Valparaiso (8-2) at Northwestern (6-4)
The NCAA men’s basketball schedule is a light one today. With only a handful of games on the docket to choose from, there aren’t many spots to find value.
Last night I brought you a winner by backing a talented small conference school in Western Kentucky, playing on the road at an average Big 10 school, Wisconsin. I predicted the game would be a tight one and snatched up the 7.5 points and easily covered as the game ended 81-80.
I am looking at a similar matchup today as I will be backing yet another small conference school playing on the road against a middle of the pack Big 10 team.
The Crusaders of Valparaiso University will take the short trip to Rosemont, Illinois to face the Wildcats of Northwestern University in a non-conference matchup. Valpo started out the season 8-0, before dropping its last two games against strong competition.
The Wildcats of Northwestern have struggled against what has been a slate of winnable games for them so far, this year. Northwestern sits at just 6-4, as it looks to build on last season’s success and trip to the NCAA tournament.
The Wildcats are -10.5-point home favorites. The game total over-under is set at 140.5 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:00 PM PST from Allstate Arena.
The Missouri Valley Conference has always been a conference that plays a high-level brand of basketball. For sharp bettors, the Valley has been a honey hole of value over the last decade or so.
The conference took a major blow this year when perennial champion and Final Four contender, Wichita State left the Valley for the American Conference. With Wichita leaving, the Valley is as wide open as I can remember it.
A quick peek at the Missouri Valley standings and you will see that only one team in the conference is below .500 right now, Illinois State at 4-6. And the top of the standings is crowded with teams with strong records.
Valparaiso, Northern Iowa, Evansville, and Bradley are all knotted at 8-2, Loyola is 10-1, and Missouri State is 9-3. This conference knows how to win games, and you will consistently see them undervalue against bigger conference foes.
For Valpo, we see a team that came out red-hot to start the season at 8-0 and then ran into some trouble against a couple of good teams. They lost to a top twenty-five ranked Purdue team, and then dropped a 1-point nail biter to a Ball State team that just beat a top ten ranked Notre Dame team on the road.
Their body of work isn’t eye-popping at this point, but they have themselves positioned towards the top of the Missouri Valley Conference and with Wichita State leaving, the Valley crown and the trip to the NCAA tournament that goes with it, is up for grabs.
Speaking of the NCAA tournament, Northwestern made its first trip ever to the big dance last season. They acquitted themselves very well, winning a game in the first round and pushing the eventual national runner-up, Gonzaga, to the limit in the round of 32.
It was a magical year for the Northwestern faithful, and many hoped they would build on that success coming into this year. That just hasn’t been the case.
As things look right at the moment, Northwestern looks to have fallen towards the bottom of the Big 10. The Big 10 might be the best conference in the country this year, top to bottom, and it is going to take a big improvement for Northwestern to navigate the conference and make another trip to the tournament.
When you take a look at the Wildcats schedule so far, they really haven’t beat anyone yet. The best win on their resume is against Illinois, a team that will likely find itself right on the bubble in March. Losses to Texas Tech and Georgia Tech have kept this team from realizing its potential.
Part of the reason for the Northwestern struggles may be that they are without a home court this season. The Cats have been forced to play in nearby Rosemont, at the Allstate Arena, as their home court, Welsh-Ryan Arena, is being renovated and won’t be available until next year.
We all know how much of an advantage a good home court is in college hoops and the fact that the Wildcats have no real place to call home could be a big reason we are seeing them struggle.
So, while the schedule says this is a home game for Northwestern tonight, we know better. I would call this much more of a neutral site game than a true home game for the Cats.
I can’t tell you exactly how this game will play out. They both haven’t beaten anyone good this year, and both could badly use a non-conference win to bolster their resumes. I am leaning on the general strength of the Missouri Valley and their fantastic record in the non-conference this season.
Northwestern doesn’t look anything like the team that went to the big dance last year, and once conference play hits full swing, they could find themselves near the bottom of the standings.
I expect a close game that eventually sees Northwestern take a late lead and win at “home.” But I just don’t see any way that Valpo should be getting double-digit points in this matchup.
Give me the Crusaders and the points tonight from Rosemont!