The Michigan State Spartans made quite the statement last night when they beat the Maryland Terrapins 69-55. State was playing without star player Joshua Langford for the sixth straight game, and it did not matter as they managed to stay undefeated in conference play. This one sat right around the number all evening long, and the Spartans used a late 8-0 run to put the Terrapins away and cover the nine and a half point spread. The Spartans have been one of the best passing teams in the country all season long and last night was no different as they had twenty-one assists on twenty-eight field goals.
With the win, the Spartans remain in first place in the packed Big 10. The Wolverines of Michigan are one game back, and the rest of the league is two or more games back as we near the midway point of conference play. And they have managed to do most of the damage without Langford on the court. Things are never easy in the Big 10, and the next three games will be a big test for Tom Izzo’s short-handed squad as they play Iowa, Purdue, and Indiana. But if the last two weeks have been any indication, this team is more than up for the challenge.
For the Terrapins, its back to the drawing board as the loss snapped what was a season-long seven-game winning streak. Winning on the road at Michigan State was never going to be an easy task, so I am not ready to say this team is going to come back to the rest of the pack just yet. Maryland has about the softest week you can get in the Big 10 coming up as they play Illinois and Northwestern at home next week before having to travel to Madison on February 1st to play the Wisconsin Badgers. You can expect the Terrapins to roll into Madison with a modest two-game winning streak in tow. For today’s pick, I will take a look at the game between the Villanova Wildcats and the Butler Bulldogs.
The Villanova Wildcats will look to stay unbeaten in Big East play tonight as they travel to Butler to play the always dangerous Bulldogs. After a bit of a rocky start, the defending national champion Wildcats have strung together six straight wins and find themselves alone atop the Big East standings at 5-0 in league play. Nova will be tasked with doing something that is never easy, and that is when at Butler. The Bulldogs have had a slow start to the season as they sit at just 12-7 on the year, but they have managed to win back to back games over DePaul and St. John’s and they are tied for third place in the Big East. The Bulldogs are -1.5-point home favorites. The game total over-under is set at 142 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 4;00 PM PST from Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Nobody lost as much talent from last year as this Villanova Wildcats team. They lost four players to the NBA and after winning two out of the last three national titles, it looked like this year would be a rare rebuilding year. The AP Poll voters didn’t think so though as Nova started the season out ranked in the top ten. I laughed at the notion of this depleted team being a top ten team in the nation and faded them several times early in the year and made a bunch of money as they struggled.
But now that they have hit Big East play, this team has flipped the script somewhat as they are playing very well and Eric Paschall and Phil Booth are finally doing what many thought they would do coming into the season, and that is dominate. The Cats haven’t lost in Big East play, and Booth and Paschall are the big reasons as to why. Both of those guys came into this season with a lot of hype and underperformed in the non-conference. But since the start of league play, they are averaging twenty and twenty-four points a game respectively.
The Big East is nowhere near as talented of a league this year as it generally is. There is a chance the league gets three or fewer bids to the NCAA tournament. That is a shocking number when you consider this league used to threaten with double-digit bids not long ago. But I won’t let the relative weakness of the Big East convince me that these wins don’t matter for Villanova. The team has talent, and after starting out the season overrated, they are now looking criminally underrated.
The Butler Bulldogs have done an amazing job of establishing themselves as a major program. The once mighty mid-major program took their game to new heights when they joined the Big East a couple of years ago, and they have made the NCAA tournament in eight out of the last ten years, including the last four straight. But this year looks to be a rare down year for Butler. They have losses to Dayton, Saint Louis, Xavier, and Georgetown that will all look pretty bad at the end of the year. They do have a nice win over Ole Miss early in the year, and they beat a solid St John’s team in their last game, but if the Bulldogs are going to want an at-large bid this year, they are going to need to start winning games, and now.
The last five years these two teams have played at Hinkle Fieldhouse, the games have been very close. The Cats own a small 3-2 edge in those games, but the biggest margin of victory has been eight points. And remember, Villanova won a national title in two of those seasons, so the Bulldogs know how to protect their home floor. But this year, the Bulldogs just don’t have the talent they have grown accustomed to in recent years. I don’t think that they are going to get blown out at home by any means, but I think the Wildcats will find a way to get the upset tonight.
This line opened up at Villanova +3-points, and the early betting sharps have pushed this number to Nova +1.5. Don’t be shocked if it closes out at even or with Nova as small favorites. If you like the Wildcats the time to make a play on them is now before the number moves again. Give me the Villanova Wildcats and the point and a half tonight from Hinkle Fieldhouse!