Nobody really talks about the Spartans for some reason, even though they are sitting pretty with a 13-2 record and a 4-0 record in the Big 10. Their in-state rivalry game against Michigan on Saturday was postponed due to COVID issues within the Wolverines' program, which means that their current eight-game win streak is intact going into their home game against Minnesota.
Tom Izzo's team has been flying under the radar for some time now, and at +4000 odds, I think it's worth a bet. These odds are just too long for a team as good and well-coached as the Spartans.
Gabe Brown has been the best player for the Spartans so far this year, but another player has recently emerged as a candidate to help lead Michigan State into the tournament. Max Christie has been on fire recently, and that's great news for Sparty. Christie was a five-star recruit coming out of high school, and he's had a very up-and-down career to this point. He missed the final game of December due to COVID-19 protocols, and looked off to start January. However, that has changed quite a bit in recent weeks.
Against Nebraska last week, Christie made three 3s, finishing with a season-high 21 points in a 79-67 win for Michigan State. He has now scored in double figures in each of his last three games, averaging 16.3 points per game and shooting 9-for-14 from behind the arc over that stretch.
Another team that no one seems to talk about but is in the midst of a great season, USC has started off the year 13-0 and has looked fantastic in doing so. They came off a long layoff this past week, having not played a game since Dec. 18 due to COVID-19 restrictions set upon them by the NCAA. They looked great in their return to action against Cal after some early signs of rust, beating the Golden Bears 77-63 on the road. This is the No. 5-ranked team in the country, and they are for good reason. They have had a dominant defense all season, and while it wasn't as great against California, they started to find their groove late.
USC's offense had one of its best performances of the season against California, scoring 77 points and just dominating in the paint. The Trojans shot 56.2 percent from inside the arc, and crashed the offensive glass for second-chance opportunities. This is a team that has all the qualities of a contender, if they can actually play some games. Their next game against Stanford was postponed as well due to even more COVID restrictions, so we'll see just how they can continue to perform after all of these breaks in play.
At +5000, this is a crazy number for such a talented and disciplined team that is tough. It is definitely worth a bet, even if it's small for a big payout if they happen to make a run.
My Fighting Illini have been on an absolute tear lately after falling in a very close game against Arizona. Brad Underwood's team is tough, and they almost always are competitive against every team they face. Some early struggles without superstar big man Kofi Cockburn derailed the beginning of their season with some bad losses to Marquette and Cincinnati, but they have turned things around since his return. They are 11-3 right now, with an impressive 4-0 start to Big 10 play after beating Maryland, Minnesota, Iowa and Rutgers.
This team is also without star guard Andre Curbelo, who has been out since Cockburn's return, so we haven't seen the team at full strength pretty much all year long. Cockburn has to be the frontrunner for National Player of the Year, as he has completely dominated his opposition. He's averaging 22.5 points per game and 12.5 rebounds per game, the only player in the country to average those numbers. He's a massive presence in the middle, and teams need to account for him constantly. This allows shooters to get open, and they have taken advantage of that all season.
Long-time guard Trent Frazier and newcomer Alfonso Plummer have been lights-out from beyond the arc, powering the offense and playing off of Cockburn's dominance in the middle. They also have great role players like Da'Monte Williams, who has been a great distributor this season.
At 30-to-1 odds, you have to take a shot on the Illni. Once they get Curbelo back, look out for the damage this team can do after last season's fantastic effort.
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