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Pre-Christmas Hoops and Bracketology

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With Jerry Palm’s thoughts added to the mix, are teams like Minnesota, Illinois, and...Northwestern! really bound for the NCAA Tournament?

NCAA Basketball: LIU Brooklyn at Minnesota Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

With Indiana falling to Butler and Ohio State slowing down but failing to stop UCLA, things aren’t looking ideal for the Big Ten getting a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament...or even a 2-seed, for that matter. It’s looking like a down year for the top of the conference, though there’s still hope for a middling crop of 5-9 seeds coming out of the conference’s middle tier.

That in mind, we’re recapping this weekend in Bracketology, with some week previews mixed in, as we find out if Rutgers is for real and see if the rest of the conference can chew up their last cupcakes.

(Purdue and Indiana both handled their cupcakes last night and I have nothing further to say on the matter.)

Bracketology

Right now there only appear to be six consensus schools dancing from the Big Ten--Purdue, Indiana, wisconsin, Maryland, Minnesota, and Michigan, with the latter two chosen as First Four teams by at least one of the three.

I think once Ohio State gets into Big Ten play, they start to make their case for the NCAA Tournament all over again; Thad Matta knows how to play the conference, and a 10-8 record might be enough for the Buckeyes to make it. I think Michigan's in as well, and might rise as high as a 5- or 6-seed if their free-flowing offense is given room to shine in conference play.

As for Minnesota, Illinois, and Northwestern...color me skeptical. I think Jerry Palm is high for suggesting the Gophers as a five-seed despite having beaten...Arkansas and UT-Arlington? I'm not going to hold my breath on the latter holding up, and the former will be a fine Top-100 win, but I don't know if the Hogs will hold onto Top 50 status come SEC play.

Illinois and Northwestern have a lot of work to do in conference play to prove that they belong with the middle-tier of the conference and the NCAA field. Neither has a bad loss (the closest being Illinois falling to Winthrop at home) yet, and wins over Wake Forest, Dayton, VCU, and NC State are fine feathers in their caps. Can we see them escaping the dregs of the Big Ten unscathed, though? I see a couple bad losses and overall conference weakness putting them right back on the outside looking in.

Previews

Tuesday

Maryland (11-1, KP 64) vs. Charlotte (6-4, KP 200)

6pm || ESPN2 || MD -12

The 49ers are rather fortunate to have made it to 6-4, but they have done it by making their own fortune, getting out, pushing the pace, and forcing the issue (26th AdjT). They head to Baltimore to take on Maryland as the Terrapins host a home-away-from-home game, led by guards Jon Davis (19.1 ppg, 3.6 apg) and Braxton Ogbueze (12.1 ppg).

While Charlotte has two Eurocenters over 7', neither receives substantial minutes, and the 49ers are 325th in total rebounding as a result, running no player over 6'7". Look for Maryland's Michael Cetkovsky to have a big game inside if he can keep the ball up high; even if he doesn't, Melo Trimble and Turgeon's coterie of guards should do more than enough to see the Terrapins through.

Ohio State (8-3, KP 38) vs. Youngstown State (6-6, KP 276)

6pm || ESPN3 || OSU -22

The Penguins run and can score the ball at a decent clip, with guard Cameron Morse dropping nearly 24 points a contest and Francisco Santiago supporting him with 13.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, and 5.1 apg. Santiago and Matt Donlan, both over 41% from deep, are also dangerous if left alone on the outside.

Ohio State, though, should have more than enough power at home, able to grind the pace down to Thad Matta's preferred tempo and enough length to break down the Penguins off the dribble. Jae'Sean Tate has been a solid asset, averaging 14 and 7 per game, but the Buckeyes need to keep getting to the basket--they're shooting just 32.6% from outside on the year.

Northwestern (9-2, KP 46) vs. IUPUI (5-7, KP 158)

7pm || BTN+ || NU -14

Everyone's favorite school name (perhaps outside of Oral Roberts) has a competent one-two punch in Darrell Combs (17.5 ppg) and Matt O'Leary (14.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg), and those two along with guard Ron Patterson are liable to go off from deep at any time--the Jaguars shoot 38% from deep as a team.

Northwestern beats IUPUI with their length and ability to get to the basket off the wings--the combination of Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey should have the firepower to get around the Jags' defenders and to the hoop, and Sanjay Lumpkin will likely draw substantial time guarding O'Leary if Barrett Benson or Gavin Skelly aren't up to the task. If the 'Cats are going to keep earning those mentions in NCAA projections or votes in the AP Poll (they got 4 last week), they'll need to put teams like IUPUI away.

Nebraska (5-6, KP 87) vs. Southern (4-7, KP 242)

7pm || BTN+ || No line

I mean, this is a game the Huskers should take care of. The Jaguars aren't particularly efficient on offense, and things begin and end for Southern with the trio of forward Shawn Prudhomme (18.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg), forward Jared Sam (13.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg), and guard Tre'lun Banks (12.2 ppg, 5.6 apg). That's length and athleticism that, truth be told, I can see troubling the Huskers, given their failure to deal with the tempo of Gardner-Webb over the weekend.

While the Huskers are a Top 50 team on defense (AdjT 44th), it's no secret that they're pretty bad on offense--shooting just 41% from the field and 29% from deep. Ed Morrow is gradually inching toward averaging a double-double per game, and he will need to complement the outside efforts of Tai Webster and Glynn Watson Jr. in building a respectable Huskers offense. They should still have the strength to take care of last year's NCAA participants (the Jags lost to Bill Carmody's upstart Holy Cross Crusaders), but Tim Miles could be shopping for new housing much, much earlier if the Huskers find a way to blow this one.

Iowa (6-5, KP 68) vs. North Dakota (5-4, KP 149)

8pm || BTN || Iowa -11

Iowa meets its mini-me in more ways than one, as FotP RossWB noted over at Go Iowa Awesome--the Fightin' [REDACTED] Hawks play at a fast clip and have Iowa ties galore. Quinton Hooker leads UND, averaging 17 ppg and 4 boards to boot, and junior Drick Berstine patrols the glass, having averaged 9 rpg in 2015-16 and still on 8 per this season.

Contributors to the Peter Jok Experience have begun to emerge for Fran McCaffery's club, as Cordell Pemsl is shooting 77% on the season and Nicholas Baer has emerged as a force on the boards, averaging over 8 per game in his last 5 contests. As the Hawkeyes wait for the return of Tyler Cook, finding roles for the rest of the squad is of the utmost as Iowa attempts to bolster its flagging NIT prospects and keep the dream of the NCAAs alive during Big Ten play.

Wednesday

Penn State (7-5, KP 106) vs. Morgan State (3-7, KP 327)

4pm || BTN+

The Bears are baaaaad on offense (333rd AdjO), but Tiwian Kendley brings the fireworks, averaging 22.9 ppg and 6.1 rpg. The junior guard leads a one-two punch with forward Phillip Carr--the junior from Brooklyn plays nearly all of the game, averaging nearly a double-double of 17 and 10. The Bears shoot 39% from the field and 26% from deep, though, and that should be enough for the Nittany Lions to ease past.

Penn State has the athleticism to handle the Bears' length (several players stand 6'7" for Morgan State). Freshman forward Mike Watkins in particular looks to continue his hot streak, having posted double-doubles against both Pitt and St. John's, averaging 12 and 10.6 over his last 5 games, and 10.6 and 8.4 on the season. He's emerged as a nice inside option to take some of the chucking responsibilities out of the hands of Shep Garner and Payton Banks, who still put up 15.0 and 12.2 per game, respectively.

Illinois (9-3, KP 66) vs. Missouri (5-5, KP 167)

6pm || ESPNU || Illinois -6

Scottrade Center, St. Louis

BRAGGIN' RIGHTS.

The Tigers aren't even the best team in their own state (that'd be Missouri State), but they play lockdown defense to match their equally-bad offense. Despite being 5-5, Kim Anderson's squad allows just 63.8 ppg (42nd nationally), using a deep lineup to force steals and take care of the ball on offense. That's necessary, because only two Tigers (Frankie Hughes and Kevin Puryear) average double-digits, and the team as a whole shoots 40.3% from the field and 27.5% (345th nationally) from deep.

Anderson has one an admirable job of rebuilding the program after royal shitbag Frank Haith got the program sanctioned and skated off to Tulsa, but his lineup lacks height (no one seeing substantial time is over 6'8") and relies on athleticism and ball-hawking to close out opponents. That's...kind of worked? The Tigers are still just 5-5 against the 322nd-toughest non-con schedule, with losses to Davidson, NC Central, and Eastern Illinois. Woof.

The Illini win this game with efficiency on offense, and the resurgence of Leron Black (save his foul-limited performance against BYU) has given Jim Groce the size and athleticism which lighten the burden on Malcolm Hill and Tracy Abrams. A strong inside performance from Maverick Morgan and Black should allow Hill to splash a few threes from deep and pull the Illini away in the second half.

Michigan State (7-5, KP 56) vs. Oakland (9-2, KP 114)

6pm || BTN

With the Spartans' upset loss to Northeastern over the weekend (the Huskies also just beat Oakland to complete a 2-0 swing through the Mitten State), an in-state showdown with the Golden Grizzlies suddenly approaches a trite "must-win" status, as Michigan State desperately needs to find its form ahead of Big Ten showdowns with in-form Minnesota, Northwestern, and even Rutgers.

Oakland once again look like Horizon League front-runners, with Martez Walker admirably filling the big shoes of Kay Felder with 17.1 ppg. Forward Jalen Hayes (13.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg) will look to show up his hometown club, and the Lansing native has the height and inside ability to give the Spartans trouble at the Breslin Center. Future Hall of Fame coach Greg Kampe (in his 33rd year at the helm) has the Golden Grizz running (27th-fastest in the NCAA) and playing good defense (83rd AdjD), and Michigan State will need to lower its 15 turnovers per game if it's to escape another home loss.

For having to dip into his already-depleted depth, Tom Izzo might pull off yet another escape act, as Miles Bridges shed his walking boot last night and the Spartans have...well, a way in Big Ten play. One more big night from the streaky-shooting Eron Harris (whose FG% has consistently declined since the loss to Duke) and continuing to feed Nick Ward the rock would help the Spartans get into Big Ten play and see what they can do there.

Oh, and here's hoping Kampe brings his awesome sweater:

#15 Purdue (10-2, KP 12) vs. Norfolk State (3-9, KP 306)

6pm || BTN+

Why yes, I am running out of mildly complimentary things to say about the cupcakes of pre-B1G play. The Spartans, darlings of the 2012 NCAA Tournament, have remained a MEAC powerhouse but still play a brutal non-conference, having begun an 8-game skid with losses to Vanderbilt, Butler, and Bucknell before skidding against Niagara and Evansville and finally righting the ship against Eastern Kentucky.

Jonathan Wade averages 20 ppg and 5.8 rpg for the Spartans, who do bring modest height in 7'0" C Dan Robinson but rely more on F Alex Long (7.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg) inside. They'll still struggle to contain Biggie Swanigan inside, and if Purdue's excellent perimeter defense can contain Wade, Norfolk's got very little else to offer in the way of offense. I

Feel free to use this thread as your basketball open thread for the week, with usual rules applying.

Who do you see making it into the Big Dance from the Big Ten?