The opening day of the NCAA Tournament is always exciting and there was even more intrigue around these parts with five Big Ten teams in action.
The Big Ten finished the day 3-2 with Minnesota and Maryland falling victim to upsets. It was also a historic day for the conference as Northwestern played in its first ever NCAA Tournament game, topping Vanderbilt. So, not a bad day for the league.
Friday’s action won’t be historic for the Big Ten and there won’t be as many games, but the two games on the slate should be great matchups. The two teams from the Great Lakes State will hit the floor to tip off their potential NCAA Tournament runs, with Michigan considered as a dark horse favorite and Michigan State needing some magic from their young bunch.
Let’s take a look at the two matchups involving Big Ten teams that’ll take place on Friday. Betting lines courtesy of Vegas Insider.
Big Ten Game of the Day:
-#7 Michigan Wolverines vs. #10 Oklahoma State Cowboys
- TV/Time: 12:15 p.m. ET - CBS
- Spread: Michigan (-2.5)
Both of today’s games should be close and fun to watch, but I picked this one as my top game because of the pure offensive ability both teams bring to the table.
Michigan and Oklahoma State each rank in the top five nationally for offensive efficiency, with the Cowboys rankings first in the country and the Wolverines ranking fifth. This ultimately means both of these teams can put the ball in the hoop at a very high rate. Both of these teams are so great offensively because of incredible play from their point guards.
Michigan is led by senior Derrick Walton Jr., who we all know has been incredible down the stretch, and Oklahoma State is championed by sophomore Jawun Evans, who has been equally impressive as of late. Since Jan. 14, Walton has averaged 18.1 points, 5.5 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game, while Evans has averaged 19.6 points, 7.1 assists and 3.8 rebounds. Those are simply outstanding numbers for both of these guys.
I expect both of these guys to have great games, and will match each other’s production. So the key area to watch in this game for me is down in the post.
Michigan features two bigs in sophomore forward Moritz Wagner and junior forward D.J. Wilson that could create fits for the Cowboys. Oklahoma State is the better rebounding team, featuring a 7-footer in junior Mitchell Solomon, but Wagner and Wilson are able to stretch the floor. Both have proven this year they can hit shots from all over the floor and that’ll be key in this one. I think one of, if not both, of these guys will do some damage against the Cowboys.
Earlier in the week Brendan Quinn of MLive tweeted that going from watching Big Ten basketball to the Big 12 is like going from Diet Coke to Fireball. That should say enough about the style of play. But of all the Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament, this probably favors the Wolverines the most.
Michigan’s ability to stretch the floor and have each guy out there make shots from wherever gives them the edge. Expect this one to be a high scoring affair with Walton making enough plays down the stretch to give the Wolverines the victory.
- Pick against the spread: Michigan (-2.5)
-#8 Miami Hurricanes vs. #9 Michigan State Spartans
- TV/Time: 9:20 p.m. ET - TNT
- Spread: Miami (-2)
While Friday’s first matchup of a Big Ten team should be a high-flying game, expect the late-night contest between the Spartans and Hurricanes to be a low-scoring dog fight.
Michigan State will have their hands full in this one with Miami bringing a stout defense. The Hurricanes rank second in the ACC for points against per game, surrendering only 63.7 per contest. They also hold opponents to only 41.4% from the field, which ranks 5th in the ACC. Michigan State will need to bring its A-game, especially on the offensive end, in order to pull off the win.
While the Hurricanes play great defense, they are small up front and normally play four guards. That bodes well for a Michigan State team that also is small. It also bodes well for Michigan State.
Freshman forward Nick Ward is playing his best ball and has the opportunity to have a great game tonight. He finished the season averaging 17.5 points and 10 rebounds per game in the final six games. He’ll be matched up with Miami 6-foot-8 senior Kamari Murphy, who averaged 7.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. This is an advantage for the Spartans.
The Hurricanes aren’t a great offensive team, but they do have three guards who all average double figures. Senior guard Davon Reed leads the way for Miami, averaging 15 points per game. He’s a big guard at 6-foot-6 and could be linked up with Spartan freshman Miles Bridges. This will be a great matchup to watch if that’s the case.
Michigan State struggles with turnovers and Miami is great defensively. So for the Spartans to win this game they’ll need to do three things — hit their open looks, not commit more than 10 turnovers and feed Ward in the post. I think they accomplish at least two of those three keys, and pick up the victory.
- Pick against the spread: Michigan State (+2)