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12/29 Big Ten Preview: Ohio State Set to Face Ranked West Virginia

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The two top 25 teams highlight a busy day.

NCAA Basketball: SE Missouri State at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

There are ten games today across the conference, with West Virginia and Ohio State set to highlight the day. Outside of an evening game between Arkansas and Indiana the rest of the day is ripe full of cupcakes, with the other eight opponents all outside of the top 200 in the KenPom rankings and three with a 300+ ranking.

Game of the Day

#22 West Virginia Mountaineers at #2 Ohio State Buckeyes

  • Time/TV: 12:00 PM ET (FS1)

In one of two games today that aren’t featuring pitiful cupcakes, the second ranked Buckeyes will host the 22nd ranked Mountaineers. West Virginia has lost once this season, a two point defeat to St. John’s, and is currently on a three game winning streak. Of course there’s a reason they’re a power conference team with a 10-1 record and only barely ranked...and that’s a relatively weak schedule. With their best wins including Wichita State, Pitt, Northern Iowa and Rhode Island, this gives West Virginia a chance for their best win by far.

Even if you haven’t watched West Virginia this year you’re likely familiar with the team as Bob Huggins has been here since taking over for John Beilein in 2007. While the team went 15-21 last year and missed the NCAA Tournament for only the third time since Huggins took over, West Virginia is looking to bounce back and get back to the postseason.

One of the key reasons Huggins has been so successful is his ability to get his teams to defend. It’s no surprise that West Virginia and Purdue have met for several secret scrimmages over the year, with both teams featuring some of the nations top defenses year after year. Through 11 games West Virginia is holding opponents to 36.2% shooting (9th), 24.6% three point shooting (4th) and 62.3 points per game (48th). They aren’t forcing as many turnovers, though, and do have a tendency to send their opponents to the line quite a bit. Forwards Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver have eerily similar stat lines with Tshiebwe averaging 12.9 points and 9.3 rebounds per game while Culver averages 11.4 and 9.4.

On the other side is an Ohio State team that is 17th in field goal percentage, 8th in three point shooting percentage and 47th in scoring. Kaleb Wesson is leading the team in points (13.8), rebounds (9.0) and blocks (1.5) while also shooting 46.2% from three. The junior has been key to an Ohio State team that has knocked off Kentucky, North Carolina, Villanova and Cincinnati, with a lone loss on the road to Minnesota.

Last time out the Buckeyes were able to capitalize on the fact that Kentucky is a poor perimeter shooting team and held the Wildcats to 65 points. They’ll likely aim to do so once again as the Mountaineers have shot 31.1% from three. Potentially even more problematic is the fact that West Virginia is shooting 67.3% from the line, something to keep an eye on if the game is close down the stretch.

The main thing to watch today is how Ohio State’s offense handles West Virginia’s stifling defense. While the Mountaineers will cause problems defensively, there’s some legitimate questions on if they can score enough to keep pace with Ohio State regardless of how well their defense plays. That being said, if West Virginia can control the pace and force turnovers they could be in business.

Ohio State’s ability to shoot from the perimeter and the fact that this game is in Columbus should give them the edge here. It should be close, but look for Ohio State to find a way to win.

Pick: Ohio State

The Rest

Bryant Bulldogs at #13 Maryland Terrapins

  • Time/TV: 12:00 PM ET (BTN)

Maryland is in a bit of a slump, losing their last two against Penn State and Seton Hall. Even more problematic is the offense has fell off, scoring 69 and 48 in those last two games respectively. Once ranked in the top five and undefeated, Maryland now sits ranked 13th and at 10-2. Luckily for the Terps and Mark Turgeon they get a slight break with Bryant before having to face a rough open to conference play.

Riding a four game win streak the Bulldogs are sitting at 8-4. Bryant did play a familiar foe earlier in the season, losing by two at Rutgers. Adam Grant is averaging 18.5 points per game and the Bulldogs have shown a capable offense most of the season.

That being said, Maryland is a much better team on the offensive side of the ball and has the obvious talent advantage. There’s definitely a bad taste lingering after only scoring 48 against an undermanned Seton Hall squad, so look for Maryland to try to get their offense back up and running. They’ll need better performances from Anthony Cowan Jr., who shot 3 of 14 from the field last time out. Even if Maryland doesn’t get it fully back together, they have more than enough talent to win easily today.

Pick: Maryland

Cornell Big Red at #20 Penn State Nittany Lions

  • Time/TV: 12:00 PM ET (ESPNU)

Penn State enters today ranked 20th and faces an Ivy League school that hasn’t won since their season opener. It’s been a rough season for Cornell and things don’t look to get any better today against a Nittany Lions team that has had one of their best starts to a season in quite some time. Cornell’s offensive leader is Jimmy Boeheim, who is averaging 19.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. If that name sounds familiar it’s because he’s the son of Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim.

Since losing to Ohio State the Nittany Lions have knocked off Maryland and Alabama and won three straight. Look for Penn State to continue that momentum against a one win Cornell. Lamar Stevens and Myreon Jones have led Penn State offensively and should be capable of doing it once again today, while Mike Watkins should have his way inside. Look for Penn State to win big.

Pick: Penn State

UMass Lowell River Hawks at #11 Michigan Wolverines

  • Time/TV: 2:00 PM ET (FS1)

Michigan closes their non-conference slate with a tuneup against UMass Lowell. Their outing against the River Hawks gives Michigan a bit of a break before a conference run that starts with Michigan State and Purdue.

UMass Lowell has a dynamic backcourt with guards Christian Lutete and Obadiah Noel averaging a combined 35.3 points per game. The River Hawks have averaged almost 75 points per game and have shown flashes of an explosive offense. Unfortunately for them they face a Michigan team that has shown just as good of an offense and a much better defense.

It might be a bit more challenging than Presbyterian, but look for Michigan to win easily.

Pick: Michigan

North Carolina A&T Aggies at Illinois Fighting Illini

  • Time/TV: 2:00 PM ET (ESPNU)

The Fighting Illini will look to bounce back from their loss to rival Missouri with a decisively easier opponent in North Carolina A&T. The Aggies are ranked outside of the top 300 in the KenPom rankings and haven’t won since a 52-41 win over Longwood back on the 4th. Averaging only 57.6 points and shooting 37.9% from the field, the Aggies are set to be overmatched by a much better Illini offense.

Illinois, averaging just under 80 points per game, should have no problem surpassing that amount as they close non-conference play with a win and a chance to enter Big Ten play with an impressive 9-4 run through the first two months.

Pick: Illinois

Kennesaw State Owls at #25 Iowa Hawkeyes

  • Time/TV: 4:00 PM ET (ESPNU)

Iowa closes out non-conference pay with a home game against one win Kennesaw State. The Owls come in ranked 342nd in the KenPom rankings (out of 353 teams) and also have adjusted offense and defensive ratings outside of the top 300. The team is shooting a lowly 35.7% from the field and 25.1% from three on the season, averaging only 56.8 points per game.

The Hawkeyes have won three straight since losing to Michigan and are coming off of a seven point win over Cincinnati. Iowa’s offense has been rolling and Luka Garza has gotten off to a hot start this season.

In what should be an ugly game look for Iowa to put this away before the end of the first half.

Pick: Iowa

Hartford Hawks at Northwestern Wildcats

  • Time/TV: 4:00 PM ET (BTN)

Another 300+ KenPom opponent, Hartford travels to Northwestern after winning two games against Wagner and Cornell. Hartford has a relatively balanced offense, with four players averaging between 11.0 and 12.0 points per game. The return of guard Malik Ellison, who is averaging 11.0 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in four games, has helped Hartford this month.

Northwestern has gone 1-3 their last four, but those three losses have came against Purdue, Michigan State and DePaul. While Northwestern has struggled heavily on offense, their defense has looked pretty solid this season. Their inability to score might allow Hartford to hang around for a bit, but Northwestern has shown enough the last month that they should be able to get the win today.

Pick: Northwestern

Texas A&M-CC Islanders at Nebraska Cornhuskers

  • Time/TV: 2:00 PM ET (BTN)

Nebraska has had some ugly losses and are looking to bounce back from a dreadful loss to North Dakota. Their opponent today comes in ranked 294th in the KenPom rankings and on a three game losing streak. Texas A&M-CC is led by Myles Smith, who has averaged 16.7 points per game and is shooting 41% from three. The Islanders haven’t had much success offensively elsewhere, though, and are averaging 61.9 points per game.

Nebraska has a much better offense but their defense has been shredded this season. On paper the Cornhuskers don’t have much to worry about, but considering losses to North Dakota, UC-Riverside and Southern Utah...the Cornhuskers could be on upset alert. It looked like Fred Hoiberg was starting to turn a corner with a close loss to Indiana and win over Purdue. Look for Nebraska to get things back up and running today against the Islanders.

Pick: Nebraska

Arkansas Razorbacks at Indiana Hoosiers

  • Time/TV: 6:00 PM ET (BTN)

Indiana closes non-conference play with a home against Arkansas. While 10-1, the Razorbacks have benefitted from a very weak schedule and no marquee wins. With Indiana that gives Arkansas a chance to add a quality victory before SEC play begins.

Mason Jones leads the team with 19.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Arkansas has averaged 75.1 points per game and held their opponents to only 59.5 points per game, though that number is slightly misleading due to the talent discrepancy they’ve had.

Indiana has been interesting because even at 11-1 they’ve gone relatively under the radar. While on a three game win streak against Connecticut, Nebraska and Notre Dame, the Hoosiers have won the last three by a combined 11 points. So even when Indiana has won they’ve managed to keep things interesting.

Playing in Bloomington and having already faced a laundry list of quality opponents, Indiana should be considerably more prepared for today’s game against Arkansas. Look for Indiana to win today, even if they let Arkansas hang around.

Pick: Indiana

Western Michigan Broncos at #14 Michigan State Spartans

  • Time/TV: 8:00 PM ET (BTN)

Michigan State has won four straight since losing to Duke and will look to close non-conference play with a win against in-state opponent Western Michigan. Last time out the Spartans beat Eastern Michigan by 53.

Western Michigan is led by Michael Flowers, who is averaging 17.5 points per game and shooting 42% from three. Also of note, forward Brandon Johnson averages 15.5 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. The duo has the potential to help the Broncos when MAC play begins, but will be overmatched by a much stronger Michigan State team.

There was quite a bit made about the Spartans early season struggles but two of their losses came to Duke and Kentucky (the other to Virginia Tech). Michigan State has started to get things up and running again and today should get the Spartans to ten wins on the season. Michigan State will win big.

Pick: Michigan State