March Madness Betting Free Pick: Northern Iowa vs. Michigan St.

The sweethearts of the NCAA Tournament match up with last year's national runners up in the Midwest Region semifinals between the #9 Northern Iowa Panthers and the #5 Michigan State Spartans.

What's At Stake: The winner of this crucial college basketball betting tilt will move on to the Elite 8 at the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday afternoon to face off with the winner of the #2 Ohio State/#6 Tennessee matchup.

College Basketball Odds: Michigan State -1 at BetUS

Northern Iowa Notes: The Panthers have made it to this point in the NCAA Tournament thanks to three point shooting and defense. Even though they only shot 35.6 percent from downtown this season, they have connected on 40 percent of their attempts from long range in the tourney through two games. Northern Iowa has the #2 rated defense in America, allowing just 55.0 points per game. HC Ben Jacobsen was just rewarded for his efforts in March Madness with a ten year contract extension. The Panthers have the seventh best free throw shooting team in America at 76.1 percent, and they only turn the ball over an average of 10.5 times per game.

Michigan State Notes: G Kalin Lucas won't be able to play for the rest of the season thanks to his ruptured Achilles tendon suffered against Maryland last weekend. That puts a ton of pressure on the inside men for HC Tom Izzo. Though they typically dominate on the glass (+9.5 rebounds per game), the big guys have a problem being consistent scorers. Sparty's 72.9 points per game is still pedestrian, but they've scored 155 points in two tourney games thus far. With Lucas out of the lineup, there are only two double digit point scorers on this team, and no one is averaging more than a dozen points per game.

Players to Watch

G Ali Farokhmanesh, Northern Iowa Panthers: For a man that is only averaging 9.7 points per game, Farokhmanesh is getting a ton of attention from the media. And rightfully so! He nailed the three pointer that sent UNI past UNLV in the first round of the tournament and followed that up with the absolute dagger of a three bomb that finished off the mighty Wildcats. Farokhmanesh has eight three balls in March Madness, and he'll be the key to victory for the Panthers on Friday night.

G Korie Lucious, Michigan State Spartans: They say that the tournament makes heroes out of players that are otherwise average. Lucious is a perfect example of that after he hit the three point basket as time expired to send the Spartans past the #4 Maryland Terrapins and into the third round of this event. No, we're not highlight Lucious because of that shot. Even though he averaged less than five points per game this year, he's the man that's going to have to step into Lucas' spot in the starting five. It's not that Lucious doesn't know what he's doing out there, as he picked up a ton of valuable experience in last season's run to the NCAA Tournament Final, but he'll have to be a star once again for Sparty to survive.

Trends of Note

-Northern Iowa is 5-0 ATS in its L/5 games following an SU win
-Northern Iowa is 54-24 in its L/78 games as an underdog
-Northern Iowa is 9-2 ATS in its L/11 games against the Big Ten
-Michigan State is 16-4-1 ATS in its L/21 NCAA Tournament games as a favorite
-Michigan State is 21-6-2 ATS in its L/29 games as favorites of less than seven points
-Michigan State is 2-8 ATS in its L/10 games against teams with a winning record

Final Analysis: Michigan State was an awful looking team when Lucas missed a handful of games in Big Ten play this year. That's what dropped Sparty from a potential #2 seed down to a #5. We're going to get on Cinderella's bandwagon as well on this one. The Panthers aren't your average #9 seed either. They're going to use their suffocating defense to put the wraps on a suddenly very inexperienced backcourt for MSU. Expect to see Northern Iowa become the second mid-major team to join the Elite 8 with a 'W' over Sparty.

Selection: Northern Iowa +1

Lou Palumbo is the founder and part owner of the Sports Handicapping Community. He's been writing and posting free picks and sports handicapping strategies on the Cappersinfo forums and website for 15 years now. He enjoys handicapping just as much as he did from the very first day he built the original Cappersinfo website.

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