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12/2 Big Ten basketball preview: Illinois at Rutgers

Previewing this Saturday’s Big Ten action

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Illinois at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Gavitt Games are officially in the rearview mirror (maybe for good) and the Big Ten’s early slate of conference matchups is here.

We’re not completely out of the nonconference yet though, there’s still a few vaunted contests and buy games on the Horizon, with a few this weekend including a slight preview of next year’s Big Ten.

That being said, let’s get into it.

Game of the Week

Illinois Fighting Illini at Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • Time/TV: 4 p.m. on BTN
  • KenPom spread: Illini by 1

Illinois has thoroughly demolished its last three opponents, all buy games, since falling to Marquette at home in the Gavitt Games. They’re still the only ranked Big Ten squad not named Purdue and there’s opportunity with Michigan State looking worse than expected.

The road to the top of the conference is steep and it doesn’t have an easy first step. Rutgers has developed a reputation for its intimidating environment since Steve Pikiell has gotten the program rolling.

It’s not easy to win at the RAC. Ask Purdue what happened the first time it ever climbed to the No. 1 spot in the polls. The Scarlet Knights have seemingly taken a step back this season but doubt them at your own peril.

Illinois probably has the sheer talent to win this one. Not by much, but a win nonetheless.

  • Pick: Illinois

The Rest

Michigan Wolverines at Oregon Ducks

  • Time/TV: 3:30 p.m. on FS1
  • KenPom spread: Oregon by 4

There’s a reason I have this one a bit higher in the list than Marquette-Wisconsin.

First of all, Michigan is a pretty watchable basketball team right now win or lose. Second, the Wolverines are travelling to Eugene, which the rest of the Big Ten is gonna have to do when Oregon joins the conference here in a year.

Dana Altman is a pretty known commodity and it’s going to be interesting to see how he handles the change in league. Meanwhile Michigan welcomes Juwan Howard back to the bench... as an assistant as he continues to recover.

I think Michigan is looking for a bounce back win and they could get it out West.

  • Pick: Michigan

Marquette Golden Eagles at Wisconsin Badgers

  • Time/TV: 12:30 p.m. on FOX
  • KenPom spread: Golden Eagles by 1

The Kohl Center is an intimidating environment but Marquette is one of the best teams in the country.

Wisconsin is fresh off of two buy games after absolutely drubbing Virginia 65-41 on a neutral court. St. John’s transfer AJ Storr has become The Guy on offense and provides a change of pace the Badgers just didn’t have last year.

... but Marquette is one of the best teams in the country.

  • Pick: Marquette

Bucknell Bison at Penn State Nittany Lions

  • Time/TV: noon on BTN
  • KenPom spread: Nittany Lions by 18

Penn State is in extreme need of a win after a three-game losing streak. One of those wins was VCU, the squad Mike Rhoades left behind to head to State College.

So, uh, not great.

Bucknell should be exactly what they need here. Get something cooking and home and maybe surprise a quickly spiraling Maryland team afterward.

  • Pick: Penn State