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Midwest Hoops Report

   by ASA - 03/09/2006

Michigan State: The Spartans will be playing on Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament for the first time ever, and they will be doing it even more shorthanded then they were heading into the final week of the regular season. Already without power forward Matt Trannon the last few games because of a broken jaw, the Spartans lost their other power forward Marquise Gray in the victory over Wisconsin last week after Gray broke his right foot. The absence of both was painfully evident for Michigan State fans in the loss to Illinois last Saturday. State’s top three (Shannon Brown, Paul Davis, Maurice Ager) played extremely well and scored a combined 56 points. The problem is that the rest of the Spartans combined for only 12 points. Certainly not the formula Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo wants to use as the NCAA Tournament approaches. Izzo stated this week that his team is really fatigued right now, especially point guard Drew Neitzel and that he has to find a way to rejuvenate them. One bonus could be the return of Trannon. He has practiced this week but has yet to be involved in any contact drills. Right now there is a 50-50 chance he comes back for the Big Ten Tourney. Michigan State, 20-10 SU, 12-15 ATS, will face Purdue in a first-round game in the Big Ten Tournament Thursday.

Michigan: The Wolverines are limping into their (potentially) first NCAA Tournament berth since 1998. They have lost seven of their last nine, and a home loss to Indiana certainly moved the Hoosiers ahead of the Wolverines in terms of bubble status. You figure Michigan would still be good to go, having an RPI of 36 and a resume that includes wins over teams like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Illinois. Still, the Wolverines would certainly want to avoid a first-round loss in the Big Ten Tournament to be sure. It looks like they will get a boost this Thursday as Lester Abram has said he is ready to go. Abram, a third team All Big Ten pick last season, was Michigan’s best all around player but has missed 12 games due to injury. He played only 77 total Big Ten minutes this year. While Abram looks like he is ready to go, starting forward Chris Hunter, who has missed the last three games after injuring his ankle, is questionable at best. Michigan, 18-9 SU, 12-10-1 ATS, opens that Big Ten tourney against a dangerous Minnesota team Thursday.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes missed out on a chance to share the Big Ten title when Ohio State beat Purdue on Sunday, but it didn’t stop the Hawks from receiving a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament. The extra rest will be good the Hawks, who saw Big Ten player of the year candidate Greg Brunner hurt his ankle in the regular season finale against Wisconsin. Brunner (14 PPG, 10 RPG) should be fine for Friday’s quarterfinal game against either Michigan or Minnesota. He is expected to be close to full strength.

Indiana: The Hoosiers have gone from tanking it for a lame duck coach and losing seven of eight to winning four straight for that same lame duck coach and suddenly looking like a lock again for the NCAA Tournament. An RPI of 32 and strength of schedule of 22 means that Indiana is now most likely in. Their unlikely win @ Michigan to close out the season kept them alive. A loss in that game could have bounced the Hoosiers off the bubble. If Indiana does get in, it looks like the Big Ten will get a total of seven bids, assuming Michigan beats Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament. If Michigan loses to Minny to open the tourney, they may have a tough time getting into the dance. Indiana, 17-10 SU, 8-16 ATS, will play Wisconsin in the one of the more intriguing games in the Big Ten Tournament Friday.

Minnesota: The Gophers miracle run to an at-large bid ended a couple of weeks ago at Wisconsin, but that doesn’t mean the Gophers can’t be a spoiler in the Big Ten Tournament, or better yet, make a run of their own in Indianapolis and resurrect those miracle Tournament hopes. And with the draw the Gophers got in the Big Ten Tournament, a run like that might not be so far fetched. Minnesota will face a struggling Michigan team in the opener Thursday, and then a potential game with Iowa in the quarterfinals follows. Minnesota went 0-2 against Michigan this season but they do have a win over Iowa at home. Also, their other game this season vs. the Hawkeyes was a triple overtime thriller in Iowa City. Don’t count this team out. The Gophers, 14-13 SU, 9-11-1 ATS, play Michigan Thursday.

Texas A&M: Perhaps first on the potential snub list would be the Aggies, who, after their resounding win at Texas Tech Saturday, finished the Big 12 season with 10 wins, including seven straight. The Aggies seem to be in very good shape to make the NCAA Tournament, especially with a signature win over Texas. The Aggies have only have an RPI of 46 and strength of schedule of 82, but A&M comes in hot to the NCAA’s, which is an aspect that the selection committee takes into account. But they may not be out of the woods quiet yet, as a potential and very likely quarterfinal game in the Big 12 tournament against a desperate Colorado team lurks. A&M would rather not let the selection committee pick between two at-large teams if Colorado should beat A&M. And don’t forget, Texas A&M has never won a Big 12 Conference tournament game since joining the conference. Texas A&M’s next game will be in the Big 12 tournament.

Colorado: And speaking of those Buffs, they absolutely sit outside the Tournament right now. The Buffs obviously have work to do starting with their game Thursday vs. Baylor in the Big 12 Conference Tourney. If they win that game, they will face a red hot A&M team that beat Texas and Texas Tech in the last week of the regular season. Colorado has one good win over Oklahoma, but a deep run in the Big 12 tourney will likely be the only way this team gets in. They must win their first two games and possibly a third.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats got the win they so desperately needed against No. 18 West Virginia over the weekend, meaning Cincy is most likely in the dance. But, like Texas A&M, the Bearcats face another daunting conference tournament game. For Cincy, it is a seriously desperate Syracuse team, who more than likely needs to make a run to the Big East final ala West Virginia last year to make the Dance. A loss to the Orange Wednesday morning would damage Cincy’s resume, but at this point, they look good to have their name called on Selection Sunday. Cincinnati, 19-11 SU, 9-16-2 ATS, will play Syracuse in a Big East first-round game Wednesday.

Memphis: The Tigers lost out on a chance to go undefeated in the laughable Conference USA with their loss to UAB, who will probably get a berth after that win over Memphis and a follow-up win days later. Memphis now has their eyes on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and a C-USA Tournament win will most likely give them that. If so, it is our opinion that Memphis may not be a very strong #1 seed. This conference is so weak they simply have had only a few games since December that will really prepare them for the NCAA. Other teams in the Big Ten, Big East, ACC, etc… are playing those types of games on a weekly basis. However, don’t count out Ohio State as a potential team that can steal this #1 seed away from Memphis. Should Ohio State win the Big Ten Tournament, it could give the Buckeyes the #1 seed rather than the Tigers. Memphis, 27-3 SU, 12-14-1 ATS, receives a bye in the first-round of the C-USA Tournament.

UW-Milwaukee: The Panthers avoided any at-large controversy with their Horizon League Conference tournament victory Tuesday over Butler. The Panthers, who reached the Sweet 16 last season, will be making their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance. The Panthers enter with an RPI of 58 and strength of schedule of 104, but that certainly has little bearing in this day and age of NCAA parity. This team can be scary. They struggled at times this year adapting to new head coach Rob Jeter’s style. Jeter came over from Wisconsin and brought Bo Ryan’s swing offense with him. UWM is now locked into this system and playing very well. They also start five 23 year old seniors so don’t expect this team to be frazzled at any point during the tourney. If they get favorable match ups, they could make another run to the Sweet 16 or farther.

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