College Basketball Handicapping: Big Ten Toughest Conference in Nation
by Trevor Whenham - 1/17/2014
The Big Ten is the toughest conference in college basketball right now, and it’s not even close. There are a lot of very good teams, and if early conference action is any indication then they are going to pound each other into the ground for the next two months. For bettors, a conference this deep and this tough is a major handicapping nightmare. It seems as if anything can happen, and getting a true sense of where any team stands is very challenging.
When trying to decode the Big Ten, here are five factors to consider:
Absolutely brutal schedules: Not every team in the conference is good. Northwestern, Penn State, Nebraska and Purdue all have more than their share of issues and are really going to struggle in the conference. The rest of the teams are varying degrees of strong, though. Those eight teams face an incredibly tough schedule. Road trips are almost all in hostile environments, and home games are a challenge. Given that seven or eight of the 12 teams in the conference are of potential tournament quality, there are not only a lot of games that are going to be tough but also several stretches of very tough games in a row. During the course of the season each contender is going to face tougher stretches of games than teams in other conferences will. Handicappers need to consider that when evaluating teams.
Easy to go on losing streak: Ohio State, a very good team, is perfect proof of this. Their offense has slid into a major slump, and as a result they have lost three straight after winning their first 15 games. The struggles just illustrate how tough it is in this conference when the schedule goes against you. They lost legitimately at Michigan State, stumbled at home against a ranked and very-challenging Iowa team and then lost in Minnesota against a Gophers team that should be in the tournament. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in any individual loss, and there was not enough time between the challenges to shake them off and get back on track. The Buckeyes are far from the only major contender that is going to face a challenge like this along the way.
Confidence could be challenged: When things are so consistently tough for teams, it can be easy for confidence to fizzle and things to come right off the tracks. Again, Ohio State is an example of that right now. Assessing the mental state of teams is tough, but it will be especially important when squads enter the heart of their schedules. A small dip in shooting effectiveness as a result of challenged confidence could have a big impact in how a team performs when competition is so tight.
Teams that survive will be seasoned: It could be very tough to assess teams in conference play to find value. When the challenges of this conference season could reward bettors, though, is when the tournament rolls around. There are going to be a lot of Big Ten teams in the field, and they are going to be seasoned by having survived a very intense conference schedule. They’ll have faced adversity, and they will know what they are capable of. While value could be tough to find in conference play, it could be in steady supply in the postseason.
Records will be worse than they would be in other conferences: Last year, the best team in the Big Ten — Indiana — had four losses in conference play. Given the depth and intensity of the conference, and the carnage we have witnessed so far, there is a good chance that the top team will have more losses than that right now. The winners of the ACC, Pac-12, Big East, AAC, and SEC, along with some of the more prominent mid-majors — are all likely to come out of conference play with better records than the Big Ten champ. Two things from that — don’t let the lesser records convince you that these are lesser teams, and here’s hoping that the lesser records have an impact on seeding in the tournament and Big Ten teams are seeded slightly lower than they should be. That would be a nice way to find value in the tournament.
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