Happy Conference Tournament Day! We’ve got the start of the college basketball postseason on Tuesday with the Atlantic Sun Conference, Big South Conference, Horizon League, and Patriot League all in action with first-round games today. I’ve previewed each one of those four conference tournaments and will do all 32 for you when all is said and done at BangTheBook.com.
The conference tournaments aren’t the only games in town tonight. Far from it. We’ve got action across the country from a variety of different conferences. I try to stay with the under-the-radar conferences, but that won’t be the case tonight. The premier tilt between Michigan State and Penn State is the spotlight matchup in college hoops and the spotlight matchup in my article.
Michigan State is favored by 1.5 with a total of 144 with our friends over at DSI Sportsbook. Speaking of friends, regular contributor John Ryan talked about this game in his Big Ten Weekly Preview, so you can get a different perspective from a professional handicapper in that one. You can also check out my situational spots article to find additional games to follow.
The Spartans are not in a position to control their own destiny for the Big Ten regular season title, but they gave themselves a chance by beating Maryland on the road over the weekend. At 12-6, Michigan State is in a three-way tie for second and one game off the pace. Penn State is 11-7 and firmly in the NCAA Tournament as one of the 10 Big Ten teams expected to get an invitation to dance.
It is March, so we would expect Tom Izzo’s team to round into form. Over the last three games, the Spartans have scored 1.145, 1.118, and 1.194 points per possession in wins over Nebraska, Iowa, and Maryland. Penn State and the sizzling Ohio State Buckeyes are the only opponents left in the regular season for Sparty.
Penn State is reeling a little bit heading into the postseason. The Nittany Lions have dropped three of the last four and probably should have lost to Rutgers in their only win. That was a 65-64 victory at home in a game where Penn State trailed by as many as 19 in the first half and needed a three in the final 30 seconds to escape with the win.
Perhaps we’ve reached something of a buy low point on Penn State with the recent struggles. On the other hand, Penn State is only +1.5 against Michigan State, a team with heavy public backing and a sterling reputation when the third month of the year arrives. This line suggests to me that Penn State is still getting respect based on how they rank with sites like Bart Torvik or Ken Pomeroy.
There have been a lot of discussions as the season has gone along about the Big Ten and about which team has the most upside. It sure feels like Michigan State. The Spartans are first in adjusted defensive efficiency, eFG%, 3P%, and 2P% on the defensive side. They are first in eFG%, second in 3P%, and third in 2P% on the offensive side. The only marks against the Spartans are that they have the highest TO% on offense in the Big Ten and rank 11th in TO% on defense.
That was a huge issue for Michigan State during their midseason swoon. They really stopped forcing turnovers and the offense sputtered. This is a team that would be extremely dangerous and even more of a national title contender with a few more takeaways.
Penn State is solid across the board, but doesn’t really stand out in any way in Big Ten play. The Nittany Lions are third in TO% on offense and fourth in TO% on defense. Those two metrics, coupled with a set of above average numbers otherwise, are enough for Torvik to say that Penn State is the second-best team in the Big Ten. Most would say that’s a stretch, especially with how Patrick Chambers’s team is playing down the stretch.
Road revenge is historically a powerful angle late in the season and Michigan State is in that spot here after losing 75-70 in East Lansing back on February 4. Cassius Winston had 25 in that game and nobody else reached double figures for MSU. Lamar Stevens and Myreon Jones had 44 of the 75 points for Penn State. Turnovers were the issue there for Michigan State with 15 turnovers and only nine takeaways.
That really is the only thing that holds Michigan State back. In this game, I think they get that road revenge. I think Michigan State is rounding into form and Penn State is showing what the rigors of a Big Ten season can do. If Penn State doesn’t pull out that game against Rutgers and rides a four-game losing streak into this one, this line is probably 3 or 3.5. I’ll take Michigan State laying the short number.
Pick: Michigan State -1.5