With four of the top six teams in the most recent poll already losing this week, today’s games have the potential to lead to either a chaotic upturning of the polls, OR, oddly enough, a basic maintenance of the status quo. For example, North Carolina and Villanova will likely be #1 and #2 respectively (Nova is off today after weather cancelled the Providence matchup). Oklahoma will fall, but if they win today at Baylor (and I think they will), they won’t fall far, probably just #3. Kansas and West Virginia won’t go far either, provided each wins today. Maryland could be the big winner with a win over Michigan State (who will fall like a rock with a third straight loss), or you could see both remain pretty much where they are if the Spartans win tonight and each split this week.
Teams knocking on the door or hanging on the fringes all had disappointing results this week; Pitt got throttled at home by 0-5 NC State, Clemson’s magical run was halted by Virginia, even Valpo lost an unexpected conference game to halt some mid-major building momentum.
Chaos continues to reign, but that just means we need to sift through the games to stay away from a little more cautiously than in normal seasons.
Let’s dive in with my favorite play on the board.
QUICK NOTE – Check lines and weather before making plays today, as a BUNCH of games have been postponed and some tip times are a little more fluid than normal!
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Today’s Free Pick:
Maryland Terrapins at Michigan State Spartans -3.5
This Michigan State team is not the team that was #1 in the country just a few weeks ago. In fact, they SHOULD be better. Denzel Valentine is back and healthy, but the team as a whole is not clicking at all. Losing to Iowa is no embarrassment. But getting EMBARRASSED by Iowa, well, it is. Following it up with losses to Wisconsin and Nebraska is worse. Granted, each loss was by a single point so one bucket and we may not be having the “sky is falling” conversation, but it still would have been an astute observation. This team is nowhere near the best in the country. But they aren’t bums either.
Enter Maryland. I’ve made the case that this is the best starting five in the country several times, and though North Carolina and Oklahoma also merit inclusion, I’ll stick with the Terps. They have muscle and talent inside in Diamond Stone, they are led by one of the three best point guards in the country in Melo Trimble, they have elite shooting in Soulaimon and toughness and leadership with Carter. Add in stretch-four Jake Leyman and this team is constructed absolutely perfectly.
That isn’t to say they’ve played perfect basketball. The stumbled mightily at Michigan and needed overtime to win against Northwestern, so both teams enter tonight on a bit of a malaise. Look for the magnitude of tonight’s game to jumpstart both from an effort and energy standpoint.
The metrics favor Maryland. The “no way in hell can Sparty lose four straight games” factor favors Michigan State. In conference play games, Maryland leads the Big Ten in scoring defense, holding teams to just 62.4 ppg. Michigan State is seventh at 69.7. Offensively, Maryland is fifth at 74.6 while MSU is sixth at 73.7. The differential is wildly in favor of the Terps. And lest we rely on the “no Valentine” excuse, most of the damage has been done since the star’s return.
Michigan State is struggling in large part because they aren’t shooting well. Ever since Iowa zoned them out of the game two weeks ago, teams have been daring the Spartans to hit threes. They haven’t responded well. Bryn Forbes is shooting just 22.2% over the last three games. Valentine and Rawls are already below-average perimeter shooters, leaving way to much pressure on their bigs to make plays and scrap for second chance points.
Look for Maryland – the best defensive team in the league – to bottle up the middle and dare Michigan State to shoot. And try as they might, I don’t think they can outshoot the Terps tonight, even at home.
Free Pick: Maryland Terrapins +3.5 (also lean moneyline at +145 for some added value)