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12/22 Big Ten Preview: Illinois vs Missouri

Preview all of Friday’s Big Ten action.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Missouri Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten has three games on Friday night, highlighted by two marquee matchups. The biggest games will involve Illinois facing rival Missouri and UCLA hosting Maryland.

Let’s take a look at the schedule.

Game of the Day:

-No. 13 Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Missouri Tigers

  • Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET (FS1)
  • KenPom Spread: Illinois by 8

The Braggin’ Rights series isn’t one of the more well known rivalries nationally, but it’s been one of the nation’s wilder series in recent years. Regardless of projections, there’s little projecting who will come out on top. Unfortunately, that’s meant poor things for Illinois, as the program is just 1-4 over its last five games in the series.

The good news for fans is Illinois enters this one as a sizable favorite. KenPom projects the Illini as an eight-point favorite and gives the team a 79 percent chance to win. Illinois also enters this one with some momentum coming off a win last week while Missouri is coming off two tough losses to Kansas and Seton Hall. Illinois is a better team, but that’s been true in most recent years and the team has still fallen short. It’s the nature of this rivalry.

Slowing down Missouri from outside the arc will be the key. Sean East is one of the more productive point guards in the SEC and he and Nick Honor have been dynamite from three so far this season. East is shooting above 60 percent, albeit on limited attempts, and Honor is shooting 44.8 percent. Tamar Bates is also hitting above 50 percent. Given Missouri ranks 26th nationally in percentage of team points coming from deep, it’s the entire game. If Illinois holds up from outside, this should be a win.

Overall, Illinois should be in good shape in this one. The Illini are not only a better team, but stylistically built for this Missouri squad. Illinois also has a much deeper group and could have an advantage upfront.

  • Pick: Illinois

The Rest:

-Chicago State Cougars at No. 24 Wisconsin Badgers

  • Time/TV: 8:00 PM ET (BTN)
  • KenPom Spread: Wisconsin by 26

There really isn’t much to preview about this one. Wisconsin enters as a significant favorite and should be in good shape to cruise to an easy win to close out the calendar year. The only interesting note here relates to Chicago State, who recently upset Northwestern on the road and has actually won four straight. However, the latter three wins all came against horrendous opponents. As long as Wisconsin slows down Wesley Cardet on the wing, this should be an win for the Badgers.

  • Pick: Wisconsin

-Maryland Terrapins at UCLA Bruins

  • Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET (ESPN2)
  • KenPom Spread: UCLA by 4

This might be somewhat hyperbolic, but Friday’s game is a “do or die” game for the Terps. Despite lofty preseason expectations, Maryland has squandered a really talented roster through the first two months of the season. While the team has done enough to stay alive in a general sense, we’re approaching the final wall. Maryland either needs to start winning and building its resume or its heading toward a lost season.

There are several things that make this game crucial. To start, UCLA is a competent (and not elite) opponent, i.e., this is a winnable game that has value. Conversely, losing here will be a resume hit because the Bruins aren’t at an elite level. The Bruins are also a marquee opponent, so winning could have an emotional boost the team so desperately needs.

On the court, UCLA is a defensive led squad that relies extensively on Sebastian Mack and Adem Bona to get things going. Mack is in the backcourt and Bona plays upfront. Both are interior based players, so as long as Maryland gets a good game from Julian Reese and the team’s defense, this should be competitive. Expect a tight one, though it seems like UCLA will be able to escape given Maryland’s underwhelming recent offensive production.

  • Pick: UCLA

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Picks Record This Season: 46-17