NCAAM Pick December 20, 2020 – Michigan State Spartans at Northwestern Wildcats

Yesterday we saw a lot of great college hoops action. The Gonzaga Bulldogs showed everyone why they are the best team in the nation when they beat up on the third ranked Iowa Hawkeyes. The Zags scored at will against the porous Iowa defense, with superstar freshman Jalen Suggs exploding for a career high 27-points on 7-10 shooting from three. While most people saw the Zags taking care of business against Iowa, one outcome that nobody could have seen coming was the massacre in Madison, Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Badgers hammered Louisville 85-48. The Badgers hit nearly as many 3-pointers (16) as the Cardinals did field goals (17), and it was a blood bath all game long. Louisville was undefeated entering play and ranked 23rd in the nation, and it was shocking to see them not even manage to be competitive against the Badgers.

We saw another surprising outcome in Tallahassee, as the Florida State Seminoles lost on their home floor by double-digits to UCF. The ‘Noles are ranked 15th right now, and they blew a first-half lead with a second-half implosion and lost 86-74.

Today we some more great college hoops action on tap as we have ranked teams like Texas, Houston, Michigan State, Creighton, and Rutgers all schedule to play. For our free daily betting pick, we will head to Welsh-Ryan Arena on the campus of the Northwestern Wildcats, as they host the Michigan State Spartans in a Big 10 conference game.

Today’s Game

  • Michigan State Spartans (6-0) at Northwestern Wildcats (3-1)
  • Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston
  • 4:00 PM PST
  • TV: BTN

The Michigan State Spartans, the number four team in the nation, take their show on the road tonight as they head to Evansville to play the Northwestern Wildcats. The Spartans are undefeated on the season at 6-0, with wins over Notre Dame and Duke, and tonight marks the start of their Big 10 league schedule. Tom Izzo’s team has their eyes set on yet another Big 10 title, but in what is the top league in the country, they are going to have to take care of business on the road, particularly in spots like this one where they are favored, if they want to win their 4th straight Big 10 title.

For Northwestern, the Wildcats are just hoping to stay competitive in the Big 10 this year, as nearly everyone has them finishing last in the league. Don’t let the Wildcats 3-1 record fool you, this team isn’t very good this year, as all three of their wins have come against teams ranked outside of the top-350 nationally! The Wildcats finished 3-17 in league play last season and are hoping that they can improve upon that this year.

Spread:

  • Michigan State Spartans (-6.5)
  • Northwestern Wildcats (+6.5)
Money line:

  • Michigan State Spartans (-300)
  • Northwestern Wildcats (+260)
Total Points:

  • Over 149.5 (-110)
  • Under 149.5 (-110)

Michigan State Spartans (6-0)

Michigan State isn’t used to playing the underdog in the Big 10. This year, the Spartans are playing from behind as the Iowa Hawkeyes, Wisconsin Badgers, and Illinois Illini are all looking like legit favorites this year. That isn’t to say the Spartans don’t have a shot at taking home the regular-season league championship, but nobody is going to hand it to them.

As is almost always the case, Michigan State is well-coached, and they share the basketball. They lead the nation in assists per game with 23 per contest, and they bang the boards, with 43 a game. The win at Duke was one of the best wins of any team this year, as the Blue Devils rarely lose at home. After this game, Michigan State hosts the Wisconsin Badgers and then play at Minnesota and Nebraska. Kenpom has the Spartans going 11-9 in league play, which has them in the middle of the pack, but history tells us that doubting Tom Izzo is the Big 10 is never a great idea, and I see them winning more than their fair share of league games when all is said and done this year.

Northwestern Wildcats (3-1)

The Northwestern Wildcats have played at an insanely fast pace through their first four games. They lead the nation in shortest average possession, and with that fast pace, they are 7th in the country in points per game at 93. All of those extra possessions have also led to a lot of missed shots, and the Wildcats are 5th in rebounding with all of those errant shots.

While the Wildcat’s fast pace has led their stats to look better than they likely should, it isn’t all sloppy fast play for Northwestern. They are 5th in assists per game and 7th in three-point percentage as well, telling me that they can share the ball, get good looks, and knock them down. The analytics like the Wildcats more than I do based on these stats, but when I look at who they have played, it tells me that these Wildcats stats are fake news.

The three wins on the year for Northwestern have come against Arkansas Pine Bluff, Chicago State, and D2 team Quincy. The only game they have played against somewhat quality opposition came against Pittsburgh, and they lost. This game is going to be an enormous step up in competition for Northwestern, and it is hard to see them handling it too well.

Who Do I Like?

If this were normal life and Northwestern had an arena packed full of fans, I would expect the Wildcats to be at least competitive. But it’s not. It’s COVID-19 land, where teams play in front of empty gyms, and home floor advantage has been greatly diminished because of it. Last year, Northwestern got swept by Michigan State, like they do nearly every year. But at home, they kept it close and lost by just five points. When the teams played in East Lansing, Michigan State hammered the Wildcats by twenty-nine.

While home-court advantage isn’t what it used to be, the home teams still have a leg up. I see this game falling somewhere in the middle between last year’s two results, where Northwestern loses, but doesn’t get completely destroyed on their home court. But I don’t see an empty gym that has Northwestern written on it being enough to keep this game close.

The Bet

Michigan State is going to win this game. They always beat Northwestern, no matter where the game is played. They probably aren’t going to beat them by 30, like they will when they host them at the Breslin Center later this season, but it will be by double-digits.

The flashy run and gun play by Northwestern is going to be slowed down considerably by the Spartan defense. Just because you can bomb threes and drop triple-digits on D2 teams, doesn’t mean that you are going to be able to do that against Michigan State.

I see the Spartans controlling the pace of this game and grinding out a somewhat easy victory. If Northwestern gets hot from deep, maybe they can somehow keep this one close and make us sweat, but I doubt it. I’ll take the Michigan State Spartans in this one as they pick up their first Big 10 win of the season. I’ll call it at 79-62 Michigan State.

The Bet: Michigan State Spartans -6.5

My Pick
Michigan State Spartans -6.5
Jason Gray / Author

Jason is a true Las Vegas insider as he has called the sports betting capital of the world his home for sixteen years. Jason started out his career in gaming by running the biggest poker tournaments in the world and managing some of the biggest sportsbooks on the strip. Jason has transitioned out of casino operations and has been covering sports betting for the sports geek for just over two years. His main focus is on baseball, college basketball, and the NFL