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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, February 10, 2012 at 11:20 PM

Saturday’s nationally televised game between the #12 Michigan State Spartans and the #3 Ohio State Buckeyes is going to have a lot of trouble living up to the drama from Duke-North Carolina and Georgetown-Syracuse the other night. But, this battle of Big Ten superpowers will certainly have a championship feel to it. And, it may ALSO go down on the list of one of the best games all season.

Ohio State is a perennial national championship threat who tends to disappoint in the Big Dance. This year is just a replay of a script we’ve seen before…and there’s no way if that script is going to change until mid-March!

Michigan State started the year young an inexperienced. But, a trial by fire against a tough early schedule allowed them to grow up quick. They’re certainly a danger team heading into the second half of the season…and may be better than their current national ranking. Coach Tom Izzo has a habit of getting things done in March…in sharp contrast to the too frequent disappointments at Ohio State.

Before we run a few indicator stats for this ESPN showdown, let’s get caught up with the Big Ten race. There are several important stories in the process of playing themselves out right now.


Ohio State 9-2

Michigan State 8-3

Wisconsin 8-4

Michigan 8-4

Indiana 7-6

Among the biggest stories…these teams are just beating each other up! Indiana scored wins over a pair of #1 teams earlier this season, yet they’ve dropped SIX conference games! Illinois and Purdue have been in many important discussions. Both are under .500 at the moment with 5-6 records. Minnesota is a darkhorse who could have reached .500 with a win over Wisconsin Thursday Night. The Gophers lost at home in overtime.

The good news is that the Big 10 survivors will be battle-tested. The bad news is that they might be worn down the way some Big East teams have been in recent years. And, there’s always a possibility that all the losses are suggesting a few of these teams just aren’t as good as everyone had thought. Indiana can play with anybody at their best…they’re not always at their best. Illinois and Purdue have failed to measure up.

Here’s how Joe Lunardi of ESPN currently has the Big 10 bracketed in the Big Dance.

Ohio State: a #1 seed

Michigan State: a #2 seed

Wisconsin: a #4 seed

Indiana: a #4 seed

Michigan: a #4 seed

Illinois: a #10 seed

Purdue: a #10 seed

Minnesota: a #12 seed

That’s EIGHT teams making the Big Dance according to Bracketology, even if only five currently have winning records in league play. The selection committee really doesn’t like taking teams who aren’t at least .500 in their conference. Will they take MULTIPLE teams that are below .500 from the same conference? That’s going to be an interesting story to follow in a few weeks. The public, and the media tends to frown on stuff like that…particularly with mid major programs reaching the Final Four the past couple of years despite unfavorable seeding.

Let’s see how respected computer analysts Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin (of USA Today) currently rank the Big 10 Bracketology teams…


Ohio State: 1st in Pomeroy, 1st in Sagarin

Michigan State: 5th in Pomeroy, 5th in Sagarin

Wisconsin: 4th in Pomeroy, 6th in Sagarin

Indiana: 9th in Pomeroy, 9th in Sagarin

Michigan: 25th in Pomeroy, 29th in Sagarin

Purdue: 34th in Pomeroy, 34th in Sagarin

Illinois: 44th in Pomeroy, 41st in Sagarin

Minnesota: 48th in Pomeroy, 49th in Sagarin

Wow, talk about lockstep! The guys must be using the same stuff in their programming! Both guys are either set up to be sages, or set up to be humiliated if the Big Ten lays a few eggs in the Big Dance. Three of the six best teams in the country are in the Big Ten?! Four of the top nine?! Indiana has SIX losses in the conference but is one of the nine best teams in the country?!

Note how Michigan would grade out about 3-4 seeding spots below Wisconsin and Indiana, even though Lunardi has them all in the same spot. Clearly some room for disagreement this year. And, clearly two teams very much on the bubble with Illinois and Minnesota down in the danger zone. They each need a signature win in this last month to pump up the resume a bit more.

Okay, enough about the Big Ten. Let’s see what’s on tap in that Michigan State-Ohio State game everyone’s been waiting for. Note that this will be the first of two regular season meetings between these teams. They’ll battle again in East Lansing in a few weeks.


Ohio State: 1st

Michigan State: 4th

Both teams are great defensively, and have head coaches who really emphasize this side of the ball. Remember that this stat is compiled by Pomeroy at his great college hoops site…and reflects points allowed adjusted for tempo and caliber of opponent. No numbers are foolproof. If the Big Ten is overrated, then Big Ten teams are getting too much credit for accomplishing things against each other. We’re fairly confident that these teams are great defensively though, even if they’re not quite THIS great.


Ohio State: 9th in the nation

Michigan State: 17th in the nation

Ohio State has the edge, mostly because they’re capable of having more big games from behind the arc. You’ll recall last year that they had some monster three-point shooting games. That created blowouts which create the illusion of invincibility. When the bombs weren’t falling, the team was beatable. Wisconsin had some success guarding the arc and letting Jared Sullinger attack in the paint. Ohio State still won, but it was a nailbiter game. We’re interested to see how Coach Izzo attacks this Buckeyes offense with his defenders.


Ohio State: 75th

Michigan State: 152nd

Ohio State doesn’t mind pushing the ball because it allows their athletes to do some damage. They’re also good at finding open looks on treys in transition. Michigan State is slower, but not quite as slow as you might have expected. They rank in the middle of the pack nationally rather than on the slow end. That could create an exciting mix of tempo’s in this matchup…where the game slows down in crunch time after sequences of high energy.

All in all, you have to give Ohio State the slight edge straight up because they grade out a smidge better on both sides of the ball…because they’ll have home court advantage…and because home court generally allows a team to impose its preferred tempo on a game. Does all that justify the Vegas line you’re seeing? That’s what handicappers have to decide for themselves.

JIM HURLEY has made a decision in this game…and that decision may be to pass! NETWORK clients only get the best value plays on the board. Saturday slates provide great opportunities all over the card! There’s a decent chance that Michigan State-Ohio State will show up in our weekly TV Triple Crown. Other possibilities include Kentucky-Vanderbilt in the prime time game on ESPN, Xavier-Temple on ESPN2, Wichita State-Creighton on ESPN2, Maryland-Duke on ESPN, SDSU-UNLV on the new NBC Sports cable channel, Connecticut-Syracuse on CBS, and Louisville-West Virginia on ESPN.

What a great day in the colleges!

Log on Saturday morning for what’s promising to be one of the biggest moneymaking days of the year. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

RIVALRY WEEK is still going strong. And, THE BIGGEST RIVALRY in our field is JIM HURLEY VS. THE VEGAS ODDSMAKERS! Of course, it’s a very one-sided rivalry…because JIM HURLEY ALWAYS GETS THE MONEY!

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