2019 Big Ten Tournament Expert Picks with Odds and Betting Predictions
Last year's Big Ten Tournament was a fiasco. The league held their conference tournament a full week before the rest of the major conferences and two weeks prior to the NCAA Tournament. They also decided to hold the tournament in New York City, home to absolutely no one in the Big Ten.
This year's Big Ten Conference Tournament should have a bit more traditional feel. The tournament takes place at the United Center in Chicago, beginning on Wednesday, March 13, and ending on Sunday, March 17. We have traditional powers vying for the title in the heart of the Midwest. And over the past three seasons this has been one of the most unpredictable conference tournaments in the country.
Here is Doc's Sports 2019 Big Ten Conference preview and predictions, with my own projected odds:
The Favorite: Michigan State (+180)
Tom Izzo has done one of the best coaching jobs of his Hall of Fame career this season. Despite losing two lottery picks and then having two more starters felled by injuries midseason, the Spartans still managed to claim the regular-season title and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. Point guard Cassius Winston has had an All-American season and should be on the short list of national player of the year. He has been the triggerman for a Spartans offense that is less talented but more diverse than year's past. The Spartans also got a bit of good news when it was announced that big man Nick Ward would be available in Chicago. He is the team's second-leading scorer and a veteran presence. And if Winston continues to play at a high level - and if Michigan State doesn't go cold from 3-point range - they could chalk up an elusive tournament title.
The Contender: Michigan (+200)
The Wolverines are the two-time defending conference tournament champions, and they have won eight straight league tourney games. Michigan appeared locked in as the regular-season champions until two losses to hated rival Michigan State in their last four games sunk the Wolverines into the three-seed. John Belein's teams are notorious for playing their best basketball in March. I wonder if this year won't be the exception, though, since Michigan seemed to peak back in the nonconference portion of the schedule. Key guard Charles Matthews is still battling an ankle injury, and his status is up in the air this week. Michigan's defense takes a big hit without him. However, the key for this group is the key for Michigan teams every year: if they are making 3-pointers and rebounding they are tough to beat.
The Dark Horse: Purdue (+250)
When you have Carsen Edwards, you have a chance. The Boilermakers, despite losing a massive amount of talent and experience from last year's team, managed to steal a piece of the regular-season Big Ten title. It was mainly on the back of Edwards, who is one of the most explosive scorers in college basketball (23.4 points per game). Edwards can get a little trigger-happy, and he shoots just 39 percent from the field. If he gets hot, though, he is good enough to carry this squad. Big man Matt Haarms and veteran shooter Ryan Cline are exceptional role players. Purdue is 14-2 in his last 16 games, and they should have a say in who cuts down the nets in Second City.
The Spoiler: Wisconsin (+450)
Absolutely no one is talking about Wisconsin right now. It would not surprise me at all to see this team get on a roll and win this league tournament. Senior Ethan Happ will have one last shot at a league title, which he helped the Badgers win as a freshman back in 2016. The Badgers have a quirky four-out, one-in style that is almost solely reliant on Happ. And despite his limitations on offense, Happ can be unguardable one-on-one in the post. Wisconsin is also one of the best defensive teams in the country, and they have gotten better as the season has worn on. The Badgers don't have the same athleticism and top-end talent as the other top three seeds. What they lack in overall ability, they try to make up for with grit and hustle. Sometimes, in tournaments like this, that can be enough.
Bubble Team To Watch: Minnesota (+1900)
In late January the Golden Gophers were 16-5 and seemed assured of earning Dickie Pitino his second NCAA Tournament berth. Minnesota has gone 3-7 in its last 10 games, and they are now squarely on the tournament bubble. No team in the league needs a win more. If Pitino misses The Big Dance, that would make just one tournament appearance in six years. And if that is the case, then you have to wonder if it not time for Pitino to get the axe.
Early-Round Matchups To Watch:
No. 8 Ohio State (+1) vs. No. 9 Indiana (Noon, Thursday, March 14)
Ohio State is another team that seemed securely in the NCAA Tournament field in early February - before watching the wheels come off down the stretch. The Buckeyes have lost six of their last eight games and had to suspended their best player, Kaleb Wesson. Wesson is reportedly back for this tournament, and Ohio State needs the 6-9 load to control the post. Indiana, which boasts one of the best one-two punches in the league with Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan, has some momentum heading to Chicago. Indiana is on a four-game winning streak, which includes a win over Michigan State, and they are looking to recapture the pace and confidence they displayed when they started the year 12-2. Both teams are desperate, young and talented, and that should make for an intense start to Thursday's action.
No. 8 Minnesota (-1) vs. No. 10 Penn State (6:30 p.m., Thursday, March 14)
As mentioned, Minnesota is on the ropes and has to have this win. Penn State, last year's NIT champions, have been playing their best basketball of late, winning seven of their last 10. The Nittany Lions have the size to counter Minnesota's strength in the post. And this game may come down to a good, old-fashioned one-on-one battle between Minnesota's Amir Coffey and Penn State's Lamar Stevens.
Big Ten Conference Tournament Predictions: The top seed has not been a good bet in this tournament over the last several years, with the regular-season champions also cutting down the nets in the postseason once in the last six years. Michigan State has been fantastic this year. But I definitely think that they have overachieved a bit. They could face a dangerous quarterfinal opponent before a tricky matchup with Wisconsin in the semifinals. If the Spartans have to play Michigan again in the finals, I don't know that they can beat the Wolverines for a third time in three weeks. Iowa and Maryland are legit sleeper teams as well, and I can see one of the teams seeded 4-6 breaking through and making a run to the finals. I will call for Wisconsin to pull the upset, though, and I can see them taking out Michigan in a low-scoring final.
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 10 of 12 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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