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Tuesday Big Ten Preview: This Is Rutgers’ Moment

Plus two more games

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

On Friday, we had some fun pointing out that Rutgers was favored on the road for the first time EVER in the Big Ten. It was a harmless trip to Nebraska that turned into a romp. Not many people watched it.

Tonight, Rutgers comes back home to face a ranked Penn State hot off a victory over Iowa at the Palestra. This game is no joke. If Rutgers wins, they’ll be in the catbird seat for their first AP ranking in the modern era.

Ranked Rutgers. Yeah, the Big Ten is weird, tough, wild, and wonderful in 2020.

Game of the Night

Penn State Nittany Lions at Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM EST, BTN
  • KenPom Spread: Rutgers -2

The computers say Rutgers is the favorite in this one, and maybe they should be—it’s likely that this is going to be the best atmosphere in the RAC since the Knights joined the Big Ten, even better than the Seton Hall game, and we all know how that went.

But Geo Baker has a bum wrist, and he’ll be out for this one. Rutgers is deep at the guard position, and they didn’t miss Baker in Lincoln, but Penn State is a much better team than Nebraska. You could make the case that Baker is Rutgers’ best player, but you could also make the case that it’s Harper or Johnson or Yeboah. Basically, if you’re predisposed to like Rutgers, you can look at this game and find reasons they should win. If you’re predisposed to dislike Rutgers, you can look at this game and find reasons they should lose. Beauty for the Knights is now in the eye of the beholder, when for the past five seasons they’ve had a face only a mother could love.

But let’s not act like this game is all about Rutgers. With a road win, Penn State could stake their claim as the second-best team in the Big Ten. Yep, that’s right, in a year when the Big Ten is as deep and good as it’s ever been, it’s possible that Pat Chambers, Mr. Hot Seat himself, has the team best poised to challenge Michigan State for a conference title.

That’s a big if, though. Penn State got its ass waxed in Columbus earlier this season. If they lose tonight, the knock on Penn State will be that they might be good at home, but struggle on the road. But honestly, that’s the story for every Big Ten team not named Wisconsin right now.

Injury to Baker notwithstanding, the guard play tonight will probably favor Rutgers, while the post play will favor Penn State. That said, the Knights don’t have a reliable knock-down shooter, and Mike Watkins, shot-blocker extraordinaire, will be patrolling the paint. Rutgers doesn’t force a lot of turnovers, and Penn State doesn’t commit many. It’s difficult to see where Rutgers will be able to get any easy points.

I don’t care. This one feels like a game where the crowd will refuse to let their team loose. Penn State fans should be familiar with that—they just had a similar environment in that Iowa game.

  • Pick against the spread: Rutgers

Other Big Ten Action

Ohio State Buckeyes at Maryland Terrapins

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM EST, ESPN
  • KenPom Spread: Maryland -1

Maryland just delivered a question-your-role-in-the-universe loss to Indiana in College Park, and they have the opportunity to do the same thing to Ohio State tonight. The Buckeyes struggled shooting the ball against Wisconsin. Bad news for OSU fans—Maryland is better than Wisconsin in almost every major statistical defensive category. Oh, and this game is on the road.

I just said above that Penn State will stake their claim as the second-best team in the league with a win at Rutgers. But Maryland is the default choice to place in the conference standings until somebody takes it from them, or (more likely) they dick-trip and take themselves out of the running.

But the Terps have yet to lose at home, and it’s not March yet, so Mr. January Mark Turgeon is probably going to have his team locked in and ready to go.

This game is going to be on ESPN, which means the production will be top notch, which means that the pun that’s staring everyone right in the face won’t be missed by the production crew.

What pun is that?

Both teams have big men that can shoot.

Shooting match.

Smith & Wesson.

Impress your friends with that one before the cutesy graphic comes on your screen.

  • Pick against the spread: Maryland

Iowa Hawkeyes at Nebraska Cornhuskers

  • Time/TV: 9:00 PM EST, BTN
  • KenPom Spread: Iowa -10

Nebraska doesn’t have anybody who can guard Luka Garza.

The only way Iowa loses this one is if they haven’t recovered emotionally from Saturday’s loss in the Palestra.

I don’t mean to bash the Huskers, but they aren’t a good team. They did beat Purdue at home, but they also lost at home to North Dakota, UC Riverside, and Southern Utah. They have a good coach, but no talent. The good coaching is showing up in the fact that Nebraska doesn’t turn the ball over or foul. The lack of talent is showing up in every other statistical category, particularly rebounding. Even if Iowa only shoots 40% for the game, they’re still going to score on just about every trip, because Garza is going to grab every offensive board that comes his way.

If Iowa loses this game, they will finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten. But I don’t think they will.

  • Pick against the spread: Iowa