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2/20 Big Ten Preview: Purdue Hosts Rutgers

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

There are two Big Ten games today, with Purdue and Wisconsin both at home trying to remain at the top of the conference. If Purdue wins they’ll hold a half game lead over both the Badgers and the Illini.

Game of the Day

Rutgers Scarlet Knights at #5 Purdue Boilermakers

Time/TV: 5:30 PM ET FS1
Line: Purdue -12.5

This game has a lot more going on then it did just a few weeks ago.

First, Rutgers is now just 1.5 games out of first place in the Big Ten. If they win today they’ll trim that down to just one game out of first place. The Scarlet Knights seemingly came out of nowhere with four wins in a row over Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Illinois. Imagine if the Scarlet Knights hadn’t just lost to Northwestern (11th), Maryland (12th) and Minnesota (13th)? Hell, they almost lost to Nebraska as well and have losses to Lafayette, Massachusetts, and DePaul. On a positive note for Purdue, their recent winning streak shores up what was the Boilermakers worst loss of the season.

It feels weird to say a team that has gone 11-2 is struggling, but Purdue has been off as of late. The Northwestern win was never as close as the final score indicated, and they did have big wins over Ohio State and Illinois at home. As much as the team has struggled, there have been some positives the past couple weeks. First off, the team’s weak spot is their defense but at home against Maryland their defense stepped up to help them come from behind to pick up the win. Also, Jaden Ivey and Trevion Williams have struggled but aside from a road trip to Ann Arbor, they keep winning. Purdue has played more games in the league than any other team and shoving Michigan back into their schedule led to a three week plus stretch with no days off. Things have slowed down a bit this week and Purdue will go almost a week after today before their next game.

The last time these two teams met Purdue didn’t play particularly great and they still had to blow a late lead on the road for Rutgers to win on a desperation heave from halfcourt. Williams and Zach Edey both had solid performances, combining for 34 points and 17 rebounds, and should once again be set to take care of business inside. While Rutgers will have Geo Baker this time around, it should be noted Mason Gillis was still playing somewhat limited minutes after his return from suspension. Gillis has proven to be a key contributor down the stretch for Purdue and will likely play a much bigger role this time around.

Rutgers has a very good defense, but they’ll have issues going up against one of the most efficient offenses in the nation. Ron Harper Jr. has been carrying Rutgers most of the season and will need another big day like he did last time against Purdue. Geo Baker will be on the court this time and guard Paul Mulcahy has been huge for the Knights the past couple weeks. Will it be enough? Purdue needs to get Jaden Ivey back up and running and will need Sasha Stefanovic to shoot better than he did when they went east to Jersey.

Rutgers is hot and Purdue has been a rollercoaster of a ride, but the Boilermakers usually find a way to take care of business at home. That being said, none of this might matter as the status of Harper Jr. is still unknown heading into today’s game, with a decision likely being made on game day (this preview was written late Saturday night and still no official word):

If Harper Jr. is out the chances of Rutgers landing a fifth upset in a row fade from a fighting chance to highly, highly unlikely.

Pick: Purdue

The Rest

Michigan Wolverines at #15 Wisconsin Badgers

Time/TV: 1:00 PM ET CBS
Line: Wisconsin -2.5

Entering Sunday the Badgers are a half game out of first place, though they only hold the tiebreaker over Purdue and not Illinois. With several teams vying for the Big Ten title, Wisconsin actually has the most favorable stretch with their toughest game being Purdue at home, followed by a road trip to Rutgers and today’s home game. Today they host a Michigan team that has gone 7-4 since a COVID related pause.

The Badgers lost at home against Rutgers last weekend, but took care of business on the road at Indiana thanks to 30 points from Johnny Davis. The Badgers offense isn’t particularly great shooting the ball but their efficient, especially thanks to only 8.6 turnovers per game and converting at the free throw line. They also have one of the better defenses in the league, which will be important today. Hunter Dickinson has been great for the Wolverines inside, but the offense doesn’t have enough consistency elsewhere outside of maybe Eli Brooks. If Michigan can’t find some shooting out on the perimeter it’ll be hard to knock off Wisconsin.

Dickinson has been hot as of late, but is he enough to take down Wisconsin? Maybe if the game was in Ann Arbor, but Wisconsin is tough at home and should find a way.

Pick: Wisconsin