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12/19 Big Ten basketball preview: Florida at Michigan

Breaking down Tuesday’s league slate.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten is set for a quieter week as the nonconference slate winds down and buy games fill schedules.

Most of the league’s marquee wins belong to one team, Purdue, already looking the part of eventual conference champion and eventual NCAA Tournament 1-seed. The rest of this month will be more about maintaining a resume rather than building one.

Let’s talk Tuesday.

Game of the Day

Florida Gators at Michigan Wolverines

  • Time/TV: 7 p.m. on ESPN
  • KenPom spread: Gators by 1

Michigan has been a bigger story off the court than on it as of late, with Juwan Howard’s job status in question pending review following a reported altercation with the program’s strength coach.

On the court, this one could be interesting. Michigan cooled after a hot start to the season but has since earned two straight wins, one over Iowa and the other over Eastern Michigan. Howard is back on the sideline following recovery from heart surgery earlier this year.

Defense, rather lack thereof, has plagued the Wolverines for the past few seasons and the same can be said this year. They’re all the way down at No. 126 in KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings.

That works when you have more firepower than another defense-averse squad (Iowa) but maybe not here. Florida is more of a balanced team and hung tough with the likes of Baylor and Virginia while besting Pittsburgh this year.

The Gators neither take nor make a lot of 3-pointers but neither does Indiana, a team that beat the Wolverines at home already. Given everything going on there, I’m going Gators.

  • Pick: Florida

The Rest

Morehead State Eagles at Indiana Hoosiers

  • Time/TV: 6:30 p.m. on BTN
  • KenPom spread: Hoosiers by 10

Indiana let a quality win, the last one remaining in the nonconference slate, slip away against Kansas on Saturday. Now the time comes to avoid disaster ahead of Big Ten play.

To the Hoosiers’ credit, they pushed the Jayhawks to the brink with all of one guard who could score (Trey Galloway put a career-high 28 on the board) with Xavier Johnson still out. There’s no timeline on his return either.

They’ve handed much of the reins over to freshman Gabe Cupps, whose basketball IQ has shined on both ends of the floor. The downside is he lacks the experience and scoring ability Johnson brings to the table.

If you’re looking for a bright side, the last and next few weeks provide plenty of minutes for him to get that experience and find ways to score. Morehead State is riding a six-game winning streak and beat the same Chattanooga squad that downed Louisville (which has to count for something, anything... right?).

Avoid disaster, get experience.

  • Pick: Michigan

Nicholls Cougars at Maryland Terrapins

  • Time/TV: 8:30 p.m. on BTN
  • KenPom spread: Terps

The metrics are more favorable to the Terps than the eye test.

Watching games, there’s just not a discernable plan on offense to help out the defense. Maryland’s length and athleticism has kept its head above water, for the most part, on that end of the floor.

On the other? It’s been a problem. Maryland doesn’t have a reliable creator or initiator outside of Jahmir Young and he can only score so many points per outing. Everyone else spends a lot of time getting in the way or missing. The Terps take a decent amount of 3-pointers, but don’t make many.

They seized victory from the jaws of defeat at home against Penn State and crushed Alcorn State. Nicholls gives them a shot to build some momentum ahead of a matchup with future league foe UCLA.

  • Pick: Maryland