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2/4 Big Ten Preview: Rivalry Night

Plus two more good games

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Football is over.

The College Football Playoff has concluded. So has the Super Bowl. The XFL launches this weekend, but are we really going to count that?

No, from now until the end of March, there’s nothing keeping our favorite sport from getting top billing in people’s hearts and on SportsCenter. (Except for the hockey-heads, but those people care most about hockey no matter what season it is.)

So it’s ironic that the first game of the post-football season is a rivalry game that mostly stems from the gridiron.

Game of the Night:

-Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan Wolverines

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM EST, ESPN2
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan (-1)

This might be the best game all year between team who are below .500 in the conference. Both the Buckeyes and Wolverines come into tonight 4-6. Both are on a two-game win streak, with a road win against a cellar-dweller and a home win against a mid-tier team. (OK, yes, the Michigan/Rutgers game was at Madison Square Garden, but it counted as a Michigan home game.)

At the start of December, this game looked like it might be a top-5 matchup. But both Michigan and Ohio State have fallen on hard times. Michigan had a stretch where they lost five of six and needed double-OT to win the sixth. Looking at the stats, the Wolverines started hoisting slightly more threes during the losing streak, missing a lot more of them, and failing to get to the line. The exception was the Illinois game, where Illinois was just that good that they weren’t going to lose.

As for Ohio State, their stretch where they lost six of seven can be explained by a low 2-point percentage during those games. And that in turn can partly be explained by the number of mid-range jumpers taken by Kaleb Wesson. He was 0-5 from mid-range in the loss in Bloomington and 0-5 again against Minnesota. Take the ball to the rim, big fella!

Since the key for both teams seems to be getting the ball closer to the rim, the Jon Teske / Kaleb Wesson matchup is going to be pivotal. And given the animosity between the two schools, I’ll be surprised if these two don't get chippy with each other at some point. I mean, look at the photo above from last year’s game.

In a street fight, I’d take Wesson. In a basketball game, I’d probably also take Wesson, but given the teammates that are around them, and given the thousands of fans who are just a little bit farther away, give me the Maize and Blue tonight.

  • Pick against the spread: Michigan

The Rest:

-Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Maryland Terrapins

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM EST, FS1
  • KenPom Spread: Maryland (-8)

Maryland still hasn’t lost at home.

Rutgers has one road win so far this season, at Nebraska a month ago.

Both teams are known for their defense. They’re also both known for their offensive rebounding, which is a good thing because there’s only one rotation player on either side who is hitting over 40% from three. (It’s Maryland’s center.)

I’m pretty sure Maryland is going to win this game. The only question is if they’ll do so by more than eight. Probably so, but I wouldn’t bet money on that.

If I was betting on this game, I’d take the under.

But I’m not betting on this one, mostly because I don’t gamble, but even if I did gamble, I want to watch the other 7:00 game a lot more than this one, so I don’t want a reason to linger on FS1. Though if Bill Raftery and Gus Johnson are on the call, all bets are off. (Pun possibly intended.)

  • Pick against the spread: If I have to choose, Maryland, I guess

-Penn State Nittany Lions at Michigan State Spartans

  • Time/TV: 8:00 PM EST, BTN
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan State (-7)

I have long argued that Mike Watkins is the key to Penn State. When he’s engaged, they’re one of the best teams in the country. When he’s disengaged, they’re... well, they’re what Penn State has been for most of the Pat Chambers era—good enough to not get embarrassed and to win a handful of surprising games a year, but not good enough to contend in the league or make the NCAA Tournament.

Take a look at Watkins’ usage chart this season, and notice the pattern during the last four games.

Image courtesy of T-Rank

My boy has come alive recently! And it looks like Pat Chambers is finally going to get to go dancing this season.

But as good as Penn State has been this year, there’s only one team that’s visited the Breslin Center and left with a win, and that team is Duke. In fact, no other team has even gone so far as to play the Spartans within single digits in East Lansing.

A win tonight and people will start calling Penn State a contender in the Big Ten. (They’d be one game in the loss column behind Illinois and Maryland.) Both Illinois and Rutgers have gotten lots of national hype with their resurgences this season; could a third Big Ten program get its Moment In The Sun?

Nah. Sparty rolls.

  • Pick against the spread: Michigan State