NCAAM Pick December 26, 2020 – Ohio State Buckeyes at Northwestern Wildcats

Yesterday we did our homework, made the right play, and still lost our bet. That is unfortunately the nature of betting college basketball, sometimes you can do everything right, and still lose. The losing play from yesterday was on the Nebraska Cornhuskers as home underdogs against the Michigan Wolverines. I was able to back the Cornhusker getting +8.5-points against a Michigan team that was just 4-7 on the road in league play last year.

The game started out well enough as Nebraska led for much of the first half. The Wolverines finished the first half on a run and took a 36-34 lead into the half. We were halfway through the game and in great shape, getting a bunch of points. Michigan started the second half by going on a 17-7 run to extend the lead, but as expected, Nebraska did a noble job of protecting their home floor and tightened the game right back up. With just over 6-minutes left to play in the game, it was once again a two-possession game, and I felt that we were certainly on the right side for the stretch run.

But the ball didn’t bounce our way late as the Cornhuskers couldn’t hit their free throws and missed easy shots from the field. Dalano Banton had a clean look for three in the game’s final possession but came up short, and we bricked what should have been a winner with an 80-69 final score. Nebraska finished just 12-20 from the charity stripe, and those struggles were the difference between the cover and a loss.

What can you do, after a smoking hot start to the college hoops season in the non-conference, we have hit a couple of roadblocks in the last week. It is going to happen, and you have to be able to ride out the bad times in order to show a long-term profit at the end of the year. As my buddy always likes to say, you must control the ebb and maximize the flow. For today, we will look to get back on track when we take a look at another home dog in the Big 10, when the upstart Northwestern Wildcats welcome the Ohio State Buckeyes to Evansville.

Today’s Game

  • Ohio State Buckeyes (7-1) at Northwestern Wildcats (5-1)
  • Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston
  • 11:00 AM PST
  • TV: FS1

The Northwestern Wildcats find themselves in unfamiliar territory today, as they host the Ohio State Buckeyes today at home, in first place in the Big 10! With all Big 10 teams having played at least two games each, the Wildcats are tied with the Wisconsin Badgers and Michigan Wolverines atop the league at 2-0. The Wildcats are 5-1 on the season and are coming off of back-to-back league wins over Indiana and Michigan State.

For Ohio State, the Buckeyes are 7-1 and are ranked 23rd in the latest AP Poll. Ohio State has quality wins over Notre Dame, UCLA, and Rutgers, but lost their Big 10 opener on the road at Purdue last week. The Buckeyes are hoping to pick up their first league road win of the season tonight at Northwestern.

Spread:

  • Ohio State Buckeyes (-3.5)
  • Northwestern Wildcats (+3.5)
Money line:

  • Ohio State Buckeyes (-160)
  • Northwestern Wildcats (+130)
Total Points:

  • Over 140.5 (-110)
  • Under 140.5 (-110)

Ohio State Buckeyes (7-1)

The Ohio State Buckeyes are one of the seven teams ranked in the top-25 nationally right now in the Big 10. There is little doubt that the Big 10 is the top conference in the country, and these league games are going to be really hard to win.

The Buckeyes were undefeated in the non-conference and riding high when they headed to Purdue for their first league game of the year and were quickly reminded that road games in the Big 10 are never easy when they lost to a Boilermakers team that is expected to be down this year and has three early season losses already.

Last year, Ohio State finished with a losing record in the Big 10 at 9-11, and 7 of those 11 league losses came on the road. That included a loss at 162nd ranked Nebraska. Duane Washington Jr leads the Buckeyes in scoring this year at over 15-points a game and is one of four Buckeyes averaging double-digits scoring per game. In the loss at Purdue, Washington Jr was awful from three as he shot just 2-9 in the game. The Buckeyes are going to need a much better performance from their top scorer today if they want to win in hostile territory.

Northwestern Wildcats (5-1)

Is Northwestern good? The Wildcats racked up some gaudy offensive numbers in the non-conference, but it came against very weak competition. They averaged over 100-points per game in their first three wins of the season, but dropping triple digits on the likes of Quincy, Arkansas Pine Bluff, and Chicago State didn’t lead me to believe that they were going to be able to score in the Big 10. But after shocking Michigan State at home and then going to Indian and knocking off the Hoosiers, you have to wonder, is this Wildcats team for real?

They play a fast pace, and they are making north of 42% of their three-pointers as a team, second-best in the league and 7th best in the nation. They pass the ball as well as any team in the country, and their assist to turnover ratio is elite at 1.7, 9th best in the nation.

The sharp passing has led to a lot of good looks, and their team shooting percentage from the field is impressive at 48.6%. And this hasn’t just been just good stats against weak competition either. Against Michigan State, the Wildcats shot 53% from the field, and against Indiana, they shot 56% as a team. These Wildcats can straight up score the basketball.

Who Do I Like?

I am not completely sold on this Northwestern team just yet, but man, have they been impressive so far in Big 10 play. There wasn’t a lot of room for optimism for Northwestern coming into the season, but that said more about the rest of the league than it did the Wildcats, as just about everyone assumed that they would be better this year than last. First place in the league after the first two weeks of league play better? Yeah, probably not, but better, nonetheless.

The question is, can they sustain this level of success as we get deeper into Big 10 play? While I certainly don’t see Northwestern challenging the likes of Iowa, Illinois, or Wisconsin for the league title, this team plays efficient offense, they share the ball, and they get good looks and can knock them down. That tells me that this hot start isn’t as fluky as it might seem on the surface. A winning record in Big 10 play is still a longshot, but I do see the Cats being competitive, particularly at home.

The Bet

I don’t know if Northwestern is going to continue to run hot and win this game outright. But I do know that Ohio State struggles on the road and being able to back any home team in the Big 10 getting more than a full possession’s worth of points shows high value. Kenpom has Northwestern losing this game by a point today. To be able to back the Wildcats getting +3.5-points means we have value baked in. And that is the play I am going to make in this one.

Expect Chris Holtzman’s Buckeyes to try and slow this pace down and turn it into a grinder of a game, and for the Wildcats to try and turn it into an up and down contest, willing to go hoop for hoop at a fast pace. Whichever team wins that stylistic matchup likely wins this game.

If I had to lean on a side for an outright winner, I would stick with the hot hand Wildcats, and I do think they show value as home dogs on the money line, but I am going to take the higher value and lower variance approach and snatch up the +3.5-points. Give me the Northwestern Wildcats today at home, as they look to stay hot against the Ohio State Buckeyes!

The Bet: Northwestern Wildcats +3.5

My Pick
Northwestern Wildcats +3.5
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