Selection Sunday is less than three weeks away. The games always matter, but they especially do now as the regular season is waning and March is fast approaching.
Tuesday night’s hoops slate has a few top-25 teams in action, each jockeying for position in their conference.
Michigan State tries to put an end to its two-game Big Ten skid when it travels to take on No. 25 Iowa. And in the Big East, a rematch between No. 8 Villanova and No. 21 Connecticut is taking place on the Huskies' home court. The Wildcats took the first meeting of the season and UConn is looking to even things up in Hartford.
Season record: 26-30
Guest pickers: 22-17-1
Time: 7 p.m. ET | ESPN
Spread: Michigan State +5.5 (-105) | Iowa -5.5 (-125)
Moneyline: Michigan State (+200) | Iowa (-300)
Over/Under: Under 153.5 (-118) | Over 153.5 (-110)
The Spartans have been on a precipitous slide in February. Michigan State was off to an 8-2 start in conference play before an 84-63 loss to Rutgers on Feb. 5 began a 1-4 stretch that led to the team dropping out of the Top 25. MSU lost to then-No. 12 Illinois, 79-74, at home Saturday, its second defeat in a row. That brought the Spartans’ record against ranked opponents to 2-5 on the season.
Michigan State only has one player averaging double-figures: Gabe Brown leads the team with 11.4 PPG. Brown is aided in the scoring department by five other Spartans players who score at least nine points per game. The ball moves with ease in this offense, which averages 15.9 assists per game, one of the highest marks in DI. A.J. Hoggard leads the team with 5.1 dimes and Tyson Walker adds 4.3.
That ball movement helps create easy looks for MSU’s high-percentage shooters—the team shoots from outside at the 14th-best clip in the country. Michigan State’s 72.8 PPG scoring average isn’t necessarily high. The Spartans’ offense ranks 28th on KenPom, compared with their 57th-ranked defense allowing 66.6 PPG.
The Hawkeyes scored an impressive road win last time out against Ohio State. Iowa was 0-4 against ranked teams before defeating the No. 18 Buckeyes, 75-62, on Saturday. That victory was the team’s fourth in five tries, a big boost to its conference record that is still only middle of the road in the competitive Big Ten.
Iowa’s offense goes through do-it-all forward Keegan Murray. The 6-foot-8 sophomore has led the team in scoring in all but three games this season and his 23.4 PPG average is the fourth-highest in the nation. Murray also leads the team in rebounds (8.2) and blocks (2.1) while shooting impressive splits (56/73/37).
Despite so much of the Hawkeyes’ offensive production coming from a single player, three of Murray’s teammates average double-digits. That contributes to the team’s 83.5 PPG scoring average, the fourth-highest mark in college hoops. The offense ranks fifth on KenPom while the defense, which allows more than 71 PPG, ranks 99th.
Kyle Wood’s Bets:
Moneyline or Spread Pick: Iowa -5.5
These two programs are in very different positions currently. The Spartans’ fall from a top-10 ranking has been swift and back-to-back games against Illinois and now Iowa surely won’t help Michigan State get back on track. Iowa, on the other hand, just scored its biggest win of the season and returns home to defend its newfound top-25 ranking. The Hawkeyes are 15-11 Against the Spread this season, according to TeamRankings.com, while Michigan State is 13-13.
Iowa has covered three of its last five games, while MSU has covered just one of its previous five games. Murray is also on a heater for the Hawkeyes, averaging 28.5 PPG over the last four games. I don’t think the Spartans will have an answer for him—few teams have this season.
Over/Under Pick: Over 153.5
Iowa games hit the over at the third-highest rate. Michigan State games don’t go over nearly as often. But the Spartans, with their strong offense and OK defense, do see their games hit the over more than 50% of the time. The Hawkeyes haven’t scored less than 70 points in a month and have recent offensive explosions of 110 and 98 points to hang their hat on. The Spartans haven’t scored at nearly the same clip as of late, but they could expose Iowa’s defense, especially if they get hot from deep.
Kevin Sweeney’s Bets:
Moneyline or Spread Pick: Michigan State +5.5
Yes, the Spartans have struggled lately. Four losses in five games is not the trend you want entering the last week of February, and a season that once looked so promising now has the Spartans treading water in Big Ten play. Still, this feels like a big number for an Iowa team that has just one Q1 win. There’s no stopping Keegan Murray, but MSU has the big, athletic combo forwards on the roster to slow down one of the most prolific scorers in the Big Ten. Plus, Iowa’s porous defense could provide another opportunity for MSU point guard Tyson Walker to get cooking after the Northeastern transfer had his best game in the Spartan uniform Saturday against Illinois. I’m not sure Michigan State wins this one outright, but I think the Spartans will be right there.
Over/Under Pick: Over 153.5
This game is going to get up and down. Michigan State needs to push in transition to score, and Iowa plays at the second-fastest pace of any Big Ten team. The Spartans are also one of the best teams in the Big Ten shooting the three, while Iowa is one of the worst at defending the arc. Add in that Michigan State has been one of the sloppiest teams in the Big Ten while Iowa relies heavily on forcing turnovers, and there are a lot of things in this matchup that could lead to a high total in this one.
Time: 8 p.m. ET | FS1
Spread: Villanova +2 (-110) | Connecticut -2 (-118)
Moneyline: Villanova (+110) | Connecticut (-143)
Over/Under: Under 138.5 (-118) | Over 138.5 (-110)
Villanova defeated a hapless Georgetown team, 74-66, over the weekend to extend its win streak to five, one short of its season-best. The Wildcats have largely rolled through conference play, with its two losses to Marquette the major exception. This will be Villanova’s first game as an underdog since Jan. 12 and only its fifth all season.
The Wildcats' offense runs through Collin Gillespie, one of the best three-point shooters in the country. Gillespie leads the team in scoring at 16.6 PPG and shoots impressive 45/93/43 splits. Fellow guard Justin Moore contributes 15.5 PPG for Villanova’s offense, which averages just 73.7 PPG but ranks sixth on KenPom.
Villanova's defensive stats aren’t eye-popping either, though the advanced metrics tell the story of a stout defense with the Wildcats ranking No. 27 defensively on KenPom. Villanova allows 63.1 points per game and opponents shoot a hair more than 40%.
The Huskies scored their third win in a row over the weekend, beating Xavier, 72-61, at home. That was after UConn had lost to Xavier a week prior on the road. Connecticut has only lost twice at home all season: once to Providence and once to Creighton.
UConn’s offense is led by R.J. Cole (16.2 PPG) and Adama Sonogo (15.1 PPG). The Huskies are a ferocious rebounding team with three players grabbing better than seven boards per game—Sonogo leads the team with an 8.6 average.Connecticut hauls in 41.5 rebounds per game as a team, the sixth-best mark in DI.
That proficiency on the boards also leads to plenty of second-chance opportunities, and the Huskies are top-five in offensive rebounds per game. UConn’s offense and defense both rank just outside the top-25 in each metric on KenPom. Its offense averages 76.5 PPG and defense allows 65.1 PPG.
Villanova won the first meeting between these teams on Feb. 5, 85-74.
Kyle Wood’s Bets:
Moneyline or Spread Pick: Villanova +2
The Wildcats are slightly better than .500 ATS this season, though their last few wins—Providence aside—haven’t been very convincing. I like Villanova getting points here against a team it beat convincingly just a few weeks ago. Oddly enough, the Wildcats are just 1-3 ATS as an underdog this season. Those losses came against Baylor, Purdue and UCLA, though. UConn is not on the level of those teams. The Huskies have two wins against ranked teams: Auburn in November and Marquette a few weeks ago. Villanova is one of the most battle-tested teams in the nation and it can certainly survive on the road with a two-point cushion in an important conference bout.
Over/Under Pick: Over 138.5
Both teams put on an offensive clinic in the first meeting. They each at least 50% from the floor and 40% from three. I’m betting on that not happening again, but these offenses are still capable of making sure this relatively modest over cashes. UConn games hit the over better than 60% of the time and Villanova games do so half the time. The Wildcats’ vaunted defense hasn’t done much to shut down its opponents as of late—Villanova hasn’t held a team below 63 points (its season average) all month. Connecticut should be able to exploit its size advantage inside in this matchup and see that this game goes over. I like both teams to eclipse 70 points in a Villanova win.
Kevin Sweeney’s Bets:
Moneyline or Spread Pick: Villanova +2
Villanova tamed a raucous atmosphere a week ago, pouring in 89 points against Providence in front of one of the best crowds in college hoops this season. That means they’ll be ready for whatever UConn fans throw at them.
That said, the biggest reason I think Villanova will win is Eric Dixon. The sophomore big man has really raised his game lately, averaging more than 12 points and seven rebounds in his last eight games. Dixon’s best game came against UConn earlier this month when he posted 24 points and 12 rebounds against a deep and talented Husky frontcourt. Dixon making the frontcourt battle close to a push makes the Wildcats the better team in this game, and I believe they’ll find a way to win outright.
Over/Under Pick: Under 138.5
It’s hard to believe a UConn defense that is this physical will give up 85 points like they did last time these teams met. In fact, I’d be somewhat surprised if it conceded 75. VIllanova dominated inside the arc last time these two teams met, and I can’t see that happening again. Expect this to be more of a grind-it-out game, both from a tempo and a physicality standpoint. UConn knows it can’t win this game if it’s a shootout, so I think the Huskies will control tempo and make it a halfcourt game.
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