While most conferences have taken a Christmas break of sorts with very few games on the schedule, the Big 10 played right through the holiday, and the action hasn’t slowed down a bit. On Christmas Day itself, the Big 10 was the only league in the country to feature games, and while the NBA tends to take center stage on the holiday, the best conference in college basketball did a great job of entertaining us as well.
There were a couple of big upsets on Christmas Day as the Wisconsin Badgers went into the Breslin Center in East Lansing and knocked off the Michigan State Spartans for the first time since 2004. The win established the Badgers as the team to beat in the Big 10, and they are sure to remain in the top-10 nationally in the AP Poll when it is released later today.
Work of art 🖼 https://t.co/XFE72Z3p7g
— Northwestern Athletics (@NU_Sports) December 27, 2020
The other big upset came in Minneapolis, as the Minnesota Golden Gophers took care of business on their home floor against the 4th ranked Iowa Hawkeyes. Not many are giving the Gophers much of a shot to contend in the Big 10, but at 8-1, they have been an early season surprise. The other two games played on Christmas went as expected as Michigan won at Nebraska and Purdue beat Maryland at home.
After the holiday, the upsets continued in the Big 10, as the Northwestern Wildcats managed to defeat the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Wildcats are now, get this, in first place, at 3-0 in league play! The Indiana Hoosiers moved to 0-2 in the conference as they took a hard-luck loss at Illinois. The league took a much-deserved day off yesterday but will get right back at it today as we have games between Wisconsin and Maryland and Michigan State and Minnesota. For today’s free daily betting pick, we will head to Minneapolis, where the Golden Gophers will look to stay hot against the suddenly struggling Spartans.
- Michigan State Spartans (6-2) at Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-1)
- Williams Arena, Minneapolis
- 5:00 PM PST
- TV: BTN
The Minnesota Golden Gophers are coming off of their biggest wins in recent memory, over 4th ranked Iowa, and will look to make it back-to-back homecourt upset victories tonight against Michigan State. The Gophers are now 8-1 on the season, and after being expected to finish in the bottom half of the Big 10 standings coming into the year, they are now looking like a legit NCAA tournament-level team with wins over Saint Louis, Iowa, and Boston College.
— Minnesota Men's Basketball (@GopherMBB) December 28, 2020
For Michigan State, the Spartans have spent time in the top-5 nationally but have fallen on hard times here in Big 10 play, as the Spartans are 0-2. The Spartans dropped eight spots in last week’s AP Poll after a loss to Northwestern, and after losing at home to Wisconsin, you can expect that slide to continue this week. Tom Izzo’s team still has solid wins over Notre Dame and Duke on their resume, but they need to find a way to stop the bleeding in conference play tonight on the road.
Michigan State Spartans (6-2)
When you play in the best conference in the country, winning league games is never easy. The Michigan State Spartans have managed to navigate the Big 10 successfully over the course of the last couple of decades with Tom Izzo at the helm, but if they can’t win tonight on the road in hostile territory and they start their league play season out 0-3, I’m not sure that is a hole they are going to be able to dig out of.
The struggles for the Spartans have mostly been on the defensive side of the ball. They are 320th in the nation in forced turnover percentage, and teams are shooting 36% from three against them, 243rd in the country. Michigan State was able to overcome the weak defense early in the year when they were scoring 85 points game through their first six games. But in their last two games, both losses, they are scoring just over 70 points a game.
Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-1)
Is this Minnesota Golden Gophers team for real? Well, we will find out tonight. If Minnesota can win tonight at home, where they are a perfect 8-0 on the year, they are almost certainly going to be ranked in the top-25. The Big 10 had seven teams ranked last week, and with Minnesota and Northwestern both playing quality basketball, they could end up with as many as nine teams in the rankings over the course of the next several weeks.
Minnesota is using a fast pace and an efficient offense to score a bunch of points. The Gophers are averaging 85 points a game and have scored 90 or more points in a game 4 times already this season. Marcus Carr was on the preseason radar for the player of the year award in the Big 10 after a breakout season last year and has exceeded all expectations so far this year. Carr is averaging 25 points, 4 rebounds, and 6 assists a game. I’m not sure he is going to be able to wrestle the player of the year award from Iowa Hawkeyes superstar Luka Garza, but this kid is an absolute stud.
Who Do I Like?
I love me some Big 10 home underdogs. While they haven’t been free money this year like they have been in years past, home dogs in the Big 10 are still great plays. This year, home teams are 12-5 in league play straight up, and we have seen some major upsets. Whether it was Northwestern beating Michigan State, Minnesota beating Iowa, or Purdue beating Ohio State, home teams have been tough to beat.
This line opened up with Michigan State -1 point. The early betting action has come in on the Spartans and shifted the line another point and a half towards Sparty. When you look at the data, Kenpom has the Gophers winning this game by a point. A three-and-a-half-point gap between the data and the public shows significant value, and I am backing the home team.
I think Michigan State is a very good basketball team. They aren’t nearly as bad as these early losses might lead you to believe, and I fully expect them to still win a bunch of games in league play and to be a top-four seed in the NCCAA tournament. And on the flipside, I don’t think the Gophers are going to be able to sustain this level of success, and the win over Iowa was certainly a bit fluky. That being said, I still think this is a bad number, and I love to fade the public, so I am taking Minnesota.
This is going to be a tightly contested game, and if the Spartans can’t find a way to play better defense, the Gophers could drop triple digits on them tonight at home. The Spartans have been awful at forcing turnovers, and the Gophers almost never turn the ball over and assist on a high percentage of their baskets. That tells me that Minnesota is going to be able to score efficiently enough to hang with the more talented Spartans tonight.
This one is bound to come down to the final few possessions, and while I do think that Minnesota wins this one outright, I am still going to snatch up that two-and-a-half-point insurance policy just in case. Betting against the Spartans in the Big 10 is always a sketchy scenario, and I feel a lot more comfortable knowing that Minnesota can lose this game and I can still cash my ticket. Give me the Minnesota Golden Gophers tonight at home, as they look to stay hot against the Michigan State Spartans!