Nebraska heads to Bloomington, Indiana to take on the Hoosiers tonight in a Big 10 battle that should make for must-see TV for any college basketball fan. I saw the total open at 143.5 yesterday and it caught my eye. It has bounced up and down between 143.5 and 144 all day today. I am attacking that total. I think this is too many points in this match-up.
The Cornhuskers are coming off a close win against Penn State at home, while Indiana is coming off of back to back losses against Michigan and Maryland. Points could be at a premium tonight, in a match-up between two solid defensive teams looking for a conference win.
But why is the total so high? Well, because of the numbers that these offenses have put up so far. Nebraska averages 79.3 points per game overall (74 ppg road), while Indiana averages 77.3 points per game overall (82.3 ppg home). Both teams rank in the top 50 in shooting percentage. So why do I like the under? Easy. I think these offensive numbers are mostly smoke and mirrors.
Nebraska and Indiana have each played 6 of their 16 games against teams either ranked in the bottom half of the country or not ranked at all. In those 6 games, each team averaged just over 86 points per game. These were games against teams such as Chicago State, Montana State, Central Arkansas, Mississippi Valley State, Southeastern Louisiana, SW Minnesota State, etc. You get the point.
What’s interesting is that when you take those six games out, the points per game average for these two teams drops dramatically. In the 10 games that each team played against teams ranked in the top half of the country, Nebraska’s points per game average is 75.4 and Indiana’s is 69.6. Not exactly the offensive juggernaut that their overall numbers make them seen to be, huh? In my opinion, odds makers almost have to set this line a few points higher than they would like, just because of the offensive output of these teams in those six games. It is the odds makers’ job to set a line that will attract action from both sides, after all. If this number was set too low, it would attract too many bets on the over, leaving the books with a huge liability. Now that I have established that, let’s dive into the numbers.
The Cornhuskers like to slow things down and control the pace of the game, as they rank 232nd in possessions per game and shoot only 57.6 shots per game (192nd). They rank 8th overall in opponent effective field goal percentage and 54th overall in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pom. They allow opponents to score only 63 points per game, but that jumps up to 72.3 points per game on the road. They lock down the perimeter, allowing opponents to shoot only 29.7% (26th overall), but are even better at defending the paint, allowing opponents to shoot only 42.8% (11th). On top of that, they rank 23rd in blocks while only fouling 15.1 times per game (14th). Sounds like a pretty disciplined defense to me.
Nebraska’s Big Ten road games so far this season have been high scoring. Over those three games, there was an average of 162 points per game (@Minn, @Maryland, @Iowa). In all five of Nebraska’s Big Ten games this season, there has been an average of 151 points per game. Not very comforting. However, when I look deeper into the numbers, I find a lot that I like. In the Cornhuskers’ nine match-ups against Ken Pom’s top 75 teams, we have seen an average of just 146.33 points per game. Last season, Nebraska’s Big Ten Road games averaged just 135.78 total points per game. You can see that as the games get more competitive for the Huskers, the point totals tend to fall.
The Hoosiers are a slow team as well, but not quite as slow as Nebraska. Indiana ranks 169th in possessions per game, while shooting only 55.3 shots per game (284th). They rank 36th overall in opponent effective field goal percentage and 38th overall in adjusted defensive efficiency. They limit their opponents to 65.6 points per game (60.0 at home) by closing down quickly on defense and getting into the opposition’s face. They allow opponents to shoot only 29.6% from three point range (24th) and 47.7% from two point range (86th). Those averages drop to 28.9% and 44.9% respectively when the Hoosiers play at home. They are not quite as good as the Cornhuskers at blocking shots, but they still rank 82nd overall in that category. Plus, they do a great job at limiting free throws as well, as they only foul 15.7 times per game at home.
In two Big Ten home games this season, the Hoosiers saw totals of 134 (vs. NW) and 138 (vs. Ill). In Indiana’s five Big Ten games overall, there has been an average of 137.6 points per contest. In their eight games against opponents ranked in Ken Pom’s Top 75, there have been an average of 144 points exactly. Last season in Indiana’s home conference games, there was an average of 137.78 points per game.
11-5 L16 as Underdog
7-1 L8 vs Team With Winning Record
7-2 L9 off ATS L
14-10 L24 as Road Dog
5-1 L6 Home Games
6-2 L8 as Home Fave of 0.5-6.5 Points
12-4 L16 off SU L
4-1 L5 as Home Favorite
13-6 L19 Monday Games
6-0 L6 vs Team With Winning Record
*In 9 games between these two teams since 2011, only twice have there been more than 144 points scored.
Ultimately, I think this line was set about 4-5 points too high. While these teams do have the ability to score, I believe it is the defenses that will steal the show tonight. Both Tim Miles and Archie Miller have a history of having very good defensive teams. In each of the last four seasons, these coaches have had teams outside of the top 100 in defense only once. These teams like to play slow, they do not shoot many shots, they block shots at a high rate, and they do not foul very often. Nebraska is an average free throw shooting team, while Nebraska is a poor free throw shooting team. I do not expect these defenses to allow the offenses to get hot. I think the fact that today is Monday may lead to some lazy offensive sequences and a lot of bricks. We are in for a classic gritty Big Ten basketball game tonight in Bloomington and I am excited for it!
PICK: UNDER 143.5/144
Let’s cash it!