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12/22 Big Ten Basketball Preview: Illinois and Missouri Renew Rivalry

NCAA Basketball: St. Francis (PA) at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

There are four games set for tonight, including a triple header on the Big Ten Network. Highlighting the night is a rivalry game between Illinois and Missouri, while three other Big Ten schools host mid-majors. Penn State’s game against Quinnipiac tonight has already been cancelled.

Game of the Night

Illinois Fighting Illini vs Missouri Tigers

  • Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET BTN
  • Line: Illinois -14.0

Bragging Rights is the annual rivalry series between Illinois and Missouri that has taken place almost annually since 1976 (they missed a year in 1982). While the Illini lead the series 32-19, Missouri is looking for their fourth straight win in the series. That might be a somewhat more difficult task this time around.

Missouri is 6-5 with losses against Kansas City, Wichita State and Liberty. They also lost by 37 points a little over a week ago at Kansas. KenPom puts them just inside the top 150, with an offensive efficiency rating putting them in the back half of the country. It’s hard to have an efficient offense when you’re committing 14.3 turnovers per game and shooting 24.5% from three. The Tigers outside shooting has been so bad this year that their best three point shooter among their top six scorers is shooting 27.3% from three. The only two players above that clip have shot a combined six three pointers.

In comparison, KenPom ranks the Illini as the tenth most efficient offense in the nation and places them in the top 40 defensively. The Illini turn the ball over, but they shoot just under 40% from three and average over 80 points per game. Kofi Cockburn is an anchor inside, averaging 21.4 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, while Alfonso Plummer and Jacob Grandison are averaging a combined 30.1 points per game while shooting 43.8% and 50% from three respectively. The team will miss guard Andre Curbelo when conference play tips off, but have had enough offensive weapons to largely take care of business while he’s been out.

The rivalry aspect of this game could keep things a bit more interesting, but the Illini are clearly the superior team on both sides of the ball. It’s hard to pick a team that can’t shoot to knock a team with one of the most efficient offenses in the nation, so look for the Illini to end their recent skid against the Tigers.

Pick: Illinois

The Rest

Green Bay Phoenix at Minnesota Golden Gophers

  • Time/TV: 5:00 PM ET BTN
  • Line: Minnesota -17.0

Minnesota looks to pick up their tenth win tonight against Green Bay. The Gophers are rolling so far, only losing to Michigan State and picking up a big win at Michigan. It’s probably been rough if you’re a Minnesota fan and have anxiety issues, though, as all but two games have been decided by 11 or less points, including every game in the past month. Tonight they face a 2-8 Phoenix squad that has struggled all season.

Not much has gone right for Green Bay so far this season, scoring only 61.1 points per game and shooting 26.5% from three. They haven’t scored much and defensively haven’t fared much better. Minnesota is running a thin rotation of about seven players, and that depth might be an issue come Big Ten season. But for now the Gophers have enough weapons on offense, shoot considerably better and have more playmakers for what should be an easy win as long as they aren’t looking ahead to the holidays.

Pick: Minnesota

Northern Kentucky Norse at Indiana Hoosiers

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET BTN
  • Line: Indiana -17.0

Indiana approved to 9-2 with a win over Notre Dame this past weekend. The Irish have struggled this season, but their upset over Kentucky makes it a nicer win for the Hoosiers than what it would have been otherwise. Their opponent tonight is lowly Northern Kentucky, coming off of a 13 point overtime loss to Eastern Kentucky. The Norse are scoring north of 70 points per game, but commit a costly 15.4 turnovers per game and don’t have any major playmakers on the offensive side of the ball.

The Hoosiers have actually been able to shoot a bit better from outside than earlier in the season. They’re still committing just under 16 turnovers per game, but with Trayce Jackson-Davis inside and a massive talent differential, Indiana should pick up the win tonight.

Pick: Indiana

Kennesaw State Owls at Nebraska Cornhuskers

  • Time/TV: 7:30 PM ET ESPNU

Kennesaw State comes into tonight’s game with a KenPom ranking of 271. The Owls have an adjusted defensive efficiency ranking just outside of the top 300. They commit 14 turnovers per game and three of their four wins have came against lower division schools. They haven’t looked great.

Either has Nebraska, starting slow once again under Fred Hoiberg. Turnover prone, struggling (at times) from the line and shooting 25.2% from the perimeter, the Cornhuskers haven’t improved much since day one of Hoiberg’s tenure and there are serious questions as to if they will any time soon. It shouldn’t matter today, though, as Nebraska has a strong enough backcourt to avoid another disastrous mid-major upset.

Pick: Nebraska