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12/19 Big Ten Preview: Monster Saturday Highlighted By Top-5 Showdown

Two top-25 matchups highlight today’s exciting slate of non-conference games.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 13 Northern Illinois at Iowa Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Who needs “Champions Week” when Big Ten basketball offers this slate of games?! Two top-25 matchups, including a top-3 showdown between Iowa and Gonzaga highlight an exciting slate of games. Elsewhere Louisville-Wisconsin is being made up after a COVID delay, Ohio State takes on UCLA, and Indiana and Purdue play in the Crossroads Classic against in-state opponents Butler and Notre Dame.

Game of the Day:

-No. 3 Iowa Hawkeyes vs No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs

  • Time/TV: Noon EST (CBS)

What a showdown right out of the gate. Two of the nation’s most efficient offenses, per KenPom, the No. 3 and No. 1 teams, and a late non-conference matchup at a neutral court. While Gonzaga has been idle since Dec. 2 following COVID issues among the program, the preseason favorite has remained No. 1 in the rankings thus far. Opening wins over No. 5 Kansas and No. 8 West Virginia certainly helped prior to having to shut down play. Since then, the Zags have cancelled four games and tentatively postponed their matchup against Baylor.

The Bulldogs have a star quartet of Drew Timme, Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi, and Jalen Suggs. Timme and Kispert lead in scoring through the first three games, with 23.3 and 22.3 points per game each. Either could see a big drop off in production due to foul trouble as one or both will be called on to try and slow down Luka Garza.

Guards Ayayi (13.7 ppg) and Suggs (13.3 ppg) can certainly cover some of the points, along with the fact Ayayi leads the team in rebounds (7.7 per game) and Suggs in assists (6.3 per game). Andrew Nembhard also averaged double-digit scoring with 11.7 points.

Iowa, meanwhile. is the No. 1 offense in the country in adjusted metrics. The Hawkeyes rank 26th nationally in three-point percentage. The offense relied heavily on Luka Garza as he leads the team with 29.2 points per game, though Joe Wieskamp averges 15.2 and Jack Nunge 10.8. Garza leads the team in rebounds (9 per game) and blocks (2.2 per game) as well, while Jordan Bohannon leads the team in assists (5.2 per game).

Frankly, if you’re tuning into Ohio State-Northwestern at noon, you’re making a poor life decision in terms of “must-watch” television.

  • Pick: Gonzaga

The Rest:

-Butler Bulldogs vs. Indiana Hoosiers

  • Time/TV: 11:30 a.m. EST (FS1)

The Crossroads Classic starts off with a bang as the hometown Butler Bulldogs take on the Indiana Hoosiers in the first of an annual double-header in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The 1-1 Bulldogs have had three games postponed, including a conference matchup against St. John’s. They also feature a close win over Western Michigan and 19-point loss to Villanova.

Butler is led in scoring by guard Aaron Thompson’s 17.5 points per game, as well as team high 5 assists per game. Close on his heals is guard Jair Bolden’s 16.5 points per game, and team high 7 boards per game. After that, just four players average at least 6 points per game, and none more than 9.5. Both games have seen the Bulldogs score just 66 points. However, they have also been dealing with injury issues including Thompson who has a knee sprain.

Meanwhile, Indiana has managed to play its full non-conference schedule to date. Setting aside the Texas debacle, this game should be over well before the final buzzer. With Butler’s roster issues and the Hoosiers being battle tested (despite losses) against teams like Texas and Florida State.

  • Pick: Indiana

-No. 23 Louisville Cardinals at No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers

  • Time/TV: Noon EST (ESPN2)

The runner-up for game of the day, this postponed match-up from the ACC/Big Ten Challenge gives fans another top-25 matchup matinee. Despite the delay, Louisville is expected to be missing seven or eight of its scholarship players due to injury issues. Despite that, it should still be a good measuring stick game for the Badgers.

Louisville enters the matchup at 4-0 with a one point win over Seton Hall as the biggest accomplishment on the resume. Guard Carlik Jones leads the Cardinals in scoring and assists with 17.3 points per game and 5.3 assists, while ranking second in rebounds with 7 per game.

Dre Davis is second in scoring with 12.5 points, David Johnson third in scoring with 12.3 points and second in assists with 5, and Jae’Lyn Withers fourth in scoring with 11.8 points and first on the glass with 7.3 boards. Samuell Williamson is the other Cardinal with double-digit scoring as he averages 11.5 points per game. However, it is unclear who of the group will be missing for the matchup.

Given the depleted roster the Cardinals bring to town, this game should be a pickup for the Big Ten and an opportunity to put the Challenge out of reach rather than tie it up as the Big Ten sits at 6-5 currently.

  • Pick: Wisconsin

-Purdue Boilermakers vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

  • Time/TV: 2:30 p.m. EST (ESPN2)

The Boilermakers picked up a big win earlier this week over Ohio State, who came back big in the second half of their own matchup against Notre Dame a week prior in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The transitive win won’t matter here as the Boilermakers and Fighting Irish follow the Hoosiers-Bulldogs in this year’s Crossroads Classic.

The Fighting Irish enter this matchup 2-3 so far on the season, but 0-2 against Big Ten teams. After opening with a loss to Michigan State, a win over a feisty Detroit Mercy team, a one point win over a struggling Kentucky squad, and a ten point home loss to Duke rounds out the resume in addition to the previously mentioned Ohio State game. While this is not a stellar or deep Mike Brey squad, it is still a dangerous one.

Guard Prentiss Hubb leads Notre Dame in scoring (19.4 points per game), assists (4 pg), and steals (1.2 pg). Dane Goodwin is second in scoring with 15.4 ppg, and Nate Laszewski is third in scoring with 14.6 ppg and first on the glass with 9.2 rebounds per game.

While Purdue comes in at 5-2, they’ve had plenty of struggles so far this season. This Notre Dame team is dangerous and I think this game sets up for an upset if Purdue isn’t careful.

  • Pick: Notre Dame

-UCLA Bruins vs No. 20 Ohio State Buckeyes

  • Time/TV: 4:15 p.m. EST (CBS)

The CBS Sports Classic matchup in Cleveland offers an intriguing cap to the day’s action. The UCLA Bruins have a season opening loss to San Diego State, but an decent slate of wins since highlighted in particular by a nine point victory over Marquette last Friday. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, are trying to rebound after a disappointing conference opening loss to Purdue on Wednesday night.

UCLA has a well-rounded roster in terms of contribution, as seven players average at least 8.8 points per game while none average more than 14.8. The Bruins are led by guard Haime Jaquez Jr’s 14.8 points per game, while his 6 boards per game rank third on the team. Guard Chris Smith is second in scoring and first in rebounding and steals, averaging 13.2 points, 7 boards, and 1.2 steals per game. Tyger Campbell is the only other Bruin averaging double-digit scoring with 12.5 points, while he also leads the team in assists with 7.2 points.

The Bruins won’t be an easy out, but Ohio State should have the focus after that Purdue loss to come out strong in this one and leave with the win.

  • Pick: Ohio State