College Basketball Handicapping: Big Ten Tournament Preview
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 3/8/2010
The Big Ten is as top heavy of a conference as you will see in college basketball, and considering the format of the 11-team conference tournament that starts Wednesday, seeing an upset winner at Conseco Fieldhouse this week is unlikely.
With 11 teams, the top five seeds get a bye. No. 4 Wisconsin plays No. 5 Illinois in the only quarterfinal matchup that is already set. The top seeds, No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 Purdue and No. 3 Michigan State, will get to play the winners of first round games, which even further stacks the deck in the favor of the big three in the conference in terms of getting an extra day off.
The first round matchups are No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 9 Iowa. That game will kick start the tournament Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. EST and the winner will advance to play top-seed Ohio State. No. 7 Northwestern will face No. 10 Indiana in another first round game with the winner moving on to play Purdue and No. 6 Minnesota and last place Penn State will close out day out with their first round game for the right to play Michigan State.
The Buckeyes may be the top seed but they are not the odds on favorite. BetUS has Ohio State at +175 to win the conference while Michigan State is at +150. Purdue would likely be the favorite in this tournament if it had not lost Robbie Hummel to a torn ACL.
Purdue is still a tough team but considering the brackets (they would have to play Michigan State in all likelihood in the semifinals) and the injury, the Boilermakers do not have much value at +325. Without Hummel, Purdue has been able to win three of four, but the wins have come against the bottom of the basement and all have been too close for comfort as they are also 0-5 ATS as of late.
An interesting team to keep an eye on is long shot, Penn State. From a betting standpoint they are part of the field and they likely will not win the tournament but you can argue they are the hottest team in the conference right now. In the last two weeks they have won at Northwestern, at Michigan, beat Northwestern at home, stayed within two points of Michigan State on the road and stayed within four points of Purdue in their last game of the season.
After the 67-65 game in East Lansing that had Spartan fans sweating, you can bet Michigan State hopes Minnesota ends the Nittany Lions run in the first round. The odds for the field are +1800 and you get Indiana, Penn State and Iowa. For the price a small bet on the field couldn’t hurt. Think Georgia two years ago in the SEC Tournament.
Long shots that are not part of the field include Michigan and Northwestern both at +5000. With odds like that they would usually be worth a play, but considering the format of the conference tournament and the strength at the top it would be hard to imagine either of those teams getting through to the semifinals.
The play here is Ohio State at +175. They have the bye and the easiest path to the conference title game and more importantly, they are playing the best basketball right now. They are 10-1 SU in their last 11 games and their likely opponent in the Big Ten Championship Game is Michigan State, who Ohio State beat on the road 74-67 three weeks ago.
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