**Minnesota vs. Illinois**
--As of Wednesday afternoon, most books had Minnesota (20-11 SU, 15-13-1 ATS) installed as a two-point favorite with a total of 127.
--Tubby Smith’s squad has been the nation’s most inconsistent this year, beating top-tier teams like Memphis, Indiana and Michigan St. The Gophers have 11 total wins over teams with an RPI of 84 or better. However, they have lost at Nebraska, at Purdue and at Northwestern. Furthermore, they lost by 21 at Iowa, by 26 at Ohio St., by 11 at Michigan St. and by 18 against Duke on a neutral court.
--Illinois (21-11 SU, 12-17 ATS) has been an underdog 14 times this year, compiling a 6-8 spread record. As for Minnesota, it owns a 4-6-1 ATS mark in 11 games as a single-digit favorite.
--Despite back-to-back defeats to close the regular season (63-55 at Iowa and 68-55 at Ohio St.), John Groce’s team has still won six of its last nine games. However, the Illini has failed to cover the number in five consecutive games.
--Illinois is No. 41 in the RPI Rankings, going 5-8 against the RPI Top 50 and 6-9 versus the RPI Top 100. I believe the Illini is ‘in’ regardless of Thursday’s outcome thanks to wins by double-digit margins at Gonzaga, vs. Ohio St. and vs. Butler on a neutral floor. They also beat Indiana at home and prevailed at Minnesota (see below).
--These Big Ten rivals split a pair of regular-season meetings with the road team winning each time. On Jan. 9, Minnesota went into Champaign-Urbana and emerged with an 84-67 win as a two-point road ‘chalk.’ Joe Coleman erupted for a career-high 29 points, while Andre Hollins added 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Brandon Paul had 21 points in the losing effort.
--In the rematch at The Barn in Minneapolis, Illinois rebounded to collect a 57-53 win as an 8.5-point road underdog. With 18.1 second left and the Illini leading by one, Tracy Abrams buried an audacious step-back trey to seal the deal. Tyler Griffey hit a career-high four 3-pointers en route to a 16-point effort for the winners.
--The ‘under’ is on a 7-2 run in the Illini’s last nine games and is 15-11 overall.
--The ‘under’ is on an 8-2 run in Minnesota’s last 10 games to improve to 14-10 overall.
--Tip-off is scheduled for noon Eastern on the Big Ten Network.
**Penn State vs. Michigan**
--As of Wednesday afternoon, most betting shops had Michigan (25-6 SU, 13-15-1 ATS) listed as a 14.5-point favorite with a total of 133. The Nittany Lions are +950 on the money line (per 5Dimes).
--Penn St. (10-20 SU, 14-12 ATS) has been a double-digit underdog 11 times, posting a 7-4 spread record. The Nittany Lions have covered the number in six of their last seven games.
--John Beilein’s team is coming off a gut-wrenching loss at home Sunday to Indiana. The Hoosiers rallied from a five-point deficit in the final minute to win by a 72-71 count as 1.5-point underdogs. Trey Burke had a team-high 20 points in the loss.
--Michigan is mired in an abysmal 1-9 ATS slump in its last 10 games. The Wolverines are 7-7-1 ATS in 15 games as double-digit ‘chalk.’
--Penn St. took the cash in both regular-season meetings against Michigan, beating the Wolverines 84-78 as a 13-point home underdog on Feb. 27. Jermaine Marshall scored a game-high 25 points, knocking down six 3-pointers on 10 attempts. Tim Hardaway Jr. had a team-high 19 points in the loss.
--When these schools met in Ann Arbor, Michigan won a 79-71 decision but PSU backers easily cashed tickets catching 21.5 points. Burke scored 29 points and dished out five assists without committing a turnover. Marshall had 17 points and seven boards in the losing effort.
--The ‘over’ is 17-12 overall for Michigan.
--The ‘over’ is 14-10 overall for PSU, hitting in six of its last eight games.
--The ‘over’ has hit in six straight Michigan-PSU games.
--This game will come off the board 30 minutes after the Minnesota-Illinois game concludes.
**Purdue vs. Nebraska**
--As of Wednesday afternoon, most spots had Purdue (15-16 SU, 13-16-1 ATS) listed as a 5.5-point favorite with a total of 120.5. Gamblers can take the Cornhuskers to win outright for a plus-200 return (risk $100 to win $200).
--Purdue won three of its last five regular-season games, compiling a 4-1 spread record in the process. The Boilermakers have been especially tough in their last three games, winning 69-56 at Wisconsin, losing 70-65 vs. Michigan and destroying Minnesota by an 89-73 count. The win over the Badgers came as 14.5-point underdogs. They took the cash in the loss to Michigan as six-point home ‘dogs.
--Matt Painter’s team has posted a 5-4 spread record in nine games as a single-digit favorite this season. However, we should point out that all five winners have come since the Boilers failed to cover in their first four such spots.
--Nebraska (14-17 SU, 15-13-1 ATS) has been an underdog 23 times this year, going 12-10-1 ATS.
--Before dropping a 74-60 decision at Iowa as a 13-point underdog in its regular-season finale, Nebraska posted its best win of the year by knocking off Minnesota 53-51 as an 8.5-point home underdog. Brandon Ubel led the Cornhuskers past the Gophers with 15 points, six rebounds and four assists.
--Since Nebraska joined the Big Ten, Purdue has won both SU and ATS in all three head-to-head meetings. The ‘over’ has cashed in all three encounters, too. The Boilers won 65-56 at Nebraska as two-point road ‘chalk’ on Jan. 16 of this year.
--The ‘over’ has hit in three consecutive Purdue games to improve to 16-12 overall.
--The ‘under’ is 12-11 overall for Nebraska.
--Tip-off is slated for 6:30 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2.
**Northwestern vs. Iowa**
--As of Wednesday afternoon, most books had Iowa (SU, ATS) favored by 9.5 with a total of 125. The Wildcats are +400 on the money line (risk $100 to win $400).
--Fran McCaffrey’s team is on the proverbial bubble and needs at least one win, probably two, to feel good about its at-large chances. Junior slasher Roy Devyn Marble is Iowa’s premier player, averaging 14.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.
--Iowa beat Northwestern convincingly in a pair of regular-season meetings. The Hawkeyes captured a 70-50 road win on Jan. 13 in a pick ‘em affair. Aaron White was the catalyst with 17 points, six rebounds and four assists. In Iowa City, the Hawks won a 71-57 decision as eight-point home ‘chalk.’ Marble led the way with 21 points, five boards and five assists.
--Northwestern (13-18 SU, 14-14 ATS) has most likely been negatively impacted by injuries more than any team in the country this year. For starters, the Wildcats lost their star forward Drew Crawford, a four-year starter who went down with a season-ending shoulder injury in mid-December. Crawford was averaging 13.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Also Jarod Swopshire, a transfer from Louisville, was lost to a knee injury in February. Swopshire was averaging 9.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Finally, JerShon Cobb (7.1 PPG last year) has missed the entire season due to academics.
--Senior guard Reggie Hearn has been one of the few bright spots for Bill Carmody’s squad. Hearn averages team-highs in scoring (13.2 PPG), rebounding (4.4 RPG), field-goal percentage (44.2%) and steals (1.2 per game).
--The ‘under’ is 16-10-1 overall for Iowa, connecting in five of its last six contests.
--The ‘under’ is 12-11-1 overall for Northwestern.
--ESPN2 will have the telecast 30 minutes after the Nebraska-Purdue game ends.
Brian Edwards can be reached at email@example.com.
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