Michigan State vs. Minnesota Pick NCAA Basketball – December 27th

Welcome back college hoops fans!  I hope you had a nice Holiday Break and made it through the few days of no-action.  Hopefully the NBA, NFL and Bowl Games tided you over, and have no fear, college hoops returns today.

It is a light slate, but somewhat oddly, technically conference play begins TODAY thanks to the Big Ten.  And it is as if the Big Ten schedule makers also wanted to dip their toes in the water cautiously, because of the four games today, none features two teams that were projected to be an NCAA Tournament team heading into the season.  Indiana and Purdue aren’t in action, and Wisconsin and Maryland get Illinois and Rutgers at home, respectively.

In a favor to the Big Ten devoted, the games are perfectly staggered beginning with 3pm’s sneaky-good Northwestern @ Penn State tilt, and caps off with another sneaky good game, Michigan State visiting 11-1 Minnesota.

Tomorrow the schedule explodes and we should be pretty well entertained all the way through the two agonizing days before the NCAA Tournament starts, so strap in and lets see if we can make the “second chapter” of the college basketball season as good as the first (27-16 ATS)

Today’s Free Pick:

Michigan State Spartans at Minnesota Golden Gophers -6

Minnesota enters today at a somewhat thrilling 11-1, considering how rough the beginning of the Richard Pitino Era has been.  Pitino survived last year’s 8-23 (2-16) season, but the heat was definitely turned up heading into this season so the hot start was not just a good sign, it might have been a saving one.

Of course, NOW things get real as conference play starts with a visit from Coach Izzo and Sparty.  It’s been about as poor a start to the season as I can remember for Coach Izzo, but I would caution against completely abandoning the Spartans.  If there is one thing a Coach Izzo-led team is known for, it is being better in March than they were in November.  But has enough time elapsed to start applying that maxim?  Michigan State enters at 8-5 with a miracle home escape against Florida Gulf Coast and a home loss to Northeastern.  Losses to Duke, Baylor, Kentucky and Arizona are all reasonable, and the neutral court win over Wichita State was a good one.  But aside from that, it’s close wins over Oral Roberts, a win over St. John’s and Oakland, and not much else.

But, as poor as the results have been, Michigan State is battle-tested and still has some talent.  Minnesota’s “battle-toughness” is a lot more questionable.  They have a loss to Florida State, which is respectable, and their best wins are Vanderbilt, St. John’s by six, and Arkansas State.  Tonight is a reasonable step up in competition and talent.  Michigan State may have five losses, but they will be the most talented team Minnesota has faced yet this season.

That’s a somewhat obtuse way of saying, I just am NOT SOLD on Minnesota.  Obviously they are better than last year.  But how much?  11-1 feels like a schedule aided-mirage.  I don’t think this is a top half of the Big Ten team, behind the obvious top five, but also Ohio State, Northwestern, Penn State and possibly Iowa and Illinois.

I can’t ignore Michigan State getting a half-dozen points against a team I just don’t think is any good.

Gimme Sparty and Coach Izzo to AT LEAST cover, if not win straight-up.

Free Pick:  Michigan State Spartans +6

Chris Scheeren / Author