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Hot Michigan heads into Big Ten semis vs. Michigan St

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

March 3, 2018 12:01 AM

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Tony Carr acknowledges the Penn State fans after defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes in a quarterfinal game of the Big Ten tournament at Madison Square Garden.
© USA Today Sports Images

Penn State’s third upset of Ohio State, and Michigan’s continuing surge highlights quarterfinal action in the Big Ten tournament. After an eventful day and night in Gotham…to the stat cave!

Big Ten Tournament: Favored Michigan mauls Nebraska, but underdogs are 8-2 ATS overall
Fans sure are getting their money’s worth at Madison Square Garden. Another day of compelling action featuring three tighter-than-expected finishes and a look at one of the hottest sleepers on the college basketball landscape. We’ll run the games in the order they were played. 

#2 Michigan State (-12) 63, Wisconsin 60 
Two-point Pct: Wisconsin 50%, Michigan State 48%
Three Pointers: Wisconsin 6/17, Michigan State 5/16
Free Throws: Wisconsin 2/6, Michigan State 10/11
Rebounds: Wisconsin 27, Michigan State 41
Turnovers: Wisconsin 6, Michigan State 11
Estimated Possessions: Wisconsin 56, Michigan State 57
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Wisconsin 74-57-66, Michigan State 6-4-6 
Market Watch: Michigan State opened at -10.5 or -11, and gradually rose up to minus a dozen right before tip off. The public tends to bet “rested” superior teams in conference tournaments, particularly those who are ranked as national powers. Didn’t work here. Just another example of a superpower not being able to get distance from an opposing underdog way behind them in computer ratings. The Over/Under opened around 131.5 or 132, but dropped down to 130 after sharp interest. That move was in the correct direction for game flow.

In the game itself, a tight, slow crawler typical of Wisconsin basketball (we’re using Shots…minus offensive rebounds…plus one-half free throw attempts…plus turnovers to estimate possessions in the college and NBA). Tough for big favorites to win blowouts in this style. Michigan State never looked like a team that should have been a double-digit favorite. Sparty advances largely because of its rebounding edge and the fact that Wisconsin couldn’t draw shooting fouls (just 2 of 6 here after going 20 of 24 vs. Maryland). 

Michigan State is just 2-7-2 against the spread its last 11 games, one of many highly regarded teams having trouble playing to expectations consistently. They have the skill sets to run the table in the Dance. Coach Izzo may need to pull a few more rabbits out of hats in close games. Good test Saturday vs. hot Michigan.  

#15 Michigan (-5) 77, Nebraska 58
Two-point Pct: Michigan 42%, Nebraska 32%
Three Pointers: Michigan 11/23, Nebraska 4/16
Free Throws: Michigan 12/15, Nebraska 22/27
Rebounds: Michigan 41, Nebraska 34
Turnovers: Michigan 9, Nebraska 10
Estimated Possessions: Michigan 65, Nebraska 66
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Michigan 16-14-18, Nebraska 50-55-58
Market Watch: An opener of Michigan -4.5 was bet up to -5. Though, stores that tested -5.5 did see Nebraska money come in with the hook. So, sharp influences and the public liked Michigan at -4.5, while other sharps were in on the Cornhuskers plus 5.5. Early totals around 135.5 or 135 were bet down to 133. Game ended up landing on 135…meaning a win or push for the earliest Under bets but a loss otherwise. 

You may have heard guest Dave Malinsky talking to Mitch and Pauly on “Follow the Money” earlier this week about Michigan’s stellar play recently in the areas of defense and rebounding. Those were obviously strengths in this blowout. Nebraska could only make free throws, and needed some helpful officiating just to lose by 19! Michigan won 65-36 from the field. 

Michigan has now won seven straight games, going 6-1 against market expectations. So far, Point Spread Weekly is justified for putting the Wolverines on this week’s cover. Rout here of a bubble team in a must-win spot. Nebraska is very likely NIT-bound after this flop. You can see that the computers didn’t have them rated as Dance caliber (top 50 is usually the approximate cutoff for that label). The selection committee tends not to reward tests badly flunked. 

Penn State, on the other hand, might be able to make a case…

Penn State (plus 5.5) 69, #13 Ohio State 68
Two-point Pct: Penn State 33%, Ohio State 50%
Three Pointers: Penn State 9/19, Ohio State 8/23
Free Throws: Penn State 16/20, Ohio State 8/11
Rebounds: Penn State 40, Ohio State 32
Turnovers: Penn State 9, Ohio State 8
Estimated Possessions: Penn State 62, Ohio State 63
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Penn State 32-40-28, Ohio State 15-21-16
Market Watch: A runaway train in the wrong direction as an opener of Ohio State -3.5 was pounded all the way up to -5.5 by both sharp and public influences. Penn State was missing an important contributor to injury. Many in the public didn’t believe Penn State could play well THREE times in a row against the superior opponent. Plus, “rested” teams at cheap prices (particularly ranked teams) are catnip to chalk lovers. Bad tournament so far for investing in the “rested” team against the back-to-backer. The opening total of 137.5 was bet up to 140 or 140.5, apparently on the assumption Ohio State would run away and hide. Opener was on the money. 

Amazing that Penn State could hold riding time most of the game, then score late to score the upset despite getting outshot so poorly inside the arc. You can see that free throw differential was the tie-breaker, with rebounds also creating some second chances. The computers had the Nittany Lions well into the Dance before this result (all computer rankings today are from pre-tip off). Still apparently a longshot according to bracketology chatter. 

Penn State heads to the weekend 9-3 ATS its last 12 games, with three covers over Ohio State by margins of 12.5, 21, and 6.5 points. Ohio State may have peaked in early February. The Buckeyes are now 1-4 ATS their last five, with the only good showing coming in a home blowout over Rutgers, an awful road team. Ohio State isn’t in “top 20 form” right now regardless of what the polls and computers say. Plenty of time to rest and prepare for Dance challenges. 

#8 Purdue (-15.5) 82, Rutgers 75
Two-point Pct: Rutgers 50%, Purdue 70%
Three Pointers: Rutgers 5/14, Purdue 13/30
Free Throws: Rutgers 6/10, Purdue 15/21
Rebounds: Rutgers 36, Purdue 28
Turnovers: Rutgers 9, Purdue 9
Estimated Possessions: Rutgers 65, Purdue 64
Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Rutgers 142-120-127, Purdue 5-5-3
Market Watch: The first numbers up ranged from -15 to -16 depending on the time. Initial betting hit the underdog, with 14.5 being available for much of the day. Late money came in on the favorite, driving the close to Purdue -15.5. The Over/Under generally opened at 131.5, and generally closed around 133. 

How did Rutgers stay close while allowing 14 of 20 on two-point shots and losing three-point scoring by 24 points?! A total of 17 offensive rebounds helped provide second chance opportunities on extended possessions. You don’t have to shoot great if you “eventually” score after offensive boards. The Scarlet Knights aren’t a good long range team, and couldn’t earn many trips to the line. Gutty effort playing their third game in three nights as the worst-seeded team in the Big Ten. 

Given the computer ratings above, the high point spread, and Rutgers brutal NYC schedule, Purdue should be embarrassed. But, so many teams are in that boat it’s starting to lose meaning. Most of the nation’s elite aren’t playing to inflated expectations the past several days.

Updating some themes:

*Guidance from Sam Panayotovich on “A Numbers Game” before the tournament began regarding underdogs and Unders was in the black again. Dogs went 3-1 ATS Friday (Michigan was a market favorite even though it had an inferior seed to Nebraska). Unders split out. That’s after 5-1 and four of six to start. Through three days and 10 games…

Underdogs are 8-2 ATS, with five upsets and an OT loss/cover
Unders are 6-4 ATS 

*Teams gaining familiarity with the surroundings at Madison Square Garden with an earlier tourney game continue to catch “rested” opponents flat-footed out of the gate. Yesterday we mentioned that both “tired” teams (Iowa and Rutgers) won their first halves outright. Friday, 4-0 ATS for “tired” Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, and Rutgers against first half lines. The latter two won the first half outright as dogs. Michigan did too, covering as a favorite.

*If you’re following the tournament, you know that all six of those listed first half covers also covered the full game too. Not a tournament where that “head start” advantage created an illusory big first half, followed by a fatigue-ridden second half that sees the favorite come storming back to cover. Possibly connected to all the slow paces we’re seeing (hard to storm back in a slow game, against legs less likely to be tired). Also, some teams are still having trouble with three-point shooting in their first look at the Garden backdrop. “Rested” teams Michigan State, Nebraska, and Ohio State shot 5 of 16, 4 of 16, and 8 of 23 in that order. 

Big Ten estimated “market” Power Ratings: Purdue 86, Michigan State 86, Ohio State 82, Michigan 81, Penn State 78, Maryland 77, Nebraska 76, Indiana 76, Wisconsin 75, Northwestern 73, Iowa 73, Illinois 73, Rutgers 70, Minnesota 69.

We’re going to keep Ohio State (82) and Penn State (78) the same even though the Buckeyes steamed to -5.5 before tipoff. Since that turned out to be a red herring, hard to justify either OSU at 83 or Penn State at 77. Will be interesting to see if Michigan starts getting more respect. Recent pricing would project MSU -5 in that first Saturday semifinal, and Purdue -8 in the nightcap. 

We thought about running a full-blown stat preview for Saturday night’s anticipated rematch featuring #9 North Carolina at #5 Duke. But Duke’s recent switch to a zone defense might make longer term stat tendencies moot. What’s clear so far is that the market hasn’t adjusted properly for this new emphasis on defense with a style that slows down pace. 

*Duke/Louisville landed on 138 against a total of 154.5
*Duke/Syracuse landed on 104 against a total of 143
*Duke/Virginia Tech landed on 127 against a total of 153.5

Even though the defensive change was well-publicized off the Louisville game, the market still missed the next two totals by a mile. But you can’t be sure that Coach K will stick with the zone because the Blue Devils were upset by Virginia Tech. The element of surprise is gone, which means that Duke might have to switch strategies to one that coincidentally speeds up play again. Be sure you watch the market Saturday to see if any sharp influences might be offering guidance in that regard. 

Both North Carolina and Duke are coming off upset losses earlier this week. Both had really nice point spread runs going in prior weeks. First number up offshore was Duke -7.5, consistent with the Blue Devils laying -1.5 at Chapel Hill (a flip of six points for home court, three at each place). Initial betting brought it down to Duke -7. That could change by the time you read this Saturday morning. 

NBA: Toronto Raptors still the class of the East after winning at Washington
Great matchup Friday in the Eastern Conference of the NBA, as current red-hot betting favorites Toronto visited the Washington Wizards, who had been playing great team ball in the absence of John Wall. Toronto confirmed its bona fides with a road win/cover. Washington still looks like a team that will out-hustle tankers or anyone playing at three-quarter speed. Matched up against quality at home vs. Golden State and Toronto, they weren’t able to sniff straight up victories.

Toronto (-3.5) 102, Washington 95 
Two-point Pct: Toronto 58%, Washington 49%
Three Pointers: Toronto 10/33, Washington 9/24
Free Throws: Toronto 20/32, Washington 14/21
Rebounds: Toronto 34, Washington 47
Turnovers: Toronto 7, Washington 17
Estimated Possessions: Toronto 93, Washington 92

Very much a playoff style game with those low pace numbers. You can see that Washington still brought peak effort, winning rebounding by a huge margin. But, they may have been trying to do too much given the high turnover count. Toronto executed very well, shooting 58% on deuces while rarely turning the ball over. A scoring total of 102 may not seem like a big offensive night, but it came in a slow game, on the road against a team that cared. 

Toronto is now 9-2 ATS its last 11 games, and 9-1-1 straight up at the end of regulation. Washington falls to 10-4 ATS without Wall, 9-5 straight up. The Wiz could still offer value when rested vs. teams lacking intensity.

Also Friday night in the NBA…

*Detroit lost and failed to cover again, as the Blake Griffin era falls to 2-11 ATS. Very poor showing to lose to Orlando as a cheap favorite. Magic won 115-106 in overtime (tied at 103 at the end of regulation). Griffin scored just 12 points in 41 minutes. Detroit’s cover this week came when slumping Milwaukee was in a back-to-back.

*Despite being in a back-to-back, Philadelphia (-9) rallied to cover against Charlotte 110-99 thanks to a 36-19 fourth quarter explosion. Great sign for a young team in a letdown spot and a back-to-back to close that strong. 

*Golden State (-14.5) sleep-walked to a 114-109 win over horrible Atlanta. 

*Chicago (plus 2.5) won the fourth quarter 30-15 to rally past Dallas 108-100. Pundits couldn’t decide during the day who would be tanking harder here. The market assumed Dallas had stopped because of league pressure applied to Mark Cuban. But…man…Chicago had been awful lately and the Mavs disappeared when the game was on the line. Bulls just 3-12 ATS their last 15 even with this win/cover. 

*Denver (-9) only won at Memphis 108-102. Maybe the Nuggets aren’t ready to blowout tankers on the road just yet. 

*Indiana (plus 3.5) won at Milwaukee 103-99. Bucks are now 1-6 ATS their last seven, as the initial excitement about Jason Kidd’s firing has worn off. Fourth straight outright loss as a favorite too.

*Oklahoma City (-7.5) scored the last 10 points of the game (in about 90 seconds) to vulture a cover against Phoenix 124-116. OKC had been 0-4 ATS since the All-Star Break, and played awful here for 46.5 minutes against one of the leagues dregs. Not quite Virginia/Louisville. But, OKC scored a layup with 1:32 left to tie at 116, then a trey with 56 seconds left, one free throw with 18 seconds left, a dunk with 11 seconds left, and two free throws with 1.5 seconds left. If you stole this one backing a slumping favorite, don’t complain about bad beats for awhile!  

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See you Sunday morning with key game stats from Duke/North Carolina, Michigan State/Michigan, Purdue/Penn State, and any key upsets from the final Saturday of regular season action. 

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