Nice going ‘Heels. We would have been undefeated against the spread if you’d have remembered to come out at halftime. Maryland and Virginia Tech came through as expected, though, and we ended up 5-1 against the spread and 5-1 straight up (including picking two dogs). Not bad.
With Carolina continuing to curl up in a ball like Sgt. Brodie at the first sign of adversity, Florida St. increasing its Challenge losing streak, and Wake being Wake, the ACC pretty much handed the Challenge to the Big Ten again this year on Tuesday night. The NC State loss was expected considering where they are as a team now and where Michigan is. The ‘Pack came on strong in the last 10 minutes, though, and I imagine that Michigan will not want to see the Wolfpack in March.
But unfortunately, the ACC needed to get 3, if not 4, games last night, because the matchups today are not good. Once again, all the home teams are favored, although the Michigan St. vs. Miami game strangely moved from the opening line to get there. Let’s dig in.
Virginia at Wisconsin (-10.5)
Virginia, which was thought to be an up and coming team, has been depleted by injuries this year, and has two bad losses to George Mason and Delaware. The Cavs aren’t devoid of talent, but they just are too thin to keep up with a solid, if unspectacular, Wisconsin team that will probably hang just outside the rankings all year and secure a middling seed in the tourney come March. The Badgers have played a tough schedule thus far, and should be able to handle Virginia fairly easily. Wisconsin 68 Virginia 56
Straight up: Wisconsin
Purdue at Clemson (-4)
Clemson has smacked around its competition this year, except for a pretty tough loss to Gonzaga at Disneyworld. Could Brad Brownell’s team be a tourney team this year? The Tigers have a reasonably decent stretch coming up, beginning with Purdue, that could help answer that question heading into conference play. Purdue, on the other hand, has not fared well this year, including a loss to Bucknell. This game is at Clemson, and the ACC needs it to avoid getting completely demolished in the challenge this year. Purdue is deficient enough offensively that I think the Tigers can skate by and cover. Clemson 65 Purdue 59
Straight up: Clemson
Michigan St. at Miami (Fl) (-1.5)
This line baffles me. It started with Sparty favored by 2, then Miami by 3.5, and now it’s settled at Miami by 1.5. I realize Michigan St. has some injury and turnover issues, but they also beat Kansas earlier in the year after losing to UConn in Germany (really?). Each of the Spartans last three win against fairly weak competition have been way too close for comfort, which might explain the early money smelling a Miami victory at home. I don’t buy it. Miami lost by double digits to something called a Florida Gulf Coast University, which Duke handled easily. Miami is coasting off of last years’ winning ACC record. Sparty wins another game in the 60s. It could be worse if the Spartans get Travis Trice and Gary Harris back. Michigan St. 67 Miami 63.
Straight up: Michigan
Georgia Tech at Illinois (-9.5)
What to make of Illinois? They cruised through the Maui Invitational, avoiding Texas and North Carolina, but winning impressively nonetheless. But they’ve also squeaked by Gardner Webb and an awful Hawaii team (albeit in Hawaii). The Illini weren’t supposed to be much in the wake of their collapse last year, but here they are again, undefeated in non-conference play. Georgia Tech has looked downright salty this year, dropping a tough game to Cal, but beating Saint Mary’s. I don’t think the Jackets can get the win here, but I also think Illinois may be a little overrated after the Maui Invitation bracket fell in place rather nicely for them. Illinois 72 Georgia Tech 65
Straight up: Illinois
ATS: Georgia Tech
Boston College at Penn St. (-1)
I may have been giving Nebraska vs. Wake Forest too much credit. This may be the worst game in the tourney. Boston College lost to Bryant (no relation to Kobe, but don’t tell the Demon Deacons that). Penn St. got drilled by what may be a pretty good Akron team. This line opened with Penn St. giving 3, but has fallen to just 1. Probably a bunch of Southies that can’t imagine Penn St. having a better basketball team than BC. They do. Penn St. 59 Boston College 55.
Straight up: Penn St.
ATS: Penn St.
Ohio St. at Duke (-5.5)
The real marquee matchup. Clearly the Hoosier-Heel game last night was another one of those typical mismatches by the Challenge organizers. Perhaps Virginia Tech or Maryland would have been a more appropriate opponent for #1 Indiana. But my recency bias digresses. Ohio St. dominated Duke last year in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the 22 point final score. Ohio St’s starters scored all but 6 of the Buckeyes points, and, as was the case for most Duke losses last year, the Devils stood around and watched Austin Rivers jack it… so to speak.
This year is in Cameron, and it’s the Blue Devils with the more experienced squad. But Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft are both back this year, and even better than last year when Duke clearly wasn’t up to stopping them. Mason Plumlee, who quietly had a really good game against the Buckeyes last year, Mason Plumlee, is playing at an all-America level and actually showing he’s a threat in the post. And without Jared Sullinger in the game to counter Mason, I expect Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton to continue to feed the post, and Ohio St.’s big men to struggle. If Mason Plumlee can stay out of foul trouble, I expect another 20 point 10 rebound game. While Duke will need to hit open threes when they are available, Thad Matta coaches some of the best perimeter defense this side of Durham, NC, so if Duke relies on chucking threes tonight, a lot of them will be contested, and a lot of them will be off target.
On the other end, I don’t expect Duke to stop Deshaun Thomas, but I think there will be a concerted effort to slow down Aaron Craft and gum up the works of the Buckeye offense. Expect a lot of Rasheed Sulaimon here, but also a healthy dose of Mr. Handsy himself, Tyler Thornton.
The Blue Devils likely will not return the favor on the Buckeyes and blow them out of Cameron. But Duke is playing solid, smart basketball right now, and I think they are more than capable of winning at home. Duke 80 Ohio St. 76
Straight up: Duke
ATS: Ohio St.
That would give the Big Ten an 8-4 victory this year, once again exposing the frustrating lack of depth in the ACC, especially in the middle. Until next year….