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11/9 Big Ten Basketball Preview: 2021 Season Officially Begins

Syndication: Lansing State Journal Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

The season officially tips off tonight with 11 of the 14 teams in the Big Ten opening their season this Tuesday night. While four ranked Big Ten teams are playing tonight, the only game of note that should be competitive will be our game of the night involving a third rank Kansas and Michigan State.

Game of the Night

#3 Kansas vs Michigan State (State Farm Champions Classic)

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET (ESPN)

Michigan State football just lost an unexpected game as the #3 team in the country. Now their basketball program will attempt to flip the script as they go for a win over #3 Kansas as an unranked squad in their season opener. As part of the State Farm Champions Classic, tonight's game is set to take place in New York at Madison Square Garden.

Last year the Spartans were looking alright until an unexpected home loss to Purdue and a pause to activities due to COVID led to a rough 2-6 skid where the Spartans only picked up wins against Nebraska and Penn State. Tom Izzo eventually turned things around and snuck into the NCAA Tournament, even if it ended up in a First Four loss to UCLA. Now the Spartans need to replace several key players but will bring in five star guard Max Christie and a pair of four star prospects in Jaden Akins and Pierre Brooks.

Their first test is a neutral court game against a top five Kansas that got absolutely demolished last time on the court in the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks also didn’t win the Big 12, a rarity, though they’re expected to win the conference once again this year.

The game tonight will provide an early test for Marcus Bingham Jr., the incoming freshmen and to see if Joey Hauser can bounce back from a so-so season last year. The Spartans success this season will likely rely somewhat on their incoming players, so a season opening test against Kansas isn’t really a good indicator on if the Spartans will be good later in the season. The Spartans have a history of being hit or miss in early season outings like this, but Izzo usually uses these games to solidify the team and build towards a strong push in the back end of the season.

Kansas has an experienced team that is hungry after a lackluster year last season. Michigan State also had a lackluster year in 2020-21, but they have to replace several key players this year. If this game was in March it would be a totally different scenario, but Kansas should have the edge tonight against the Spartans.

Pick: Kansas

The Rest

Bellarmine at #7 Purdue

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET (B1G+)

The seventh ranked Boilermakers have a loaded team and are hoping for a deep postseason run this year, especially if guys like Jaden Ivey and Zach Edey can make the next step like they’re expected to. The Boilermakers will be without Mason Gillis tonight, but they’re also facing Bellarmine, who is currently in it’s second year of their transition to Division I. KenPom actually ranks them at 174th after a surprising 10-3 run in the Atlantic Sun last year. That won’t matter much as they square off in a hostile Mackey Arena against a much hyped Purdue squad.

Pick: Purdue

Akron at #17 Ohio State

  • Time/TV: 6:00 PM ET (ESPN2)

Ohio State may lose a pair of guards in CJ Walker and Duane Washington, but they also added Penn State transfer Jamari Wheeler, Louisiana transfer Cedric Russell and touted recruit Malaki Branham. Akron is a solid MAC school, but they also lost leader Loren Cristian Jackson and a slew of seniors. John Groce is a familiar face, having coached both Ohio and Illinois previously, and there is some intrigue in this being an in-state matchup. Unfortunately Akron is probably overmatched for an Ohio State team coming off of a 21-10 season.

Pick: Ohio State

Eastern Michigan at Indiana

  • Time/TV: 6:00 PM ET (BTN)

In all honesty Eastern Michigan traveling to Indiana isn’t an exciting matchup whatsoever. But if you’re an Indiana fan you’ll likely be excited to see the Mike Woodson tenure kick off as Hoosiers fan look to put the dreadful Archie Miller years behind them. Woodson did his best to stop the bleeding and clean up on the transfer portal, bringing back star Trayce Jackson-Davis while also landing Miller Kopp from Northwestern. Can Indiana hit three pointers? Will their offense actually be competent? These are the questions Indiana will face this year and tonight will offer the first glimpse at an answer.

Pick: Indiana

Quinnipiac at #21 Maryland

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET (B1G+)

Maryland snuck just inside the top 25 and will host Quinnipiac in their season opener. The Bobcats went 9-13 last year with the 269th scoring offense last year and enter November ranked 238th in the KenPom rankings. The Terps lost a number of big players from last year, including guards Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell, but return enough three starters and bring in a number of key transfers to solidify the roster. Tonight will offer the first look at Rhode Island transfer Fatts Russell, as well as Georgetown transfer Qudus Wahab. Maryland will look to work in their new pieces and the Bobcats will offer a good chance to do so.

Pick: Maryland

Jackson State at #11 Illinois

  • Time/TV: 8:00 PM ET (BTN)

The 11th ranked Illini open their season against a considerably overmatched Jackson State from the SWAC. The Illini were happy to see star center Kofi Cockburn return this season and will hope their big man can once again dominate opposing centers. That shouldn’t be much of a problem this game. The more interesting player to watch tonight will be Andre Curbelo, who is expected to breakout and be a major player for the Illini this year. Can he step up to help replace Ayo Dosunmu? Tonight will offer the first glance to see how the sophomore can step up.

Pick: Illinois

St. Francis (BKN) at Wisconsin

  • Time/TV: 8:00 PM ET (B1G+)

The inexperience on the Badgers roster comes at a particularly tricky time as Greg Gard really needs a solid season as his standing in Madison has been on somewhat shaky grounds. Tonight’s opener sees Wisconsin squaring off against a St. Francis program ranked by KenPom as the 323rd best team in the nation. Wisconsin is inexperienced, but the Badgers always play tough at home and feature a stout defense. They also are set to go up against one of the worst defenses in the nation from last year, so look for Wisconsin to cruise.

Pick: Wisconsin

Eastern Illinois at Northwestern

  • Time/TV: 8:00 PM ET (B1G+)

Chris Collins is entering a make or break season and while they lose their best player (Miller Kopp) from last year’s disappointing 9-15 finish, the Wildcats return basically everyone else. Collins is hoping the experience, a trio of freshman guards and transfer Elyjah Williams can help round out a team looking for a much improved season. Eastern Illinois is a team full of transfers and ranked by KenPom at 337th, giving the Wildcats a soft start to the season that should provide an easy win to open for Northwestern.

Pick: Northwestern

Western Illinois at Nebraska

  • Time/TV: 8:00 PM ET (B1G+)

Nebraska has yet to make the leap under Fred Hoiberg and will once against round out their roster with a laundry list of transfers, hoping this year they can get the right pieces in place. While the Cornhuskers are expected to be better this year, the question is just how much progress Hoiberg can make without much of a solidified roster. Western Illinois went 7-15 last year, but are considerably more experienced this season. Nebraska has dropped a number of games like this with Hoiberg, but Nebraska should have the talent on hand to avoid an upset tonight.

Pick: Nebraska

Kansas City at Minnesota

  • Time/TV: 8:00 PM ET (B1G+)

Want a fancy stat for Minnesota heading into their season opener? How about the Gophers returning only 7.8% of last season’s minutes this year. The Gophers have Eric Curry and Isaiah Ihnen, a pair of 6’9” forwards, and then a whole lotta new faces in Ben Johnson’s debut as coach. UMKC comes in 246th in the KenPom rankings after a 11-13 finish last year. The Roos had one of the top defensive units last year but lost three starters to the transfer portal. While Minnesota should have the talent to win easily enough here, it will be interesting to see how the Gophers dish out minutes on a brand new lineup tonight.

Pick: Minnesota

Longwood at Iowa

  • Time/TV: 10:00 PM ET (BTN)

In the late game of the night Longwood will head to Iowa. The Lancers are ranked 247th in the KenPom rankings and went 12-17 last year, finishing fifth in the Big South. The Lancers had a middling offense, ranking 289th in scoring and 216th in offensive rating last year. Tonight should be a soft start for an Iowa team needing to replace a good majority of their offensive production from last year. It’ll also be an early look at guys like Keegan Murray, Joe Toussaint and Ahron Ulis, all of which are set for expanded roles this year. Iowa big.

Pick: Iowa