2015 Big Ten Tournament Expert Picks and Betting Odds
by Robert Ferringo - 3/9/2015
You remember how bad the Big Ten was in football this past fall? The league rankings were basically 1. Ohio State, 2. A Lake Superior Size Gap, and 3. Everyone Else. Well, the same sickness – imbalance and anarchy – has infected Big Ten basketball this year with one dominant team trailed not-at-all closely by a bunch of disastrous ones.
Wisconsin absolutely dominated the Big Ten this basketball season. And no one else was even close. Yes, two teams – Rutgers and Maryland – managed to beat them. But the Badgers still won the league title by two games, and it was never in doubt. Oh, and Wisconsin managed this level of ownership despite losing their stud starting point guard back in January and leaning on his backup through all of February and March.
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It would be a major upset if Wisconsin didn’t win the Big Ten Tournament, which will be held at the United Center in Chicago from Wednesday, March 11 to Sunday, March 15. There are 14 teams competing but only Villanova (-170) and Kentucky (-250) will be larger favorites to win their respective conference championships.
Here is Doc’s Sports Big Ten Conference preview:
The Favorite: Wisconsin (-150)
The Badgers are one of the three best teams in college basketball and a true national title contender. It took a major effort for Maryland to beat an unmotivated Badger squad, and UW’s other loss came as the result of losing its two best players to injury during a game at Rutgers. The big mystery for this team this week is whether or not Traevon Jackson returns and if he does how much and how well will he play? Regardless, they have the nation’s best player, Frank Kaminsky, and the Badgers just choke the life out of opponents with their ruthless efficiency on both ends of the court. They have the No. 1 most efficient offense and No. 25 most efficient defense in the country, and they have throttled their Big Ten competition this year, winning 12 of their 16 league games by double-digits. They do have a short bench; that could be a weakness later in the tournament. But these guys are head and shoulders above everyone else in the league.
The Contender: Maryland (+800)
There might not be a more damning criticism of the Big Ten than this: Maryland has been an ACC also-ran the past four seasons. But in the Terps’ first year in the Big Ten they are suddenly one of the league’s best teams and the No. 2 seed in this tournament. Of course, it helps to have one of the best freshmen in the country, guard Melo Trimble, drop into your lap. Trimble pairs with senior Dez Wells to form one of the best backcourts in the country. For my money Trimble is the best freshman guard in the nation. And if this team gets anything from its big men they will be tough to beat. The two X-Factors for the Terps are Jake Layman and Evan Smotrycz. They are both 6-9 forwards that can do a little bit of everything on both ends. But they both have a tendency to disappear. If they play well then the Terps will be tough to beat.
The Dark Horse: Ohio State (+350)
The Buckeyes also boast one of the best freshmen in the nation in super-scorer D’Angelo Russell. The All-American averages 19.2 points per game and can score from anywhere. The Buckeyes are just the No. 6 seed in this tournament. But I feel like their talent is a little better than that. Ohio State’s problems are that they get lax defensively and they don’t play nearly as well outside of Columbus. Point guard Shannon Scott has filled in admirably for departed point guard Aaron Craft. But he is mediocre at best. If this team is going to bust out in Chicago it will be on the back of veterans like Sam Thompson and Amir Williams. There are pieces and plenty of raw talent here. But these guys might have too many lapses to be a real threat. The senior class has been shaky for four years. If they put it together for one week they could surprise people. But the more likely scenario is a flame out. We will see.
The Spoiler: Iowa (+1200)
The Hawkeyes are another team that’s tough to wrap your brain around. They swept Ohio State and Maryland. But they lost to Northwestern. Iowa is on a six-game winning streak and they have the size, depth and athleticism that you like to see come tournament time. They have a powerful frontcourt led by Aaron White, Jarrod Uthoff and Adam Woodbury. Mix in 6-10 forward Gabe Olaseni and Iowa can rebound and run with anyone. Their problem is point guard Mike Gesell. Gesell is one of the worst point guards in the country, despite being a two-year starter, and he is simply too small and unathletic to match up with quality guards on other teams. That said, Iowa has a decent path to the semifinals. They will play either Penn State or Nebraska. Then they have a date with No. 4 seed Purdue, a team they lost to by four on the road this year but a group they match up well against. If Iowa can find some 3-point shooting, they are a team that could get hot at the right time.
Bubble Team To Watch: Purdue (+1200)
The Boilermakers are currently on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. Which is a shame because I like this team and I think they could give some people serious problems. Purdue might have the best 1-2 center combination north of Kentucky with junior A.J. Hammons and freshman A.J. Haas giving the team two versatile 7-footers to work with. The problem, obviously, has been shaky guard play. They simply don’t have a go-to player on the perimeter, and their lack of experience has cost them games down the stretch. They probably should’ve won March road games at Ohio State and at Michigan State, but instead lost by four and by six, respectively, in games they held the lead in. Purdue needs to beat Iowa and they probably need to pull off a miracle win over Wisconsin in the semifinals. They only lost to the Badgers by seven points in Madison this year. Anything short of that and this is probably an NIT team.
Early Round Matchup To Watch:
No. 2 Maryland (-4.5) vs. No. 7 Indiana (6:30 p.m., Thursday, March 13)
You don’t normally think “up-tempo” when you think Big Ten basketball. But this game should feature fun end-to-end action with two guard-heavy squads. Indiana has been in a free fall, losing three straight games and eight of 12 down the stretch. After an 89-70 blowout win over Maryland on Jan. 22 the Hoosiers were 15-4 and looking good. But it has been all downhill from there. Indiana has to win this game if they want to make the NCAA Tournament, and they will be taking on the league’s surprise newcomer. Maryland has been in a groove, winning seven straight games and losing just once since the end of January. But the Terps have struggled outside of College Park this year. They won their last three league road games after losing four of their previous five by an average of 16.8 points per game. Those three road wins also came over bottom-feeders Penn State (by 3), Rutgers (by 10) and Nebraska (by 3). Maryland is clearly the better team in this one, and they would love to drive a stake through Indiana’s heart (and get revenge while they were at it). And if Indiana has a prayer of winning this game they will have to get a clue and play some defense. I don’t expect it to happen. But what I do expect is a lot of highlight-reel plays and scoring in a fun, intense game to watch.
Big Ten Conference Tournament Predictions: There is just no way to bet against Wisconsin. They sit in the easiest half of the bracket, and once they get to the finals they are going to be tough to beat on the doorstep of a title. All the fun is going to take place at the bottom of the bracket, where Indiana, Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan State and even a dangerous Minnesota team will duke it out. I think a potential Indiana-Maryland game in the quarterfinals is a must-watch. And the winner will likely have to trade blows with Michigan State for the right to go to the finals. I think we will see Sparty take one last shot at Wisconsin. And even though March is Tom Izzo’s month, I just don’t think that Michigan State has the goods to take down the Badgers.
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