NCAA Basketball Expert Betting Advice: Three Interesting Opening Lines 3/1/2018
The Big Ten Tournament started Wednesday and is held for the first time at Madison Square Garden in New York as the league looks to expand its footprint. The only reason Rutgers is in the Big Ten was so it could have a New York/New Jersey presence. The Big Ten had to start the tourney a week earlier than normal because the Big East wasn't about to move its tournament dates, and it has an ironclad contract with the Garden. I will be very interested to see if that extra week of rest benefits someone like a Michigan State. The conference hasn't won a national title since Sparty in 2000, but if the Big Ten has a spectacular NCAA Tournament, I could see other conferences looking into moving their tournaments up a week to give players extra rest before the Big Dance.
Northwestern vs. Penn State ( -7 )
Big Ten Tournament game from the Garden on the Big Ten Network at 6:30 p.m. ET. Northwestern is the No. 10 seed and Penn State No. 7, with the winner taking on No. 2 Ohio State on Friday evening. I absolutely believe either of these schools could beat the overrated Buckeyes. Nothing short of winning this tournament will get NU back to the NCAA Tournament. Probably the same for Penn State as it enters on a three-game losing streak and might be without forward Mike Watkins (12.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg) for this tournament after he missed Sunday's loss at Nebraska with an undisclosed injury. These teams will be playing in the Big Ten Tournament for just the fourth time overall and the first time since 2006. It's PSU's best seed in the tournament since the 2010-11 team was the No. 6 seed and won three games to reach advance to the championship game. PSU is 12-20 all-time in this tournament.
NU enters on a six-game skid to fall under .500 overall at 15-16. Hugely disappointing season. Starting forward Vic Law, who is averaging 12 points a game, missed his second consecutive contest Sunday with an injured toe. Wildcats coach Chris Collins said after the game that Law hasn't been cleared medically to return, so it doesn't sound great that he will play here. Penn State beat visiting Northwestern on Jan. 5, 78-63, but NU flipped the script at home on Jan. 20, 70-61. Law had 18 points in that latter game.
Key trends: The Wildcats are 1-5 against the spread in their past six. The Lions are 7-3 ATS in their past 10. The favorite has covered four straight in the series.
The pick: Be nice to know if Watkins will play ... not looking great. Northwestern covers.
No. 1 Virginia at Louisville (+3.5)
A tip of 8 p.m. ET on the ACC Extra Network. Really nothing for Virginia to play for here other than potentially the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament as the Wahoos are ACC regular-season champions. They secured the outright crown by embarrassing god-awful Pittsburgh (0-17 in the ACC) on Saturday, 66-37, on the Panthers' home floor. Pitt had seven more first-half points than I did. UVA leading Kyle Guy left the game and headed to the locker room about three minutes into the second half but did return to the bench. He didn't play again, but Coach Tony Bennett rested his starters and said Guy could have returned. UVA is No. 1 in the AP Poll for a third straight week.
Louisville is very much on the NCAA Tournament bubble at 19-10 overall and 9-7 in the ACC. I would think an upset here would all but punch a ticket; the Cardinals finish the regular season on Saturday at fellow bubble team NC State. Louisville stopped a two-game skid Saturday with a 75-68 win at Virginia Tech - the last team to beat Virginia. Quentin Snider (22 points) and Dwayne Sutton (17 points) both scored career highs. The Cavs have won five straight in this series, including 74-64 on Jan. 31. Guy had 22 points. Louisville actually shot 50 percent from the field, which is very rare against that UVA No. 1 defense.
Key trends: The Cavs are 10-1 ATS in their past 11 road games vs. teams with a winning home record. The Cards are 1-6 ATS in their past seven at home vs. teams with a winning road record. UVA is 4-0-1 ATS in the past five meetings.
The pick: Louisville (needs it much more).
Western Kentucky at No. 24 Middle Tennessee (-4)
This Conference USA matchup at 8 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network might be the best game of the entire week, and I'm not even kidding. You don't want to play either of these teams in the NCAA Tournament - I think Middle Tennessee gets in regardless of whether it wins the conference tournament. Western Kentucky probably has to win the tournament. The Blue Raiders are 15-1 in C-USA play and the Hilltoppers 14-2. MT closes the regular season at home Saturday against a good Marshall team. WKU is at a decent UAB squad. So needless to say, Middle Tennessee can clinch the outright title with a win here. It enters on a 10-game winning streak and beat visiting UAB on Saturday, 79-54. That was MT's first-ever game as an AP Top 25 team. Sophomore guard Tyrik Dixon missed the game with a concussion.
Western Kentucky played its home finale on Saturday and won its sixth straight, 88-66 over a very good Old Dominion squad that is 13-3 in the conference. WKU shot 59.3 percent from the field. Justin Johnson had 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and also got engaged during the Senior Night festivities. He leads the team in scoring (14.8 ppg) and rebounding (9.4 rpg). Western Kentucky lost to Middle Tennessee on Jan. 20, 66-62. Nick King led the Blue Raiders with 28 points and nine rebounds. MT didn't trail in the second half.
Key trends: The Hilltoppers are 7-2 ATS in their past nine on the road. MT is 6-0 ATS in its past six following a win of at least 20 points. WKU is 1-4 ATS in the past five meetings.
The pick: Middle Tennessee.
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