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12/30 Big Ten Preview: Michigan Faces UCF

Preview all of Thursday’s Big Ten action.

NCAA Basketball: Southern Utah at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in what seems like weeks, the Big Ten has a pretty solid lineup on Thursday. Rutgers faces off against Maine, Maryland hosts Brown, and Michigan travels to face a pretty solid UCF team in the highlight of the day.

Let’s take a look at the schedule.

Game of the Day:

-Michigan Wolverines at UCF Knights

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET (ESPN2)
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan by 2

This is the type of matchup you don’t see too often with a high major going on the road against a mid-major. Nonetheless, it should make for an intriguing battle on Thursday night. Michigan is looking to resurrect an underwhelming non-conference performance while UCF is hoping to knock off a marquee program at home. The game also holds serious NCAA implications for both sides. In fact, both are currently in Joe Lunardi’s current Bracketology projections.

On the court, these teams are actually somewhat similar. Both have struggled with perimeter shooting and rely extensively on their interior scoring to get the job done. Darin Green and Darius Perry carry things for the Knights in the backcourt and Hunter Dickinson does the work for the Wolverines down low. Expect a physical game where play around the hoops makes a big difference.

One of the biggest questions will be how Michigan responds from its recent time off. The Wolverines last played on December 18th against Southern Utah and haven’t played a true road game since December 7th. As such, will Michigan show any rust in the opening minutes? This is particularly important as the Wolverines have struggled to find chemistry and rotations all year.

This feels like a game that’s going to come down to the final minutes. Unfortunately, playing on the road in that kind of a setting won’t be easy.

  • Pick: UCF

The Rest:

-Maine Black Bears at Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • Time/TV: 1:00 PM ET (BTN)
  • KenPom Spread: Rutgers by 22

Let’s be clear. But for Rutgers’ loss to Lafayette earlier this season, there would be no reason to think this would be a game. However, the game against Lafayette happened and we have to be on guard for a potential upset because of it.

Like Michigan above, the main question will be how Rutgers responds to an extended pause after being off since early December. If the Scarlet Knights play up to their abilities, this should be a win. Keep an eye on LeChaun DuHart for Maine, who leads the team’s offensive production.

  • Pick: Rutgers

-Brown Bears at Maryland Terrapins

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET (BTN)
  • KenPom Spread: Maryland by 12

Unlike the other Big Ten teams active on Thursday night, Maryland returned to action earlier this week, beating Lehigh at home on Tuesday night. It was a solid win for the Terps and improved the team’s overall record to 7-4. Eric Ayala led the way with 20 points.

However, Brown is significantly better than Lehigh. Maybe not good enough to raise serious alarm bells, but the Bears are 170th on KenPom and have given some quality teams like Colorado and Vermont scares this season. Brown relies on a tough defense that prevents opponents from getting to the hoop. Dan Friday and Tamenang Choh are a big part of that.

As long as Maryland gets some production from the backcourt, it should win this one. However, Brown is going to be looking to create turnovers and make things sloppy. Don’t be surprised if this thing is close.

  • Pick: Maryland