NCAA Basketball Picks: Back Nebraska As Northwestern Deals With Key Injury

Mark Lathrop

Wednesday, December 30, 2015 12:27 PM GMT

Our NCAAB handicapper analyzes this game between Big Ten foes, Northwestern & Nebraska, as these teams open up conference play. Read on as he gives his NCAA basketball pick.

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Free NCAA Basketball Picks: Nebraska -3
Best Line Offered: at Heritage

 

In the conference opener for both teams, the surging 12-1 Northwestern Wildcats visit the 8-5 Nebraska Cornhuskers on Wednesday night in a nationally televised game on ESPNU. The opening lines have the Cornhuskers favored by 3 points on their home court. The opening O/U total is set at 131 across the NCAA basketball odds board.

 

Olah Out
A key injury to Northwestern senior center, Alex Olah, figures to loom large in this game. Olah has some kind of stress injury and has already been ruled out for the game against Nebraska. The seven-foot Romanian averages just under 13 points per game, but also is a force on the boards averaging 6.5 rebounds per game. Just like my write up on Gonzaga last week and their injured senior center, the drop off on the ‘next man up’ can be severe, or at least take a few games to shake out a new rotation.

The first game for Northwestern without Olah did not go well for the Wildcats. On Sunday against 1-9 Loyola, Northwestern was slow out of the gate and was down 33-22 at half. It wasn’t until halfway through the second half when the Wildcats took the lead in the game, finally running away with it to win 74-59. It was an ATS loss; however, as Northwestern was favored by 20 points. The ATS loss broke a streak of five straight games covering the spread for the Wildcats.

The Wildcats turned to a zone defense to turn things around against Loyola. More on that later.

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Easy Schedules
Northwestern may be 12-1 on the season, but they have played a rather easy non-conference schedule thus far. The only ranked team that they have played is the North Carolina Tar Heels. Northwestern lost that game by 11 and pushed ATS as 11-point underdogs. The two other teams from major conferences that the Wildcats have played is the 5-6 Missouri Tigers and the 8-4 Virginia Tech Hokies. They won both games, with Virginia Tech taking Northwestern into overtime. Because of their weak schedule, Northwestern is still ranked 90th in college basketball by RPI, even though they are 12-1.

Playing an even easier schedule to start the year are the Cornhuskers, who come in ranked 226th in RPI. Their strength of schedule so far is a putrid 280th ranked in college basketball. Nebraska most recent loss was at home against the 8-4 Samford Bulldogs of the Southern Conference. The Cornhuskers lost by 11 points as a 12-point favorite. In that game, Samford turned to a zone defense to shut the Cornhuskers down, a defensive scheme that they did not have an answer for. Uh-oh.

 

Betting Analysis
These teams last met at Northwestern last February 3rd, with Nebraska taking the game 76-60 as a 7.5-point favorite. In that game, Alex Olah of Northwestern scored 16 points leading all Wildcat scorers. Of course, he will miss this game because of injury so that offense will have to come from somewhere else. That game also went way over the listed total of 117.5 with 136 combined points.

Although the strength of schedule seems to require a NCAA basketball pick on Northwestern, as they have the better record against stronger opponents, the injury to Olah brings forth the fact that this will be a different basketball team on the court for this game. Olah was the biggest factor in the game for Northwestern last time, and without him, I don’t see Northwestern finding an answer on the road. Take Nebraska -3 at Heritage as one of your Wednesday's NCAA basketball picks.