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12/22 Big Ten Preview: Double-Conference Action Tonight

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Just a few non-conference games remain on the slate as one of the most wonderful times of the year gets into full swing, and no I am not talking about Christmas in this case. It’s time for Big Ten Basketball conference season! Two of the three games tonight are the beginning on the conference slate for three teams while Maryland wraps up its non-con.

Game of the Day:

-Purdue Boilermakers at No. 4 Iowa Hawkeyes

  • Time/TV: 9:00 p.m. EST (BTN)

The Boilermakers enter this one on a three-game win streak that includes defeating Notre Dame on Saturday and then No. 20 Ohio State last Wednesday, while Iowa enters it having been shown its glaring flaw in a tough loss to Gonzaga over the weekend. Both teams have six wins on the season, but got there in far different ways. The start to conference play for both certainly could be easier in both cases, though.

In their latest win, Purdue’s Eric Hunter and Sasha Stefanovic scored 18 points apiece to lead the Boilermakers in scoring. Trevion Williams also added 14 points. Purdue shot an impressive 14-for-28 from three-point range, and had just six turnovers. That certainly has to have the team feeling confident coming against an 83rd ranked Notre Dame per KenPom.

Iowa, meanwhile, is coming off a tough loss to Gonzaga in which the Zags managed to score more than their season average, shoot 50 percent from three-point range (season average is 35.8), and beat their season average in rebounds per game (40.5 average compared to 49 Saturday). Iowa show just 18.2 percent from deep, and a measly 46.7 percent from field goal range. Perhaps most damning for the Hawkeyes is they committed 12 turnovers to Gonzagas 18 (seven of which were forced).

The uncharacteristic outing by Iowa likely has the Hawkeyes hungry for revenge tonight. A confident Boilermaker squad should be able to make it a tough slog for them, though. This should be a good game for fans to tune into, but in 2020 you never know.

  • Pick: Iowa

The Rest:

-Nebraska Cornhuskers at No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers

  • Time/TV: 7:00 p.m. EST (FS1)

The Cornhuskers are in Madison tonight to begin their second Big Ten season under Fred Hoiberg. Wisconsin enters this one coming off a huge, if somewhat hollow, win over Louisville on Saturday.

Nebraska is relying on native son Teddy Allen’s shooting thus far as he leads the Husker’s with 18.3 points per game, as well as steals with 2.7 per game. Meanwhile, point guard Dalano Banton not only leads the team in assists (5.7 per game), but strangely the starting point guard leads in rebounds (7.7 per game) and blocks (1.3 per game) as well. Banton is the second leading scorer with 13.7 points per game, as well as last week notching the program’s second ever triple-double by a player in their sole game against Doane.

As for Wisconsin, Badgers fans must be watering at the mouth at the idea they could have a shot at repeating last season’s sweep. Not just that, they went 33-for-65 (50.8 percent) from three-point range against Nebraska in their two-games against the quadrangle of hate member last season. Not only that, Wisconsin set a school record for made three-pointers in Madison last year as they sunk 18 of them.

While Wisconsin’s plodding pace does allow teams to potentially stay with them more easily, this is a tough game to start conference play for Nebraska. The mostly new squad is still finding its way after a shortened non-conference season. Wisconsin should avoid the fate of Michigan State and Illinois (though Rutgers was a highly regarded opponent at least) in the title contender shortlist for their season opener tonight.

  • Pick: Wisconsin

-La Salle at Maryland Terrapins

  • Time/TV: 7:00 p.m. EST (BTN)

The Terps welcome nearby the nearby La Salle Explorers, who enters this one at 3-4. Notable wins include Drexel and Delaware for the Explorers.

La Salle is led in scoring by senior guard David Beatty, who is averaging 10.4 points per game, including 35 percent shooting from deep. After Beatty, freshman guard Jhamir Brickus is second in scoring with 8.7 points along with the team high 2.7 assists per game. Redshirt sophomore guard Jack Clark leads on the glass with 6.9 rebounds per game, and is third in scoring with 8.6 points per game.

La Salle plays a definite small-ball heavy lineup as their roster features just one forward, one combo forward/center, and one center. While the Terps may be missing Jalen Smith this season, the “order Testudines” should cruise past the Explorers as if they are cruising on the Gulf Stream while La Salle is stuck in irons.

  • Pick: Maryland