The Big 10 has been one of the best conferences in college basketball all year long. Michigan leads the way at 26-4 and down the stretch is embedded in a three-way tie at 15-4 with Michigan State and Purdue.
As loaded as this conference feels up top, there’s still Wisconsin, Maryland, and Iowa — all of which have some huge wins against elite competition and own 10+ wins in the conference.
Michigan and Michigan State look like locks to get two-seeds for the 2019 March Madness tournament, but if things shake just right, it’s not crazy to imagine one of them getting bumped to a 1-seed.
Either way, things are looking good for the Big 10, which has three teams with a projected 3-seed or better.
In all, the Big 10 has a shot at sending as many as eight teams to the big dance. Who gets in and where they start in March Madness could end up being dictated by how the Big 10 tourney unfolds.
Let’s take a look at how each team could benefit from a deep tournament run and who may ultimately win when the tournament begins in Chicago on March 13th.
“Locks” Looking to Improve Their Seeding
Everyone in this section seems to have earned a spot in the 2019 men’s college basketball tournament. Their March Madness odds may not all be great, but they’re projected to be in and will get a chance to run the table.
How they fare in the Big 10 tournament, however, could help or hurt their seeding.
John Beilein’s Wolverines have been one of the best teams in college basketball all year. A season after losing the national title game, Michigan is back for another run at it thanks to a stout 26-4 record.
Michigan could lock up at worst a share of the Big 10 title and the conference title. Sweeping the Big 10 tourney would also cement them as a 2-seed and potentially lift them to a #1 seed if someone like Duke falters further.
The Big 10 tournament odds aren’t out yet, but my guess is Michigan will open as mild favorites. Michigan has a capable offense that can get hot from outside, but they win on the defensive end, where they rank third in the country.
Michigan’s defense should set the tone for a strong tourney run, and I won’t be shocked if they run the table here to set themselves up nicely for the NCAA tournament.
Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans are as good as they’ve been in a while. Tom Izzo has another potential gem here, as the Spartans are one of the best offensive teams in the nation and also do a great job defensively.
That high-level balance puts Michigan State in the discussion to win it all this year, so naturally, I don’t hate them as a Big 10 tourney champion.
Michigan State is incredibly efficient and can really hurt you from long range, so you better show up offensively if you’re going to take them out. That’s led to the majority of their losses this year being tight battles where the ball just didn’t bounce their way.
An early season loss to Kansas is forgivable, as are four other losses that all came by 10 points or fewer. In fact, all but one loss this year was by five points or fewer.
The Wolverines feel like the more popular bet going into the Big 10 tourney, but if the odds offer more value (and perhaps even if they don’t), the Spartans are my preferred play between the two.
I’m less enthused as you work your way down the Big 10 rankings, but Purdue is still a very good team that is neck and neck with both Michigan-based squads.
The major selling point for the Boilermakers continues to be explosive guard Carsen Edwards. The diminutive guard is putting up over 23 points per contest and basically is Purdue’s offense.
That offense ranks 66th in the nation in scoring and cracks the top 50 in outside shooting. Combine that with a solid defense (allowing just 66.9 points per game), and Purdue has the star power, perimeter offense, and defense needed to make a deep run at any level.
Starting with what should be palatable Big 10 tourney odds, Purdue could be a team worth backing.
Despite losing nine games already, Wisconsin is locked into the March Madness tournament. A solid showing in conference play is to thank for that, while big man Ethan Happ’s ability to dominate on the block makes the Badgers an interesting sleeper to watch.
I doubt the Badgers are running the table later this month, but they might have a shot at taking down the Big 10 tournament. Wisconsin won’t blow you away offensively, but they can dictate the tempo of games and rank 10th in opponent scoring.
If Happ can avoid foul trouble, and Wisconsin’s elite outside shooting is clicking, the Badgers can be a tough out. If the top college basketball betting sites price them nicely, they could be a solid play in this tournament.
The Terrapins are another team to keep tabs on during the Big 10 tourney.
Maryland has some nice scoring balance with bruising big man Bruno Fernando leading the way, and they also rank 29th in defensive scoring.
You’re not getting the most explosive offense in Maryland, but the Terrapins will be in just about every game. With a strong 12-7 run through the Big 10 and tight losses versus the likes of Virginia, Purdue, and Michigan, this is a battle-tested team that could return serious Big 10 betting value.
The Hawkeyes are the polar opposite of teams like Wisconsin and Maryland. They don’t defend worth a lick (allowing 73.7 points per game), but they rank 29th in scoring and can light it up (36%) from long range.
Iowa has the offensive chops to hang with anyone when they’re clicking, and that’s helped them win 10 games inside one of the toughest conferences in the nation.
If Tyler Cook brings his A-game and the Hawkeyes can catch fire, they absolutely could run through the Big 10 tourney and improve their March Madness seeding. If their Big 10 conference tournament odds aren’t attractive, this could be a solid sleeper to wager on.
There are some bracketology websites out there that already have some of these teams locked into March Madness seeds. I’ll believe it when I see it, though.
All of these teams are very much on the bubble, as none of them have even a .500 record in conference play this year, and the best one (Ohio State) is just 18-11 overall.
Still, this is a brutal conference, so these teams are being given the benefit of the doubt and may only need one or two Big 10 conference tourney wins to secure a spot in the big dance.
Ohio State Buckeyes
I’d argue that of this group, the Buckeyes are the safest bet to enter March Madness play no matter what goes down during the Big 10 tournament.
Ohio State crushed Iowa recently and was off to a stellar 12-1 start before running into this loaded conference. The Buckeyes also have the ability to hang in just about every game thanks to their elite defense (31st in the nation), so I can see the appeal of having them in the tournament when it’s all said and done.
Still, Ohio State doesn’t feel like a lock for me. They may need one or two wins during the Big 10 tourney to ensure their spot is safe.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
The same goes for Minnesota, even though they have a better conference and overall record than Ohio State. Much like the Buckeyes, however, they’re presently projected to make the NCAA tourney and may only need a win or two to hold onto a low seed.
Minnesota has a sound offensive team and leans on two quality scorers in Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy. They don’t blow you away in any one facet, but they’re quite balanced and are adept at getting to the free throw line and making defenses pay.
Their lack of success inside the Big 10 is troubling if you’re trying to back them to take down the tourney, but they’re viable.
Of all the Big 10 bubble teams, Indiana is the weirdest to me.
This is a classic case of where your ranking outweighs how good you actually are. It’s also arguable the committee wants stars in March Madness, and knocking Indy (and Romeo Langford) out would work against that narrative.
Langford is certainly a good reason to back the Hoosiers, as he’s a potential lottery talent for the 2019 NBA Draft. With 16.8 points per game, Langford offers up a good chunk of Indiana’s offense. Oddly enough, it’s Indy’s defense (53rd in the country) that usually gives them a chance in games.
I just don’t know how to peg the Hoosiers. They are in the running for a March Madness spot just because of their big wins (two over Michigan State). One look at that paltry 15-14 record, though, and the committee may opt against them.
Still, Indiana looks plenty capable of making a deep Big 10 tourney run, and their odds should be fun.
Teams Who Must Win to Advance
I’d almost include Indiana in this group, but the people making the March Madness decisions seem intent on forcing them in, regardless. They’re also heating up at the right time, and that isn’t something you can say for everyone near the bottom of the Big 10.
Here’s a quick breakdown of all of the bottom-feeders in this conference and whether or not they could be worth a bet to win the Big 10 tournament.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
The Scarlet Knights come in somewhere behind Indiana, based on a pedestrian record and a lack of marquee wins. Rutgers did surprise with a big win in a shootout with Iowa recently, but that feels like an outlier for a team that is not explosive offensively.
Rutgers just doesn’t do enough offensively to get you excited about them. They do have defensive potential and at times can dictate the tempo of games, but they’ve proven all year they don’t belong in March Madness. I’d refrain from betting on them to win the Big 10 tournament.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois has a better overall ranking than Rutgers, but as you might expect, that’s not saying much.
The Fighting Illini definitely need to go deep into the Big 10 tourney for a shot at playing in the NCAA tournament, and flat-out winning the conference tournament likely has to be their end result.
Illinois has a solid star player in Ayo Dosunmu, and he contributes to a solid offense (73.5 points per game). However, Illinois is not overly efficient, doesn’t defend well, and hasn’t proven over the course of the year that they’d be capable of the run necessary to punch their March Madness ticket.
Penn State Nittany Lions
I’m also not buying Penn State, who is 12-17 on the year and mustered just five Big 10 conference wins. The Nittany Lions do have a baller in Lamar Stevens (19.97 points per game), but that’s about it.
Stevens going nuts and carrying Penn State a few games into the Big 10 tourney isn’t impossible. It’s just not likely. Penn State just isn’t explosive enough offensively.
This might be a fun flier bet in the event Stevens gets hot and goes full Kemba Walker. I just wouldn’t invest much in this wager.
Another team that could make a run thanks to a star going off is Nebraska. James Palmer (18.87 points per game) may be good enough to carry the Cornhuskers deep into the Big 10 tourney, while he also gets some help from his teammates.
Nebraska can actually get it going offensively and defend at a solid level. They’ve just fallen flat in the brutal Big 10. After a solid 10-2 start, Nebraska hit a wall and coughed up a slew of tough losses.
In Big 10 play alone, the Cornhuskers lost eight games by 10 or fewer points. The balance and star power are there for a crazy run, but it’s admittedly not all that likely.
Lastly, you have the Wildcats, who have not been good this year (12-17) and have really plummeted lately with 10 consecutive losses.
This feels like a one-and-done Big 10 tournament for Northwestern, who is not great offensively and hasn’t been able to consistently threaten teams from long range. The Wildcats have held the opposition to just 65 points per game, but a lot of that has to do with their own offensive issues.
Everything needs to break right for Northwestern to have a chance. Considering they won just three games all year inside this conference, the odds aren’t great they win a bunch in a row now.
Who Will Win the Big 10 Tournament?
It’s easy to get lost in the big teams here. Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue are all heavy-hitters and are fully capable of dominating this tourney.
The problem there is that they’re all locked into solid March Madness seeds. I can definitely see them getting upended at some point, and one of these intermediate options could prevail.
Once the Big 10 tournament odds pop up, we’ll update them here so that you can make an educated bet.
I still think only a handful of teams have a realistic shot at taking down the Big 10 conference tournament, and personally, I’m just looking at the first five options.
Indiana, Ohio State, and perhaps even Penn State are all sneaky, but they’re just not reliable. If you want value, I love Iowa’s offensive upside, and if they can force teams to run more, they could steal this tournament and boost their March Madness seeding.
For a steadier play that could come at a solid price, however, I’m down for rolling with the Badgers. They have a methodical offense, can burn you from deep, and play terrific defense. Their style of play is perfect for a tournament setting, and they could stand to improve their seeding.
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Big 10 Betting – Predicting 2019’s Conference ChampionMarch 7, 2019