It’s wrong to call John Beilein a magician, because that implies he wins with deception and smoke and mirrors. But he is an incredible coach, and Michigan is working some March magic.
The Wolverines have reached the Big Ten tournament semifinals by routing Illinois and escaping against top-seeded Purdue in overtime. Of course, all of that came after their first flight to Washington, D.C., never got off the ground as the plane slid off the runway.
Considering what Beilein’s team has overcome, a matchup against Minnesota today is not such a scary proposition.
The Gophers, who advanced by beating Michigan State on Friday, are 9-1 in their past 10 games and tough to bet against. Richard Pitino has made an impressive coaching comeback, a year after finishing 2-16 in the conference.
Beilein struggled recently, too. On Super Bowl weekend, the Wolverines were 4-6 in league play and underdogs to reach the NCAA Tournament. But when handicapping college basketball, I like to bet on the best coaches — or against the worst — and Beilein is among the best in the business.
Michigan (22-11) has versatile big men and good guards. D.J. Wilson, a 6-foot-10 junior, had 26 points and eight rebounds Friday against the Boilermakers. Zak Irvin and and Derrick Walton Jr. can get to the rim and shoot the 3.
The Wolverines are 8-2 in their past 10 games, losing to Northwestern at the buzzer on March 1 and falling 83-78 in overtime at Minnesota in mid-February, when the Gophers outscored Michigan 28-9 at the free-throw line.
I expect Michigan to continue its magic carpet ride to the Big Ten title game, but an inflated line is forcing me to pass today and wait for Sunday. The Wolverines opened as 3-point favorites, and the number is up to 4 and 4½ due to public betting support.
My futures wager on Maryland at 7-1 odds to win the Big Ten was blown up by Northwestern, which is a 4½-point underdog to Wisconsin.
In the Mountain West, Nevada is a 5-point favorite over Colorado State. I have a ticket on the Wolf Pack at plus-180 to win the tournament, so there’s no reason to lay the points.
Here are three plays today:
Iowa State (plus-3) over West Virginia: Senior guard Monte Morris and backcourt partner Deonte Burton can handle the Mountaineers’ defensive pressure and beat their zone. It did not happen in the regular season, when West Virginia won both meetings by double digits, but the Cyclones have been the strongest team in the Big 12 tournament. Bob Huggins is lucky to be here after his team was outplayed most of the way by Kansas State.
Duke (-4) over Notre Dame: Four games in four days is a tough task, but the Blue Devils seemed to finally find their identity in comeback victories over Louisville and North Carolina. Jayson Tatum, who scored 24 against the Tar Heels, has become the star freshman everyone expected. Luke Kennard has been there all season, and Grayson Allen is off a confidence-building game. The Fighting Irish, who had an easy time with Florida State, fell to Duke 84-74 on Jan. 30.
Arizona (plus-2) over Oregon: The Ducks looked best coming into the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas, yet the Wildcats have been more impressive the past two days. Lauri Markkanen scored 29 points and Allonzo Trier added 20 in an 86-75 victory over No. 3 UCLA. Markkanen is 8 of 17 from 3-point range in two tournament games.
Friday: 4-3 against the spread