We sink our teeth into a big night of basketball on Wednesday night with games spread out across a lot of different conferences and with a preview of Rutgers vs. Iowa. The Hawkeyes and the Scarlet Knights will square off in Iowa City tonight, which means that Iowa should win the game and probably cover.
After all, the Big Ten has been a conference dominated by home teams this season. Then again, maybe the tide is starting to turn. Road teams went 2-1 straight up and 2-1 against the spread on Tuesday night to improve to 9-42 straight up and 18-32 against the spread. That’s right, home teams are covering at a 64% clip in Big Ten Conference action so far this season. I guess that means they are all going to forget how to do the basketball thing in Indianapolis when conference tournament time rolls around.
Anyway, Rutgers and Iowa draw the spotlight tonight, even though there are several games listed in my college basketball situational betting spots article for tonight’s action. The Hawkeyes are -5.5 with a total of 138 according to the fine folks at BetOnline Sportsbook, who offer generous deposit and reload bonuses. Be sure to post up at as many places as you can before all of the prop bets start to be available!
It seems fair to say that Rutgers has come out of nowhere. The trend line for the Scarlet Knights has been pointing up for the last several weeks. Steve Pikiell’s team is 14-4. Rutgers won 14 games all of last season and 15 games in each of the previous two seasons. It wasn’t easy to see this coming, particularly because Rutgers is far better offensively than anybody could have imagined. The Scarlet Knights were 339th, 347th, and 317th in Effective FG% on offense over the last three years. This season, they are 153rd.
Rutgers hasn’t had a 20-win season since 2003-04, but they are well on their way. They are one of the best defensive teams in the country and that was a growing trend. It was all about when the offense would catch up. Rutgers has been in the top 80 in 2P% defense each season under Pikiell, but has peaked this season at eighth in the nation. Rutgers has been a top-75 team in adjusted defensive efficiency all four seasons, but ranks fourth this year.
There have been some underlying signs, to a degree, that Rutgers could really be a thorn in the side of some better Big Ten programs in those head-to-head matchups, but this level of potency was definitely unexpected. After all, Rutgers has gone from 44.5% to 43.4% to 47.2% to 52.1% on two-point shots.
Not much has changed with Iowa basketball. Fran McCaffery’s team is still great offensively and has some problems defensively. The Hawkeyes rank fourth in adjusted offensive efficiency per Bart Torvik. Ken Pomeroy actually has Iowa third in that department. The problem is that Iowa ranks 78th in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom and 75th per Torvik. Iowa does have the luxury of an offense that creates a lot of margin for error for the defense and that has been a big help en route to 13-5, but three of those five losses for Iowa have come in conference competition.
As you would expect, two of the three losses are on the road and the other came in a neutral setting, which falls right in line with the rest of the conference for this season. What is extremely interesting is that Michigan was getting 4.5 against Iowa this past Friday and now Rutgers is getting 5.5. In your wildest dreams, could you ever have imagined a scenario in which Michigan and Rutgers would be rated roughly the same from an ATS standpoint?
It may also say a little bit about Iowa, too. While they did score 1.236 points per possession in that 90-83 win over Michigan, they allowed 1.14 points per possession. We know that Rutgers is a shutdown defensive squad and that the offense has come around a lot this season, too. Do you get the feeling that this is just a bad matchup for Iowa?
Well, you’ve probably gotten that feeling a lot. Torvik has Iowa with the 16th-hardest schedule in the country this season and KenPom has their slate of opposing teams listed as the 10th-toughest. Rutgers has played the 50th-ranked schedule per KP and 64th per BT. With that in mind, should we look with caution on what Rutgers has accomplished? After all, Torvik lists the non-conference schedule for Rutgers as the 228th in the nation. Most of their tough games have been conference tests and they’ve lost at Michigan State and Illinois. The back part of the conference schedule is tougher than what Rutgers has seen so far.
The nod here goes to Iowa, even though the price looks a tad uncomfortable at -5.5. Iowa is the best free throw shooting team in the Big Ten through seven games and Rutgers is 14th out of 14 teams. Iowa should get some looks against this stout Rutgers defense and teams in the Big Ten just haven’t traveled well and this is a long trip for Rutgers, who may be a touch fraudulent when looking at the entire body of work and some of the offensive regression signs based on past seasons.
Pick: Iowa -5.5
For a look around the rest of the Big Ten, check out John Ryan’s Big Ten betting tips for the conference this week.