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Tuesday Big Ten Preview: Back to a Packed RAC

And a Simpson-less Michigan goes to Nebraska

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

Don’t look now, but there’s a program that’s in the hunt for its first ever Big Ten title.

No, not Illinois, they’ve won one before, even if it doesn’t feel like it. I’m talking, of course, about Rutgers. Are they for real? Too bad we won’t get the chance to find out, because tonight Home Rutgers plays Road Purdue. And despite what the betting line will tell you, that’s a mismatch in the extreme.

Game of the Night

Purdue Boilermakers at Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • Time/TV: 8:00 PM EST, BTN
  • KenPom Spread: Rutgers -2

How good has Rutgers been at home? They’re undefeated, with wins over Seton Hall, Penn State, Indiana, and Minnesota. All top 40 teams on KenPom. So is Purdue. But this is road Purdue, which is an important distinction.

How bad has Purdue been on the road? They’re 1-5, with the lone win coming at Ohio. Sure, they took Michigan to double-OT, but that feat is looking less impressive by the minute. They lost to a terrible Nebraska team. They got obliterated in Champaign, against an Illinois team that makes its bones on tough defense and a chip on its shoulder, playing in front of a sold out arena full of fans who are starved for success.

Kind of like the RAC tonight.

Purdue will have the advantage in the frontcourt. Yes, Myles Johnson is a rebounding beast, but Trevion Williams is putting up even better numbers on the boards. And he’s backed up by (or backs up, it depends on how Matt Painter is feeling that day) Matt Haarms. Both Haarms and Williams are over 40% for the year from three. The three Rutgers players taller than 6’9” have combined for a total of zero three point attempts on the year.

But Purdue might need those big men to hit those threes, because their guards are all below 40%. Yes, Sasha Stefanovic and Eric Hunter are really close, but that’s because of inflated numbers in Mackey Arena. On the road, Purdue’s shooting tends to go ice cold.

So if Purdue’s offense is bad on the road and Rutgers’ defense is good (which it is), that means all Rutgers has to do to win is score a reasonable number of points. They’re still a piss-poor jump-shooting team, but they make up for it by scoring a lot at the rim, particularly on put-backs. Rutgers is No. 4 in the country in terms of the proportion of points scored from 2-point field goals. Trevion Williams will be the best rebounder on the floor, but Rutgers will have the next best four.

There’s zero reason to think Purdue grabs this one. Yes, they blew out a Wisconsin team that they match up well against. That was at home, and even though Rutgers has never beaten Purdue in Big Ten play, they’ve generally been a poor matchup for the kind of style Matt Painter likes to run. I’m a proud Purdue alumnus, but give me Rutgers (and the under).

  • Pick against the spread: Rutgers

Other Big Ten Action

Michigan Wolverines at Nebraska Cornhuskers

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM EST, ESPNU
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan -7

So Zavier Simpson is suspended for this game (and potentially future games as well). Apparently he made some poor decisions. But this is a 6’0” guy who shoots a running hook shot; what would be a bad decision for most people is an opportunity for a spectacular play if you’re Simpson.

I can’t confirm or deny the rumors that are floating around regarding the reason for Simpson’s suspension, but would you believe that there’s a second rumor, which all sources swear on Bo Schembechler’s grave is true, that Simpson is dating Sasha Obama.

Meanwhile Michigan has lost every game it has played this millennium, with the exception of a double-OT thriller against Purdue.

Oh, and they’re coached by a beloved former player who was part of the most iconic group of players every to pass through a single school, but whom Michigan had all but disowned due to NCAA violations (though Howard was always the squeaky-clean one of the bunch).

But their beloved former coach—who twice took them to the NCAA title game before falling just short, including one to a school that had to vacate the title because recruits were provided with strippers (not hookers as is so often reported, though the strippers may have hooked on the night in question)—is having a pretty rough go of it in the NBA. Could he come back to college ball and coach at another school?

I lay all of this out because I want the readers to answer this question for me: Are we sure that Michigan’s basketball program isn’t actually some elaborate reality show?

I lean towards no, but if a Kardashian shows up on the sidelines in Lincoln, or if Franz Wagner gets arrested on suspicion of having something to do with Kobe’s death, then we’ll know the answer is yes.

As for this game, it’s a coin flip whether Michigan pulls the Nobody Believes In Us rally or completely falls apart without their leader.

Let me go flip a coin.

Tails.

Pick against the spread: Nebraska