2018 Big Ten Basketball Predictions and Expert Betting Picks
It's hard to get excited for Big Ten college basketball when the conference has been so thoroughly underwhelming on a national stage for the better part of the last 20 years. Much like in college football, the Big Ten seems to coast on its national reputation from days long ago rather than on anything the league has actually accomplished over the past two decades.
The Big Ten hasn't had a national champion in college basketball since 2000. Yes, they have had had some close calls. Michigan has made it to the finals twice in the last six years. And Wisconsin should've beaten Duke in the 2015 national championship game. But the facts are the facts. And despite being considered one of the two or three top conferences in college basketball (which they aren't) the Big Ten has routinely been an NCAA Tournament disappointment.
I don't expect the 18-year title streak to snap this year. Michigan State, the league's best team entering the season, is about half as good as the group that didn't survive the opening weekend of last year's Big Dance. Michigan lost a lot from its Final Four team. And unless a sleeper emerges - Wisconsin? Maryland? Iowa? Nebraska? - I don't even know that there are too many Elite Eight-caliber teams in this year's league.
Here are Doc's Sports 2018-19 Big Ten Conference college basketball predictions:
The Favorite: Michigan State
It is tough not to feel that last year was a disappointment and a wasted opportunity for Michigan State. The Spartans did win the Big Ten regular season title. But they flamed out in the conference tournament and were bounced in the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. This year's Spartans don't enter the season with nearly the level of talent or expectations. Juniors Nick Ward, Josh Langford and Cassius Winston all back so this team is hardly lacking for options. But the Spartans have lost 12 or more games twice in the last four seasons. And looking at this year's roster this definitely feels more like one of those Michigan State teams than it does one of the league championship-caliber ones.
The Challenger: Michigan
What's that you say? John Beilein lost his three best players and some NBA talent? Who cares! Beilein will simply scrounge together the next wave of guys that no one sees coming and turn them into an NCAA Tournament team. The Wolverines can be excused a letdown after making it to their second NCAA Championship Game in six seasons last April. And outside of Charles Matthews and Zavier Simpson, who combined to average 20 points between them, there isn't a lot to fall in love with in Ann Arbor. In fact, I really want to predict a down year for these guys. But it is tough to doubt Beilein. And I'm sure he'll have this group playing its best basketball at the right time once again.
The Dark Horse: Wisconsin
I actually think that Wisconsin, which bottomed out in a disgusting 15-18 season last year, could end up being the best team in the Big Ten this year. This team was extremely young and racked with injuries last season. The upshot is that they gained valuable experience last winter. Ethan Happ is incredibly overrated. But he's a solid college player and three year starter that is reliable in the post. If D'Mitrik Trice is 100 percent then he will pair with tough-as-nails Brad Davison to give the Badgers an excellent starting backcourt. Beyond that there are enough shooters and role players to expect a big bounce back from the Badgers this winter.
The X-Factor: Nebraska
The Cornhuskers had a terrible end to a surprisingly positive season last year. They were blown out in their lone Big Ten Tournament game, then snubbed by the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and finally lost their first game in the NIT. That March misery should serve as motivation for this team this year. Guard James Palmer and forward Isaac Copland are one of the best one-two punches in the Big Ten. And Nebraska has 73 percent of their scoring, 66 percent of their rebounds and 72 percent of their assists back for this season. Nebraska actually starts the season in the Top 25 of the Coaches Poll. And how they respond to expectations - something Nebraska hoops isn't known for - will be a key to their season.
The Disappointment: Ohio State
The Buckeyes really had an outstanding campaign last year. First-year coach Chris Holtman took an undermanned, underachieving team and got it back to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 5 seed after a two-year absence. He also landed an outstanding recruiting class in Columbus for this year. However, I don't think that anyone is going to overlook the Buckeyes this year. And they don't have anyone on the team talented enough to replace last year's Big Ten player of the year, Keita Bates-Diop. This is an incredibly young team. And I think that they will take a step back in what looks to me like a transitional season.
Purdue - The Boilermakers lost a load of size and experience from what was one of the best teams in the country last season. But junior Carsen Edwards is one of the best players in the Big Ten. And with Matt Haarms anchoring the middle the Boilermakers will again have an imposing frontcourt. But the four seniors that walked out the door took a ton of minutes along with them. Matt Painter is going to need some of his young players to develop - quickly - if he wants to avoid a steep drop in the league standings.
Indiana - Archie Miller's first season in Bloomington was a bit of a mess, with Indiana barely competitive in league play and the Hoosiers finishing with an ugly 16-15 mark. Miller is hoping that star freshman Romeo Langford will make an immediate impact and that Juwan Morgan and De'Ron Davis can provide enough support in the frontcourt to get Indiana back to The Big Dance. The problem is guard play. Indiana doesn't have enough of it. And there are just too many unknowns on a roster that has nine freshmen and sophomores.
Maryland - Mark Turgeon's star-crossed turn in College Park continues this year without Kevin Huerter, who opted to turn pro rather than come back and lead the Terps for another season Maryland didn't play in any postseason tournament last year and enters this season with little to no buzz - unless you count Turgeon's ongoing role in the FBI's investigation into college recruiting. Maryland doesn't have a terrible roster. Anthony Cowan and Bruno Fernando are a nice inside-out combo. Darryl Morsell could bust out in his sophomore season. And Turgeon landed three Top 100 recruits to bolster the ranks. Until we see how these pieces fit it will be tough to assess what this group's ceiling is.
Minnesota - I have never been a fan of Dickie Pitino's work and it looks like he could be on his last legs in Minneapolis. The Golden Gophers were one of the biggest disappointments in college basketball last year. And off-court issues have joined the on-court struggles to make this a wobbly program. Jordan Murphy is a stud. And Amir Coffey can do some things if he stays healthy. However, the Golden Gophers aren't overflowing with talent and they desperately need Isaiah Washington to take a major step forward in his sophomore season. I don't see it happening and I think the Gophers will go bust again this winter.
Penn State - Losing Tony Carr to the NBA draft really crushed any hope of this year's team snapping an eight-year NCAA Tournament drought. But there is still a solid core left from the team that won the NIT in dominating fashion last year. And the return of big man Mike Watkins, who didn't even play in their conference tournament or NIT runs, gives them hope for this season. Watkins, Lamar Stevens and Josh Reaves are three-year starters. They will need some help from an assortment of underclassmen if they want to return to the postseason.
Iowa - I like this Iowa team. And I would like them a lot more if they could play any defense. They had a predictable step backwards last year as they struggled to replace Peter Jok. But Fran McCaffery's junior class should be ready to step up. And with all five starters and four double-digit scorers back the Hawkeyes could definitely surprise some people. And if freshmen Conor McCaffery and Joe Wieskamp can provide some immediate assistance then Iowa could have the league's top offense. Again, they won't make the leap in the standings that they should until this team learns to play some defense.
Northwestern (+4000) - If Minnesota was one of the most disappointing teams in the country last year I think it is safe to say that Northwestern was THE most disappointing team. After finally snapping their NCAA Tournament drought the Wildcats flopped in their encore season. And now they will soldier on without Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey, their two best players. This year will be Vic Law's time to shine. And he is capable of carrying this team. He may not need to if transfers Ryan Taylor and A.J. Turner can live up to expectations. The NIT is the ceiling for this squad.
Illinois (+8000) - The Illini stunk last year - going 14-18 overall and 4-14 in league play - and they were still better than I thought they would be. Brad Underwood has a style and a system and he is sticking to it. Though it is going to take time to recruit, groom and develop the type of players that will fit his up-tempo, pressure defense style. These guys are going to be worse this year than they were last.
Rutgers (+4000) - I'm not wasting any time on this team. They suck. Their one good player walked out the door (Corey Sanders) and these guys will be lucky to match last year's 3-15 league record.
Projected Big Ten Standings
2. Michigan State
9. Penn State
10. Ohio 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 11 of 12 winning nonconference seasons and 10 of 12 winning regular seasons. Robert's $100-per-Unit clients have banked a remarkable $61,300 in the last 12 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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