more teams in action

NCAA Basketball: SEC Basketball Tipoff Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Tuesday of Feast Week, and that means that if you want to stream games at work while you’re running out the clock before everyone goes home for the holidays, you’ve got some pretty good options. There’s just one Big Ten matchup during work hours, and unfortunately it’s only during work hours because the Spartans lost a game they were heavily favored in yesterday.

Game of the Day:

-No. 3 Michigan State Spartans vs. Georgia Bulldogs

  • Tournament/Location: Maui Invitational, Hawaii
  • Time/TV: 2:30 PM EST, ESPN2
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan State -12

Well, that Virginia Tech game sucked. The whole thing was a nip-and-tuck affair until the Hokies got up 10 with five minutes to go. Michigan State clawed their way back to within one, but there wasn’t enough gas in the tank to get back over the hump. Cassius Winston ended the game 2 of 8, with 3 turnovers to just two assists. Having the Preseason National Player of the Year fail to show up is a good recipe to beat the Spartans. It’s doubtful anyone else can replicate that recipe.

But you know who has historically given Michigan State fits even when he had a team that had no right to? Tom Izzo’s former assistant, Tom Crean. The pacing, Diet Coke-drinking, son-kissing manic meme man is back on the schedule with a Georgia Bulldogs team that—can you imagine—has no depth in the post, a heavy reliance on talented wings, and plays at a very fast tempo. Shockingly for a Crean team, the Bulldogs are not particularly turnover-prone. Quite the opposite, really; they are the 13th-best team at the country in avoiding live-ball turnovers. Partly that’s a function of a weak schedule (which should also be familiar to anyone who paid attention to how Crean ran Indiana’s program); against the only quality opponent on their schedule, Dayton, they had 23 turnovers and lost by 19.

What makes this matchup interesting apart from the history between the two Toms is that neither team really has a traditional big who plays very many minutes. Georgia has freshman Rodney Howard, who barely plays. Spartan sophomore Marcus Bingham plays a little bit more, but still not enough to affect the game plan.

No, this game will come down to guard and wing play, and I think that’s they way both coaches would like it, anyway.

  • Pick against the spread: Michigan State

The Rest:

-Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. George Mason Patriots

  • Tournament/Location: Cayman Islands Classic, Cayman Islands
  • Time/TV: 7:30 PM EST, None
  • KenPom Spread: Nebraska -1

Raise your hand if you had Nebraska as the only Big Ten team to win a neutral-site game yesterday. No you didn’t, put your hand down. Despite losing the first two home games of the Hoiberg era to nobodies and needing overtime to put Southern away, the Huskers notched a power conference scalp on Monday when they took down (a bad) Washington State. The hero was Haanif Cheatham, who had 19 on 8 of 10 shooting. Yeah, I don’t know who that is, either. Based on his stats, he’s either hot or cold. He had 17 against SDSU but only 1 against Riverside and 4 against UC Davis. Apparently holding Cheatham in check is the key to beating the Huskers.

As for the Patriots, they are undefeated except for a trip to a different Big Ten opponent, Maryland, where they got absolutely stomped. They are a traditional slow-it-down, take care of the ball, don’t-turn-it-over-and-don’t-force-turnovers kind of team. As you might expect for the A10, they don’t have a true big, but neither does Nebraska.

If this game doesn’t go the Huskers’ way, the likely culprit will be rebounding. Nebraska is godawful on the glass at both ends of the floor, whereas George Mason puts up pretty respectable offensive rebounding numbers. Avoiding second-chance points will be the name of the game for Hoiberg’s squad.

If this one is close, I don’t like the Huskers down the stretch. In addition to being unable to rebound, they also can’t hit free throws, currently shooting an insanely bad 54.9% from the charity stripe. The recipe for victory will have to be what it was against Wazzu—build a lead and hold onto it.

  • Pick against the spread: George Mason

-NJIT Highlanders at Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM EST, BTN
  • KenPom Spread: Rutgers -10

Not everybody’s on a neutral court today. Rutgers is once again in the friendly confines of the RAC, where they are undefeated on the season. In-state opponent NJIT will be the best team they’ve faced at home so far, however, and best is a relative term. The Highlanders are No. 193 on KenPom. They started at No. 139, so this is an opponent moving in the wrong direction. The same could be said of Rutgers, though, who started as preseason No. 63 and has fallen to No. 85. The St. Bonaventure loss didn’t help, but the closer-than-expected wins over Bryant and Drexel are equally to blame.

The scouting report against the Highlanders is simple—stop Zach Cooks. The junior guard has played 92.5% of all available minutes—good for 20th in the country in that category—and is basically the only consistent source of offense for NJIT.

He’s also 5’9”.

Yep, today’s game for Rutgers fans comes down to: “Are we really going to let a 5’9” guy beat us?”

I don’t think he will. He is an efficient player because he gets to the line, but Rutgers’ stable of guards do a really good job at not fouling.

  • Pick against the spread: Rutgers

-Wisconsin Badgers vs. New Mexico Lobos

  • Tournament/Location: Legends Classic, Brooklyn
  • Time/TV: 4:00 PM EST, None
  • KenPom Spread: Wisconsin -5

The Richmond game was tied with 5 minutes to go (at 50—never change, Greg Gard) but then the Spiders pulled away down the stretch. It was a similar story in the other neutral-site game Wisconsin played, where they had chances against St. Mary’s late in regulation and in overtime but frittered them away.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Wisconsin is not a team that’s clutch. Or at least one that without a security blanket like Ethan Happ when games are tight down the stretch. In contrast, their opponents went on the road to their in-state rival who has something of a chip on their shoulder, the New Mexico State Aggies, and overcame a late deficit to grab the 78-77 win.

Interestingly, these two schools have a common opponent. Both played home games against Linc Darner (Purdue basketball alumni shoutout!) and the Green Bay Phoenix. Both got the win—the Badgers by 18; the Lobos by 15.

Side note, not because it’s relevant but because it’s funny—Green Bay also played a non-D-I opponent called Wisconsin Stout. Wisconsin has to be the only state in America that would name a college after a beer.

I expect this to be a good game, and it’s too bad it’s not on TV, because it should be a pretty clean one—both these teams are good at not committing fouls. If it comes down to the stretch, the Lobos have proven what the Badgers have not, but the Badgers are also one of the five best free throw shooting teams in America, so they may be able to finally salt one away.

  • Pick against the spread: New Mexico

-Lindenwood Lions at Illinois Fighting Illini

  • Time/TV: 8:00 PM EST, None

As this is a game against a non-D-I opponent, there’s no KenPom spread, and no earthly reason to expect this game to be anything other than a laugher. We’ll preview the Illini once they get back to scheduling non-bodybag games.