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Don’t look now, but we are only roughly five weeks away from the first games of the NCAA Tournament. March Madness is almost back! That means we are in one of the most crucial times of the season when conference regular season titles are decided, and the best teams hit their strides.
After a heroic effort against the No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers at home on Saturday, the Indiana Hoosiers look to avoid a letdown game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. This team embarrassed them earlier in the season. Indiana has been dominant at home, losing only one game this year.
This game has significant standing implications in the Big 10, as both teams would be tied for second place if Indiana wins. However, Rutgers will likely finish second at the end of the conference season if it is able to snag a win!
The other game we will be looking at, the Marquette Golden Eagles versus Connecticut Huskies, features two likely NCAA Tournament-bound teams. This is a massive game for the Golden Eagles, who are tied for first place in the Big East. A win would put Marquette in sole first place with just over a handful of games left to play.
Take a look below at our best bets for these two huge matchups! March Madness is right around the corner, and every game matters significantly!
When: 6:30 PM EST
Indiana finally has begun to resemble the team that fans were hoping for in the preseason. The Hoosiers have won six of their past seven games, including over the No. 1 team in the nation, Purdue. Despite being without their starting point guard, and second-leading scorer from last year, Xavier Johnson, the Hoosiers have found a way to rally together and revive their season.
The significant change has been the health and improved play from All-American forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, arguably the best player in the nation. Jackson-Davis played a large portion of this season with a nagging back injury, but looks 100% again. In his past ten games, TJD has averaged 23 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, and four blocks on 54% shooting from the field. Simply put, there has been no better player in that stretch.
Another giant step forward for Indiana has been the emergence of five-star freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino, a likely future NBA player. Hood-Schifino has still had a few games that remind you he is a freshman, but he has also been spectacular in others. Adding consistency will be the next step forward for him.
Indiana had a top-25 defense last season but has not been as efficient on that end of the floor this year; however, the Hoosiers have the 18th-ranked offense, according to KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric.
Meanwhile, Rutgers has far surpassed expectations, particularly on the defensive end, where it ranks second in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Scarlet Knights make the most of what they have, which is almost entirely their effort on defense and basketball IQ. They rank outside the top 100 in most key offensive metrics, making it difficult at times for them to score.
The Scarlet Knights’ biggest weakness offensively is their three-point shooting (32.2%), which is quite poor. Cam Spencer and Paul Mulcahy are the only two legitimate threats from deep on this Rutgers team, and Indiana has proven it can contest opponents well on the perimeter (27% in last three games.)
I don’t see where the Rutgers are going to get offense from, at least enough to get by this Hoosiers team. Trey Galloway will likely be deployed on Cam Spencer, and will undoubtedly force him to shoot tough two-pointers from off the dribble. Galloway doesn’t allow clean three-pointers to opponents. Meanwhile, TJD has played his best basketball recently, and is a force to be reckoned with on the inside; there won’t be any clean paint looks for Rutgers.
Indiana against the spread will be my play here.
When: 6:30 PM EST
The No. 4 offense in the nation will try to claim solo first place in the Big East on Tuesday night! Overall, the Golden Eagles are ranked No. 10, but KenPom has them eighth in his adjusted efficiency margin metric. This is a rock-solid team due for a highly competitive March.
How unexpected has the emergence of this team been? In the preseason, Kevin Sweeney of SI.com had Marquette ranked 62nd in the nation, behind teams like Loyola Chicago (8-14, 235th in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin), Stanford (10-13, 96th on KenPom), and Florida State (8-16, 171st on KenPom).
Kam Jones’ emergence as a clear-cut No. 1 option for the Golden Eagles has completely changed their outlook; he went from averaging seven points last year to 16 this season. However, Jones isn’t the only one who has stepped up from last season to this season.
Forwards Olivier-Maxence Prosper, David Joplin, and Oso Ighodaro have also increased their points per game average by roughly seven points. The Golden Eagles have a strong program in place with head coach Shaka Smart, one of the best coaches, at any level, in the nation.
Marquette has won ten of its past 11 games, with a road loss to No. 13 Xavier being the only blemish during that span. This team is the real deal; nobody wants to see a Shaka Smart-coached team in March!
Connecticut has had a similar trajectory this season, ascending to as high as No. 2 in the AP Poll before suffering several consecutive losses in January. The Huskies have been able to rattle off three wins in their past four games, though, with the only loss coming to No. 13 Xavier by three points.
Despite the Huskies’ struggles in January, they are still one of the most dangerous teams in America (sixth in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin); don’t let their AP ranking of 21st scare you. UCONN’s offense is just as tricky to gameplan for as Marquette’s, and the Huskies have an objectively better defense.
All things considered, this is an excellent spot for the Huskies to bounce back. I will ride with the two-headed attack that is Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins.
Andrew has always been an avid sports fan and followed his hoop dreams all the way to college. He’s well-versed in everything betting with multiple years of experience and is qualitatively and quantitatively knowledgeable in sports statistics and analytics.More info on Andrew Norton
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