2014 Big Ten Tournament Picks and College Basketball Predictions
by Robert Ferringo - 3/12/2014
Parity or mediocrity - that's been the running theme of Big Ten conference basketball this season.
This league has cannibalized itself for the past two months, and no true powerhouse has yet to emerge from the Midwest. However, one way or another someone is about to catch fire and cut down the nets in Indianapolis this weekend. And you can bet that whichever school emerges will be vaulted into the national spotlight heading into next week's NCAA Tournament.
The Big Ten Tournament begins Thursday, March 13, and is being held at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The championship game will tip off at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. Here is Doc's Sports Big Ten Tournament picks and predictions ( with odds courtesy of Sportsbook.ag):
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The Favorite: Michigan (+360)
Is there a less-inspiring No. 1 seed in any conference tournament in the country this week? It's not that Michigan is a weak team. They were the national runner-up last year and won a solid Big Ten this season with room to spare. But the Wolverines are always a soft favorite - they are just 8-8 against the spread the last 16 times they've laid points - and their overreliance on the 3-point shot can be a strength and a weakness. The Wolverines went 15-3 in league play this year but were just 7-4 in games played outside of Ann Arbor. Sophomore guard Nik Stauskas had a brilliant season and is the triggerman for one of the nation's most efficient offenses. Athletic wins Caris LaVert and Glenn Robinson have had breakout years, and the Wolverines wear opponents down with their precise sets on offense. But they still aren't nearly as good as last year's team, and their weaknesses of perimeter defense and rebounding can be exposed.
The Contender: Wisconsin (+400)
The Badgers are a dangerous team to bet on or against. This team has one of the best resumes in the country - wins over Florida and Virginia in the nonconference back that up - and they have been hot coming down the stretch while winning eight of their last nine. But the Badgers also dropped five of six in the middle of conference play and have shown a penchant for blowing big leads. Guards Josh Gasser and Ben Brust give Bo Ryan two steady veteran hands to run the show. And big man Frank Kaminsky is a tough matchup in the stretch-four position. But the Badgers streakiness makes them a tough team to trust. They could absolutely win this tournament. Or they could blow a 12-point lead in the second half and go home. Take your pick.
The Dark Horse: Michigan State (+360)
The Spartans have been touted as one of the favorites to win the National Championship all season long. But results have not come close to meeting expectations, and we've yet to see Michigan State play its best basketball. Injuries have crippled any opportunity for this group to gain momentum or cohesion. They are healthy now with guard Keith Appling and forward Branden Dawson back to full strength. But they haven't won back-to-back games since mid-January, and there is a feeling that this group will never meet its potential. Tom Izzo is a master of March. And he publicly called out his team for not being tough enough this week in an attempt to light a fire. It's a genius move: if the Spartans storm to the Big Ten title he is a master motivator. If they continue to stumble then he was right in his analysis. I know one thing: this is the team that no one in the bracket wants to play.
The Spoiler: Ohio State (+500)
The Buckeyes are another team that's been an enigma most of the season. The core of this team is very experienced, and they have played in and won a bunch of big games the past few years. That includes last year's Big Ten Tournament championship win over Wisconsin. In fact, Ohio State has won the league tournament in three of the past four years. Senior Aaron Craft is still the unquestioned leader. But he has struggled through perhaps his worst season. And the Buckeyes have to bank on streaky scorers LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith for offensive punch. Thad Matta is another coach that just knows how to navigate the perils of March. Ohio State will face Nebraska in the quarters (assuming the Buckeyes handle Purdue in the opener). If this team picks up a head of steam then muscle memory may take over, and I could see them cutting down the nets again.
No. 8 Indiana (-2) vs. No. 9 Illinois (Noon, Thursday, March 13)
A lot of very talented guards will be on the court for Thursday's opener. Illinois has three upperclassmen; Rayvonte Rice, Tracy Abrams and Joe Bertrand; who can take over a game. Indiana relies on Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey to get the job done, and the Hoosiers can score in bunches. But defense, consistency, and an ability to win away from home has plagued both of these teams. They split the season series, and this one looks like a toss-up, like so much of this bracket.
No. 5 Ohio State (-8.5) vs. No. 12 Purdue (2:30 p.m., Thursday, March 13)
Purdue limps into the Big Ten tournament having lost six straight and 11 of their last 13 games. A deeper look shows signs that this team has been improving; they suffered close losses to Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin in the last few weeks. But Matt Painter's club simply can't generate enough consistent offense to be considered a threat this week. Ohio State excels on the defensive end and won both regular-season meetings handily.
No. 7 Minnesota (-4.5) vs. No. 10 Penn State (5:30 p.m., Thursday, March 13)
This game is a rematch of a meeting last Sunday that was all Gophers. Minnesota won 81-63 in The Barn, and the Gophers full-court pressure overwhelmed Penn State. Minnesota won both regular-season meetings, gutting out a three-point win in Happy Valley back in early January. But Penn State can be dangerous. Senior guard Tim Frazier will be the best player on the floor, and he won't go quietly. Backcourt mate D.J. Newbill is also a capable scorer, but there's a steep drop-off after that duo. Minnesota is a team that has played its way out of the NCAA Tournament discussion, and this is their last chance to make some noise before shuffling over to the NIT.
No. 6 Iowa (-12) vs. No. 11 Northwestern (8 p.m., Thursday, March 13)
This is actually a rematch of a quarterfinal from last season that Iowa won easily, 73-59. The Hawkeyes also throttled Northwestern in both regular-season meetings this year by 26 points apiece. Northwestern simply doesn't have the size, depth or defensive capabilities to slow down Iowa's attack. The Hawkeyes have been a major disappointment in the last month of the season, losing six straight ATS and five of six overall. If Northwestern taps into its roots and slows this game down, they may have a chance. But new coach Chris Collins wants to run. If he tries that in this game then he'll get run out of the gym - again.
2014 Big Ten Conference Tournament Picks and Predictions: This tournament is nearly impossible to call. Is Michigan really head and shoulders above the rest of the league? Will Ohio State ride a favorable draw to back-to-back championships? Can Michigan State or Iowa finally put everything together and play like the teams they have been expected to be? I honestly don't know. And I think it is going to take a couple days of watching these teams before we can tell who came to play and who didn't.
I hate to fall in line with the crowd, but if forced my money would be on Michigan State. The Spartans haven't been healthy and whole for the past two months. They are now. And the postseason reset is probably just what this crew needs to get itself centered. I don't think we'll see many upsets, and I do think we'll see a high level of basketball played in this tournament. It is hard to believe the Spartans only have one tournament championship in the last 13 years, and I think they will add to that total by winning this weekend.
Robert Ferringo keeps proving himself to be one of the best college basketball handicappers in the nation. Robert has posted 11 of 16 winning college hoops weeks and 17 of 20 winning college hoops months. He has banked nearly $10,000 in profit with his side plays this year and almost $17,000 in profit since Nov. 11, 2012. Robert is a profit machine and you can take advantage of our free, no-strings-attached $60 credit to use toward a purchase of Robert's college basketball selections. CLICK HERE for $60 absolutely free!
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