College Basketball Handicapping: Big Ten Once Again Overrated
by Robert Ferringo - 11/30/2009
They almost got me.
I was almost sucked into all of the hype surrounding the Big Ten as a college basketball conference. Anyone who knows me or has read much of my writing knows that I think that the Big Ten sucks at everything. (And by "everything" I mean hoops and football.) And I have had a jolly good time mocking and ridiculing their every flop and flounder over the past several years, while also collecting against the overrated schools that populate the league.
But one of the overriding themes heading into this particular college basketball season was whether or not the Big Ten would be the best conference in the country, with just about every college basketball bobblehead in the mainstream media shaking their head in agreement at the notion. In Michigan State and Purdue they allegedly had a pair of national title contenders as well as seven other teams that could realistically compete for berths in the Big Dance. This is one of the most collectively experienced leagues in the country and the belief was that they would be a dominator on the national scene.
And they almost got me, as in my Big Ten preview I - skeptically - said that they should match last year's seven NCAA Tournament bids and that they actually had a chance to beat the ACC in the 11th Annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge, which begins with Penn State visiting Virginia at 7 p.m., Monday at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville.
Well, instead of this being a banner year for Big Ten basketball with a chance for them to shove it in my face and the face of all of the haters, I am starting to get the feeling that it is going to go in the other direction. I'm starting to think that this year might actually be the most overrated that this conference has ever been.
Now, it's early. And I'm not giving up on all of these teams just yet. But I will say that after watching them work through the first month of the season I have to say that I'm unimpressed.
And we're going to find out how they stack up against the ACC this week as the two leagues matchup for 11 games in what has become a larger embarrassment for the Big Ten than BCS bowl games have become in college football. The ACC is a perfect 10-0 in terms of winning a majority of games in the "challenge". That includes a 6-5 straight up record last year.
Over the last decade the ACC is a stellar 62-35 SU in these games.
So this year we have the moveable object meeting the stoppable force. On the one hand, the ACC has dominated this annual sideshow and bettors should be lining up to pile on the schools from the far superior conference. However, the Big Ten is the "it" conference this year and has been the focus of the most hype of any league. Also, last year was the first time in three years that the Big Ten had a better record against the spread than the ACC in the 11 contests, going 6-4-1 ATS overall.
So how will the books resolve this situation? Whom will they shade the lines for or against? And how can we expect the more highly-touted conference, the Big Ten, to perform?
Let me be the first to say - I'll be looking for another humiliation for the boys from the Midwest. And if the Penn State-Virginia game is any indication - Virginia was instilled as a 4.0-point favorite and immediately bet up to 6.0 - then it looks like the squares are still piling on the ACC.
Other than 5-0 Purdue, which did everything it could to give away an impressive victory over Tennessee, the Big Ten has performed like, well, like the Big Ten. There have been humiliating losses to teams from smaller conferences, more humiliating losses to equal foes from other BCS conferences, the usual underachievement and uninspiring wins against heavy underdogs, and a general malaise that has led to just one team in the conference posting a winning record against the spread, Ohio State at 4-2. And if you take out the Buckeyes respectable start the other 10 teams in the 11-school Big Ten have combined to go 17-29 against the number (36.9 percent).
Minnesota is a team that a lot of people had already been penciling into the Field of 65, but they have already lost to Portland and Texas A&M. Michigan State barely escaped with a home win against Gonzaga and lost to a middling Florida club last weekend. Northwestern lost its best player for the season and, although they have been playing above themselves, is going to fall apart any day now. Michigan has been a bust, losing to likely NIT teams Marquette and Alabama last week. Illinois snuck by Wofford at home before losing to Utah and Bradley as heavy favorites. Penn State has losses to UNC-Wilmington and Tulane on its resume. Indiana is still just a shade above a junior college team and the shadow of its former self. And Iowa is one of the worst teams in the country.
Conversely, if you overlook Virginia Tech's 0-4 ATS start the ACC has a collective mark of 25-21 against the spread, good for a slim profit at 54.3 percent.
More than half (six) of the teams in the Big Ten already have two losses straight up. Just three of 12 teams in the ACC have dropped two games, but all three also have four wins on their resume.
I mentioned that the Big Ten actually produced a profit in the "Challenge" last year at 6-4-1. However, even that strong showing - in which the books having to inflate the underdog spreads in the Big Ten's favor in order to push away ACC money played a huge role - left their three-year mark t just 14-18-1 ATS (43.8 percent).
So it looks to me like this could be yet another season in which the Big Ten is comically overrated and overhyped by the national media bobbleheads. And the result will likely be another season in which the league garners seven or eight bids to the NCAA Tournament, with at least three of the teams being completely undeserving and with maybe two teams making it out of the opening round.
But don't believe the hype. The Big Ten remains more overrated than "Entourage" and if you're expecting some kind of uprising this week against the ACC I think it's going to cost you. Big time.
Robert Ferringo is a professional handicapper and he has gained around +150 Units since mid-February in college basketball. You can purchase his college basketball picks here.
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