If it weren't for the fact that I am traveling up to Milwaukee this Saturday to see the great in-state rivalry between the Marquette Golden Eagles and the Wisconsin Badgers, I would be on my couch all day watching college basketball—more specifically, Big Ten basketball.
Games tip off between 11:00 AM CST and 9:30 PM CST, eight of which will be televised locally on either Big Ten Network, ESPN2 or CBS. Up to this point in the season, it marks the most exciting day of basketball for the conference, aside from the disappointing, two-day, 6-6 tie in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
What makes it so exciting, aside from the volume of 10 games, is that the Big Ten teams' opponents are well above some of the cupcakes that have helped stack Big Ten teams' win totals in November.
Arkansas vs. Michigan- 11:00 CBS
The Razorbacks come to Ann Arbor with a 4-3 record but ended a three-game losing streak on Tuesday with a three-point win over Oklahoma. BJ Young and Marshawn Powell combine to average 35.6 points per contest. Arkansas defeated Michigan last season at home, a game in which Zack Novak committed an extremely hard foul on Young.
The No. 3 Wolverines remain unbeaten at a perfect 8-0, with five winnable home games before conference play begins. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. are the top two scorers for the maize and blue, but the team has gotten added contributions from the freshman trio of Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary.
Long Beach State vs. Ohio State- 11:00 BTN
The 49ers, which come from "The Beach," have struggled out of the gates, possessing a 3-4 record going into their matchup Thursday night with Syracuse. A quick turnaround on Saturday against the Buckeyes won't be any easier for Long Beach State on this road trip, even with James Ennis' 16.4 points per game.
Like Michigan, the Buckeyes have a long streak of home games until traveling to Champaign on January 5. Ohio State's lone loss came at Duke, in which OSU controlled most of the way. Deshaun Thomas continues to pour in the buckets, while Aaron Craft can be counted on for defensive pressure and finding the open man. Look for LaQuinton Ross to continue his strong play.
Loyola (IL) vs. Michigan State- 1:00 BTN
The Ramblers travel up to East Lansing after a hot 6-2 start to their 2012-13 campaign. Both losses have come against adequate squads, Western Michigan and South Florida; however, Loyola has yet to beat anyone good either. After losing Walt Gibler to graduation after last season, the steady Ben Averkamp has gotten help from Iowa transfer Cully Payne.
Michigan State has looked like two completely different teams, depending on the night you watch them. It has dropped contests to UConn and Miami while also barely sneaking by the likes of Boise State and UL Lafayette. However, it has also beaten Kansas and won in four other blowouts. Without a true superstar, Tom Izzo's team is led by Keith Appling and Branden Dawson.
Purdue vs. Eastern Michigan- 1:00
Eastern Michigan, a MAC squad, hosts Purdue on Saturday afternoon coming in with a 5-2 record. The Eagles most recently lost to Syracuse 84-48 but had won four in a row before that. Derek Thompson, Daylen Harrison and Glenn Bryant each average at least 11.6 points but may need more help to defeat this Big Ten opponent.
Matt Painter and Purdue come into this road battle with a .500 record at 4-4. Terone Johnson has been fantastic of late and is the only Purdue player averaging double figures at 13.1 points per game. DJ Byrd has been a streaky shooter, while freshmen A.J. Hammons and Ronnie Johnson (Terone's brother) have shown flashes of potential.
Army vs. Penn State- 3:00 BTN
The Black Knights of Army boast a 4-3 record and come to Happy Valley looking to defeat a vulnerable Nittany Lions team. The Black Knights average over 75 points per game, including 83 in a three-point, double-overtime loss to Yale on November 24. Ella Ellis paces the team with 19.7 points per game.
The Tim Frazier-less Nittany Lions have struggled, there's no denying that. While both Jermaine Marshall and D.J. Newbill have shined as go-to guys, no other player on Patrick Chambers' roster plays with consistency. This became evident in Penn State's 25-point home loss to LaSalle on Wednesday evening.
Central Connecticut State vs. Indiana- 5:00 BTN
The Blue Devils from Central Connecticut State make the trip to Bloomington with a 4-3 record but shouldn't expect to leave with anything better than a .500 record. The Blue Devils' Kyle Vinales averages 25.9 points but needs to jack up more than 20 shots per game to do so. Vinales, a sophomore, greatly contributes to Central Connecticut State's rank of 45th in the nation in scoring.
The No. 1, 8-0 Indiana Hoosiers don't play a true road game until December 31 at Iowa, so expecting anything less than a perfect record prior to the start of Big Ten play would be a slap in the face considering how well IU plays at home. Indiana is the top-scoring team in the nation at 87.8 points and is led by Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls, among others.
Wisconsin vs. Marquette- 5:00 ESPN2
The Marquette Golden Eagles, coached by the energetic Buzz Williams, hope to defeat the in-state rival Badgers for the second straight season this Saturday evening in Milwaukee. MU is currently 5-2 with a buzzer-beating loss to Butler and a blowout loss at Florida. Vander Blue, a former Wisconsin commit, is Marquette's best player but should get help from Trent Lockett and Davante Gardner.
After a home loss to Virginia in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, Bo Ryan's team has responded with back-to-back wins by a combined 71 points. Ben Brust has been one of the most pleasant surprises in the league—not only for his scoring, but also nearly topping the league in rebounds despite being only 6'1". The battles in the post will be worth watching as Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren will have plenty on their hands.
Butler vs. Northwestern- 7:00 BTN
The Butler Bulldogs may not be the team they were during their back-to-back national championship appearances, but they've improved by leaps and bounds since last year. The 'Dawgs finished second at the Maui Invitational behind Illinois but boosted their resume with wins over Marquette and North Carolina. Rotnei Clarke has been a great addition, while Khyle Marshall is an animal on the glass.
Who knows what to expect out of Bill Carmody's team after their last three-game span? After starting 6-0, the Wildcats were blown out by Maryland, lost at home to an inferior UIC team but then went on to defeat an ultra-athletic Baylor squad on the road. Drew Crawford may get the go-to-guy tag, but Reggie Hearn is the glue guy and does all the little things. Dave Sobolewski has been solid as well.
Illinois vs. Gonzaga- 9:00 ESPN2
I stayed up late Wednesday evening to watch the end of the West Coast contest between Gonzaga and Washington State, which the 9-0 'Zags won by two. Kevin Pangos was clutch by hitting the game-winning shot, but the team was carried by seven-footer Kelly Olynyk with 22 second-half points. Elias Harris, Gary Bell Jr. and Sam Dower are a few more names to remember on this deep squad.
The Fighting Illini come to Spokane with a surprising 9-0 record, even after some close calls as of late. Brandon Paul looks like a different player than he was at the tail end of last year, while D.J. Richardson has regained his confidence on the perimeter. Tracy Abrams has been steady at the point guard, while Joe Bertrand always provides a spark of athleticism off John Groce's bench.
Minnesota vs. USC- 9:30
The 3-5 Trojans have lost four straight; however, they've played a heck of a nonconference schedule. Illinois, Marquette, San Diego State, Nebraska and New Mexico constitute all their losses, while they've defeated Coppin State, Long Beach State and Texas. Kevin O'Neill's team has talent though, with J.T. Terrell, Eric Wise and Jio Fontan.
Tubby Smith's Minnesota Golden Gophers started the year 4-0 before losing to Duke but have regained their form on their current five-game winning streak. This trip out west will mark their only true road game of the nonconference campaign, but expect veteran frontcourt players Rodney Williams Jr. and Trevor Mbakwe to show composure. Andre and Austin Hollins have also been terrific.
10) Indiana Hoosiers (most confident)
9) Ohio State Buckeyes
8) Michigan State Spartans
7) Michigan Wolverines
6) Minnesota Golden Gophers
5) Northwestern Wildcats
4) Illinois Fighting Illini
3) Wisconsin Badgers
2) Purdue Boilermakers
1) Penn State Nittany Lions (least confident)
Indiana should have the easiest win on Saturday, not only because of its weaker opponent, but also because of how good the team really is. Ohio State and Michigan State shouldn't have too much trouble at home, although their opponents are no pushovers.
Michigan should get some taste of revenge from last year's loss to the struggling Razorbacks, while Minnesota definitely has the talent advantage over USC, which Illinois defeated by 30 in Maui. Slotting Northwestern fifth was a tough call, but if it plays as it did on Tuesday, it can beat Butler.
Illinois has been extremely impressive thus far, but getting a road win at No. 10 Gonzaga is no easy task. If it can, it would mark three straight wins over the 'Zags. Wisconsin and Marquette could be an ugly bloodbath on Saturday, but I think the home Golden Eagles sneak out with a W.
Purdue has looked great at times this season, such as in a road win at Clemson, but looked completely lost other times. Who knows what to expect from a young team playing on the road at Eastern Michigan? Penn State ends up last on the list, even with a home game against Army on the slate.