Welcome back to the Big Ten season. Once again, yours truly will be previewing the action in the conference every Friday and Monday night. We have four games on tap for tonight, though only one is televised.
Game of the Night
- Time/TV: 9:00 PM EST, None
- KenPom Spread: Illinois -6
Both of these teams have a bad taste in their mouth after Tuesday. Illinois needed overtime to get past Nicholls State, and Grand Canyon lost to Davenport, which isn’t even a D-I school. Both schools came into the season with high expectations, and both are in need of a solid win to get their season back on track.
These seems like as good a place as any for me to repeat what I’ve been saying all offseason: Illinois has stopped getting worse every year, but that doesn’t mean that they’re actually any good yet. Last year’s Illini team was awful, having to play on Wednesday in the BTT and needing overtime to beat a Northwestern team that was without Vic Law. There’s not much difference between that and needing overtime to beat Nicholls State.
Adding Kofi Cockburn is not enough on its own to get the Illini to the top half of the Big Ten. I still have serious doubts that Brad Underwood’s system will work in a power conference. It’s fun to watch and I’m sure it’s fun to play in, but unless that means Illinois is going to start out-recruiting the likes of Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Indiana, and Purdue, the Illini are going to have to make up the difference with X’s and O’s, and so far that’s not happening.
This game is just a prelude to the real reason the Illini flew out west—the game against Arizona on Sunday. I would say this is a trap game, but given how Nicholls State went, I’m pretty sure the boys in orange are going to be pretty dialed in.
- Pick against the spread: Illinois
- Time/TV: 9:00 PM EST, BTN
- KenPom Spread: Iowa -25
Since the Illinois game is a road game, the Big Ten Conference doesn’t own the TV rights, which means that BTN gets the second-best game of the night. Apparently, that’s this one.
Edwardsville is bad. They are picked to finish last in the OVC. They have a new coach this year. They beat D-II Quincy by nine on Tuesday. That’s about all we know about the Cougars.
The question here isn’t whether Iowa will win or even if they’ll cover, but how much Jordan Bohannon will be able to play. Coming off offseason hip surgery, Bohannon was expected to miss this season, causing the experts to pick the Hawkeyes in the bottom half of the league. With Bohannon at 100%, almost all of those experts would reverse themselves and move Iowa to the top half of the league. It sounds like he’ll play but won’t be fully healthy. How close he is to 100% vs. 0% will go a long way toward telling up what kind of season the Hawkeyes should expect.
Pick against the spread: Edwardsville
- Time/TV: 8:00 PM EST, None
- KenPom Spread: Wisconsin -18
Wisconsin had multiple chances to beat St. Mary’s on Tuesday, and that would have been a win that paid dividends in March. Alas, despite 22 points from Nate Reuvers, the Badgers came up short in overtime. Now they head home to the familiar Kohl Arena for the second Big Ten/OVC showdown of the night.
Like you’d expect to see in a low-major team, the Panthers don’t have a true center on their roster, instead making due with a rotating bevy of undersized power forwards. Reuvers should feast inside.
The question for the Badgers is whether they can get Brevin Pritzl going. The Badger sharpshooter hit 53.5% of his threes in Big Ten play last season. He was scoreless against St. Mary’s. Brevin, it’s fine to defer when your team has Ethan Happ on the floor, but he’s gone and you’re a senior. It’s time to step up.
- Pick against the spread: Wisconsin
Merrimack Warriors at Northwestern Wildcats
- Time/TV: 8:00 PM EST, None
- KenPom Spread: -18.
Interestingly, KenPom’s projected score for this game is exactly the same as for the Wisconsin game, 77-59.
This will only be Merrimack’s second D-I game ever. If you’ve been monitoring Merrimack (see what I did there?) then you know they are in their first year of top-level college basketball, joining the Northeast Conference after years in the D-II Northeast 10 Conference. In their first game, they lost to Maine by 20.
Northwestern, meanwhile, is hoping to secure its hold on the—let me check my notes—yep, the thirteenth spot in the Big Ten power rankings. The Cats avoid the basement of the league only by virtue of Nebraska falling to UC-Riverside at home. They will try to avoid a similar fate.
Usually at this point I cover what the burning question is for the Big Ten school, but in this case I think that encompasses everything. Where’s the offense going to come from? What’s the style of play going to be? With Law, Pardon, and Taylor all having graduated, who’s going to step up and be this team’s alpha. Will we get good Kopp or bad Kopp? (OK, that’s my last pun, I promise.) Will Northwestern be run-of-the-mill bad like they were last year, or will they descend to a 2016 Rutgers level of incompetence. Hopefully not the latter.
Merrimack lost to Maine by 20. Maine. Remember them? (OK, that’s my last pun, swearsies.) Northwestern might be bad, but they should still be tougher than Maine.
Pick against the spread: Northwestern