Big Ten Basketball Betting: Weekly Notebook
by Matt Severance - 02/24/2009
There are two weeks to go in the Big Ten's regular season, and few games remaining will be as key as tonight's Penn State at Ohio State matchup.
The Buckeyes have opened as six-point favorites, and they need the win in a big way. OSU has lost three consecutive games -- by a total of 10 points and they covered only one of those games -- to fall to 7-7 and seventh in the conference. It's unlikely that seven teams will make the NCAA Tournament from the Big Ten, so Tuesday's game against the 8-6 Nittany Lions is huge.
Ohio State was beaten by Northwestern and Illinois last week, allowing those two to shoot a combined 52 percent from the field (and behind the arc). OSU coach Thad Matta is hearing some criticism for not shifting out of a zone defense, but he directed the blame at his players.
"We're reacting to everything," Matta said to reporters. "There's no attack; it's react."
There might be help on the way. Team captain David Lighty, out since Dec. 17 because of a broken bone in his left foot, practiced Saturday. But he won't be returning Tuesday, as he was so sore that he couldn't participate in a shootaround the following day. And Matta said Lighty could not run up and down the court in practice.
As for Penn State, it hasn't been to the NCAAs since the 2000-01 season. But a win Tuesday assures the Nittany Lions of no worse than a .500 record in conference to go along with 20 wins overall. PSU has followed three straight losses with two consecutive wins, although its last one was an incredibly ugly 38-33 victory over Illinois.
Penn State likely will need a big bounce-back game Tuesday from second-leading scorer Jamelle Cornely, as he has scored in double digits just once in the last four games.
Tuesday's game is the only scheduled meeting between the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions this season. PSU is a very solid 6-3 ATS on the road this year.
MICHIGAN: The Wolverines are one of about five NCAA Tournament bubble teams in the Big Ten, although they probably are on the outside looking in as things stand now.
Sunday's overtime loss to Iowa was a killer, and a big reason for that loss no doubt was the fact that coach John Beilein benched leading scorer Manny Harris for the entire overtime. Harris is averaging 16.9 points but was 3-of-13 for nine points against the Hawkeyes and his three-point attempt at the end of regulation missed. Beilein said he felt Harris wasn't playing well and wasn't fresh.
"You have to come to every practice whether it was before or at Michigan the past two years … to understand why we make a decision like that," Beilein said to reporters. "Manny and I will talk and he'll be ready to roll against Purdue (on Thursday) and I expect nothing but the best from him."
Michigan (7-8 in conference) probably needs to win three of its final four conference games to have a chance at the NCAA Tournament, and a victory Thursday over the ranked Boilermakers would be a great addition to the Wolverines' resume. UM (8-3 ATS at home) has yet to beat a ranked conference foe this season and lost by 18 at Purdue earlier this year. Harris had just five points in that one as he was ejected early in the second half after elbowing Purdue's Chris Kramer. UM was outscored 40-20 after Harris left.
SUPER SOPHS: Great stat borrowed from the Chicago Tribune in showing how young the Big Ten is and how loaded it could be next year if it can avoid mass NBA defections.
Entering this week, the league's top three scorers are sophomores: Penn State's Talor Battle, Michigan's Manny Harris and Ohio State's Evan Turner, who is probably the front-runner for Big Ten Player of the Year honors. Fourteen of the top 30 scorers and four of the top six rebounders are sophomores. The top three scorers on both Illinois and Purdue are all sophomores.