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1/2 Big Ten Basketball Preview: Conference Play Begins Again

NCAA Basketball: Northern Kentucky at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Conference play officially tips in 2022 today with three Big Ten games airing on BTN throughout the day. While all three games have a team that is clearly the better of the two, all three of those teams play on the road. We all know winning on the road in the Big Ten is tough, so things could still be interesting today.

Game of the Day

Indiana Hoosiers at Penn State Nittany Lions

  • Time/TV: 4:00 PM ET BTN
  • Odds: Indiana -2.5

Indiana is looking to make it back to the postseason under first year head coach Mike Woodson and while the non-conference slate went relatively fine, they missed a few big opportunities in losses to Syracuse and Wisconsin. While sitting at a solid 10-2, their best win is against Notre Dame and the Hoosiers will need to have a better season in the Big Ten then they’ve had the past several years. Opening up their 2022 slate is a winnable game against Penn State, though it does come on the road.

Penn State is another team breaking in a first year coach and they have had an up and down run on their way to a 5-5 record. They also have not played in over three weeks after their last several non-conference games were cancelled. That could prove problematic as the Nittany Lions will likely have plenty of rust to shake off today.

Penn State doesn’t particularly run an efficient offense, averaging 67.3 points, shooting 33.2% from three and committing 13 turnovers per game. With a limited bench, the Nittany Lions are led in scoring by Seth Lundy’s 14.7 points per game. Forward John Harrar has been their anchor inside, averaging 11.4 points and 10.6 rebounds per game, but will face a difficult task today in Trayce Jackson-Davis. Jackson-Davis is once again pacing Indiana with 19.3 points per game and is one of the best bigs in the conference.

While the Hoosiers offense has been considerably better so far this season, it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out over the next couple months. Race Thompson and Xavier Johnson are the only other players averaging double figures, both just over 10 points per game. Indiana is more balanced offensively but there is no guy on the roster that has emerged as the second option if opposing defenses can slow down Jackson-Davis. It isn’t a huge issue in non-conference play, but it could prove costly against opposing Big Ten opponents.

The Hoosiers need to clean things up offensively, committing more than 15 turnovers per game. If they’re sloppy on the road it could prove especially costly, though there should be enough offensive firepower to get the win against Penn State today.

Pick: Indiana

The Rest

#10 Michigan State Spartans at Northwestern Wildcats

  • Time/TV: 2:00 PM ET BTN
  • Odds: Michigan State -1.5

Interestingly enough, ESPN’s matchup predictor (based on their Basketball Power Index) gives Northwestern a 53.2% to win today. That seems odd considering Northwestern hasn’t been particularly great this season and that the Spartans come into today ranked tenth in the nation. One of the likely reasons for this is the value of playing at home in the Big Ten, even if Evanston hasn’t been the toughest place for opposing teams to play at over the years.

The Wildcats went 8-2 in non-conference play, only losing two games by a combined nine points to Providence and Wake Forest. Of course their best wins were against Georgia and Maryland, so their schedule didn’t pose much of a challenge. Northwestern has also only played one game since the 12th due to COVID related cancellations, including a game against in-state opponent DePaul.

Pete Nance has had a strong start so far, averaging 16.3 points and 8 rebounds per game while shooting 53.5% from the field and 42.3% from three. Boo Buie and Chase Audige add an additional 25.9 points per game, though both struggle shooting from beyond the arc. Ryan Young is averaging 10.6 points per game even if he’s only played 16.5 minutes per game down low. There are definitely pieces here for Northwestern, but no one outside of maybe Nance that has appeared like they could be the guy once the opposition ramps up.

Michigan State has avoided cancellations and gone 11-2 this year, with their only two losses coming against Kansas in the opener and a loss to now #1 ranked Baylor on Black Friday. There have been some notable issues, mainly turnovers, but for a Spartans program that typically gets better as the season wears on it’s been a solid start. Shooting almost 40% from three and averaging 75.8 points per game, the Spartans offense has shown more fireworks than Northwestern. They also have a notable talent advantage, thanks to a well oiled machine by Tom Izzo that routinely brings in highly touted recruits.

Similar to the Indiana preview, Michigan State could find themselves in hot water if they can’t clean up their turnover issues while trying to win on the road. If the Spartans keep turnovers to a minimum, though, they have enough weapons on offense to find a win.

Pick: Michigan State

#13 Ohio State Buckeyes at Nebraska Cornhuskers

  • Time/TV: 8:00 PM ET BTN
  • Odds: Ohio State -9.5

Another year, another dreadful start for Fred Hoiberg at Nebraska. Sitting at 6-7, the Cornhuskers ended a five game skid with a win over Kennesaw State. The early season run also includes a loss to Western Illinois and slim wins against Sam Houston State and Tennessee State.

A major issue that has plagued Nebraska this year is their inability to shoot from outside, hitting on a dreadful 27.5% from three. While Alonzo Verge Jr. and and Bryce McGowens have shown the capability to score, the duo are shooting 28 and 24.2 percent from three respectively. They’re also the only two players averaging double figures, with a inconsistent run of players behind them. That’s not a huge surprise as chemistry issues exist once again for a team largely built on the fly though transfers.

The Ohio State Buckeyes still have plenty of questions heading into today’s game. For one, they haven’t played since a win over Wisconsin more than three weeks ago. They’ve also been inconsistent through the year. On one hand they’ve beat a top ranked (at the time) Duke program, as well as beat Wisconsin by 18, beat a ranked Seton Hall and almost won against Florida. But they also needed a last second shot to beat Akron at home and struggled with Niagara and Towson.

E.J. Liddell leads the Buckeyes in scoring, rebounds and blocks and there’s really no one on Nebraska’s roster that looks like they’ll be able to slow the big today. The Buckeyes have utilized a number of options behind Liddell, with no one really stepping up consistently yet. The team is shooting 38.6% from three and averaging 75.7 points per game, which looks even better when you realize they’ve faced a pretty stacked non-conference schedule.

Nebraska is a dysfunctional mess of a program and if Hoiberg can’t get things turned around soon he may be on his way out. Ohio State once again looks like a team likely to compete towards the top of the Big Ten. This game is on the road, but there’s little reason to think Nebraska will pull off the upset.

Pick: Ohio State