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2/12 Big Ten Preview & Open Thread: The conference’s top five teams take the court on Tuesday night

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And Penn State was invited too!

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

All five of the Big Ten’s top teams are in action Tuesday night, meaning by tomorrow morning the top of the league standings could look a little different.

Additionally, the three players fighting it out for conference player of the year (Cassius Winston, Ethan Happ, Carsen Edwards) take the court tonight, with a big game by one of them potentially giving us a club house leader as we enter the home stretch of regular season play.

All of that is to say if nights like tonight don’t get you excited, why are you even here reading this preview?

Game of the Day:

-No. 12 Purdue Boilermakers at No. 24 Maryland Terrapins

  • Time/TV: 6:30PM ET - BTN
  • KenPom Spread: Purdue (-1)

With absolutely zero disrespect directed towards the Michigan State-Wisconsin matchup, the game I’m most looking forward to Tuesday night is the train-turtle tussle taking place in College Park.

After picking up a win against Nebraska last Wednesday, Maryland enters an incredibly important and daunting three-game stretch, with tonight’s home game against Purdue setting the table for a two-game road trip to Ann Arbor and Iowa City.

Bruno Fernando continues to be one of the most improved players in the Big Ten and will look to pick up his seventh straight double-double when he takes the court Tuesday evening.

And while Fernando has been the one gaining headlines for the Terps, coach Mark Turgeon’s team runs out arguably the conference’s best starting five, thanks largely to the contributions of do-everything guard Anthony Cowan Jr. and freshmen forward Jalen Smith.

For the Boilermakers, it’s taken a season that was largely considered up in the air and quieted all doubters by winning 11 of its last 12 games, including eight straight entering tonight’s contest against Maryland.

Carsen Edwards continues to put up All-American numbers and deserves every bit of praise that heads his way. That said, a tip of the hat needs to be given to senior guard Ryan Cline who’s emerged as a legit number two option and a lethal three point shooter for coach Matt Painter.

Both Purdue and Maryland are incredibly capable offense teams, checking in as the fourth and 22nd most efficient offensive units, respectively, according to KenPom. Yet despite the Boilermakers slight advantage with the basketball, the advanced metrics favor the Terrapins fairly significantly on defense, where Maryland is 42 spots higher than Purdue.

When you couple that with what I’d image to be a raucous crowd at Xfinity Center, I like Maryland to end the Boilermakers streak by winning outright.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Maryland

The Rest:

-No. 11 Michigan State Spartans at No. 20 Wisconsin Badgers

  • Time/TV: 7:00PM ET - ESPN2
  • KenPom Spread: Wisconsin (-2.5)

It’s a real pity that a decent chunk of this game will run concurrently with Purdue-Maryland, as both are two of the better matchups we’ve seen in the Big Ten this year.

After dropping three in a row, Sparty righted the ship Saturday afternoon with a 79-55 clobbering of Minnesota. Junior forward Nick Ward had one of his best games of the season, scoring 22 points while grabbing nine rebounds and chipping in two assists, a block, and a steal for good measure.

Even more impressive that Ward’s showing was the defensive job Michigan State put on against Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey. That duo has been the straw that stirs Minnesota’s drink all season and was held to a combined nine points on 3-of-10 shooting.

The Spartans will need to bring that defensive A-game again on Tuesday as it looks to slow down Ethan Happ, the Big Ten’s presumptive favorite for conference Player of the Year.

For Wisconsin, currently tied for fourth in the Big Ten with a 9-4 conference record, tonight’s game looms large as the Badgers might be best positioned to take the league’s regular season title. After hosting Michigan State, Wisconsin’s next four games are against Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana, and Penn State, meaning a victory tonight could set Greg Gard’s team up for a nice little winning streak that would vault the Badgers to the top of the Big Ten ledger.

The advanced metrics love both of these teams, so when trying to handicap it I asked myself two questions: where is the game being played and who is the best player on the court. And with the answer to those questions being Madison and Ethan Happ, it makes rolling the dice on the Badgers a safer bet.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Wisconsin

-No. 6 Michigan Wolverines at Penn State Nittany Lions

  • Time/TV: 8:30PM ET - BTN
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan (-7)

Do I have to write about this? I do? Damn. Well I’m going to make it brief.

Michigan is one of the best teams in all of college basketball. It’s only lost two games all season and the last time it faced Penn State it won by 13 points with the most memorable moment being a push that led to Nittany Lion coach Pat Chambers being suspended one game.

Meanwhile, Penn State mercifully picked up its first conference win a week ago against Northwestern before again finding a way to fade late and drop a close game against Ohio State on Thursday night.

To its credit, the Nittany Lions Big Ten record of 1-11 looks a lot worse than it is, as eight of those losses were by single digits. On the flip side though, Penn State is dropping those games because it doesn’t have the horses to go toe-to-toe with the rest of the league, as once an opponent takes away Lamar Stevens, the Lions’ crunch time offense involves a lot of praying and luck.

The Wolverines are just too talented and the Nittany Lions are too flawed to keep Tuesday’s game close. Penn State will win another game this year, but it won’t be tonight.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Michigan

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Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 14-16