CHICAGO — Two wins in the United Center might have convinced the selection committee about Penn State. The gambling public, not so much.
Penn State opened Saturday’s semifinal with Indiana as a 2.5-point underdog. By morning, most of those numbers had already gone to -3 for the Hoosiers. Even after four straight wins, the Nittany Lions have seen very little action, taking just 3% of the money on this game.
That might seem like disrespect toward Penn State, but from the trends, it makes sense. Penn State has proven an excellent bet as an underdog, covering six straight when getting points. More important to Penn State fans, the past five times that Penn State’s been the underdog, the Nittany Lions have won the game straight up.
Not since going to Mackey Arena and losing to Purdue has Penn State been an underdog and failed to cover. At the same time, the last time Penn State failed to win as an underdog was a six-point loss at Maryland.
It’s when the sportsbooks ride the Nittany Lions that Penn State runs into problems. In its past five as a favorite, Penn State is 0-4-1 ATS and 1-4 SU. The only win came against Minnesota, a seven-pointer that was best characterized as an escape. Penn State’s last cover as a favorite came on Jan. 29 against Michigan.
Bettors hate inconsistency, but that’s been the Hoosiers to a T. Over its final seven regular season games, Indiana split them, going 4-3. The Hoosiers never won or lost consecutive games over that stretch, following wins over Illinois and Purdue with blowout losses to Michigan State and Iowa.
The Hoosiers haven’t been a great bet down the stretch. Indiana went 2-5 ATS over its past seven games, covering only Friday against Maryland and Feb. 25 at Purdue. One constant with the Hoosiers is that defense is necessary to beat them. Out of 10 Indiana defeats, seven saw the Hoosiers held under 70 points. Since an 84-83 loss to Northwestern, nobody has allowed Indiana to top 70 and came out with a win.
Indiana can win defensive games too, but the Hoosiers prefer to shoot their way to wins. Indiana actually edges Penn State on the perimeter, shooting 39.9% to the Nittany Lions’ 39.8%. Trayce Jackson-Davis gets much of the attention for the Hoosiers, but this game will be won or lost on the arc.
ANALYZING THE TOTAL
The total opened at 140.5 and dipped to 140 on Saturday morning. Considering both teams played difficult games last night, the under has attracted attention. But the trends say otherwise. Penn State has played to the over in seven of 10 with one push, including both games in Chicago. Last night against Northwestern looked like it was going under, but overtime just pushed it above 129.5.
Indiana plays consistently inconsistent in terms of the total. The Hoosiers had gone over in four straight entering Friday, but they locked down on Maryland and held the Terrapins to 60 points. That’s the least amount of points the Hoosiers have conceded since Feb. 11. Prior to facing Michigan State, however, Indiana had played under in four straight.
Penn State’s going to have to lock down Indiana to win this game. The total and spread go hand-in-hand here. If you like the Nittany Lions, the under pairs well with that. If you don’t think three points is enough, the over’s probably cashing in the Hoosiers’ preferred game. Penn State did outshoot Indiana in University Park, but the Nittany Lions won’t be as fresh on their third day here. They’ll likely have to go defensive to cover.