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11/5 Big Ten Preview: Michigan State Faces Kentucky

Preview opening day for the Big Ten.

NCAA Basketball: Champions Classic-Kentucky vs Michigan State Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday marks the opening day of the 2019-’20 college basketball season and it’s hard to complain about what’s on the slate. The Champions Classic will be taking place in New York and that doesn’t even include some intriguing matchups elsewhere, including Wisconsin facing a ranked Saint Mary’s squad.

It should be a fun evening, so let’s not waste anymore time and get into the games. Let’s take a look at today’s Big Ten action.

Game of the Day:

-No. 1 Michigan State Spartans vs. No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats

  • Time/TV: 9:30PM ET (ESPN)
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan State (-2)

Talk about a blockbuster game on opening night. In what feels like the most anticipated Michigan State season in decades, the team opens up in what will likely be one of the biggest games of the regular season. If that doesn’t get fans fired up, I don’t know what will.

Michigan State looks absolutely loaded coming into this season with Cassius Winston in the backcourt and Xavier Tillman upfront. Throw in others like Gabe Brown and Aaron Henry and it’s easy to see why this team has gotten such hype. The Spartans are also coming off a Big Ten title and a trip to the Final Four.

Kentucky also has more than its fair share of talent as well. Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley are in the backcourt and the team also has EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards upfront. Notably, Richards is doubtful for Tuesday night’s matchup. That could be big for Michigan State’s chances inside.

The matchup to watch will be in the backcourt. Can a really good defensive unit slow down Winston? Shutting down the Spartan guard is probably unrealistic, but if Kentucky can make him uncomfortable, perhaps the Wildcats can steal this one. Meanwhile, Michigan State needs to utilize its transition opportunities and punish the Wildcats inside. This is a great opportunity for Tillman to make his presence known.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Michigan State

The Rest:

-Western Illinois Leathernecks at Indiana Hoosiers

  • Time/TV: 7:00PM ET (BTN+)
  • KenPom Spread: Indiana (-23)

There are five or six games on opening night that won’t require much analysis and this is one of them. The Hoosiers open up the season at home on Tuesday against a very overmatched Western Illinois team. Expect a comfortable win for the Hoosiers.

Perhaps the biggest thing to watch will be how Trayce Jackson-Davis plays in the team’s opener. Many consider Jackson-Davis to be the most talented freshman in the Big Ten heading into this season.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Western Illinois

-Appalachian State Mountaineers at Michigan Wolverines

  • Time/TV: 7:00PM ET (BTN)
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan (-18)

With regard to play on the court, there probably won’t be a ton of intrigue to this game. Michigan enters as an 18-point favorite and is expected to score an easy win on opening night. Perhaps the only question will be how the team shoots against an Appalachian State squad that was one of the worst defensive teams in the nation last year. If Michigan is going to live up to expectations this year, it’s going to need to find some shooting.

However, there will be a lot of buzz around this game in light of the fact that it’s going to be Juwan Howard’s first game as head coach of the program. He took over for John Beilein this offseason. Wolverine fans are hoping for a win in game one.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Michigan

-Maryland Eastern Shore Hawks at Penn State Nittany Lions

  • Time/TV: 7:00PM ET (BTN+)
  • KenPom Spread: Penn State (-31)

This is another one of those games for the league on opening night that will come with little intrigue. Maryland Eastern Shore is one of the worst teams in the nation. Penn State should win this one going away. The only real question is whether the team can cover the massive 31-point spread.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Penn State

-Holy Cross Crusaders at No. 7 Maryland Terrapins

  • Time/TV: 7:30PM ET (BTN+)
  • KenPom Spread: Maryland (-26)

Add this one to the list as well. Maryland enters this season ranked in the top 10 and is hosting a Holy Cross team ranked outside the top 300 on KenPom. This has blowout written all over it. Keep an eye on the freshmen, who should get plenty of opportunities in this one.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Maryland

-Nicholls State Colonels at Illinois Fighting Illini

  • Time/TV: 8:00PM ET (BTN+)
  • KenPom Spread: Illinois (-23)

This game doesn’t look particularly great on paper. However, it’s hard to know what to expect out of this Illinois team this year. The Illini have lofty goals this year, but are coming off a few underwhelming seasons. And we’ve seen Illinois disappoint in these spots before. So, can Illinois come out and dominate an overmatched opponent? We’ll see.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Illinois

-Cleveland State Vikings at Minnesota Golden Gophers

  • Time/TV: 8:00PM ET (BTN+)
  • KenPom Spread: Minnesota (-19)

This is another game featuring a Big Ten team against a team outside the top 300 on KenPom at home. Even if the Gophers come out flat, this should be an easy win. Keep an eye on Minnesota’s new additions in this one. Many expect Marcus Carr and Alihan Demir to have big seasons. Daniel Oturu should overwhelm Cleveland State inside.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Minnesota

-UC Riverside Highlanders at Nebraska Cornhuskers

  • Time/TV: 9:00PM ET (BTN+)
  • KenPom Spread: Nebraska (-15)

This is a lot like the Michigan game described above. Nebraska hosts an overmatched opponent at home. The game doesn’t have a lot of intrigue on the court, but this marks Fred Hoiberg’s first game with the program. As such, it should get some attention. Keep an eye on Haanif Cheatham, who could be the team’s best player this year. Dachon Burke also had a nice performance in the team’s scrimmage.

One thing I would note is that this game could end up being a bit closer than some expect. Nebraska is breaking in a lot of new pieces. Don’t be surprised if things get sloppy.

  • Pick Against the Spread: UC Riverside

-Wisconsin Badgers vs. No. 20 Saint Mary’s Gaels

  • Time/TV: 9:00PM ET (ESPNU)
  • KenPom Spread: St. Mary’s (-2)

This is easily the second best game of the night for the Big Ten on Tuesday. The two teams will face off in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in one of the best games of opening night. St. Mary’s enters the season with high expectations and Wisconsin is trying to move forward after the loss of Ethan Happ this offseason.

Opening night is only one day in a long season, but this feels like a game Wisconsin really needs to steal. The Badgers have a challenging non-conference slate this year and need to win some of these games. This is a unique opportunity. A loss here would certainly be disappointing.

The biggest thing to watch in this one will be how St. Mary’s offense matches up against what figures to be a pretty good Wisconsin defense. The battle in the backcourt should also be good with Tanner Krebs and Tommy Kuhse for the Gaels facing off against D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison. Expect a hard fought battle.

  • Pick Against the Spread: St. Mary’s

***

Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 0-0-0