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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, January 14, 2013 at 8:00 PM

We’ve spent a lot of time on these pages over the years warning sports bettors and handicappers about how overrated the Big Ten was in college basketball. NOT THIS YEAR! The Big Ten is truly loaded, and will put on quite a show in the coming weeks as six different Sweet 16 hopefuls and at least three national championship hopefuls do battle week in and week out.

To help get you ready for tonight’s showcase showdown between Wisconsin and Indiana on ESPN, we’re going to crunch some numbers for the conference as a whole, then dig a bit deeper into that TV matchup to see if we can help you pick a winner.

First, let’s outline the Big 10 top to bottom (which, you’ll recall, actually has 12 teams!). As always, we’ll use the respected computer ratings from Jeff Sagarin at USA Today and college hoops guru Ken Pomeroy to set the tone. We keep our own proprietary ratings under wraps because we have to protect that information for our clients.

BIG TEN OVERALL (thru Sunday’s games)

Indiana: 3 in Sagarin, 3 in Pomeroy

Minnesota: 6 in Sagarin, 6 in Pomeroy

Michigan: 7 in Sagarin, 5 in Pomeroy

Ohio State: 13 in Sagarin, 10 in Pomeroy

Michigan State: 16 in Sagarin, 17 in Pomeroy

Wisconsin: 26 in Sagarin, 15 in Pomeroy

We’re going to stop right there with the big six. The computer has quite a drop-off to the next few teams. That’s obviously a loaded group. And, you could argue that many of the teams are interchangeable. Ohio State just beat Michigan this past Sunday, knocking the Wolverines off their undefeated pedestal. Indiana beat Minnesota, but it was a home game that suggested tougher times at other locales. The first three teams listed all have legitimate Final Four and National Championship hopes. Ohio State would say they should be on that short list too. We all know Michigan State is famous for closing the season playing their best basketball. Just a fantastic group this year. Real talent. An upgrade in coaching in recent seasons. We are fully expecting the Big 10 to be loud and strong in the Big Dance. 

Iowa: 46 in Sagarin, 36 in Pomeroy

Illinois: 47 in Sagarin, 49 in Pomeroy

These next two teams are likely to join the Big Dance, but are less likely to go deep based on what the computers are suggesting. Too bad Iowa and Illinois don’t play in the ACC or Big 12! Even though we’re looking at teams #7 and #8 in the league, these are still tournament caliber teams at the moment. Look for spots to back them as live home underdogs vs. the powers…particularly when those powers are in letdown or lookahead spots.

We’ll note hear that pollsters are MUCH higher on Illinois than the computers are. This past weekend Illinois was #12 in the AP and #13 in the Coach’s Poll. You’ll see in a moment why those assessments were way too optimistic.

Northwestern: 107 in Sagarin, 103 in Pomeroy

Purdue: 106 in Sagarin, 83 in Pomeroy

Nebraska: 130 in Sagarin, 162 in Pomeroy

Penn State: 202 in Sagarin, 205 in Pomeroy

These teams aren’t likely to get in shouting distance of the Dance this year. Maybe each will get a shot to play spoiler in just the right circumstances (or in the postseason tournament if any of the powers come in overconfident…which seems like an annual occurrence in this conference!). The best way to handicap these teams is to assume the worst if their opponents are in a great schedule spot, but to consider value plays when their opponents are otherwise preoccupied.

In terms of TV, you’re going to see a lot of the big six when they play each other. That starts TONIGHT.

BIGGEST HEAD-TO-HEAD BATTLES THIS WEEK

Tuesday: Wisconsin at Indiana

Thursday: Michigan at Minnesota

Saturday: Ohio State at Michigan State

Can Wisconsin pull off a big road upset against a team many pundits are thinking of at this year’s Kentucky (at least when they play at home). Let’s run the boxscore numbers from each team’s most recent performance. Both impressed this past weekend in games you may have watched on the tube…

WISCONSIN 74, #12 ILLINOIS 51

Shooting Percentage: Illinois 35%, Wisconsin 49%

Three-Pointers: Illinois 2/14, Wisconsin 10/23

Free Throws: Illinois 13/20, Wisconsin 8/13

Rebounds: Illinois 23, Wisconsin 41

Turnovers: Illinois 9, Wisconsin 13

Phantom Score: Illinois 55, Wisconsin 77

Vegas Line: Wisconsin by 6.5, total of 128

You can see why we respect the computers more than the media polls! Illinois was squashed here, even though they shot more free throws and only committed nine turnovers. They were blasted in the three point category, which…by itself…resulted in the final scoreboard margin. But, they were also killed on the boards. If you’re new to the NOTEBOOK, Phantom Score is a stat we invented many years ago that excludes treys and free throws from the mix. It’s simply two-point scoring plus rebounding, and has a very strong correlation to what matters most in this sport. Illinois was squashed in that stat too! Big win for the Badgers, and a game where Illinois was exposed as a Sweet 16 pretender.

#5 INDIANA 88, #8 MINNESOTA 81

Shooting Percentage: Minnesota 44%, Indiana 51%

Three-Pointers: Minnesota 11/27, Indiana 8/19

Free Throws: Minnesota 12/15, Indiana 26/40

Rebounds: Minnesota 27, Indiana 30

Turnovers: Minnesota 17, Indiana 15

Phantom Score: Minnesota 63, Indiana 68

Vegas Line: Indiana by 8, total of 145

Indiana jumped out to a huge lead here, but had troubles hanging onto it because of a disappointing bench and fire from the embarrassed underdog. Minnesota would make it a game in the final moments, and still get the cover for dog backers. Indiana showed you why they’re so dangerous though. You see a great shooting percentage in a big game, an edge on the boards, and the ability to get to the free throw line. They need to make more when they get there! Come dance time, somebody is going to have to shoot lights out to upset the Hoosiers. To us, the lesson here was Minnesota proving themselves as a force to be reckoned with. Everyone knew Indiana was going to be great this year. Minnesota is legit.

What happens tonight in Wisconsin-Indiana? To us it’s likely to come down to three-pointers. Wisconsin must hit their treys to be competitive at this tough road site. That’s far from a sure thing because trey-heavy teams blow hot and cold on the road.  It will be an interesting battle of tempo’s, as Indiana likes to push while Wisconsin doesn’t want to get into a track meet. Indiana can win HUGE if they impose their tempo while Wisconsin misses treys. The Badgers can make it interesting if they slow things down and drain a few bombs.

JIM HURLEY may be playing this game for his clients, so we can’t give you an official selection here in the NOTEBOOK. You can purchase NETWORK’S top plays right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about our service, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Ask about including the NFL Conference Championships and Super Bowl into any basketball package when you call.

Back with you tomorrow to talk more college basketball. It’s time for you get up to speed on the road to MARCH MADNESS! And, there’s no better way to do that than by linking up with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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