Big Ten Basketball Betting: Weekly Notebook
by Matt Severance - 02/17/2009
Tonight's Michigan State at Purdue game pits the two preseason conference favorites against each other with lots on the line. The Spartans currently hold a two-game lead over the third-place Boilermakers and Illinois is in between the two at a game-and-a-half back.
Thus, Purdue's regular-season title hopes probably hinge on a victory tonight, and the good news for the Boilers is that preseason Big Ten Player of the Year Robbie Hummel will play, although how many minutes isn't clear. He returned to action in Saturday's 49-45 win over Iowa after not playing since Jan. 31 because of a stress fracture in his back. He only had two points (1-for-7 shooting) in 24 minutes, but his teammates said everything changed when he got on the floor.
"I felt good playing 24 minutes," Hummel said to reporters after that victory. "That's probably about the right number for right now."
Purdue coach Matt Painter is considering starting Hummel but likes the forced rest when Hummel comes off the bench after three or four minutes in each half. The Boilermakers are 7-1 in Big Ten games with Hummel on the court and 0-3 without the sophomore. They are 7-4 ATS at home this year.
Hummel's rebounding prowess will be needed against a Spartans team that is tied with Pittsburgh for the top rebound margin in the country (10.1 average per game).
MSU has had a week off since its last game, a win over Michigan, to rest its weary players. Spartans starting forward Raymar Morgan, who has sat out the previous three games due to an illness and was severely limited in the two before that, will return tonight.
"Raymar will play some, but I don't know how much," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. "He's improving and starting to practice more, which is encouraging."
Prior to the illness, the 6-9 junior was averaging 15.2 points and 6.9 rebounds while shooting 60 percent from the field.
At 7-0, Michigan State is one of just two teams in the country (UConn) to not lose on an opponent's home court this season (MSU is 6-0-1 ATS on the road). This is the first time since the Spartans joined the Big Ten in 1950-51 that they have been perfect on the road through seven away contests.
But if Purdue can win on Tuesday, the conference race could be wide open, as it visits Michigan State in the regular-season finale, with Illinois also having a game left with MSU. The Illini have swept Purdue this year.
WISCONSIN: The Badgers were left for dead after six consecutive losses, but Bo Ryan's club has won four straight, including victories over ranked teams Ohio State and Illinois. That streak should reach five Thursday at Indiana, but then the Badgers visit East Lansing on Sunday.
Wisconsin has been to the NCAA Tournament for 10 straight seasons, and this recent surge has the chances of No. 11 back in focus. Assuming UW beats the Hoosiers on Thursday and takes care of business in the final two home games (Michigan, Indiana), a 10-8 conference record should be enough for a return trip to the Big Dance.
ILLINOIS: The Illini have gone 4-0 against Indiana and Purdue this season for the first time since 1956. It also has the longest homecourt winning streak among Big Ten teams at 10 games. The Illini are on a three-game Big Ten winning streak for the first time since February 2007. They do it with defense, allowing only 56.6 points per game.
However, the Illini's remaining conference schedule is against teams all above .500 in the Big Ten, beginning Wednesday against a Penn State club looking for resume-building wins for at-large NCAA bid. Illinois coach Bruce Weber has set a goal of 24 regular-season wins for his team, which would mean a 3-2 finish.
RPI NUMBERS: Last week Mike Slive, the chairman of the NCAA's Division I Men's Basketball Committee, said the overall strength of any conference won't determine how many teams it gets into the NCAA Tournament.
"The committee is not going to consider conference RPIs," Slive said. "It will not be a factor." That could hurt the Big Ten's chances of getting a sixth or seventh team in the field despite the conference having 12 wins against the RPI Top 25 and 39 wins against the RPI Top 50. The Big Ten is the No. 2 conference by RPI while playing the No. 1 strength of schedule. It also has the nation's second-best non-conference win percentage (.807) and a 19-18 non-conference record against top-six RPI conference opposition, the second best in the country.
Apparently all those strong numbers won't boost Big Ten bubble teams like Wisconsin and Penn State.
CLOSE GAMES: As of this writing, 21 Big Ten games this season have been decided by five or fewer points. Six conference games have gone to overtime, which is the most in the Big Ten since the 2004-05 season. Only Michigan State and Penn State have not played in an overtime game during the conference slate.