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2/5 Big Ten Preview: The Michigan’s look to get back on track

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The Wolverines and Spartans look to get back in the win column against upset-minded Rutgers and Illinois

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Great Lake State’s two college basketball blue bloods will take the show on the road as they each look to avoid falling prey to the upset-minded Scarlet Knights and Fighting Illini.

But can the Wolverines and Spartans get themselves back into the win column? Or will Rutgers and Illinois pick up another victory on its respective recent runs of impressive play?

Game of the Day:

-No. 7 Michigan Wolverines at Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • Time/TV: 8:00PM ET - BTN
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan (-10)

A sold out RAC. A spunky Rutgers team looking for yet another Big Ten scalp. A Michigan squad fresh off a road beat down at the hands of Iowa.

Sounds like all the ingredients to produce a Tuesday night upset in Piscataway.

But can the Scarlet Knights actually pull that off? Let’s investigate.

For Rutgers, I’m not sure people in the Big Ten heartland really understand how much fun this team has been. Having already eclipsed its objectively low watershed Big Ten wins mark, coach Steve Pikiell has his team’s sights on earning a Wednesday bye at March’s conference tournament in Chicago.

While the Indiana’s and Michigan State’s of the world might find avoiding the Big Ten’s bottom four a laughable goal, it would be an achievement worth celebrating for a program that hasn’t done so since a seventh-place finish in its lone season as a member of the American Conference during the 2013-’14 season.

To accomplish that goal, games like tonight’s against Michigan are far from must wins. No one is expecting the Scarlet Knights to knock of the seventh ranked Wolverines and Rutgers can put itself in good position to avoid the bottom four by picking up wins in its remaining games against Northwestern, Illinois, and Penn State. But that’s what would make a Tuesday night court storming home win all the more sweater.

To shock the world, however, Rutgers is going to need an offensive performance far and above its 206 ranked KenPom offensive efficiency figure. And while forward Eugene Omoruyi and guard Geo Baker are capable of big point outputs (with both averaging in double figures on the year), that task is made ever the more challenging against a Michigan team that owns the top-rated defense in the nation.

But as Iowa proved Friday night, the beast can be slain. Although that in and of itself might pose another problem for the Scarlet Knights.

There might be no better coach in all of college basketball at avoiding back-to-back upset bids than Michigan coach John Beilein. And that’s especially true when thinking about how good this Wolverine’s team has been all season.

That’s why picking Rutgers to win would be one done with the heart. Conventional wisdom and all logic dictates taking Michigan on the road in this particular game. Put another way, if your life depended on it, you’d be taking the Wolverines.

But we’re not picking outright winners here on BTP, meaning I can have my cake and eat it too.

Michigan wins, but Rutgers keeps things interesting.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Rutgers

The Rest:

-No. 9 Michigan State Spartans at Illinois Fighting Illini

  • Time/TV: 7:00PM ET - ESPN2
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan State (-10)

Sexy. Engaging. Alluring. These are just a few of the words that I’d never use to describe the 2018-’19 Illinois Fighting Illini.

That said, despite an awful start to the season, the Illini have been adequate over it’s past six games, playing .500 basketball and earning its only three conference wins of the season.

The underclassmen trio of Trent Frazier, Ayo Dosunmu, and Giorgi Bezhanishvili continue to give coach Brad Underwood and fans of Illinois reason to be hopefully for a return to prominence, thanks to the three averaging a combined 39.4 points per game.

That group will need to bring its A-game Tuesday night as they square up against a Michigan State team that must be super hungry to end its two-game losing skid.

For the Spartans, it hasn’t exactly been a great week.

On the court, Michigan State dropped back-to-back games against Purdue and Indiana, which puts Sparty in a three-way tie with Michigan and the Boilermakers atop the Big Ten standings.

Off of it, Tom Izzo’s worst fears were realized as he lost junior standout guard Joshua Langford for the remainder of the season.

Still, all is far from over for Michigan State.

For starters, a midseason swoon is very on brand for the Green and White. Additionally, Langford hasn’t played in a game since late December, which in turn has allowed Cassius Winston to blowup to the tune of 18.8 points and 7.3 assists per game. In fact, I wouldn’t be going out on much of a limb to anoint the junior guard as a near lock for first team All-Conference honors and a dark horse candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year.

Even with Tuesday’s game taking place on the road, I have a really hard time imagining Michigan State dropping three conference games in a row. This team, even without Langford, is just too good for that to happen.

And even with the Illini’s recent run of fine basketball, it looks like the perfect cure for what ails Sparty.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Michigan State

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Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 14-14