Thanks to the additions of Rutgers and Maryland this year, the First Round of the Big Ten Tournament is limited to two games. The first game, Penn State v. Nebraska, tips off today at 4:30 p.m. and the second game, Minnesota v. Rutgers, is set for 7:00 p.m. Here is a look at how the first few rounds of the Tournament break down:
As you can see, the Buckeyes don't play until the second round where they will face off against the winner of Minnesota v. Rutgers. However, in the meantime, let's take a look at the first two matchups set for the Tournament.
No. 12 Nebraska vs. No. 13 Penn State, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Reasons to Watch: Terran Petteway v. D.J. Newbill. That is pretty much the only reason to watch this game. Both Petteway and Newbill are elite scorers for their respective teams and have the ability to take over a game at any time. In light of each player's high caliber level of play, these two disappointing teams are solid candidates to go on a surprise run in the Big Ten Tournament and make some noise. However, both of these teams will need to win the tournament outright in order to extend their season to the NCAA tournament. With even the NIT a longshot, someone's season is going to end tonight.
Fun With Numbers: This is going to be a painfully low scoring affair. Penn State comes into the game scoring just over 67 points per game. That's currently good for 185th best in the country. However, Nebraska tops Penn State in offensive ineptitude with only 61 points per game, which doesn't even put them in the top 300. Both squads are truly anemic offensively and will struggle to put the ball in the hoop if Petteway and Newbill aren't lighting it up. Outside of those two, there just is not much there offensively for either team. Both players may sniff career highs in shot attempts today.
Players to Watch: The two major players to watch in this game are, you guessed it, D.J. Newbill and Terran Petteway. Please maintain your unbridled shock. However, setting those two aside for a moment, the key to edging out Penn State in this game for Nebraska may be Shavon Shields. Shields has been a relatively consistent force for the Cornhuskers and provides rebounding assistance and upperclassman leadership on the court. If Nebraska can get a solid performance from Shields, it could be the difference maker in the game.
Prediction: Amidst a hero ball battle between Newbill and Petteway, Shields makes the difference as the Cornhuskers prevail, 64-60.
#11 Minnesota vs. #14 Rutgers, 7:00 p.m. ET, BTN
Reasons to Watch: Ohio State plays the winner of this game, which is as good a reason as any. Outside of that, this is just a lopsided matchup in Minnesota's favor. Despite a below average record, Minnesota sits at a respectable 61 in the KenPom rankings, compared to the dismal 213 of Rutgers, a team that has lost 14 games in a row. The Gophers won their only regular season meeting, 89-80, at The Barn.
Fun With Numbers:Minnesota can really score the ball. They are averaging about 74 points per game, and have five players who average at least nine points a game. However, they're aren't as strong defensively. Lucky for Minnesota, Rutgers can't score at all. They're poor jump shooters and will struggle to get into the paint against the Gophers. The Rutgers upset over Wisconsin was exciting. However, the Scarlet Knights have not won a game since then. That game went down on Jan 11 ... two months ago.
Players to Watch: The players to watch in this game are Myles Mack for Rutgers and Andre Hollins for Minnesota. Both seniors have had solid careers for their respective teams and do not want to see their time on the court end with this game. Look for both Mack and Hollins to try and take over this game if it gets close down the stretch. However, that is rather unlikely. Minnesota is bigger and more skilled than Rutgers and should be able to impose its will on its overmatched opponent.
Prediction: Minnesota wins tonight and it isn't very close, 72-60.