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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, February 23, 2013 at 5:24 PM

Time is running out for the national powers to make their cases to the NCAA selection committee. Only two more regular season weekends after this one…followed by the major conference tournaments. AP ranked #4 Michigan State still has its eye on a #1 seed in the Big Dance, as there’s no shame in losing to powerful Indiana. #18 Ohio State is still in contention for a Sweet 16 seed…but their loss total is near the breaking point for that reward.

There’s so much at stake whenever Big 10 battles square off!

Let’s run the numbers for Sunday’s big game that will be nationally televised by CBS. We strongly encourage you to watch the game from a handicapping perspective with these factors in mind:

*Defense and Rebounding Win Championships!

*Smart ball control is huge in big games

*Big 10 teams may beat themselves up so badly that they’ll fade in March

That last one could be looming large over a few teams in the league right now. Michigan had a slump there for a bit. Minnesota’s been on a sustained slump for weeks. Will either of today’s showcase teams wear out at just the WRONG time? If you can see that coming, you’ll be days ahead of the market.


Michigan State: 22-5 (11-3 in the Big 10)

Ohio State: 19-7 (9-5 in the Big 10)

You can see why the Buckeyes are right on the cusp for Sweet 16 seed consideration. As respected as they are given their brutal conference…a loss to the Spartans would be the tenth this season, and the sixth in conference action. There could be more on the (and at least one more in the Big 10 tournament unless they win it), which could mean the Buckeyes are looking at a #5 or a #6. Michigan State just missed taking out Indiana earlier this week. Can you get a #1 seed with six or seven losses? A slew of teams currently projected for the #2 rung would like to talk that over with you.


Michigan State: #9 with Sagarin, #12 with Pomeroy

Ohio State: #11 with Sagarin, #13 with Pomeroy

Interesting here that Jeff Sagarin of USA today and college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy see these two teams as virtually even. They don’t agree with the poll rankings, or the won-lost records in the Big 10 standings. They would have the Spartans as a #3 seed…and the Buckeyes as either a #3 seed or a #4 seed. It’s worth noting that the computers use all regular season games in their mix…while the polls seem to be more influenced by what’s happened lately in this conference. When you’re trying to pick winners through the rest of February and all of March, what call are YOU going to make? We urge you to keep in mind that Sagarin and Pomeroy are decent at the computer stuff…but wouldn’t be winning gamblers is they lived in Las Vegas.


Michigan State: #3 with Sagarin, #2 with Pomeroy

Ohio State: #24 with Sagarin, #15 with Pomeroy

Michigan State always schedules tough early in the season. That may hurt their ratings initially, but it teaches lessons quickly to newcomers while building everyone’s big game readiness. Coach Izzo has made that work for years…and it’s a strong indictment of the sport in general that so many coaches are cowards about that. Ohio State challenges itself as well, taking a home loss to Kansas in the process. Neither team will blink an eye about the toughness of today’s game. Just par for the course for these teams. Should serve them well in March as long as the players aren’t physically worn out. Spartans have proven to be full season warriors time and time again.


Michigan State: 7-5

Ohio State: 4-7

This is where you have to question the computers a bit. Do those records look even to you? Ohio State has clearly established that they’re not quite elite. They’re in danger of falling to 4-8 against top 50 teams. Michigan State dealt with its tough start and surged to a winning record anyway. Even if the Spartans lose Sunday, they’ll still have the better record in this very important indicator stat.


Michigan State: projected #2 seed

Ohio State: projected #5 seed

We can’t disagree with these. We understand that the computers do…but the computers are out of line with a few other items for these two teams. Michigan State has been superior in league play, when facing quality, and just in terms of the eye test in recent form. Note that both of these teams just hosted Indiana. Michigan State almost won before getting edged. Ohio State was bullied in a surprisingly one-sided loss. We’ll disagree often with Lunardi of ESPN, but agree with him here.


Michigan State: #17

Ohio State: #15

Let’s move to the chess match. On offense, the computers show these teams as virtually dead even when you adjust for strength of schedule and tempo. The margin of error is such that two spaces on a 300-team total pole is nothing. Worth noting here that these offenses are very efficient by national standards, but may not be by national championship standards. Once you’re down to a handful of teams, there are a few who are going to grade out better than what you see above. And, frankly, both have shown issues when it comes to scoring late out of the halfcourt against their toughest opponents. In short…those offenses probably won’t play to what those numbers would suggest in their biggest challenge games.


Michigan State: #18

Ohio State: #19

Another dead heat, even closer this time! You have to respect top 20 defenses…but then you have to worry about those teams when they’re facing top 10 defenses. That’s going to matter in March, mark our words. Let’s again note that the computers have these teams rated even, though the conference standings and recent form don’t. The reality of the chess match may be shade more Michigan State’s way than what Pomeroy’s rankings would suggest.


Michigan State: #213

Ohio State: #200

Are these two teams clones? They have virtually identical offensive and defensive rankings while playing at almost the exact same tempo. Why does Michigan State have the better record? We would give the nod to the head coach, because we think he’s more likely to steal close games than Ohio State is. Because so many elements are even here, handicappers are basically weighing a coaching advantage on one side…vs. home court advantage and revenge on the other (MSU won the first meeting by three points in East Lansing).


Michigan State gets the nod from us in terms of being the better team right now. Ohio State has more going for them with intangibles. That sets up a tight game with an exciting finish unless Ohio State is just a pretender in one direction…or fully exploits their motivational advantages in the other.

JIM HURLEY has loved handicapping the top Big 10 games this season. He could easily have a very big play in this one Sunday. He’s also looking at:

Illinois at #7 Michigan (a marquee sleeper!)

#20 Pittsburgh at St. John’s (Dance implications)

Cincinnati at #25 Notre Dame (Ditto)

UCLA at USC (rivalry showdown!)

LA Lakers at Dallas in an NBA TV game

Memphis at Brooklyn

Boston at Portland

Chicago at Oklahoma City

Great Sunday of action! You can purchase our top plays every day right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453. Take care of your MARCH MADNESS plans now to get more bang for your buck!

Back with you tomorrow to study the key stats in Syracuse/Marquette and/or Kansas/Iowa State from ESPN’s Big Monday. We told you there would be great games every day in February! Park yourself on your couch…and watch yourself win big with legendary handicapper JIM HURLEY!

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