Another night of double-header action ensues tonight with Big Ten play. Just like last night’s offering, it’s another AP showdown, this one between top-20 teams in the feature game of the night.
Game of the Day:
-No. 10 Iowa Hawkeyes vs. No. 14 Rutgers Scarlet Knights
- Time/TV: 2:00 p.m. EST (ESPN2)
Two of the Big Ten’s biggest heavy-weights thus far on the young season enter this matchup with big momentum. Iowa is coming off a dismantling of a surprisingly strong Northwestern squad while Rutgers is coming into this matchup following a lopsided win over Purdue.
As everyone is aware, the 8-2 (2-1 Big Ten) Hawkeyes feature one of the most prolific offenses in the country. Iowa ranks No. 1 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency, is 57th in three-point percentage (37.2), 38th in two-point percentage (56.0), and 34th in effective field goal percentage (55.9). Not only that, the Hawkeyes clean up on the glass offensively, ranking 20th in offensive rebounding percentage (36.9), and excel at taking care of the ball with just a 12.6 percent of possessions resulting in a turnover, good for fifth nationally.
The offense is buoyed by Luka Garza, obviously, and his 27.7 points per game average (24 points per game in Big Ten play thus far) and 9.6 boards per game (10.7 in Big Ten play). Joe Wieskamp’s 15.2 points per game and CJ Frederick’s 11.3 points per game round out the Hawkeyes averaging double-figures. However, defense is Iowa’s Achilles heel. They rank No. 97 in adjusted defense in KenPom. Iowa is holding opponents in Big Ten play thus far to an average of 76.3 points per game, good for just 10th overall.
The 7-1 (3-1 Big Ten) Scarlet Knights meanwhile are outperforming expectations thus far in Big Ten action. While Rutgers was a favorite candidate to finish near the top of Big Ten standings, they are showing early in the season to be a clear contender for the conference crown.
Ron Harper Jr. leads Rutgers with 23.4 points, 7.1 boards, and 2.1 assists per game. Geo Baker has been averaging 9.6 points and 2.8 boards per game despite missing three games with an injury. Montez Mathis (15.6) and Jacob Young (15.5) round out the double-digit scorers for Rutgers while Myles Johnson leads on the glass with 8.5 boards per game.
This should be a competitive match-up, and Rutgers will likely have some small advantage shooting on its home rims. However, I think Iowa will pull away at some point in this one and pick up a big time road win for the Hawkeyes.
- Pick: Iowa
-Purdue Boilermakers vs. No. 15 Illinois Fighting Illini
- Time/TV: 6:00 p.m. EST (BTN)
The 2-2 Boilermakers come into this one after a close loss on the road at Rutgers while the 3-1 Fighting Illini come into this home stand following a nine point win at Indiana. Purdue has an impressive conference opening win over Ohio State, while Illinois’ best conference win is proving to be its 92-65 win over Minnesota.
While the Big Ten depth is incredible this year, this game has to be a focus for the Illini in avoiding an upset. Purdue should be clearly outmatched in this one with the shooting prowess the Illini feature. However, the Boilermakers put together an impressive defensive performance against Iowa that defied their average showing thus far. If they can figure out a way to surprise with that again, Illinois could be at a big disadvantage in early conference action.
Despite that, expect Illinois to roll in this one. Last year’s Purdue squad was arguably better than this year’s iteration and lost to the Illini by 26 and 17 in the two matchups.
- Pick: Illinois
No. 17 Michigan State Spartans vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers
- Time/TV: 8:00 p.m. EST (BTN)
Both of these teams are riding three straight losses to open conference play, and the loser of this game will take sole possession of last place (though 0-3 Penn State is likely to join after an expected loss Sunday afternoon to Wisconsin). Each of these two teams is struggling offensively with scoring consistently and defensively with getting stops during its own scoring droughts.
Michigan State enters this game with opening losses to Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. The loss to the Wildcats is looking a lot better in quality now with NU ranked No. 19 in this week’s AP Poll, but despite Minnesota jumping into the top-25 as well the day of MSU’s matchup in Minneapolis, that game starting raising big alarm bells for the Spartans. Michigan State is without a clear leader on the floor and still trying to figure out how to replace Cassius Winston at point guard. The team is playing with a lack of focus on defense as well and costing it big during scoring droughts on offense.
Nebraska also hosts losses to three ranked teams in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State with the most recent being incredibly lopsided. The Huskers continue to struggle with many of the same things that befuddled them in conference play last year under coach Hoiberg. This year, however, it seems the problem is more an increase in talent that just can’t figure out how to play together and hence goes through extended scoring droughts on offense. Whereas last year it was a team that seemed to understand their roles but simply lack the talent needed to compete in a conference as deep as the Big Ten has been these past two seasons.
Despite the Spartans struggles, this game should be over sometime mid-second half at the latest. If Michigan State doesn’t roll in this one, it is fair to start questioning if MSU will survive conference play to keep the NCAA tournament streak intact.
- Pick: Michigan State