We have sort of an impromptu Christmas break this year, as there were no games on the Men’s College Basketball slate yesterday, and today, only the Big 10 is in action, with only four total games to be played. This two-day pause transitions most teams from their non-conference schedules to their league play portion of the year. With this small break in the action, it makes sense to take a quick look back at the non-conference schedule and point out a couple of teams that surprised us as 2020 winds to a close.
The most shocking team in the first half of the college hoops season has to be the Kentucky Wildcats. Kentucky came into the season feeling like a team with Final Four aspirations, but they have started their year by losing five out of their first six games, and at this point, they don’t even look like a bubble team.
— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) December 25, 2020
Other teams that haven’t played up to their billing so far this season include the Indian Hoosiers, Illinois Illini, and the Alabama Crimson Tide, as all three of those teams have three early-season losses after entering the season with high aspirations. It hasn’t been all underperforming teams, though, as several teams have emerged as legit NCAA tournament threats after coming in under the radar in the preseason.
The Xavier Musketeers are 8-1 on the season and were ranked at 22nd in the latest AP Poll. Virginia Tech was expected to be a bubble team at best, but the Hokies have impressed and have won six out of their first seven games and find themselves ranked 24th.
The Missouri Tigers and Arkansas Razorbacks are a combined 14-0 in the SEC, and with Kentucky, Florida, and LSU all losing games already, both teams are looking like SEC regular-season title contenders. For our free daily betting pick, we will take a look at another team that is playing well after coming into the year with limited expectations, as the Minnesota Golden Gophers host the Iowa Hawkeyes looking for a Christmas miracle upset victory at home.
- Iowa Hawkeyes (7-1) at Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-1)
- Williams Arena, Minneapolis
- 5:00 PM PST
- TV: BTN
The Iowa Hawkeyes rebounded in their last game to beat the Purdue Boilermakers in their Big 10 conference play opener earlier this week. The win came on the heels of the Hawkeye’s first loss of the season, coming at the hands of the nation’s top-ranked team, the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Iowa will look to stay on track in the Big 10, where they are heavy favorites to take home the regular-season league title.
Merry Gameday 🎄🏀
— Minnesota Men's Basketball (@GopherMBB) December 25, 2020
For Minnesota, the Golden Gophers didn’t have the lofty expectations that the Hawkeyes did coming into the season, but they have played just as good as Iowa has, with an identical 7-1 record as the Hawkeyes. The Gophers are coming off of their best win of the season, over the Saint Louis Billikens, in a non-conference game, and will be looking for their first Big 10 win of the season tonight, after being humbled by Illinois on the road in their league play opener.
Iowa Hawkeyes (7-1)
Before the Hawkeyes played Gonzaga last week, some people thought that Iowa just might be the best team in the nation. But after seeing the Zags score at will on this porous Iowa defense, Iowa fans realized that there are levels to this game, and while they are certainly a great basketball team, they aren’t the best team in the nation. As bad as Iowa has looked on defense, they have looked equally as great on offense.
Iowa is the top-ranked team in the nation in terms of offensive efficiency, and they can score the ball from everywhere. Inside, they have the best big man in the country in national player of the year favorite Luka Garza. Garza was unstoppable against Gonzaga, dropping 30 and 10 on 13 of 18 shooting from the field. Where Iowa came up short was from the perimeter, as they shot an abysmal 4-22 from 3-point land. The will have to knock down more of their shots from deep tonight if they want to take care of business on the road.
Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-1)
While Iowa is contending to be the nation’s top team, the Minnesota Golden Gophers would be content just getting to dance in March. Last year, the Gophers were a hard-luck team, as they had 8 wins over the top-50, but with the 3rd toughest schedule in the nation, their overall record of 15-16 left a lot to be desired. They weren’t going to get an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament, barring a run to the Big 10 tournament finals, but they were a quality basketball team.
This year the Gophers are racking up wins to pad their resume, but unlike last year where they played a murderer’s row of talent game in and game out, it has been a fairly easy schedule for Minnesota this year. The win over Boston College was a decent one, and the win over Saint Louis is going to look even better when the Billikens make a run in the A-10 regular-season title later this year. The loss at Illinois wasn’t pretty, as they got hammered by nearly 30-points, but luckily for Minnesota, they don’t have to play this one on the road, as they welcome the Hawkeyes to Williams Arena.
Who Do I Like?
If you have been an avid reader of my daily picks over the last several years for TheSportsGeek, you will know that I am a big fan of home underdogs. That is especially true when it comes to home underdogs in league play. And which league has been the most home court dominated league of them all in the past several seasons? You guessed it, the Big 10.
Last year, Minnesota was 2-8 on the road in Big 10 play. At home, they were 7-3 against league opponents. That included wins over Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Michigan. The trend of Minnesota being very tough to beat at home extends back to the year before as well, as Richard Pitino has done a great job of protecting his home floor in his time running this Gophers program.
As much as I want to pick the upset special tonight in this game, I think the Hawkeyes offense will just be too much for the Golden Gophers to handle. That being said, I do think that Minnesota is going to give them all they can handle, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this game ends with both teams in the ’90s. This is going to be a fast-paced game, where both teams will take advantage of the other team’s lack of defense and score at will.
Kenpom has the Gophers losing by just five points in this one, so I will be able to get some extra love on Minnesota, as the public has moved this line from the opener of Iowa -6, to where it currently stands at Iowa -7.5.
Both of my plays today are on home court dogs in Big 10 play, and history tells us that home teams always overachieve in the Big 10, so it feels like free money. If that isn’t Christmas coming early, I am not sure what is! Give me the Minnesota Golden Gophers as they lose a close one at home but manage to cover the spread and cash our ticket along the way!