Two weeks ago, the Big Ten was a three horse race between the Michigan State Spartans, Ohio State Buckeyes and Wisconsin Badgers. It's still a three horse race, but the Buckeyes and Badgers have been replaced by the Michigan Wolverines and Iowa Hawkeyes.
If Wisconsin figures to push its way back into the hunt, the Badgers need to pick up a couple of tough road wins this week. First up is a Wednesday trek into the Land of 10,000 Lakes to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Tip-off at Williams Arena in Minneapolis will be a little past 9 PM (ET), and the game will be available through the Big Ten Network.
The overnight number was sent out with Wisconsin narrow 1 point chalk, but that is now -2.5 or -3 according to SBR's live college basketball odds. The books are still too shy about releasing overnight totals, so let's peg this one ourselves in the 143-144 range.
Last season's matchups were split with each winning tight games at home, allowing the visitors to cover. The Gophers have the series lead, 95-88, and are 62-32 vs. Wisconsin at home. Each of the last three clashes failed to reach the total.
Badgers Look To Avoid Third Straight Loss
Most of the time when you think about a Wisconsin (16-2 straight up, 9-7-2 against the spread) team under Bo Ryan, the first thoughts that come to mind are patience and defense. That has been less true about this year's bunch of Badgers, however, especially on the defensive end where even Bo knows his team has shortcomings.
“Well, we've been masking them," Ryan said about some of the issues on defense in his weekly press conference. "We've been able to do some things against some teams where we figured out ways...to get them out of those comfort zones."
Ryan was actually pretty pleased with his defense in last Saturday's home loss to a rising Michigan squad, giving the Wolverines credit for hitting enough tough shots to hand the Badgers their second straight defeat after beginning the season 16-0. They have now failed to cash in three of last four, all of those games going 'over' which isn't something we've seen happen often for Wisconsin bettors under Ryan.
Despite the deficiencies on defense, the Badgers are still among the better teams in the country allowing 62.8 PPG (29th) and the top third in overall field goal (41.8%) and 3-point (31.9%) clips. But the scoring is up so far in Big Ten play -- 68.4 PPG -- and it's not all because other teams are hitting the tough shots.
Gophers Coming Off Upset Hangover Setback
In hindsight, I should've seen a hangover coming for Minnesota (14-5 SU, 6-9-1 ATS) this past Sunday at Iowa. Richard Pitino's troops got off to a decent start with the lead at halftime, but never showed up in the second half as the Hawkeyes blistered the Golden Gophers, 94-73, to easily cover a 9 point closing spread.
Again, we'll give credit where credit's due as the Hawkeyes outhustled the Gophers and played inspired basketball the final 20 minutes. Still, it was a missed opportunity, and Minnesota contributed to its own demise with almost no presence on the inside against Iowa.
Now the Gophers come home needing another huge win to stay alive in the conference race. The upset of Ohio State last week remains the only home cover for the Gophers since beating Florida State on Dec. 3 (0-4-1 ATS in other five lined games), and they aren't a team that can come back by canning 3's if they fall behind early and can't get inside.
My gut tells me Wisconsin will be ready to put the last two games behind them and get back on track tonight, and that's why I'm putting my faith in Ryan and the Badgers with a free NCAA basketball pick.
My pick: Wisconsin -2.5