Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, January 16, 2014 at 7:00 AM
Two nights ago, Wisconsin was unable to survive a trip to Bloomington, Indiana…as the Badgers dropped their first game of the season to the Hoosiers. Thursday Night, we have a very similar spot in terms of computer ratings when Ohio State plays at Minnesota in a game that will be nationally televised by ESPN2.
Ohio State is very close to Wisconsin in most respected ratings systems (particularly now that Wisconsin lost!). Minnesota rates slightly better than Indiana, currently sitting on the right side of the Big Dance bubble by a good bit rather than the wrong side.
Will we see another down-to-the-wire thriller? Will we see another home victory against a superpower visitor? And, will this game teach us anything about what might happen from this point forward in the Big 10 race. So many questions! Let’s run the matchup through our gauntlet of key indicators.
Ohio State: #7 in Pomeroy, #9 in Sagarin
Minnesota: #40 in Pomeroy, #41 in Sagarin
Ohio State would like to make a case to be a #1 or #2 seed in the NCAA tournament. You have to be in the top eight to pull that off. A road win at Minnesota would surely help the resume. A loss could end up being the blemish that drops the Buckeyes further down the ladder. Minnesota seems safely into the Dance now, as the top 50 are usually well positioned. Their strength of schedule will impress given the quality of the Big 10. But, to be a team that MATTERS rather than a team that’s just involved, the Gophers need to score a home victory here. College basketball guru Ken Pomeroy and USA Today computer whiz Jeff Sagarin sure see things the same way in their team evaluations.
Offensive Rank (Adjusted for Schedule)
Ohio State: #74
As we discussed last week when Ohio State faced Michigan State, the Buckeyes are sluggish on offense by elite standards. A ranking of #74 looks fine out of 300-plus teams. But, once you’re talking about the short list of conference or national contenders, it’s sluggish and sloppy. Minnesota has the better offense of the two teams. And, this may be a season where offensive quality increases its relevance because of the way officials are calling fouls.
Defensive Rank (Adjusted for Schedule)
Ohio State: #1
This is where Ohio State makes its case for going the distance. If defense is still going to win championships in this sport (a developing question mark), then the #1 defense in the land has to be taken seriously! When you adjust for pace and opposition, the Buckeyes grade out as the very best on a per-possession basis. Minnesota falls off the map in terms of relevance. Again, #85 ain’t bad on a national scale. It IS bad on the Dance-scale. There’s just no way you can string together postseason wins if your defense is that soft.
Ohio State: #249
These teams play at extremely similar paces, below the national average but not quite “taking the air out of the ball.” Indiana had a chance to disrupt Wisconsin the other night by pushing them faster through stretches than they’re used to. This host won’t have that opportunity. The game will be played in the comfort zone of both teams.
Against the Spread
Ohio State: 9-7
This is interesting. You have to respect any big name team that’s over .500 against the spread this deep into the season. The lines are usually stacked against them because the public likes betting on media darlings. Ohio State has shown a profit despite dealing with that handicap. Minnesota has been a disappointment, failing to play to expectations on a regular basis.
But, nothing’s ever set in stone in college basketball. Minnesota is one of many talented teams who could kick things up a notch from this point forward. Will that start Thursday Night? JIM HURLEY has some ideas about that. And, this TV game is on the short list of possibilities for BEST BET status (along with UCLA/Colorado, Arizona State/Arizona, Connecticut/Memphis, and a few mid-major contests). You can purchase the final word for Thursday here at the website during the day with your credit card.
If you have any questions about basketball service, or combination packages that include the rest of football, call our handicapping office during normal business hours at 1-888-777-4155. Remember that any profits you earn from basketball the next few days can be re-invested in the big NFL Championship Weekend picks that are coming up Sunday!
Speaking of the conference championship games, we’ll be previewing the AFC Championship matching New England and Denver, as well as the NFC Championship starring San Francisco and Seattle over the next two days here in the NOTEBOOK. Coverage will be up well in advance of kickoff.
Whether you’re talking college basketball or pro football, when championships are on the line, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!