CHICAGO — If Penn State is going to win its first Big Ten basketball title, it will need to pull another upset.
For the fourth straight game at the United Center, the sportsbooks opted to back Penn State’s opponent, installing Purdue as a 5.5-point favorite.
But that’s exactly where Penn State wants to be.
Its won six straight games straight up as an underdog, dating back to the regular season.
The professionals have noticed. Purdue (28-5 SU, 13-18-2 ATS) initially went off as a six-point favorite, but money on Penn State (22-12 SU, 19-13-2 ATS) caused the books to drop the value on Penn State. The general public isn’t convinced, however, as 63% of tickets have come in on Purdue.
Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry has been Mr. March as far as bettors are concerned. Not only is Penn State 5-1 in the Big Ten tournament under his leadership, but its 6-0 ATS in the event with him on the bench. The only loss Shrewsberry has in the Big Ten tournament came against Purdue last year in Indianapolis, and Penn State covered.
However, as with most big names, betting Purdue hasn’t proven profitable. The Boilermakers’ win over Ohio State marked just their second cover in eight games, and both covers came against the Buckeyes. The last time Purdue covered against an opponent not named Ohio State came Feb. 9 against Iowa, and the Boilers are 9-11-2 ATS in Big Ten games this season.
That’s the good news for Penn State. The bad news is two of Purdue’s covers came against Penn State. The Boilers won by 13 in Philadelphia and 20 points in West Lafayette. Penn State has also had a devilish time against Purdue, losing 15 of its past 16 meetings with the Boilermakers and all four previous Big Ten tournament meetings.
ANALYZING THE TOTAL
The thing about defensive teams is that in tournament play, that often gets flipped on its head. That’s because sportsbooks overcompensate after a year’s worth of results, unintentionally setting the total too low. That’s happened with both these teams. Penn State and Purdue have played over in all five of their combined games in Chicago. In fact, despite the slow, defensive pace the Boilermakers and Nittany Lions both prefer, only one other over (Minnesota-Nebraska) has cashed during this tournament.
The books don’t seem to have learned their lesson.
They’ve set the total at 135.5, a number Penn State easily exceeded against Illinois and Indiana. Both Purdue-Penn State games topped that number as well. The teams scored 139 points in Philadelphia and 140 in West Lafayette. Overall, the Nittany Lions and Boilermakers have played to the over three times in four meetings since Shrewsberry took over at Penn State.
Over the past 11 games, Penn State has played eight to the over with one push. For Penn State, getting into the 70s has made a big difference. In 12 wins over Big Ten opponents, Penn State has hit 70 10 times, only failing to do so against Northwestern and Maryland. As one might expect, all but one of those (Illinois) became over wins.
Playing over with the total looks like the best play on the board. The spread makes a tough play because Purdue has that fifth and even sixth gear that only great teams possess. If the Boilers hit it, Penn State will have a hard time sticking with them. If not, Penn State has a chance.
Penn State has no pressure on it, which should help the team stay loose on its shots. They’ll be looking to do some scoring early, and if they get hot, they can push this game to the over.