Gavitt Tipoff Games Monday Handicap: Butler Vs. Penn State

The Big East’s Butler Bulldogs (1-0) head to the Bryce Jordan Center Monday to play the Big Ten’s Penn State Nittany Lions (2-0) on the first night of the Gavitt Tipoff Games.

This is an eight-game annual Big Ten vs. Big East event, and the all-time series is tied 24-24. Last season, the Big East beat the Big Ten 6-2, snapping a two-event losing skid in the series (Big Ten is a combined 10-6 in 2019 and 2021).

Truth be told, I’m a Big East college graduate (St. John’s University) and am very biased. The Big East isn’t even considered a “Power 5” conference because its football sucks.

However, the Big East is a better basketball conference than the Big Ten. There I said it. The talking heads and the NCAA tournament selection committee overrate Big Ten teams during the preseason and it continues through March Madness.

The Butler Bulldogs huddle on the court during a game with the New Orleans Privateers at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
The Butler Bulldogs huddle on the court during a game with the New Orleans Privateers at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. (Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

According to respected college basketball guru Ken Pom, Penn State is 12 points better than Butler. Apparently, the oddsmakers have a Ken Pom subscription as well because they opened the Nittany Lions as 12-point favorites.

But, the betting market is sharper than any analytics website and someone is pushing Penn State down to a 5.5-point favorite. Also, Butler has more size and the more proven head coach.

Betting Details (DraftKings)

  • Moneyline (ML): Butler (+225), Penn State (-265)
  • Against the spread (ATS): BUTLER +5.5 (-110), Penn State -5.5 (-110)
  • Total (O/U) — 144.5 — O: -110, U:-110

Sketchy line movement

Penn State has a way bigger following and alumni than Butler. In fact, one of my colleagues is a Penn State grad and I’ve never met anyone from Butler.

Yet the Nittany Lions’ price has plummeted off the opener despite more than 80% of the money in the consensus market being on Penn State at the time of writing, per Pregame.com.

It’s a red flag whenever sportsbooks make the more popular team cheaper. Especially in this case because Ken Pom, who almost all recreational college basketball bettors are familiar with, gives Penn State a massive edge.

Butler easily covered as 18.5-point favorites in its 89-53 season-opening win vs. the New Orleans Privateers on November 7th. Penn State covered as well as double-digit favorites in its first two games. Neither one of their opponents was from a Power 5 conference though.

The Penn State love is based on its edge from behind the arc and having the more experienced roster. But, I like how Butler matches up with Penn State and I’m higher on the Bulldogs’ coach.

Butler’s basketball edges

Penn State is 10th in the country in 3-point shooting percentage (50.0%) and Butler is 340th (16.7%). If those rates continue Monday, we can throw out any Bulldogs bet slips and forget we ever discussed this game.

That said, Butler will play tougher defense on Penn State than its first two opponents. Also, the Bulldogs are the bigger team who should win the battle of possessions (rebounding and turnovers).

They created points off of turnovers in the first game. Butler had a 37.9% defense turnover rate in its first game and sunk 80.0% of its 2-point attempts. Both marks are the best in the nation albeit through one game.

Butler has higher net rebounding and turnover rates than the Nittany Lions. Shooting comes and goes in basketball but teams that have more possessions usually score more points.

The Bulldogs have the better coach

Butler head coach Thad Matta returns to where he started his coaching career. Matta played for the Bulldogs in college and it was his first head coaching gig back in 2000-01.

Butler made the 2001 NCAA Tournament by winning the Midwestern Collegiate Conference. He was successful at Xavier and Ohio State but departed from Ohio State in 2017 to focus on his health.

Matta’s career record is 440-154. He won three Big Ten Coach of the Year awards, four Big Ten conference titles and took Ohio State to two Final Fours.

Butler Bulldogs SG Chuck Harris talks to head coach Thad Matta on the sidelines during a game with the New Orleans Privateers on November 7, 2022, at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Butler Bulldogs SG Chuck Harris talks to head coach Thad Matta on the sidelines during a game with the New Orleans Privateers on November 7, 2022, at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. (Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Finally, Matta has never finished below-.500 whereas second-year Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry went 14-17 in his first season at University Park.

Coaching is more important in college basketball so give me the better coach who’s getting points vs. a Penn State coach that hasn’t proven anything.

BET: Butler +5.5 (-110) at DraftKings, down to +5

The Butler Bulldogs' odds at the Penn State Nittany Lions from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Monday, November 14th at 2 p.m. ET.
The Butler Bulldogs’ odds at the Penn State Nittany Lions from DraftKings Sportsbook as of Monday, November 14th at 2 p.m. ET.

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Written by Geoff Clark

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