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12/26 Big Ten Preview: Boxing Day Afternoon Double-Header

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

After four games on Christmas, this Saturday offers a lighter fare in quantity of Big Ten action. However, the quality is still great.

Game of the Day:

-No. 23 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Northwestern Wildcats

  • Time/TV: 2:00 p.m. EST (FS1)

The Wildcats have started off Big Ten play on a hot streak, going 2-0 with wins over Michigan State and a road win at Indiana. NU is tied for first with Michigan and Wisconsin currently as well. A win today would give NU sole possession of first place until at least Monday.

Ohio State, meanwhile, fell to Purdue in its conference opener but has rebounded with a home win over Rutgers to move to 1-1 in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes hope to ride the typical strong defense under Holtmann with an efficient offense into Evanston and keep the momentum going with its first road win in conference play.

Ohio State is holding opponents to just 65.8 points so far this season. The Buckeyes always feature a top defensive ranking in adjusted metrics since Holtmann took over, but this season are also benefiting offensively from Duane Washington and EJ Liddell. Ohio State ranks inside the top 10 in offensive efficiency per KenPom, but just 47th defensively. Holding Northwestern well below the Wildcats average of 87.7 points so far this season will be key for the chance at a road win today.

Meanwhile, Northwestern is using a balanced group of players on offense and efficient shooting this year on offense. The Wildcats have seven players averaging at least 7.5 points per game and rank inside the top 20 in both effective field goal percentage and three-point percentage. Boo Buie continues to impress as he leads the team with 14.5 points and 5.3 assists. Pete Nance leads on the glass with 7.3 boards and rounds out the four players averaging double-digit scoring.

This one should be an exciting matchup, but I think NU is past due for a let down despite the huge turnaround so far in early conference action.

  • Pick: Ohio State

The Rest:

-Indiana Hoosiers vs. No. 18 Illinois Fighting Illini

  • Time/TV: 4:00 p.m. EST (FS1)

The Hoosiers trip to Champaign-Urbana today offers an intriguing matchup of elite big man against elite big man. Overall, the Hoosiers and Illini both had mixed weeks thus far and enter the game hungry for wins.

Illinois needs to rebound today after a 1-1 start to Big Ten play thus far. Dosumnu and Cockburn continue to dominate the scoreboard, but defensive issues are becoming a glaring problem. The Illini need to clean that up to stay in contention for a Big Ten title this season.

Indiana, meanwhile, needs to find an answer for production outside of Trayce Jackson-Davis. Despite scoring 22 against Northwestern, the Hoosiers only had two other players score double-figures in their 74-67 loss. The Hoosiers need to find answers on offense in order to be in contention for an NCAA tournament bid at the end of this season.

This should be a good opportunity for Illinois to make it two in a row in the conference win column, but Indiana’s Jackson-Davis could make it interesting in the paint.

  • Pick: Illinois