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Andy Katz | Correspondent | December 1, 2017

What to know today: Big Ten starts conference play

  The Big Ten opens conference play on Friday night with Purdue vs. Maryland and Illinois vs. Northwestern.

What you need to know for Friday, December 1:

1. Purdue at Maryland: This is the new norm and not just because the Big Ten is playing the conference tournament a week earlier at Madison Square Garden in New York this season. Expect Big Ten conference games to happen right after the ACC-Big Ten Challenge the first weekend in December because of the 20-game conference schedule next season. The Big Ten also loves the idea of having conference games wrapped around the conference football championship game weekend. The Boilermakers have momentum off their home win against Louisville, even though they didn’t play their best basketball. Maryland had turnover issues against Syracuse’s zone in a road loss. The Carsen Edwards-Anthony Cowan matchup should be an entertaining watch tonight. But the Boilermakers must find Kevin Huerter each down the court since he can pull up from 25-feet and bury a 3-pointer. This could end up being the best Big Ten game of the season.

2. Illinois at Northwestern: This is Brad Underwood’s first rivalry game in the Big Ten as head coach of the Illinois. Too bad it’s not on campus. Having this game at Allstate Arena by O’Hare could give regional Illini fans a better shot to get in as opposed to when the game is at Welsh-Ryan on Northwestern’s campus. Still, this is a huge game for the Wildcats after a buzzer-beating loss at Georgia Tech. The Wildcats, perceived to be a Big Ten title contender, or at least a top three challenger, need to get a signature win this season. The pressure is all on the Wildcats to get this one and start the conference off much better than the inconsistent non-conference so far.

3. Creighton at Gonzaga: Love this game. Love. Love. If the Gonzaga administration could have its pick of any conference, it would play in the Big East in men’s basketball. The Zags fit the profile. The only problem is something called geography. But Gonzaga would love to show Big East commissioner Val Ackerman this week that the Zags can be a player in this conference by playing Creighton (the closest team in the Big East to Spokane, which is still hours away by air) and then Villanova Tuesday in New York at the Jimmy V Classic at MSG. The odds are incredibly slim it would ever happen (a move to the Mountain West as a non-football member would be the most likely if it ever would happen that Gonzaga would change leagues). Still, it’s something to ponder. As for this game, the Zags and Bluejays will get out and run. Marcus Foster will be a tough matchup, but so too, will Josh Perkins for the Bluejays. Creighton’s Khryi Thomas has been a big-time scorer this season, but so has Gonzaga’s Johnathan Williams. The hope here is that this is a game played in the 80s or 90s and down to the final possession.

4. Michigan State beat Notre Dame by 18 points Thursday night and Miles Bridges went 1-for-7 on 3s and Jaren Jackson Jr., played only 14 minutes due to 14 fouls. What does that say? Well, Tom Izzo told me last night that he loves the variety of options he has with this team. Josh Langford and Cassius Winston were on fire at times. Nick Ward, who holds the basketball like a grapefruit when he’s at the free-throw line, runs the floor and finishes. Even Ben Carter and Matt McQuaid hit timely shots for the Spartans. Obviously, Jackson has to stay on the floor for the Spartans to reach their potential, but he is such a raw talent that is only going to get better. He can step out and make a 3 as he did, block shots (three) and cause plenty of attention. Meanwhile, don’t be dismayed by Bridges not being the dominant player. Izzo said after the game that the defensive attention Bridges receives frees up shots and opportunities for everyone else. Clearly, that was the case against the Irish, especially for Winston, who looks the part of the next great lead guard for Izzo.

5. Notre Dame got blitzed in the first 20, but then came roaring back behind Bonzi Colson, TJ Gibbs, Rex Pflueger and of course Matt Farrell to get into a manageable 10 points before the Spartans extended the lead again. But don’t fret Irish fans. This team has the chops to be in the mix in the ACC. Izzo lavishly praised the senior leadership of this team. And sitting courtside you could see how much Farrell is such a determined player. He gets it. And he fits playing for Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. One thing I could tell watching this group is that Izzo and Brey would probably love coaching each other’s teams with similar type of players who want to work, give great effort and are locked into how their coach wants them to play.

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