Two nights ago, upsets reigned across the Big Ten. Maryland lost to Penn State on the road, to fall another loss behind Wisconsin. Illinois traveled to Evanston, and upset Northwestern. And, I have no idea how to describe what happened in Ann Arbor; Michigan destroyed Michigan State.
It might just be that time of year. We think we have a handle on which teams are serious contenders. But by mid-February weird stuff can happen.
Anyway, forget Duke-North Carolina; we have two intriguing games in the Big Ten, with potential for more weirdness. Let’s take a closer look.
Big Ten Game of the Day:
- Time/TV: 6:00 PM CT – ESPN2
- Covers Spread: Purdue (-3.5)
This is the first meeting of the season between these two in-state rivals. Purdue’s and Indiana’s paths have diverged slightly. The Boilermakers, a virtual lock to make the tournament, are only a game and a half out of first place in the league, while Indiana needs to close with good wins to bolster a shaky resume.
James Blackmon Jr., dealing with a lower leg injury, may not be back in the lineup. He adds explosiveness and shooting to the offense, which Indiana dearly missed against Wisconsin. (Purdue expects him to play though.)
Blackmon Jr. aside, Purdue’s on a good run, beating Northwestern and Maryland last week. Caleb Swanigan, who’s scored in double figures 14 consecutive games, has been a monster. His floor spacing presents a problem, and opens lanes for guys like Isaac Haas and Carsen Edwards.
Turnovers may swing the game. Indiana’s prone to them, at a pretty high rate. Per KenPom, the Hoosiers have a 21 percent turnover rate (313th in the country). Indiana’s offense is still pretty efficient, but Purdue’s is top-15 and the Hoosiers be able overcome many wasted possessions.
Normally, I’d opt to grab the points with a home dog, but Purdue minus-3.5 doesn’t concern me. The Boilermakers need help to win the regular season Big Ten title, but over the last week, they look like the best team in the conference.
- Pick Against The Spread: Purdue (-3.5)
- Time/TV: 8:00 PM CT – BTN
- Covers Spread: Wisconsin (-7)
This line terrifies me. Seven’s a big number for Wisconsin to cover on the road, and especially at Nebraska. (The Huskers could pull off the upset, forget the spread. Keep in mind, Nebraska beat Purdue at home not too long ago.)
Of late though, Nebraska’s win-loss record hasn’t been great. Beating Wisconsin (a top-10 team) would be a beacon in a trying year. The program’s lost seven of eight, falling to 10-13 overall, 4-7 in the Big Ten. Meanwhile, the Badgers are trending in the opposite direction, on a seven game winning streak.
All the numbers suggest a Wisconsin win but it’s hard to factor the home crowd. Purely from a logical standpoint, Nebraska doesn’t operate with the offensive and defensive efficiency necessary to beat the Badgers.
Nor do the Huskers really push the pace. Both teams hunt for efficient offense, but Wisconsin’s effective field goal percentage is far better (53.3 percent vs. 46.5 percent). And, Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes will get on the glass, generating additional opportunities if the jumpers aren’t falling.
All the logic leads to the same conclusion: a Wisconsin win. I think they do in a close one, so I’ll take Nebraska and the points.
- Pick Against The Spread: Nebraska (+7)