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12/6 Big Ten Preview: Conference Play Begins

Also—a look back at the Challenge

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten 8, ACC 6.

Interestingly, every single Challenge game except one was a blowout, and that game (Illinois/Miami) was a game where Miami led for all but the first three minutes, including getting up 27 at one point. If you’re from the state of Michigan, the results were rough. If you’re from the state of Indiana, the results were highly encouraging. If you’re from the state of Illinois, your roads are terrible and your taxes are too high.

But at the end of the day, the Big Ten did what it needed to do to secure the overall win, our first since 2015. There isn’t a single player on any Big Ten roster who had ever been part of our league winning the Challenge before.

I think we can lump Big Ten teams into six categories based on how they performed against the ACC:

Still good, but with doubts creeping into the back of fans’ minds about their ceiling:

  • Michigan
  • Michigan State

Good, and better than people expected:

  • Indiana
  • Purdue
  • Penn State
  • Ohio State

About what we expected:

  • Minnesota
  • Iowa
  • Maryland

Just because you aren’t in a terrible place as a program anymore, that doesn’t mean you have a good team this season:

  • Illinois
  • Rutgers

Basement-dwellers no matter how they did in the Challenge:

  • Nebraska
  • Northwestern

Major questions about the long-term trajectory of the program:

  • Wisconsin

I saw during the offseason that Illinois and Rutgers fans were getting ahead of themselves, and I said Penn State could be good if Mike Watkins comes to play every night, but I admit I thought the Badgers would be better than this. At this point I still think they finish in the mushy middle of the league, but tending towards the lower part of that group.

Tonight we get to see two teams who are in the mushy middle with hopes that they can elevate themselves into the ranks of the contenders.

Game of the Night:

-Iowa Hawkeyes at Michigan Wolverines

  • Time/TV: 6:30 PM EST, FS1
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan -7

If Michigan wants to prove that the Louisville result was a fluke, this is the type of game that they have to win. It’s fine to lose to the likes of Iowa, but not at home, and not in December. A loss would be a giant hole for Juwan Howard and team to have to climb out of.

Meanwhile, a win would go a long way toward proving that Iowa has staying power. I halfway wrote the Hawkeyes off after that DePaul loss, but you know what, DePaul is undefeated and might be ranked come Monday. (Though the shine has come off that Texas Tech win since the Red Raiders lost to—wait for it—DePaul. The Blue Demons aren’t just wrecking Iowa’s record; they’re wrecking their strength of schedule, too.)

Honestly, this is probably the best possible game to start conference play with. It’s two teams that are good, but not too good, but still good enough that casual fans will watch the game because it’s the conference opener. Both have reasons to be both optimistic and pessimistic. We should learn a lot about what both teams are made of.

But this is also going to be a fun one because we get to see two guys go at each other on the block in Teske and Garza. They’re both guys with good footwork and post moves; they’re both guys who make a living more with basketball savvy than with sheer bulk; they can both step out and hit an open three. And in my opinion, they’re two of the most underrated players in the entire league. Bohannon vs. Simpson will be a fun matchup to keep an eye on, but I’m going to enjoy watching the two centers go at each other even more.

  • Pick against the spread: Iowa

The Rest:

-Ohio State fans vs. their own exuberant optimism

Ohio State may have the best football and basketball teams in the country. Certainly the best combination of the two. And tomorrow both teams take the field/court in a game that they should win but which they could very well lose if they give less than 100%.

When you’re out tonight, if you’re with an Ohio State fan, get him or her drunk and ask whether both OSU’s basketball and football team will win tomorrow. The answer will reveal a lot about that person’s general outlook on life.

Just kidding. Ohio State fans are all arrogant pricks. Of course they think the Buckeyes will win both games.

I mean, deep down, they may have some insecurities, but they paper those over by thumping their chest about their sports team even harder.

Or should I say, their college sports team. These are Browns, Bengals, Reds, and Indians fans, after all.