“Hail to the victor’s valiant! Hail! Hail! To Michigan, the champions of the West!”
Those are the cheers you will hear echoing this morning through the Midwest and Big Ten country. While it’s normal to hear them in Ann Arbor, it is a near certainty they aren’t frequently heard ringing enthusiastically from the faithful in East Lansing and Columbus. However that strange sound should be heard this afternoon. It is either a sign of the impending apocalypse, or simply another bizarre day in what has been one of the wackiest (and most difficult to handicap) seasons in college basketball history.
Since I am an optimist, I’ll go with the latter. There is a TON at stake today when Michigan hosts Indiana at 4pm EST on CBS. A win for the Hoosiers would mean their first outright Big Ten title in twenty years. A win for Michigan means a four-way tie for the title between them and the Hoosiers, as well as Michigan State and Ohio State. I imagine there are a few fans of Brutus and Sparty who’d rather LOSE the Big Ten than root for Michigan, but most sensible fans will be cheering on the maize and blue… weird, weird day…
Let’s get on to today’s free picks:
#2 Wichita State Shockers vs. #1 Creighton Blue Jays -2.5 — Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Championship Game, (St. Louis, MO)
The collective bubble nation breathed a sigh of relief when both these teams won their semifinal games with ease yesterday. It eliminated at least one possibility of a bid-stealer from a mid-major, since both of these teams are safely at-large teams. Indiana State had a nice run and looked like a tourney team five weeks ago, but faded down the stretch and will now settle for a likely (though not guaranteed) NIT berth.
Wichita State and Creighton both enter today at 26-7 and are playing more for the pride of the conference tourney title and seeding than they are for safety. Both teams have played well on neutral floors this season, going a combined 9-0, so this game is about as even a matchup as you can get. They split the season series, and even split their season series last year as well.
These are two teams that know each other well, and two teams that seem to have put their struggles of January and February well behind them. I expect a good game, but will give the nod to Creighton and their Wooden Award candidate Doug McDermott down the stretch to make enough big plays to give the Jays the chance to cut down the nets.
On a side note – if you don’t get to watch much mid-major basketball, catch today’s game. You will be surprised with how big and athletic both these teams are – don’t be the least bit surprised to see one or both standing in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Free Pick: Creighton Bluejays -2.5
Indiana Hoosiers at Michigan Wolverines -1.5
These are two difficult teams to handicap, because both have National Champ-caliber talent, and both have put forth one of two “first-round loser” level efforts this season. Indiana shouldn’t be IN this spot today; had they just held serve and beaten Ohio State at home earlier this week, they would have wrapped up the title already and would be playing an intense tune-up game today to prep for the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. However, if Michigan hadn’t granted Penn State their ONLY WIN of the entire Big Ten season, they’d be in a different spot as well.
It’s going to be another great Big Ten game, and it is fiercely important for both teams. If IU were to lose today, the presumptive #1 overall seed just four days ago will go into the Big Ten tournament having squandered the outright title by losing three of their last four games. If Michigan were to lose at home, they enter the tourney having lost the Big Ten title on their home floor and having gone 5-5 in their last ten games (and on a four game ATS losing streak).
It’s going to be great, so I’ll play it conservative and take the home team. There have been three major aberrations in Big Ten play, but for the most part, every big game has gone to the home team. I’ll play the odds and side with Trey Burke and the Wolverines in an insane Crysler Center today.
Free Pick: Michigan Wolverines -1.5