2020 Big Ten Tournament Predictions and Betting Odds
Here is how topsy-turvy and unpredictable the Big Ten is: the No. 1 seed in the league tournament, Wisconsin, is more than a 5-to-1 underdog to win this weekend's championship.
The Big Ten has been a free-for-all for this entire season. That now begs the question: has the Big Ten been so competitive because it truly is the best league in the country, as the analytics suggest? Or has the head-scratching conference race been an offshoot of the league's extreme mediocrity?
We will find out this week as the Big Ten Tournament takes place at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. It begins Wednesday, March 11 and ends on Sunday, March 15. Here is Doc's Sports 2020 Big Ten Conference preview and predictions and odds:
The Favorite: Michigan State (+250)
To this point, this season has to be considered a disappointing one for the Spartans. They were the consensus No. 1 team in the country entering the year and the overwhelming favorite to win the national championship. Sure, that was before a season-ending injury claimed Josh Langford. But MSU was still believed to have the requisite talent to win a title. They have looked like that team over the last three weeks, closing the season on a 5-0 run and with three straight convincing wins at Maryland (by 12), at Penn State (by 8) and over Ohio State (by 11). Shooting is a problem for this group. So is experience and an overreliance in Cassius Winston. But the Spartans are the defending tourney champs, and they have cut down the nets in four of the last eight Big Ten tournaments.
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The Contender: Maryland (+400)
The Terps spent a healthy portion of the season in the Top 10 and tore through the league during a nine-game midseason winning streak. Then Maryland hit a wall late in February and lost three of their last five games down the stretch. Anthony Cowan is a savvy senior point guard and forward Jalen Smith is a future pro. But the true bellwether for this team will be sophomores Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala. Maryland is ranked in the bottom 10 in college basketball in bench minutes, so they completely rely on their top six players. Can their starters win three games in three days logging heavy minutes? Is this team good enough to play at their top level for three straight days? Recent form suggests that they may not be.
The Dark Horse: Illinois (+800)
There has been a lot of hype following this Illini team around all season long. They have yet to live up to it, though, despite their fourth-place finish in the regular season. They followed a six-game Big Ten winning streak with a four-game losing streak…followed by another four-game winning streak. That lack of consistency sums up this young group. Though there is no denying the raw talent at Brad Underwood's disposal. Freshmen Kofi Cockburn and sophomore Ayo Dosunmu are as good of an inside-out duo as any team in the league. And this group can lock down defensively. If they can find any consistent shooting - they are just No. 298 in the nation from 3-point range - then this team will be a tough one to put away.
The Spoiler: Michigan (+900)
Why not Michigan? It's not as if we haven't seen this from the Wolverines before. They have been to the Big Ten Finals three straight seasons and won back-to-back championships in 2017 and 2018, with the former coming as a No. 8 seed. However, that was with John Beilein at the helm. Rookie coach Juwan Howard has had his ups and downs this season, and the Wolverines haven't been as sharp as they have in past campaigns. They are healthy now, though. And when they were healthy this year they were good enough to blowout league champions like Creighton and Gonzaga. I don't fully trust this team, especially after watching it lose three of its last four games. But I've seen the Wolverines do enough in March the last several years to be wary of betting against them.
Bubble Team To Watch: Indiana (+3500)
No team in the Big Ten needs wins in this tournament more than the Hoosiers. Trying desperately to earn the league a 10th bid, the Hoosiers blew some chances in the last week of the regular season to bolster their resume. A one-point loss at Illinois or a four-point home loss to Indiana would've been monster late season wins for this young group. Archie Miller will have his team prepared. But it remains to be seen whether or not the Hoosiers can generate enough offense or play well enough off their home floor to be a factor in this tournament. They should beat Nebraska in the opening round. Then their game against Penn State could end up being a must-win if this team wants to dance next week.
Early Round Matchups To Watch:
No. 8 Rutgers (+3) vs. No. 9 Michigan (Noon, Thursday, March 12)
I love me some Rutgers this year. The Scarlet Knights appear poised to snap a 29-year NCAA Tournament drought with their first bid to The Big Dance since 1991. I don't think that they are satisfied with that, though, and the Knights would love to make some noise in the league tournament by knocking off a blue blood program. Rutgers is extremely athletic and plays both outstanding on-ball and team defense. Junior guards Jacob Young and Geo Baker are also big shot makers. Rutgers lost both matchups with Michigan this year. But you know what they say about how tough it is to beat a team three times in one season…
2020 Big Ten Conference Tournament Predictions: I have no idea who is going to win this tournament. None. I don't think that any one team can be considered a favorite this weekend. Honestly, I could see No. 9 Michigan or No. 8 Rutgers making a realistic run to the finals. Ohio State and Penn State have also shown an ability not to just beat but to dominate the league's top seeds. There are teams like Purdue and Indiana, both of whom are desperately trying to play their way into the NCAA Tournament field. Then there's a team like Iowa, which has the league's best player in Luka Garza. And oh yeah: there's also top-seeded Wisconsin, winners of eight straight headed into the postseason!
Tread lightly in this stacked league. As it sits right now, I think that Michigan or Rutgers will take out Wisconsin early. And I have a sinking suspicion that either Ohio State or Penn State will pull a quarterfinal upset and deny the Michigan State-Maryland semifinal that everyone so desperately wants. I think that the bottom of the bracket is clearly the toughest. So I feel like whoever comes out of that bottom semifinal will end up cutting down the nets.
(And then all of these Big Ten teams will throw up on themselves and get slapped around next week in the NCAA Tournament, like they always do!)
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 posted 11 of 13 winning seasons. He is looking for a monster March run and will have an 8-Unit Conference Tournament Game of the Year this week. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here.
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