Hey, how about some picks for the first night session? Hopefully they go better than the 4-4 we tossed out there earlier. I'll have some UM thoughts tomorrow when the make an appearance in Big 10 Picks, quarterfinal edition. Woot!! Sitting at 24-17-2 in March Madness. Here's to one more winning streak this weekend! Here goes and enjoy the hoops.
Sine the money line parlay worked so well this afternoon, we're going to put another one out there. I'll link the Oklahoma Sooners and the Pitt Panthers. Two elite teams. They're both playing rivals looking for revenge after an 0-2 season sweep. What could go wrong here? Its a little chalky more for tastes and linking two teams in the top five on a money line parlay earns me a seat at the Square Table. But, I think this is the way to go here. These teams proved their superiority all season to their rivals and their presence in the game will keep these giants from sleepwalking through an otherwise meaningless game simply.
When Boone Pickens says you're the best hire in 50 years, then you're moving in the right direction. I like how Travis Ford has remodeled the Cowboys. They're actually exciting to watch and go and down the floor as opposed to the choke-the-game-to-death strategy practiced by the Sutton Mafia. If this was a tournament opener, I would like their chances tonight. But, they were pushed hard last night by Iowa State. With so many starters logging over 30 minutes last night, I doubt they'll have the gas down the stretch to push past the Sooners. I have a suspicion Oklahoma enters this field more fired up than you would expect. They feel the regular season crowd was swiped from them because of the Griffin injury and look at this tournament as their own revenge tour. They want this title. Over the last decade when the Sooners have a good team, they excell in this tournament. Hopefully, Ollie look-alike does not have March Magic to kill them.
Speaking of excelling in their league tournaments, I present to you the Pitt Panthers. Did you know they've made it to the Big East Championship game in seven of the last eight years. I'll take them to win a quarterfinal game in what has become a Panther Invitational the decade. Whatever causes angst in Mountaineer Nation I'm on board with. Losing a third time to Pitt will do just. The Panthers won each of the first two games by double figures. The Mountaineers just dont have enough muscle to matchup against Pitt. West Virginia dominated the glass last night against the Irish, but those numbers could be reversed this evening.
The Pick: Pitt/Oklahoma to win moneyline. Both teams are -200. This pays about the same as the UM/Nova earlier today. I think both teams roll, but I wouldn't rule out one of them needing some sort of Nova-esque heroics to get in done.
The Magic Coin split the first two MAC games today. Let's give it a shot in a rubber match in the third quarterfinal of this sectional today. Why is Bowling Green, the top seed, not favored against against Ohio. The Falcons finished four games clear in the standings than the Bobcats. You're almost forcing me to bet the Falcons.
The Pick: BGSU, pick e'm........Is Vegas slow playing me into a trap? I trust the Magic Coin would not do that to me.
The rollercoaster ride continues for Maryland tonight. It really has been As The Terps Turns all winter long. They gagged away two chances to lock up a bid last week. I feel the third time will be the charm this weekend. Local fans remained concerned about Gary Williams leading he program into the future, but I think keeping this team from packing it in and instead rallying back into contention has been one of the best coaching jobs. Tonight is a huge game for Maryland if you use Joe Lunardi as a barometer. He was just on ESPN and among his final 4 in and final 4 out, he listed two mid majors in the clubhouse and Miami, Providence and Arizona teams that have already been bounced from their league tournament. They other team is SDSU. Oh, yeah, and Maryland. The Terps can sprint right by those teams with a couple of wins this weekend. They get the first leg tonight against the Pack. Greivas Jasquez wont let them lose tonight. Unless, Wolfpack players punch him in the mouth instead. Of course, they would get ejected them, so even that might be a good development.
The Pick: Maryland to win on the moneyline, -135. Hey, this was -2, but um, we saw what happened in the Villanova game. Yes, I was bullied into paying extra juice.
The most compelling Big 10 Tournament in the event’s history begins this afternoon. The field appears wide open. Michigan State is the favorite, but nobody would be surprised if a pair of sleepers emerge and hook up in Sunday's final.
The tournament tips today with intrigue draping the entire first round. All three favorites this afternoon, Minnesota, Michigan and Penn State can wrap up bids with a win. If they lose, then get ready for a home NIT game. All three are double digit seeds in the Bracket Matrix, but neither of them will be on a bracket line come Sunday evening if they don’t survive round one.
A fourth team today, Northwestern, is on the verge of its first ever bid, but needs wins today and tomorrow, against teams they've already beat this season, to make a convincing enough case.
A fifth team Iowa has no at-large hopes, but they're the healthiest they've been all season, could be the best 10th place team in the land and have a history of stirring runs in this sectional.
The sixth today is Indiana. No comment. The Hoosiers, at least, will have a distinct home court edge in Indianapolis.
I can’t recall a more important first round of the Big 10 Tournament. Never have this many stakes been on the table in these games. Rarely has a bid ever been on the line in this round. Usually the Big 10 season arcs one of two ways: It evolves top heavy with a wide gap between the haves and have nots. The tournament first round becomes nothing but a series of elimination games between teams that, at best, are mid-range NIT teams. Or, the league is a bit stronger than that, but the first round takes place between NCAA locks and cellar dwellers. This year we have three bids directly on the line today. None of the games appear to be total mismatches.
It ought to be the start of a dramatic weekend in Indy. With that in mind, let’s dust off a football season staple--Big 10 Picks. I'm not sure I like the idea of playing all 11 BTT games, and if I end 6-5, I will be stoked. As always, these are for amusement purposes only and blindly following my plays may be hazardous to your wallet:
#8 Minnesota vs. #9 Northwestern. Line, Minny -2
This is the most NCAA relevant 8/9 game the Big 10 Tournament has staged. Both teams have legitimate at large hopes, but need a good showing in this field as a final pitch to the selection committee. Losing this game does not equal a good showing. The loser this afternoon is NIT bound. The Daily Gopher makes the Big 10’s case for earning seven bids in the NCAAs, and this game will go a long way in determining who those squads may be.
Minnesota is 10th on the Bracket Matrix, but conventional wisdom seems to place the Gophers as one of the final at large teams included. The Gophers are trending downward with losses in six of their last nine games. Minnesota played choppy and uneven the back half if the Big 10 season. The Gophers struggle from the perimeter, handle the rock sloppy and are way too vulnerable to the three-point shot, picking apart what is otherwise a good defensive unit. March can be a time for redemption for the Gophers.
Who knows what to make of some of Tubby Smith's lineup moves? After watching his starting backcourt of Lawrence Westbrook and Al Nolan chuck up bricks all February, he removed them from the starting lineup. Both, however, return as starters today. Colton Iverson mysteriously logged a DNP in the finale Saturday against Michigan. And, let’s not even talk about the timeouts. Besides, that’s never a good argument for Michigan fans to wage.
Northwestern, meanwhile, looms in the back of the line of prospects still hoping to crash the dance. The Cats aren't anywhere near a bracket line, but they have enough of a resume where all that could change in the next 24 hours if they win today and tomorrow against Michigan State. Chew on this while watching Northwestern today: In the last two years, 37 different teams notched at least 6 wins over the RPI top 50. All of those teams qualified for the NCAAs. Northwestern enters the game with exactly six RPI top-50 wins with a chance to add more in this sectional. Translation: Northwestern arrives in Indianapolis with a strong at-large pulse, despite being considered an NIT 3-seed. As an aside, I think they would roll Wassau in that projected game. Anyway, to keep that pulse beating, the Cats have to overcome their woeful history in this tournament.
The Cats have had moments of brilliance this season. They smoked Florida State by 14 in the Big 10/ACC Challenge. They won road games at Purdue and Michigan State. They've also might be the most snake bitten team in the league, losing heartbreakers to Butler, Michigan, Purdue, Illinois and Ohio State. They could be in no worse than Minnesota's position had they found a way to notch even one of those games. After a four game losing streak to start the Big 10 season, Northwestern went 9-6 in their final 15 games.
The Gophers did beat Northwestern in February; the result can be disregarded since a flu bug invaded Wildcat camp, severely limiting the play of Northwestern's top two scorers, Kevin Coble and Craig Moore. They average about 70 minutes a game, but had only 40 in what ended up being a second half rout by the Gophers. Otherwise, Northwestern has been playing better basketball for the last month than Minnesota.
If I am a Gopher fan, I worry because Northwestern's strengths jive well with Minnesota's weaknesses. The Gophers leak like a sieve defensively from behind the arc, having given up twice as many treys as they’ve made since the start of February. Northwestern uses the three-ball as an offensive weapon as well as anybody in the league and are good for 8 or 9 treys a game when clicking. Northwestern is a good turnover margin team; Minnesota is not. Northwestern gets a lot more consistent offensive production from its top scorers than Minnesota does. Minnesota has not shoot the ball well from the perimeter and the Cats 1-3-1 will put a lot of pressure on them to hit deep jumpers. They've been missing those jumpers most of the conference season, why will they start going down now? If Coble and Moore perform like we know they can, can we trust anyone on the Gophers to be able to trade baskets with them?
The Gophers do have great interior brawn. They have mismatches inside. They will do damage. But as we saw in the Michigan game, even if the Gophers dominate inside, they can’t win even with a 'B' effort on the perimeter. Besides, don’t sleep on the Cats battling the Gopher bigs. In their leach of their last two games against Purdue and Ohio State, they grabbed 10 offensive rebounds. The Cats do have a size advantage on the perimeter, which could help shut down the outside and the Gophers transition game
I can’t help but think the Cats salt this one away to set up an interesting quarterfinal game against the Spartans. The game will be tight, but Northwestern pulls it out because they'll hit twice as many treys and the Gophers will have too many turnovers and empty positions to make up that difference.
The Pick: Northwestern +2.......Northwestern is 5-1 ATS after a loss. Minnesota is 3-8 ATS after a loss. I will admit the Chicken Little in me is starting to get nervous that everything seems to be pointing Northwestern’s way. We’ll find out in a little bit.
#6 Penn State vs. #11 Indiana. Line, PSU -10
Indiana has reached the last stop on its nightmare season. With the #11 seed in this tournament 8-3 ATS in Round One games, I'm more than willing to ride shotgun on the last leg.
We've spent a lot of time comparing Michigan disastrous football season to other falls-from-grace in that sport. Isn't the real comparison Indiana Basketball, however? Both programs are pillars of their sport and they’ve undergone historically awful seasons. Nevermind the different reasons that created the downfall, the actual results were the same. A new coach. Shifting philosophies. A rash of transfers or departures (or, in IU's case dismissals) decimating the lineup. A lineup dominated by freshmen and walk-ons. Losing streaks lasting more than a month. Worst records ever in Big 10 play. Like Michigan fans, IU fans now have their own worst loss argument: Northeastern, during which IU scored its least amount of points ever at Assembly Hall, or Lipscomb. D'uh, its Lipscomb, silly. I think it’s best comparison we have to the 2008 Michigan football season
If the Hoosiers manage to win even once in this field, the weekend automatically becomes the highlight of the year. Otherwise, it might be the fact their team-manager-turned-player found some face time on ESPN.
There’s no legitimate way to break the game down and project an Indiana win. Yet, I can’t shake the feeling they're going to at least scare the socks of Penn State today. I'm leaning on intangibles in this one. Despite the rotten won-loss record, the Hoosiers still bring out the fans like a rock band. The IU faithful will pack the Fieldhouse today and the adrenaline passed on might help for awhile as an equalizer.
Crean has this team playing hard and even confident, even though the outcome never works out for them. I think a perfect storm is brewing for IU's most spirited effort of the year in a quirky late afternoon start when just about everybody in the building will be shouting for them. They just played the Nittany Lions to a 3-point game a few weeks ago in a game they should have won. Funny as it sounds, but the Indiana players probably feel like they can win this game given that last performance.
If it does play out like that, it will be fascinating to see how Penn State responds. It’s the game of their lives. Their bid is on the line and everyone in the building will hate them. I believe they'll step up. The Lions have been one of the most resilient teams in the league this season. They have climbed back in so many games that a little in-game adversity is nothing. They'll make enough plays to pull away and win.
Covering the spread is another thing. Seeing a last place team give the favorite a run in the first round isn't that big of stretch based on what we've already seen in March. A winless Depaul team sprung an upset of Cincinnati. Last-place Colorado covered the spread over the Horns. And, in this tournament last season, the 11-seed Illinois got hot and advanced into the championship. Why not the Hoosiers? Well, to at least duplicate what the Buffs did.
The Pick: Indiana +10......it's worth pointing out that IU went 9-9 ATS in league play this season. That's nothing to write home about, but it is a whopping 8-game improvement from their actual record. That is eye opening. They're as likely to lose and cover as they are to lose and not cover. They're 7-4, however, when catching 9 or more points, so at least we have them in a profit making wheelhouse.
#7 Michigan vs. #10 Iowa. Line, UM -5.5
Here we are again Michigan fans. I think we've driven by this spot once or twice in recent years. This isn’t the first time Michigan was one more win away from locking up a bid. Each previous time, however, the Wolverines coughed up a lung choking away the game and their invite. We all know about those games, so let’s not rehash them. Let’s just say the outcomes have helped conspire against Michigan in its decade-long tournament drought and leave it at that. Today's game against Iowa can go a long way towards exercising the demons of NCAA sanctions, futile play and apathy that’s coursed through the program since the late 1990s. Can Michigan finish the deal today and finally return to the NCAA Tournament? A bid is in their grasp, but if they play too tight will it slip away? Will the officials suck any worse today than they did in Iowa City back in February?
Looking for a good omen? Michigan beat Iowa in its first even Big 10 Tournament game in 1998. The Wolverines ended up winning the whole thing and making the Big Dance. Allegedly. While they haven’t done either since, Michigan is 3-0 against Iowa in the Big 10 Tournament, including last year's first round win. Obviously, Beilein owns Lickliter in this event.
Michigan rolled the Hawks back in January in perhaps the easiest win the Wolverines had all Big 10 season. They lost two weeks ago in arguably the most heartbreaking defeat of the year, not to mention controversial. We won’t rehash that here either, but you have to think Manny Fresh is chomping at the bit to take on Iowa with the way that overtime went down at Carver-Hawkeye last month.
The Hawks scare me today. They're finally getting healthy. Tate will be a load to handle inside. Davin Ballwinkle (porn name or hoops player? Discuss) will be a nightmare if he gets hot from the outside and could easily impact this field the way Brody Boyd did for the Hawks earlier this decade. Jake Kelly taking over at point turned the team around down the stretch. They could spring themselves a couple of rounds through the weekend, and it would not surprise me one bit. They might be the best 10th place team in the country. They beat the MVC champion, beat the Big 12 fourth place team and lost by a point on the road to an ACC tournament lock. I've seen this team play Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State down the stretch and the Hawks looked every bit as good as those bid contenders in going 2-1. They had the emotion of home court behind them in each game, so we'll see if that carries over to this afternoon's neutral setting.
All my instinct says jump on the Hawks and those points. They're loose, have nothing to lose and appear to be peaking at the right time. The program has a history of making runs in this sectional despite their low seeds. They've made runs to the finals as a 6-seed and the semis as a 9- and 7-seed this decade. How will Michigan's young team respond to the pressure with so much on the line against a team playing with house money?
Then, I remember how they persevered last week. And, that their coach is John Beilein. I'll say it again: Beilein is 34-23 SU, 36-19-2 ATS in the month of March during the years since UM's last tournament appearance. There aren't too many other coaches I would rather have on the sidelines in this game. Beilein has the team convinced if they follow the road map he has set forth, then success will come their way. He has me convinced today.
The Pick: Michigan, to win. That's all I want them to do today. They ML at -230 is too expensive for my tastes, so I am parlaying it with the Villanova ML of -145 to win over Marquette. It's the second Big East game of the day, going on at the same time as the UM game. It's not the most lucrative parlay, paying just 7/5 odds, but both teams should have enough to salt away a win. For Michigan, can Sims keep up his amazing play of late? Can Manny take over the way a star should? Was LLP a mirage or the real deal on Saturday? If he falters, which of the others will step up and provide a third scoring option? I think Michigan answers enough of those questions in the affirmative to get the win today.
Do I have any more predictions today?
Is that a rhetorical question? I mean, c'mon it's March few gawd's sake. It's going to get a little ridiculous the next three days, so hang on. It's going to be a ride.
In addition to Northwestern +2 over Minnesota, here are two other games I played for the upcoming noon session:
***Why is a 7-seed favored to beat a 2-seed? Ladies and gentlemen, welcome the the Mid American Conference. Expect it to be the most competitive of the remaining quarterfinal rounds. Nobody is favored by more than 2 points today. If you bet these games, then hopefully you are using your magic coin. Mine says to take CMU -2 over Ball State. Again, the 7-seed is favored over the 2 seed. WTF? Somebody knows something, and I am going with that somebody.
****Virginia Tech +3.5 over Miami. I think the Hokies are the better team and have more talent. I love the wat the Hokies play ball. After a murderer's row slate to close out, they might find the Canes a little bit easier to play than they did the ACC big boys. Miami, meanwhile, looked 'meh' in their closing stretch against the league's lower echelon. I'm not sure they can handle the step up today. Hokies will advance, but I'll take the 3.5 anyway.
Yikes, that did not go well. OK, Chief, tell me you have better stuff for this next set of game, will ya!?!?
Well, I'll try. The Cats faded down the stretch, the Chips fell in OT....but the Hokies cruised. 1-2 with the Nova/UM to win parlay still active. If that comes in I will be ahead by a nose on the day due to the payout. But, here are the others for this set:
*****I heart Nova. Not only do I have them on the parlay, but I will play Nova -2 over Marquette. The Eagles just aren't the same without James. What a brutal loss. The result on offense is obvious, but he was so key to their defense. He brought it every possession. Without him, they will struggle against the Wildcats backcourt. One Warning: Whenever I play Villanova, Scottie Reynolds disappear. One time, baby, one time is all I ask.
****** We're going to try that Magic Coin again in the MAC and flip it until it lands on Buffalo, our pre-tourney choice to win this section. I'll take UB in a pick 'em over Kent.
****** Texas over Kansas State, to win on the -140 moneyline. If for no other reason to avoid a Baylor/KSU semifinal with the winner guaranteed to at least play for the auto bid in the title game.