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  • Big Ten conference play begins this weekend, but that's not all there is to offer in college hoops. Who's our pick to win Friday and Saturday's biggest games?
By Michael Beller
November 30, 2018

The weekend after Thanksgiving can often be a letdown in the college basketball world, but with the Big Ten kicking off conference play this weekend, that won’t be the case this season. The conference gives us a couple of top-25 meetings, one that was expected and another that perhaps wasn’t at the start of the season. The Big Ten dominates our look at this weekend’s best games, but there are a few that don’t involve the conference, including one with the country’s newly anointed No. 1 team.

No. 9 Michigan State at Rutgers

Friday, 6 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network

This game is included not because it’s expected to be a battle—the Spartans are heavy favorites—but rather because Michigan State is already in need of a bounce-back game after losing to unranked Louisville earlier this week. The Spartans likely didn’t plan on having two losses before the calendar turned to December, and with a game against No. 14 Iowa looming on Monday, they cannot afford to mess around with the Scarlet Knights. Having said that, Rutgers pulled off one of the big surprises of the Big Ten-ACC challenge, knocking off Miami on the road. Still, the Scarlet Knights are already among the worst teams in the country on the offensive end of the floor, ranking 269th in kenpom.com's adjusted efficiency, 194th in effective field goal percentage and 305th in turnover rate.

Michigan State 82, Rutgers 68

No. 25 Mississippi State at Dayton

Friday, 7 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network

Dayton isn’t expected to be an at-large contender this year, but this is still a good road test for Ben Howland’s team. This will be the Bulldogs’ first true road game of the season, and they dropped one of the two neutral-floor games they’ve played, a 72–67 downturn against Arizona State. One area that’s going to have to improve if the Bulldogs are going to be a player in the SEC is their three-point shooting. They rank 294th in the country, connecting on 29.3% of their attempts from behind the arc. They can’t change their personnel, but that’s simply not going to get the job done in the modern game.

Mississippi State 67, Dayton 64

No. 22 Wisconsin at No. 14 Iowa

Friday, 8 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network

There probably aren’t too many people who had this pegged as a top-25 matchup one month ago, but Wisconsin and Iowa have been among the most impressive teams in the country to start the season. The Hawkeyes own a neutral-floor win over No. 18 Oregon, while the Badgers’ only loss came to No. 4 Virginia in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game. Michigan is the clear favorite in the Big Ten, but it’s wide open behind the Wolverines, and the rising fortunes of teams like Iowa and Wisconsin all but guarantee that this will be a better year for the conference as a whole. Wisconsin ranks 10th in the country in three-point percentage, which puts even more pressure on Iowa’s Luka Garza to find a way to slow down Ethan Happ. On the other side of the floor, Tyler Cook will be a handful for a Wisconsin defense that has been good, but not great, defensively on the interior.

Wisconsin 75, Iowa 72

Louisville at Seton Hall

Saturday, noon ET, FOX

Louisville was knocking on the door of a big win for a couple of games before taking down Michigan State, playing step for step with No. 6 Tennessee before losing by 11, then falling to Marquette in overtime. Chris Mack still has a lot of work on his hands, but it’s already clear that he has this program headed in the right direction. Whether Louisville can keep the good times rolling will depend on how good a job it does against Seton Hall point guard Myles Powell, easily the team’s most dynamic player. The junior is shooting 61% on twos and 40% on threes, averaging 24.3 points per game.

Seton Hall 78, Louisville 72

No. 1 Gonzaga at Creighton

Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, FOX

Gonzaga became the top team in the polls after handing Duke its first loss last week. The Bulldogs are a well-rounded offensive team, but it all starts with Rui Hachimura, who’s averaging 21.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. The Bluejays are going to have to try to find a way to slow him down, while also hoping that freshman Marcus Zegarowski can stay in front of Josh Perkins. They have the offense to stick with Gonzaga, largely on the strength of their three-point shooting, but they’ll have to be hitting to pull off the upset. Neither team is going to win this game with defense.

Gonzaga 88, Creighton 80

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No. 12 Kansas State at Marquette

Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET, FS1

Marquette has been one of the most interesting teams in the country in the early going this season. They’ve lost twice, but those games were at Indiana and on a neutral floor against Kansas. They lead that game against the Jayhawks by nine at halftime behind an offense that poured in 47 points in the first half. That offense will be tested against a Kansas State team that ranks fifth in kenpom.com's adjusted defensive efficiency. The Wildcats haven’t played any real competition yet this season, but that’ll change in short order over the next month, starting with their trip to Milwaukee this weekend. With Barry Brown, Dean Wade and Kamau Stokes all back after taking this team to the Elite Eight last year, this is easily Bruce Weber’s best team during his time in Manhattan.

Kansas State 68, Marquette 66

No. 19 Purdue at No. 7 Michigan

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Talk about a strong start to the season. Michigan is 7–0 with wins over Villanova and North Carolina by a combined 44 points. It’s entirely possible that last year’s national runner-up is even better this year, even after losing Moe Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson. Purdue, meanwhile, has been mildly disappointing, dropping games to Virginia Tech and Florida State, though neither of those games were in West Lafayette. This game may feature the two best players in the Big Ten in Carsen Edwards and Charles Matthews.

Michigan 74, Purdue 65

No. 5 Nevada at USC

Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX

Nevada got a measure of revenge on Loyola for its Sweet 16 loss earlier this week, knocking off the Ramblers with ease in Chicago. The Wolf Pack showed why they’re a legitimate Final Four contender in that game, scoring 44 points and building a 20-point lead in the first half, finishing the game with 1.22 points per possession while shooting 58.2% from the floor. This is a nice game for USC to get at home, where it will feel winnable, but Nevada is easily one of the best teams in the country, and the trio of Caleb Martin, Cody Martin and Jordan Caroline is just going to be too much for the Trojans to handle.

Nevada 85, USC 73

Penn State at No. 24 Maryland

Saturday, 5 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network

Both of these teams have impressed this year, adding to the feeling that it’s going to be a major bounce-back season for the Big Ten. Penn State just took down Virginia Tech in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge earlier this week, while Maryland won its first six games of the season and went right down to the wire with Virginia before losing by five. The Virginia game was the start of a challenging stretch for the Terrapins, who will play Purdue, Loyola and Seton Hall in three of their four games after hosting Penn State. Lamar Stevens is breaking out for the Nittany Lions, averaging 23 points per game this season, but Maryland can throw plenty of size at him with Jalen Smith and Bruno Fernando. Neither of these teams shoot it very well, so expect plenty of Stevens on one side, with Anthony Cowan doing what he can to break down Penn State’s defense on the other.

Maryland 64, Penn State 59

Butler at Saint Louis

Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN Plus

We could be looking at a pair of sneaky tournament teams in this game, though Saint Louis may need to win the Atlantic 10 to get there. One of the stories of this season will be the coming-out party of Kamar Baldwin, who’s already averaging 19.7 points, 5.5 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game through six contests. If Butler is going to have any real at-large hopes, they will rest on his shoulders. He’ll get a nice test on both ends of the floor from Tramaine Isabell and Jordan Goodwin on Saturday, who combine for 24.2 points and 3.4 steals per game thus far this season.

Saint Louis 67, Butler 66

No. 18 Oregon at Houston

Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

Was Oregon’s home loss to Texas Southern the sign of real problems, or will it go down as one of this season’s biggest mysteries? They can start placing it in the latter category with a win at Houston on Saturday. This is the start of a tough stretch for the Cougars, with games against Oklahoma, LSU, Saint Louis and Utah State all before Christmas. That does, however, give them ample résumé-building opportunity, something that might not come easily in the AAC this year. Bol Bol is going to be a real problem for one of the smallest teams in the country, especially considering Houston isn’t the sort of team that’s going to get out in transition very often.

Oregon 65, Houston 61

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