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12/10 Big Ten Preview: Bounce-back Time for Two Teams

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Hoosiers and Nittany Lions Looking For Answers

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The headline of this article was almost three teams looking to bounce back, but Anthony Cowan came up HUGE for the Terps against Illinois, and Maryland remains undefeated.

The other two teams in action tonight, though, are looking to wash a really bad taste out of their mouth.

Game of the Night:

-Maryland Terrapins at Penn State Nittany Lions

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM EST, ESPN2
  • KenPom Spread: Maryland -1

People who haven’t been paying attention will be shocked that Maryland isn’t favored by more in this one, but despite a lackluster performance in Columbus and a lack of a true signature win, Penn State has been low-key really good this season. Or at least better than just about anyone expected. Pat Chambers’ squad is in the top 25 on KenPom. That, plus the advantage of playing in front of dozens of Lions fans on their home court, means that this game is appointment viewing for Big Ten basketball fans.

Two key matchups in this one. The first is obvious: Anthony Cowan vs. Lamar Stevens. These two won’t be guarding each other, but if you had to put together a list for First Team All-Big Ten at this point in the season, it’d be hard to leave either of these guys out. Cowan had his late-game heroics against Illinois. Stevens didn’t get a similar chance against Ohio State, fouling out of the game after logging just 17 minutes. But Cowan was playing at home; Stevens on the road. In the Bryce Jordan Center, I expect Stevens to bing his A-game.

The second matchup will be two players who will be going head-to-head at both ends of the floor: Jalen Smith and Mike Watkins. Smith is having the better season statistically, but that’s mainly because he can hit the occasional three and is a better passer. In the core statistical categories for bigs, the two look very, very similar. Both are among the best in the country at rebounding, 2-point shooting, and shot-blocking. Watkins is traditionally hot-and-cold from game to game. For the sake of those of us expecting a great basketball game, I hope he’s hot tonight.

  • Pick against the spread: Maryland

The Rest:

-Indiana Hoosiers vs. Connecticut Huskies

  • Time/TV/Location: 9:00 PM EST, ESPN, Madison Square Garden
  • KenPom Spread: Indiana -3

This will only be the Hoosiers’ second trip away from Assembly Hall this season, and the first did not go well. For the seventeenth time in a row, IU went to Madison and lost. Was that a learning experience for a team that’s still learning how to play together, or was it a harbinger of things to come in the Big Ten? The Hoosiers have struggled on the road in the Archie Miller era.

And despite this being officially labeled a neutral site game, it will be more a road environment in the Garden. UCONN fans (pretentiously, in my opinion) consider MSG to be their Home Away From Home, having played years and years worth of Big East Tournaments in the World’s Greatest Arena. This is the second game of a doubleheader, but I doubt that Louisville or Texas Tech will be bringing many fans to midtown, so I expect the place will be 80% Huskies fans.

This will be a battle between teams whose fans are both frustrated with their starting center. Indiana has Joey Brunk, who played more like a scrub than a 4-star recruit at Butler and has proved to be exactly the same guy in candy-stripe warmup pants. If Justin Smith was everyone’s favorite whipping boy last year, this year it’s definitely Brunk. Fans are clamoring for Brunk to lose his starting job, and given that freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis has looked pretty good when he’s been asked to hold down the five spot, he just might.

UCONN has junior Josh Carlton. Despite an offensive rating below 100, Carlton is the highest-usage Huskie when he’s on the floor. He’s your typical big that can hit twos but not threes or free throws, who doesn’t ever pass the ball back out when it’s thrown in to him, and who is apt to turn the ball over. In UCONN’s last two games, he put up 2 one night and 19 the next.

Connecticut has a bunch of other guys who are good but not great. The most interesting thing is that one of their freshman is named Akok Akok, which is an even better name than Northwestern’s Boo Buie.

  • Pick against the spread: Connecticut