I constantly talk about how AP rankings during college basketball’s regular season are 1,000-percent meaningless, but there is always an exception or two to every rule, right?
Case in point: Never in the historic annals of Assembly Hall in Bloomington have two of the nation’s top three teams squared off. Until Saturday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN, that is.
BetOnline.com opened Indiana (19-2 straight up, 10-9 against the spread) as a four-point home favorite. Within a half-hour, the number was moved to 4.5. As of early Friday night, the total was 143.
Tom Crean’s team has won four consecutive games but is mired in an abysmal 2-7 ATS slump. IU dealt out woodshed treatment in the form of a 97-60 win Wednesday night at Purdue. The Hoosiers easily took the cash as 7 ½-point road favorites. The 157 combined points sailed ‘over’ the 135 ½-point total.
All five Indiana starters scored in double figures against the Boilermakers with Cody Zeller leading the way with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Christian Watford and Victor Oladipo added 17 points apiece.
Zeller leads the Hoosiers in scoring (16.1 points per game), rebounding (8.2 RPG) and blocked shots with 28 for the year. Oladipo is averaging 14.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game while burying 53 percent of his attempts from 3-point land.
Watford (12.9 PPG) and Jordan Hulls (11.1 PPG) can also stroke it from beyond the arc, shooting 3’s at 47.9 and 48.1 clips, respectively. Hulls has unlimited range along with several of the country’s top perimeter shooters like Marshall Henderson (Ole Miss), Travis Bader (Oakland), Rotnei Clarke (Butler), Brady Haslip (Baylor), Scott Wood (North Carolina St.) and Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga).
IU has won 13 of its 14 home games while compiling a 7-5 spread record. The Hoosiers failed to cover the number in a pair of single-digit home ‘chalk’ spots this season against Michigan St. and Minnesota.
Michigan (20-1 SU, 12-6-1 ATS) has been an underdog twice this year, going 1-1 both SU and ATS. The Wolverines lost 56-53 at Ohio St. as two-point ‘dogs and won 83-75 at Minnesota as 2 ½-point puppies.
Since the loss in Columbus, John Beilein’s team has won four in a row while going 3-1 ATS. Michigan is coming off Wednesday’s 68-46 win over Northwestern as a 15-point home favorite. Trey Burke was the catalyst for the Wolverines, producing 18 points and eight assists compared to only one turnover.
Michigan is led by Burke, the sophomore point guard, and junior slasher Tim Hardaway Jr. Burke is averaging a team-high 17.9 PPG and has a stellar 150/39 assists-to-turnovers ratio. Hardaway (15.5 PPG) has a beautiful mid-range jumper, can also shoot it from deep (41.1%) and can put it on the floor and get to the rim.
Michigan doesn’t have many flaws. In addition to Burke and Hardaway, Nik Stauskas (12.7 PPG) and Glenn Robinson III (12.0 PPG) are outstanding freshmen who can score and have good size. Stauskas is knocking down 49.5 of his shots from 3-point range.
Junior center Jordan Morgan plays his role perfectly, setting vicious screens with his wide frame to get Stauskas and Hardaway open for perimeter looks. The Detroit product is also an excellent finisher and is one of the Big Ten’s premier post defenders.
The ‘over’ is 11-8-1 overall for Michigan, but the ‘under’ is on a 5-1 run in its last six games. The ‘over’ is 3-2 in the Wolverines’ five true road assignments.
IU has watched the ‘over’ go 9-8 overall, 6-4 in its home games with a total.
The ‘over’ is 6-2 in the last eight head-to-head meetings between Michigan and IU.
These Big Ten adversaries split a pair of regular-season encounters last year with both teams holding serve at home. However, we should note that Michigan took the cash both times, including a 73-71 loss as a 7 ½-point road underdog.
ESPN will provide television coverage at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
--Michigan has won four of its five road games, posting a 3-2 spread record.
--Gamblers will need to get their action in early for a Big East clash between Seton Hall and Cincinnati. That’s because this game will come off the board at 11:00 a.m. Eastern. The Bearcats are five-point road favorites. ESPNU will have the telecast.
--Duke is a 6 ½-point road favorite at Florida St. The Seminoles have beaten the Blue Devils both SU and ATS in three of the last four head-to-head meetings. ESPN will have television coverage at 2:00 p.m. Eastern.
--Although Ole Miss has only tasted defeat once in SEC play, it is still a 16 ½-point underdog (as of early Friday night) for Saturday’s game at Florida. The Gators have been dealing out pimpslaps galore and have hooked up their backers in eight straight games.
--I’m not sure I’ve seen worse shot selection than what we saw out of the Rebels’ Henderson against Kentucky the other night since Kobe was a rookie.
--Pitt will host Syracuse as a three-point home ‘chalk’ on ESPN at noon Eastern. Jamie Dixon’s team has won eight of its last 10 games against the ‘Cuse, going 9-1 versus the number. The ‘over’ is 9-2 overall for the Panthers this season.
--Alabama is a 2 ½-point road favorite at Vanderbilt even though it hasn’t tasted victory at Memorial Gymnasium since 1990 (hat tip to Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News for that factoid).
--Outside of the Gators, the SEC is as bad as it has ever been in my lifetime. Unless Kentucky’s young guys really improve and come of age in the next five weeks, only Florida will be playing beyond the first weekend of March Madness. Yes, Missouri is better than decent when Laurence Bowers is healthy, but I’m just not seeing it from this squad right now (see loss at LSU a few nights ago).
--Speaking of Mizzou, how about that complete no-show by Alex Oriakhi in Baton Rouge? Foul trouble was an issue but 1 point and three rebounds? That’s unacceptable from the UConn transfer.