The Big Ten Tournament is shifting east from its usual homes of Chicago and Indianapolis to Washington, DC for the first time as the conference attempts to draw in more eyeballs from its new television market. It will be interesting to see how attendance fares for the tournament (will Nebraska fans skip work to travel more than 1,000 to watch their Huskers? uhh), but those that do attend the tournament should witness a dramatic, wide-open affair. This season, the top of the Big Ten has weakened (Purdue is the only school in contention for a top-four NCAA Tournament seed), while the middle and bottom have firmed up (11 schools are in the KenPom top 70). As a result, there has been much parity throughout the league. Over one-quarter of games between Big Ten teams were decided by fewer than four points or in overtime (26.2%, which was sixth among 32 conferences), and it would not be a surprise if there were a bunch more of them this week. Expect a wild tournament where anything can happen.
Purdue. The Boilermakers were the best team in the Big Ten, winning the outright regular-season title by two games. It was not a fluke title either. Purdue had the best efficiency margin in Big Ten play by a significant margin (+11.6 per 100 possessions, which was 3.2 better than any other program) and are the only Big Ten program ranked the KenPom top 20 (#14). As a result, the Boilermakers have been given best odds to win the Big Ten Tournament at 8/5 according to Bovada, which should surprise no one.
Odds to Win the B1G Tourn— Drew Hallett (@DrewCHallett) March 6, 2017
10/1 MD, MICH, MSU
The Best Bet
Maryland. With 10/1 odds, Maryland is the best bet (or has the best value) to win the Big Ten Tournament. The Terrapins are one of four teams that need to win only three games to capture the crown, and they have the longest odds of those four teams despite having a very manageable path to said crown as the 3 seed. Their quarterfinal game likely will be against #6 Northwestern, who lost six of its final nine games. Their semifinal game likely will be against #2 Wisconsin, who lost five of its final seven games. And they would not potentially face #1 Purdue until the championship match and can hope that the Wolverines knock out the Boilermakers in the quarterfinal. Why would you take a Michigan or Michigan State team that would have to play four games and is on the same side of the bracket as Purdue for the same odds? You wouldn’t.
The Worst Bet
Rutgers. Don’t throw away your money. Not only has Rutgers never won a Big Ten Tournament game, the Knights have earned only six wins against the Big Ten overall since joining in 2014-15, and they’d need to win five straight to win the title. So yeah.
The Non-Rutgers Worst Bet
Indiana. The Hoosiers are in the KenPom top 50 (#46), but no Big Ten team declined more throughout conference play. Some of that can be attributed to injuries as OG Anunoby is out for the season while James Blackmon, Jr. and Juwan Morgan missed more than one game, but they also had the worst defense and could not stop coughing up the basketball during the Big Ten season. As a result, Indiana lost eight of its last 11 contests, and its season has completely derailed, going from beating two potential 1 seeds in November to the NIT. And now IU will face a hot Iowa team that has won its four games and is making a push for the last at-large bid. Taking the Hawkeyes at 28/1 would make much more sense than taking the Hoosiers at 16/1. That’s some bad value.
Michigan. The Wolverines are somewhat flying under the radar despite being one of the nation’s 15 best teams in the past month. In that span, they are 6-2 in their last eight games with home wins over Michigan State (by 29!), Wisconsin, and Purdue, and road wins at Indiana, Rutgers, and Nebraska (by 36!). But they very well could have been 8-0 if Ted Valentine didn’t issue an absurd technical foul against the Michigan bench at Minnesota and if Northwestern didn’t complete the Hardwood Hail Mary. Imagine the buzz surrounding the Wolverines if that were the case. Instead, Michigan, which had the second-best efficiency margin in Big Ten play and is third-highest rated team on KenPom (#25), is the 8 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Accordingly, the Wolverines are expected to take care of business Illinois and, if they do so, won’t be a large underdog against top-seeded Purdue. Get past the Boilermakers, and watch out.
The Most Desperate Team
Iowa. The Hawkeyes have won four consecutive contests, including road dates at Maryland and Wisconsin, to suddenly put themselves in a position to make the NCAA Tournament. They are confident. They are hungry. And they are oh-so-close to tasting the dance. As our Bracketology Roundup notes, Iowa is considered by many brackets to be in the First Four Out, and 13 of 135 brackets in the most recent Bracket Matrix update have them in the field. The Hawkeyes know they need probably two more wins to punch their ticket. With Indiana and Wisconsin on deck, that is more than doable.
The Most Desperate Coach
John Groce, Illinois. Groce appeared to have saved his job. He has been on a scorching hot seat in his fifth season at Illinois as the Illini have failed to make the NCAA Tournament the past three years. However, thanks to a four-game winning streak entering the regular-season finale, they had pushed their way into the field and were considered one of the last teams in. All they needed to do was beat Rutgers and avoid the bad loss to likely receive an invitation to the big dance. Instead, Illinois was upset by the Scarlet Knights, and suddenly, the Illini are just on the wrong side of the bubble and must face a Michigan team that is rolling right now. If the Illini don’t win on Thursday, they likely will miss the NCAA Tournament (again) and say goodbye to Groce.
#13 Nebraska over #12 Penn State
#11 Ohio State over #14 Rutgers
#8 Michigan over #9 Illinois
#5 Michigan State over #13 Nebraska
#7 Iowa over #10 Indiana
#11 Ohio State over #6 Northwestern
#1 Purdue over #8 Michigan
#5 Michigan State over #4 Minnesota
#7 Iowa over #2 Wisconsin
#3 Maryland over #11 Ohio State
#1 Purdue over #5 Michigan State
#3 Maryland over #7 Iowa
#1 Purdue over #3 Maryland