Nittany Lion to Watch: Junior Guard Talor Battle (18.2 ppg)
Cavalier to Watch: Sophomore Guard Sylven Landesberg (16.2 ppg)
Prediction: Virginia's five starters average over 7.8 points per game. Penn State averages Talor Battle, who sets the pace for the Nittany Lions. When he's good, Penn State has won. This season when he's bad, the Nittany Lions look bad. In losses to UNC-Wilmington and Tulane, Battle went 8-of-23 and 3-of-13, respectively. How about Wisconsin vs. Virginia/Bo Ryan vs. Tony Bennett next season? That would be something …
Pick: Penn State, 1-0 Big Ten
Tuesday, December 1
Wildcat to Watch: Junior Guard Michael Thompson (16.7 ppg)
Wolfpack to Watch: Junior Forward Tracy Smith (16.2 ppg)
Prediction: Northwestern's resume is already starting to build. The Wildcats won the Chicago Invitational by beating Notre Dame and Iowa State (thanks to John Shurna's back-to-back 20-point games) and their only loss was to a top 10 team (Butler). That shows the power of the 1-3-1 defense.
The Wolfpack rely on Smith's offense and four members of their starting lineup scoring over eight points per game. As good as Northwestern's defense is, the Wolfpack haven't allowed an opponent to score over 60, but their offense hasn't scored above 70.
Pick: Northwestern, 2-0
Boilermaker to Watch: Junior Guard E'Twaun Moore (15.8 ppg)
Demon Deacons to Watch: Sophomore Forward Al-Farouq Aminu (18.8 ppg)
Prediction: Purdue has already made a statement this non-conference season (beating a top 15 Tennessee squad in the Paradise Jam finals) while Wake Forest has already dropped a dud to William & Mary. Purdue's Moore leads the team in points and steals but will need him to be a stud on the boards against a Wake team with a plus-9 rebounding margin.
Pick: Purdue, 3-0 Big Ten
Hoosier to Watch: Freshman Guard Maurice Creek (16.3 ppg)
Terrapin to Watch: Senior Guard Greivis Vasquez (11.2 ppg)
Prediction: Seeing the Terps first hand, it's obviously that Maryland relies on a lot of different players to get things done. Leading scorer Landon Milbourne (13.7 ppg) is the guy that's supposed to get the tough points in the paint, senior Greivis Vazquez leads the team in assists and steals and Jordan Williams averages over seven boards a game. They never got off the beach in Maui because they were out rebounded 78-57 in their two losses.
Indiana is still in rebuilding mode, which is evident by its 16.7 turnovers per game. The Hoosiers have started beating up on cupcakes, which is a good sign that things are turning around. The problem is that Maryland is no wimp.
Pick: Maryland, 3-1 Big Ten
Spartan to Watch: Junior Guard Kalin Lucas (17.2 ppg)
Tar Heels to Watch: Senior Forward Deon Thompson (17.7 ppg)
Prediction: Apparently, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo isn't planning on using last season's two losses against defending national champion North Carolina as motivation, even though the Tar Heels destroyed the Spartans twice in the city of Detroit.
"I won't use it at all because we got beat by 100," he said. "It was close to 100 it seemed like anyway when I was sitting there. They're a different team and we're a different team in some ways."
Michigan State signature win this season has been a four-point defeat at home over Gonzaga, but the Spartans lost to Florida on a neutral site last weekend when MSU had 24. Kalin Lucas was on fire (8-of-11 for 20 points), still showing he has what it takes.
The Tar Heels are much different from the team that won the program's fifth NCAA championship. Having to replace four key players on that roster, Coach Roy Williams is relying on seniors Williams and Marcus Ginyard, who is coming off a foot injury, to carry his team. It's different every night – UNC beats a ranked Ohio State but gets crushed by Syracuse the next night.
This is the best game of the Challenge, and MSU can't afford to lose this one for the conference. Win this and Izzo might actually be liked around the conference.
Pick: MSU, 4-1 Big Ten
Hawkeye to Watch: Sophomore Forward Matt Gatens (11.2 ppg)
Hokie to Watch: Junior Guard Malcolm Delaney (21.8 ppg)
Prediction: The Hokies are struggling against below-average opponents, but are surviving because of Delaney. In Tech's overtime win over Delaware, Delaney, preseason All-ACC pick, scored the first five points of overtime and finished with 24 in an eight-point win.
Iowa is, well, really bad. The Hawkeyes are off to their worst start since 1929 and have lost to UT-San Antonio and Duquesne. Ick.
Pick: Virginia Tech, 4-2 Big Ten
Wednesday, December 3
Boston College (4-2) at Michigan (3-2)
Wolverine to Watch: Junior Guard Manny Harris (22.2 ppg)
Eagles to Watch: Junior Forward Joe Trapani (15.8 ppg)
Prediction: Five Eagles average over 10 points a games, but the game will be won on the boards, especially with Boston College going up against the experience Michigan combination of DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris, who combine for 17.8 per game and who have represented more than half the teams rebounds in the past three games.
Wolverines are coming off back-to-back losses to tough teams while Boston College hasn't had a tough test yet. There toss up games the Big Ten has lost in the past. It can't afford to lose them anymore.
Pick: Michigan, 5-2 Big Ten
Illini to Watch: Junior Guard Demetri McCamey (12.7 ppg)
Tiger to Watch: Senior Forward Trevor Booker (13.9 ppg)
Prediction: Clemson's victory over Butler on Sunday is a sign that the Tigers could be a surprise team in the ACC. Illinois two losses in Las Vegas show that Bruce Weber's squad has plenty of concerns, especially closing out games (losing two games by a combined six points).
McCamey leads the team in points and assists (6.0) and Mike Davis is averaging a double-double (11.8 points, 10 rebounds). Brandon Paul, Mike Tisdale and D.J. Richardson round out a solid lineup, but the Illini aren't getting a lot of production from their bench, which is going to catch up with them.
Clemson's Booker is the key, as he leads the team in points, rebounds (8.7) and blocks (1.1). This was a dandy of a game last year, and I think Clemson wins again.
Illinois needs to let what happened in Vegas, stay in Vegas. Two defeats to two lesser opponents in Nevada should show the Illini they need to get better at closing out games. Clemson needs to have Trevor Booker eat up the offensive boards. The 6-7, 240-pound forward is one of the toughest to wrestle the ball from.
Pick: Clemson, 5-3 Big Ten
Gopher to Watch: Senior Guard Lawrence Westbrook (12.2 ppg)
Hurricane to Watch: Senior Forward Dwayne Collins (13.4 ppg)
Prediction: Gophers look legit after beating Butler in the first round of the 76 Classic, but then came quickly back to earth after losing to Portland (who?) and Texas A&M in back-to-back games. Not impressive for a team of Goldie's caliber.
Miami has won six of its seven games by 15 points or more and is averaging 80.6 points and 41.7 rebounds per game. Add the fact that the Hurricanes are shooting 50.2 percent as a team and are playing at home, Minnesota will have a big battle on its hands.
Pick: Miami, 5-4 Big Ten
No.6 Duke (6-0) at Wisconsin (4-1)
Badger to Watch: Senior Guard Trevon Hughes (14.2 ppg)
Blue Devil to Watch: Senior Guard Jon Scheyer (16.8 ppg)
UW will need another stellar outing from Hughes, who has played extremely well against the ACC, averaging 12.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.0 steal per game. Oh, and he's hit two winning shots against conference foes, too. Will it be three on Wednesday? Wisconsin needs a great game in order to get that opportunity.
Pick: Duke, 5-5
No.21 Florida State (6-1) at No.15 Ohio State (5-1)
Buckeye to Watch: Junior Guard Evan Turner (19.8 ppg)
Seminole to Watch: Sophomore Forward Chris Singleton (11.2 ppg)
Prediction: The Buckeyes responded from its four-point defeat against North Carolina by knocking off a pretty good ranked California team the next night. Turner leads the Buckeyes in points, rebounds (12.8) and assists (6.7) and has been the shining star of the conference thus far.
Florida State is still trying to pick up the pieces from its shocking overtime upset against Wisconsin in last year's NCAA Tournament. FSU is ranked despite not beating a ranked opponent, committing 27 turnovers against Iona and needing a furious second-half comeback to beat Marquette in the finals of the Old Spice Classic.
The only meeting between ranked teams favors the home team, which would finally break the conference's futility.
Pick: Ohio State, 6-5 Big Ten