2020 Big Ten Basketball Predictions
The Big Ten should be set to mark a significant anniversary this coming April when the Final Four heads to Indianapolis.
It has been 20 years since a Big Ten team won a men’s college basketball National Championship. Michigan State, who entered last year as the No. 1 team in the country and the favorite to win the title, was the last Big Ten team to cut down the nets. That was all the way back in 2000.
Sure, there have been a lot of close calls since then. The Big Ten has had seven teams lose in the NCAA Championship Game since Michigan State’s title run. The most recent title game defeat came when Villanova bombed Michigan in the 2018 championship. But the bottom line is that this league, supposedly one of the premier college basketball conferences in the country, has been a perennial NCAA tournament disappointment.
So can the Spartans snap the two-decade drought this season? Or will the league mark two full decades of futility by watching someone else cut down the nets next April?
If the Big Ten is ever going to snap their streak, this might be the year. The conference is absolutely loaded, with as many as nine teams showing NCAA Tournament potential. That includes a top tier, with teams like Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa and Illinois, that have the ability and experience to get back to the Final Four.
Here are Doc's Sports 2020-21 Big Ten Conference college basketball predictions:
The Favorite: Iowa (+265)
Preseason Player of the Year Luka Garza is the main reason for the abundance of optimism in Iowa City this winter. The hulking center averaged 24 points and 10 rebounds per game last year and is clearly one of the best players in the country. Fellow three-year starters Joe Wieskamp and Jordan Bohannon are both accomplished scorers, and sophomore C.J. Fredrick has star potential. Iowa is one of the best and most diverse offensive teams in the country. However, they don’t play any defense. Any. At all. And whether or not they can dig deep and get stops will determine if this team can live up to the wild level of expectations thrust upon the Hawkeyes this season.
The Challenger: Wisconsin (+350)
The Badgers were on fire just prior to the COVID cancellation last season, winning eight straight games to close the year. They turned a feeble 13-10 overall start into a 14-6 Big Ten regular season and a share of the league title. Wisconsin welcomes back four starters, including a trio of three-year starters in D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison and Nate Reuvers. They also have super sixth man Micah Potter to round out an all-senior starting lineup. Wisconsin doesn’t have any experience on the bench, which is made up primarily of a six-man freshmen class. The Badgers play slow, they play deliberate, and they lean on defense. They have not been great ATS the last two seasons, and my expectations for this team at the window are limited. I don’t think they were as bad as they started last year. I also don’t think they are as strong as they finished. I don’t see them holding it all together for a title.
The Dark Horse: Illinois (+355)
This team is legit. And for my money I think that Illinois is the most talented team in the Big Ten. They got a huge boost when Kofi Cockburn and Ayo Dosunmu both pulled their names out of the NBA Draft. That means the Illini have their entire starting five back while also adding highly touted freshmen Adam Miller and Andrew Curbelo. Illinois is extremely athletic and aggressive, particularly on the defensive end. And if they can show some improvement from behind the 3-point line (they were just No. 310 in the country last year), then the sky is the limit for this group.
The X-Factor: Michigan State (+360)
The Spartans entered last season as the favorites to win the NCAA title. Then some early season injuries and some off-court drama seemed to suck some of the life out of the Spartans. They finished 22-9 and tied for first place in the Big Ten, but the season felt like a bit of a slog. Tom Izzo cannot replace departed Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman. But he may not have to as this year’s Spartans squad looks more balanced and should play with a chip on its shoulder since everyone has all but written them off. You’re nuts if you think that Michigan State won’t be a factor in the Big Ten race.
The Disappointment: Ohio State (+1000)
They have the fifth-best odds to win the Big Ten. But the Buckeyes are not the fifth-best team in this league. The Buckeyes have been big-time overachievers the last two seasons. Part of that is the exceptional job done by Chris Holtmann. Now he’ll have to do it without the Wesson brothers, who have dominated the post in Columbus the past two years. Ohio State lost four of its top eight players from a team that peaked in mid-December and went just 10-9 in its last 19 games. Seth Towns and Justice Sueing are being touted as transfer difference makers. But Towns is perpetually injured, and I bet he doesn’t contribute at all and Sueing has some work to do. I think Ohio State will take a step back and this should be a team to bet against.
Purdue (+3000) – After averaging 27.3 wins per year for four years, the Boilermakers fell off the map last year. They went just 16-15 straight up and were terrible ATS. This offseason they also lost monster center Matt Haarms to transfer and starting point guard Eric Hunter will miss the first two months with an injury. Matt Painter doesn’t have many down years. But Purdue backers should expect another one this season as he works to retool his roster.
Indiana (+2000) – Archie Miller looked poised to get the Hoosiers back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years last March. Then the tournament was cancelled. Now Miller will try it again with a Hoosiers roster that is still nowhere close to the perennial Top 25 squads they used to field. Trayce Jackson-Davis is a future pro. And Aljami Durham and Rob Phinlsee are solid pieces. But Indiana has a dearth of high-end talent. They are always going to be a little overrated because of their name recognition, and I don’t think they have the horses to be considered a reliable ATS producer this year. Expect Miller to find his way onto the hot seat by the end of the season.
Maryland (+5000) – The Terps lost only two players from last year’s regular season co-champions. But they were two pretty huge losses in Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith. Mark Turgeon’s squad will lean on the experience of Eric Ayala and Darryl Morsell. Yet if they are going to maintain their spot in the league’s top half, it will likely be due to the development of Aaron Wiggins and Donta Scott. Expect this team to be erratic this season, with a limited ceiling and a very low floor in a loaded conference.
Minnesota (+30000) – I don’t think that Dickie Pitino is a very good coach. He’s barely over .500 in his seven years at Minnesota (128-107) despite having plenty of talent pass through Minneapolis. Minnesota finished 12th in the league last year and ended the campaign below .500. To make matters worse, they lost by far their best players, Daniel Oturo (20.1 PPG, 11.3 RPG). That said, I think the Gophers could be a little undervalued heading into this winter. Transfers Liam Robbins and Brandon Johnson should be able to pick up Oturu’s slack defensively and on the boards. They also still have three double-digit scorers in the backcourt and add freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr. If Pitino is worth anything, he’ll fashion this group into an ATS earner.
Penn State (+30000) – Things have been a mess in Happy Valley this offseason. Coach Pat Chambers resigned abruptly, leaving his players looking for answers. Penn State lost its two best players from last season, and they are left with a hodgepodge of role players and overachievers. The Nittany Lions have one guy on the roster taller than 6-8 and no one taller than 6-9. I think they are going to get slapped around quite a bit this season, and this is a team to fade.
Michigan (+1100) – I’m actually really intrigued by this Wolverines team. I predicted a back slide without John Beilein at the helm, and that is what happened. But there are a lot of pieces on this team. Isaiah Livers is a future pro, Eli Brooks and Franz Wagner are solid role players, and transfers Chaundee Brown (Wake Forest) and Mike Smith are legit proven scorers. Juwan Howard also landed a banner freshman class with three Top 100 recruits. This team is absolutely legit and will be one to keep an eye on.
Northwestern (+4000) – There’s no point wasting a lot of time on the Wildcats. They sucked last year (8-23, 3-17), and they are going to be just as bad this season. Boo Buie, Miller Kopp, Ryan Young and Pete Nance aren’t terrible. But they also aren’t very good, and this team is miles away from being able to consistently compete with the top teams in this conference.
Nebraska (+50000) – I think that people are sleeping on the Cornhuskers this year, and they may be one of the most undervalued teams in the country. Is Nebraska going to win the Big Ten? No, nothing ridiculous like that. But Fred Hoiberg’s squad is not going to be nearly the pushover they were during last year’s 7-25, 2-18 debacle. High-scoring transfers Teddy Allen, Kobe Webster and Trey McGowans could form a dynamic backcourt. Holdovers Yvan Ouedraogo and Thor Thorbjarnarson should retain their starting jobs. And if Hoiberg can get any defense and rebounding out of the post, then this squad should resemble the high-scoring four-out, one-in groups that Hoiberg had so much success with at Iowa State.
Rutgers (+2000) – The Scarlet Knights were one of the best stories in college basketball last year. They posted 20 wins for the first time since 2004, they cracked the Top 25 for the first time since 1979 and they were poised to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1991. The good news is that seven of their top nine players are back, including Ron Harper Jr. Geo Baker and Myles Johnson, and they added stud freshman Cliff Omurui. The Scarlet Knights might be even better this year. Unfortunately, they won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year, so they might not be able to match last year’s 19-11 ATS campaign.
Projected Big Ten Standings
3. Michigan State
8. Ohio State
13. Penn State
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has an unrivaled run of 13 of 14 winning nonconference seasons. Robert’s $100-per-Unit clients have banked a remarkable $68,470 in the last 13 years with his nonconference picks (November and December) alone. There is no better moneymaker in the nation and Robert is looking forward to another amazing season. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here.
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