Big Day in the Big Ten



As promised, we're back today with an in-depth look at the Big Ten conference on a day where the league provides the showcase games for a huge Saturday of action.

Ohio State at Illinois on CBS is one of the marquee games in the afternoon (along with Texas at Kansas in the Big 12, who we'll discuss Monday). Michigan State at Purdue is the first "Game Day" matchup of the new season for ESPN's prime time coverage.

The Big Ten will get most of the ink from us today. We're trying to squeeze in as many conferences as we can during this current stretch of action. So, look for brief rundowns of the WAC and Big West later in the report. Saturday is a big day all over the country!

We start with the Big 10 standings heading into the weekend:

Ohio State 6-0
Purdue 5-1
Wisconsin 4-2
Michigan State 4-2
Illinois 4-2
Minnesota 3-3
Northwestern 3-4
Penn State 3-4
Michigan 1-5
Indiana 1-5
Iowa 0-6

Members of the top five are very likely to play prominent roles during March Madness. Ohio State is obviously the #1 team in the country right now, and is in line for a #1 seed. Purdue will also be a high seed. Michigan State has made a habit of closing strong in recent seasons, outdoing its brethren once the tournament starts.

Will more than five get invitations? It's too early to say now. Minnesota, Northwestern, and Penn State are trying to build resume's. Penn State's come the closest to breaking through giving tight losses at Ohio State and Purdue. Close losses may not be enough in the committee room.

Let's note that Michigan ranks near the bottom with a 1-5 mark, but just missed beating national power Kansas last weekend. Indiana has mostly been pretty bad. They led at the half at Wisconsin Thursday Night. In past years, we've been very hard on this conference (and they deserved it!). The Big 10 isn't overrated any more.

We're focusing on margin averages in conference play this year as a virtual Power Rating. Let's see what the numbers show to this point.

Ohio State +9.2
Purdue +9.0
Illinois +6.7
Wisconsin +5.7
Michigan State +1.0
Northwestern even
Minnesota -0.5
Penn State -1.6
Indiana -5.5
Michigan -11.5
Iowa -14.8

It's important to see that Michigan State is better grouped with the second tier teams than with the big four right now. They're closer to #8 Penn State than they are to #4 Wisconsin, even though they sit at #5. Be sure you're not making Las Vegas bets based on last year's Spartans. This year's team has been inconsistent, and disappointing.

Ohio State and Purdue clearly jump to the forefront, with very impressive margin averages considering the conference their in. Home court advantage is usually worth 3-4 points in the colleges (sometimes just three in conference games where there's familiarity with all the locales). That means the Buckeyes should be in for a tough battle at Illinois this afternoon.

Oh, what a strike against Kansas, based on those numbers, that they had to go overtime in Ann Arbor!

Our favorite indicator stat from boxscores is "two-point defense." Let's see how the Big 10 stacks up this year in that very important stat...

Minnesota: 41%
Wisconsin: 42%
Michigan State: 42%
Purdue: 44%
Indiana: 45%
Ohio State: 46%
Illinois: 46%
Penn State: 46%
Michigan: 47%
Iowa: 49%
Northwestern: 50%

Some interesting items on that list! You can see why Michigan State and Wisconsin can become so dangerous in the postseason. Defense wins championships! Ohio State is showing a disappointing weakness internally. This is one reason the team has underachieved in past Dances. There's usually some statistical hole that jumps up and bites them in March. Internal defense may be that issue this year.

Ohio State currently has the best margin average. But, the best "combination" of margin average and internal defense belongs to Purdue. Keep that in mind down the stretch.

Saturday's Big 10 Schedule
Ohio State at Illinois on CBS
Minnesota at Michigan on the Big 10 Network
Michigan State at Purdue on ESPN

Sunday's Big 10 Schedule
Wisconsin at Northwestern on the Big 10 Network
Indiana at Iowa on the Big 10 Network

This is going to be a fun conference to monitor all season. We're currently planning on giving preferential coverage to the Big Ten and Big East because they're likely to play such a big role come March. The ACC doesn't have much after Duke this year. We're not currently seeing the depth in the SEC, Big 12, or Pac 10 that you'd want in a major conference either. Given the TV real estate allotted to the Big Ten and Big East...that seems like the best way to highlight the games you're most interested in.

Of course, SMART handicappers are interested in ALL the legal betting conferences. We'll do our best to run through all the board leagues at least twice. Today we're going to add in the WAC and Big West.

Utah State 6-0
Idaho 5-1
Boise State 4-2
New Mexico State 4-2
Nevada 3-3, Fresno State 3-4
Hawaii 2-5
San Jose State 1-5
Louisiana Tech 0-6.

This conference usually belongs to Utah State. No signs of a change in that regard this year. Keep your eye on Idaho though. Every season features a few no-name teams rising up and covering a lot of spreads in out of the way places. See if you can find some spots to "Vandalize" Vegas coffers in the coming days and weeks.

Utah State: +11.7
Idaho: +10.8
New Mexico State: +6.3
Boise State: +4.7
Nevada: +2.2
Fresno State: -3.0
San Jose State -8.5
Hawaii: -9.1
Louisiana Tech: -13.0

Probably worth directing your attention to the bottom. It's easy to lose track of teams who have fallen off the map if you're only casually paying attention to college hoops. The bottom three teams there have played some VERY bad basketball in recent outings...much worse than the market has been expecting.

Utah State: 42%
Hawaii: 44%
Idaho: 46%
Nevada: 47%
Boise State: 48%
San Jose State 49%
Fresno State: 50%
Louisiana Tech: 50%
New Mexico State: 52%

Hawaii must have a horrible offense given some of their results this year. Utah State's always been a defensive minded team, which is why they consistently rule a league that doesn't play great defense!

Saturday's WAC Schedule
Boise State at Idaho
Louisiana Tech at Nevada
New Mexico State at Utah State
San Jose State at Hawaii

Let's wrap up the day in the Big West. If it's freezing cold in your neck of the woods, imagine a conference where every league game is played in California!

Long Beach State 6-1
Cal Poly 4-2
Cal Santa Barbara 3-2
Cal Fullerton 3-4
Pacific 2-3
Cal Irvine 2-3
Cal Riverside 2-3
Cal Northridge 2-3
Cal Davis 1-4.

Long Beach State: +8.1
Cal-Poly: +6.3
Cal Santa Barbara: +2.6
Pacific: +1.0
Cal Northridge: -0.6
Cal Riverside: -0.8
Cal Irvine: -2.2
Cal Davis: -2.2
Cal Fullerton -6.3

Wow...a 3-4 team has the worst margin average by a mile! This is actually a VERY competitive league top to bottom. You've ready enough of these this year to know by now that there's usually a hunk at the top...a near zero...a hunk that's pretty awful. The Big West is almost all one of those double stuffed oreos.

Historically, this has been the sign of an underdog conference. When everyone's evenly matched, most games are virtual pick-ems...and you want to take the points. Let's see if that holds true the rest of the way. It's EXTREMELY rare for the second worst team in a conference to be as "good" as just -2.2 through the first five games.

Cal-Poly: 46%
Cal Santa Barbara: 46%
Cal Riverside: 47%
Pacific: 48%
Cal Irvine: 49%
Cal Davis: 50%
Cal Fullerton 51%
Long Beach State: 53%
Cal Northridge: 53%

This can sometimes happen down in the weakest conferences. A team with horrible defense can still be the best overall because they have great shooters...and defense matters less in bad leagues than in good leagues. So, if Long Beach State should go on to win the Big West and play in the Dance, they're likely to get run out of the gym by a real opponent!

Saturday's Big West Schedule:
Cal Poly at Cal Northridge
Cal Santa Barbara at Cal Fullerton
Long Beach State at Cal Irvine
Pacific at Cal Davis

That wraps up our Saturday report. If you missed our NFL CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP stat previews, check the archives for Friday's edition of the NOTEBOOK. We'll be back tomorrow to run the numbers from several of Saturday's marquee games (including Ohio State-Illinois and Texas-Kansas).

Don't forget that BIG JUICY WINNERS from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK are always just a few clicks away here at the website...or a phone call away at 1-800-323-4453.

The handicapping work is done for Saturday...LET'S HOOP IT UP!


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