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1/21 Big Ten Preview: Rematch in West Lafayette

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And two more games

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Well, this is the coldest week of the winter so far. The only thing that has been colder is Purdue’s offense on the road, especially in Champaign two weeks ago. Tonight, the Boilermakers get the chance to avenge that 63-37 asswhiping at the hands of the Illini.

Game of the Night:

-Illinois Fighting Illini at Purdue Boilermakers

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM EST, ESPNU
  • KenPom Spread: Purdue (-5)

In a confusing Big Ten season, Purdue has been the easiest team to figure out so far. Their defense is top notch no matter where they play, good for sixth in the country, the best numbers at that end of the floor since the days of Chris Kramer. The offense is the worst since the 2014 team that was the last Purdue squad to miss the NCAA Tournament, but that’s only because it’s atrocious on the road. At home, in front of the loudest fans in America, it’s been good enough to blow out Virginia and Michigan State.

Meanwhile, Illinois’ victory over Purdue sparked a four-game winning streak, including the elusive Big Ten road win. The Illini beat Wisconsin 71-70. And while surviving scares at home from Rutgers and Northwestern doesn’t instill an undue amount of confidence, the Illini are still on pace to make their first NCAA Tournament since John Groce’s first season at the helm.

Purdue’s strength defensively has been keeping teams from hitting threes. Illinois, however, is the rare team that’s more than happy to eschew the long ball, preferring to pound it inside to Giorgi Bezhanshivili and Kofi Cockburn. The question will be whether Purdue is hitting threes of their own, in which case I like their chances, or if they’ll have to play strength-against-strength by pounding the ball inside to Trevion Williams and Matt Haarms, in which case I like the chances of whichever team can keep their bigs out fo foul trouble.

Both teams pride themselves on their offensive rebounding ability. If I were to pick one key stat for this game tonight, it would be second-chance points. Whichever team can keep the other off the glass is going to win. Or to be more specific, the game is likely to be decided by who wins the rebounding battle between Cockburn and Williams.

I see more paths to a Purdue win than an Illini win, and you know the Boiler faithful are going to want this one more badly than most given what happened in the State Farm Center. Foul trouble could doom Purdue, but they’ll likely be the beneficiaries of some favorable whistles at home.

  • Pick against the spread: Purdue

The Rest:

-Maryland Terrapins at Northwestern Wildcats

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM EST, FS1
  • KenPom Spread: Maryland (-7)

If ever there was a road game Maryland actually had a chance to win, this is it. Northwestern has been the undeniably worst team in the Big Ten, only managing to best Nebraska at home thus far on the season. That said, the Wildcats came awfully close on the road against DePaul, Indiana, and Illinois. They’re more dangerous than they look.

The Cats also don’t turn the ball over, and Mark Turgeon’s defense has never been about forcing turnovers, so the home team is likely to be able to get their shots off. They haven’t shot a very good percentage on the season, but neither has Maryland—in fact, Northwestern has an ever-so-slightly higher effective field goal percentage to-date (albeit against an easier schedule). If Northwestern has a shooting night that’s a little bit better than average, and/or if Maryland has a shooting night that’s a little bit worse... this could be a game.

Still, even despite the massive homecourt advantage that we’ve seen this season, it’s hard to pick against Maryland. They’ve got Stix Smith, and Northwestern doesn’t have anybody who can guard him. They might have some luck with a zone (Chris Collins seems to be the only coach in the conference who doesn’t rely almost exclusively on man-to-man defense), but in the end the talent disparity is likely to be too much for the Cats to overcome.

But is seven points too much to spot Maryland? Their last three games they failed to crack 60, and I can’t see Northwestern wanting to get out and push tempo. My guess is that Maryland gets a lead but lets the home team hang around at heel-nipping distance for longer than Terp fans will be comfortable with. Turtles win; Cats cover.

  • Pick against the spread: Northwestern

-Nebraska Cornhuskers at Wisconsin Badgers

  • Time/TV: 9:00 PM EST, BTN
  • KenPom Spread: Wisconsin (-13)

Nebraska wants to run their offense fast.

Wisconsin wants Nebraska to run their offense slow.

Wisconsin has better players, and they’ve been slowing teams down for a lot longer than Nebraska has been speeding them up. They’re also at home.

I doubt if the Huskers crack 50.

Still, take a look at this KenPom profile for Nebraska and tell me it’s not ridiculous.

Fred Hoiberg’s team is bad at everything, except not turning the ball over and not fouling, where they aren’t just good but nationally elite. I’ll probably keep pointing this out every Nebraska game that I preview, but that’s indicative of Coach Hoiberg’s system. If and when he gets talent to Lincoln, watch out.

Until then, you can probably go to bed after the Purdue game. This one isn’t worth staying up for.

  • Pick against the spread: Wisconsin