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Minnesota vs. Northwestern NCAA Basketball Pick – January 5th

It was a wacky night in college hoops to say the least.

The #1 team in the country suffered their first loss of the season as The Butler did it with the jump shot in Hinkle Fieldhouse.  It’s not the first time Butler has jumped up and clipped a giant, so it shouldn’t be terribly surprising, though I admit, I am a little surprised (and have the losing pick to prove it).  I am also a little surprised both Syracuse and North Carolina State brought out the whoopin’ stick in what continues to be an absolutely BANANAS start to the ACC season.  The Cuse, fresh off a blowout loss to Boston College absolutely hammered 11-2 Miami and the Wolfpack trounced Virginia Tech 102-78 three days after the Hokies “program lifting” win over Duke.

Add in a Notre Dame win over #9 Louisville and Pitt’s overtime thriller over #11 Virginia and you had an insane night of “who the hell is going to win this conference and who is going to finish 13th??” head-scratching in the ACC.  Through one week, only two teams are loss-less (Florida State and Notre Dame) and everyone has a win, except… #9 ranked Louisville.  So, yeah.

And the BEST game of the night was probably Baylor roaring back in the final minute to score a dramatic home victory over Iowa State to stay as one of the nation’s two lone unbeaten teams (Gonzaga the other).

Awesome night of college hoops, and a reminder that PARITY reigns supreme this season.

Oh – and yep, the Duke fade was easily my biggest whiff of the season.  I guess Grayson Allen DOES make a big difference.  I would have avoided the game if there was ANY inkling that “indefinite suspension” really meant, “naw, don’t worry about it, lots of people intentionally trip someone on a court three times in a 13-month span.  We lost to VA Tech, so, it’s all good now son, suit up.”

Today’s Free Pick:

Minnesota Golden Gohpers at Nortwestern Wildcats -3.5

My affinity for this year’s Northwestern team is well-documented.  I thought before the season they would earn the schools first EVER invitation to the NCAA Tournament (they are currently the ONLY power-conference school never to have Danced in March) and that they could compete in the upper-middle of the Big Ten.  At 12-3 with a two-point loss at Butler (see what happened to Villanova there last night?), a four-point loss to Notre Dame and a loss at rapidly improving Michigan State, nothing has dissuaded me from that opinion.  They own quality wins over Penn State, Dayton, Wake Forest and Texas and have the requisite talent to not be overwhelmed by the Big Ten gauntlet.

Meanwhile, I took some shots at Minnesota’s pre-con schedule and labeled them and their gaudy record (now 13-2) a bit of a mirage.  They competed very well and frankly should have WON the Michigan State game (I cashed a winner on MSU, but was still impressed with Minny) and rebounded really nicely with an impressive win AT Purdue, who I thought was the best team in the Big Ten prior to that result.

In summary, Minnesota is pretty good.  They own wins over Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Arkansas State (decent low major who beat Georgetown) and now a road win at Purdue.  Their losses are an eight-point loss at Florida State who will likely be in the Top Ten on Monday and an overtime choke-job against Michigan State.

But road conference wins are tough to come by.  The snuck up and grabbed Purdue, which is REALLY impressive, but even top tier teams struggle to go .500 on the road in top power conferences.  Asking Minnesota, who I admit is “good” to recreated the same road effort a few days later against another quality opponent is a tough ask.

I think Northwestern knows well the formula to get across the Tourney finish line; compete on the road and steal a few and PROTECT the home court.  They can’t drop more than one or two at home to reach their goal, and Minnesota would be a tough place to spend the home loss with Wisconsin, Maryland and Indiana still coming to town.  Northwestern has also been good against the number this year, posting a 9-4 ATS mark and 6-2 in their last ten games (two had no spread).

I’ll take the Wildcats to stay perfect (9-0 SU, 5-1 ATS) at home and cover the slim three points.

Free Pick:  Northwestern Wildcats -3