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1/14 Big Ten Preview: Showdown in Madison

And two more games!

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Home court advantage.

That’s the lens through which everyone is viewing the Big Ten right now. And rightly so. As of Monday afternoon, Big Ten home teams have won 86.5 percent of their games, easily the best among all conferences. We have a lot of good teams, no great teams, and a lot of great arenas with crazy-ass fans. All of that adds up to the following: you better have a good reason to pick against the home team this season.

(The author makes no comment on whether Big Ten referees play any part in the home court advantage that we’re seeing.)

Game of the Night:

-Maryland Terrapins at Wisconsin Badgers

  • Time/TV: 9:00 PM EST, ESPN2
  • KenPom Spread: Wisconsin (-1)

There’s one exception to my rule above: Wisconsin. There have been five road wins in the Big Ten so far this season. Wisconsin has been part of three of them—they beat Ohio State and Penn State in Columbus and State College, and they lost to Illinois in Madison.

Meanwhile Maryland has been as consistent as a Turge team has ever been—they’ve lost all their true road games and are undefeated everywhere else. On Friday (in a result that I called in that day’s preview column, by the way), the Terps got ass-blasted by a desperate Iowa team. Now, Wisconsin isn’t going to be as desperate as Iowa was, and in fact I’d say that Maryland is going to be the hungrier team coming into this game, so this one isn’t as clear-cut.

And it’s likely this one is going to be ugly. Neither team is great at shooting the three. Maryland is in the top-ten in 2-point defense. They also both block shots and get their own shots blocked at a significantly higher rate than usual. The one saving grace is that neither team is particularly foul-prone. So I expect a rock fight, but one where the rocks are getting thrown at the rim, not at the opposing team.

KenPom says this will be a game in the 60s. I’m taking the under on that one. Maryland is more talented at pretty much all five positions, but Wisconsin plays better as a team. The matchup to watch is, as usual, down low: Nate Reuvers and Stix Smith. Stix is the better rebounder, and in a game where there are likely to be a lot of missed shots, that’s going to matter.

My head is talking me into taking Maryland, but the case isn’t strong enough that I can ignore the home court advantage.

First one to 45 wins. Badgers get there first.

  • Pick against the spread: Wisconsin.

The Rest:

-Nebraska Cornhuskers at Ohio State Buckeyes

  • Time/TV: 6:30 PM EST, FS1
  • KenPom Spread: Ohio State (-17)

Raise your hand if you saw Ohio State at 1-4 in the Big Ten at this point.

OK, put your hands down, Michigan fans. You had them at 0-5, and you know it.

Since thoroughly spanking Penn State back in December, the Buckeyes have yet to win another Big Ten game. Now, three of those four games were on the road, so really par for the course would be a 2-3 record, but for a program that last month looked like it might be the best in the country, it’s still a bit of a letdown.

KenPom still has the Buckeyes in the top ten, and tonight they face a Nebraska team that has yet to win away from Lincoln. There’s a reason Ohio State is favored by 17. They aren’t going to lose this game. Yes, I said the same thing about Iowa when they played Nebraska and was totally off-base, but that was me being an idiot and picking a road team to win a Big Ten game.

But 17 seems like a lot, no. Everyone has the Buckeyes to win, but to cover?

There’s a case to be made for Nebraska. They don’t foul, and they’ve done an excellent job of running teams off the 3-point line. In Ohio State’s recent schneid, they have failed to crack the 35% mark from deep. Husker opponents average 28% from behind the arc.

But no, this is a Buckeye team that’s pissed off and desperate to prove itself. Iowa had that kind of game against Maryland, and Indiana had the same against this very Buckeye team. Both those teams cruised. I see the same thing here.

  • Pick against the spread: Ohio State

-Iowa Hawkeyes at Northwestern Wildcats

  • Time/TV: 8:00 PM EST, BTN
  • KenPom Spread: Iowa (-6)

I said that if Iowa didn’t win at Nebraska, they wouldn’t finish in the top half of the league. Right now, KenPom has the Hawkeyes’ projected conference record at 10-10. This is one of those ten wins. Lose this game, and it’s back to the bubble. Even though it’s on the road, there are only two easier games on the schedule the rest of the year (Nebraska and Penn State at home). If you’re a Fran fanboy (or “Franboy”; not to be confused with Connor McCaffery, who is biologically Fran’s boy), you’re going to have a hard time defending your position unless the Hawkeyes wake up tomorrow 3-3 in the league.

Meanwhile Northwestern is at home, and they’re fresh off their first Big Ten win of the season. The recipe for victory against Nebraska, though, was to hold them to a miserable shooting performance. The Cats only managed 0.90 points per possession (par for the course is about 1.0), but they held the Huskers to 0.83.

Iowa averages 1.11. They’re the 6th-best offense in the country.

But there’s also the hangover effect. Iowa has to be feeling pretty good about that Maryland win. And believe it or not, they won that game on the back of great defense. I don’t trust Iowa to be consistent defensively, and in true road games, they have yet to crack 33% from deep.

I don’t buy that case at all. My head and my gut tells me that Iowa is going to roll. But this is exactly the kind of game where home court advantage has reared its ugly head all season in the Big Ten. Do I trust myself, or the will of the Midwestern Basketball Gods?

  • Pick against the spread: Northwestern