Between the Christmas holiday and several games being canceled due to COVID-19 outbreaks, the NCAA Men’s Basketball schedule has been a bit sluggish in the last week or two. That ends today as we have what looks to be the best day of the season thus far, on tap for today. There are a whopping 130 total games on the schedule, and many of the best teams in the nation are set to be in action.
Ranked teams that will play today include Missouri playing at undefeated Arkansas in a battle for supremacy in the SEC. Kansas hosts Texas in a game between two top-10 ranked teams, both looking to take the lead in the loaded Big 12. Creighton plays at Providence, Baylor plays at Iowa State, and West Virginia plays at Oklahoma.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) December 30, 2020
Other top-25 teams in action today include Gonzaga, Michigan State, Oregon, Tennessee, Illinois, Texas Tech, and West Virginia. All told, 14 of the nation’s top-25 teams will play today in a day packed with excitement. For our free daily betting pick, we will head to the nation’s top conference, the Big 10, where two of the top teams in the league square off as Rutgers hosts Iowa.
- Iowa Hawkeyes (8-2) at Rutgers Scarlet Knights (7-1)
- RAC, Piscataway
- 11:00 AM PST
- TV: ESPN2
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights host the Iowa Hawkeyes today in a battle between two of the top teams in the Big 10. Rutgers comes into this blockbuster matchup ranked 14th in the latest AP Poll, and they trail first-place Michigan by a game in the loss column for first place in the Big 10 standings. The Scarlet Knights aren’t getting a lot of national media attention right now, but a win over Iowa would very likely shoot them up the rankings into the top-10 nationally.
First gameday of the New Year!
— Iowa Basketball (@IowaHoops) January 2, 2021
For Iowa, the Hawkeyes are ranked 10th in the country and have their eyes set on a run to the Final Four. Iowa has national player of the year favorite Luka Garza leading the way, and the Hawkeyes are looking to pick up their 5th top-100 win today on the road. Iowa slipped up in their league game road opener at Minnesota and is looking for their first road win in conference play today in New Jersey.
Iowa Hawkeyes (8-2)
When the Iowa Hawkeyes are at their best, they can beat any team in the country. They are that good. But when they are at their worst, they struggle to defend, and they give up way too many open looks from the field and can lose games to teams that they shouldn’t. Iowa currently has the number one rated offense in the nation in terms of efficiency, and they have shown that they can drop tripe digits at any time.
But on defense, the Hawkeyes are bad, really bad. Iowa is barely in the top-100 on D, and they have a nasty habit of being content to go basket for basket with teams and letting teams score just so they can get the ball back and score themselves.
That type of play isn’t going to hurt them against mediocre teams, and even against some good teams, the Hawkeyes are good enough on offense to make up for their lack of defense. But in the NCAA tournament, where everybody can play, Iowa is going to need to find a way to slow teams down defensively, or they are going to struggle to live up to their potential.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (7-1)
If Iowa is the flashy offensive team that lights up the scoreboard, Rutgers is the exact opposite, a team that works hard on D, and makes their opposition fight for every point. That’s not to say that the Scarlet Knights are bad on offense, they actually score very efficiently, but this team prides itself on the defensive side of the court. That tenacious defense has led Rutgers to four wins over the top-50 nationally, including a signature win over Illinois.
Luka Garza won’t be the only superstar on the court tonight as Ron Harper Jr has emerged as a force in the Big 10. Harper Jr leads Rutgers in scoring at 23.4 points per game and is 2nd on the team in rebounds at over 7 a game, a very impressive total for a guard. Harper is shooting an absolutely absurd 50% from beyond the arc this season, and in the big win over Illinois, he dropped 28 points on the Illini and nailed 5 3-pointers. Harper Jr has hit at least 4 shots from deep in 5 games, including his last 4 in a row.
Who Do I Like?
Rutgers doesn’t lose at home. They are 6-0 at the RAC this year with wins over Illinois, Purdue, and Syracuse. Last year, they were 18-1 on their home floor, with their only loss coming to a top-15 ranked Michigan team. Last year, the Hawkeyes never had to play in Piscataway, as Iowa hosted the lone game between the two teams, and this year, Rutgers finally gets their chance to play the Hawkeyes at home, and they are going to be playing hard today.
Rutgers is 1-0 ATS this year as home dogs. Last year they were 2-0 ATS as home underdogs. Iowa was favored in their lone road conference game this year, and not only did they fail to cover the spread, they lost the game outright at Minnesota.
Home underdogs are just a really great play in the Big 10 year in and year out in what is one of the most homecourt dominated leagues in the country. That makes me lean towards Rutgers finding a way to pick up yet another impressive homecourt upset victory today.
On a neutral floor, all things considered, Iowa is the better team in this matchup. But not by nearly as much as most people seem to think. Rutgers is getting a lot of disrespect from the public this year, as people are failing to realize that they are real contenders in the Big 10. Not contenders to just finish with a winning record in league play, but contenders to win the league outright. This is a second-weekend team in March Madness without a doubt, and they are really good, particularly at home.
My heart wants me to take the outright upset in this game, but my brain sees that I can get Rutgers and more than a full possession’s worth of points and knows that’s the right play. The money line play is the sexy one, but taking the points is going to show higher long-term value, as it’s a really nice spot.
At the end of the day, this game is going to come down to which team dictates the pace. If Iowa is able to get running and gunning and their trio of sharpshooter from the wings can hit 3-pointers, and Garza can dominate in the paint, Iowa is going to win this game. If they shoot like they did the last time they played a team with elite perimeter defenders, when they shot just 18% from deep against Gonzaga, they are going to lose, and it might not even be that close.
I expect a hard-fought game that gets decided in the game’s final couple of possessions. My gut tells me that Rutgers will find a way to win at home, as they seemingly always do, but I will take the lower variance route and back the Scarlet Knights getting more points than they deserve. Give me the Rutgers Scarlet Knights today at home, getting +4-points in what should be a very entertaining game!