Big Ten

2019 Big Ten Tournament Betting Preview

THE FORMAT

All 14 teams make the field, Top 10 get byes, Top 4 get a double bye. All games played on a neutral floor in Chicago. Starts on Wednesday and is the last game played on Sunday before the selection show.

First three rounds are on BTN, with the semis and championship game being played on CBS.

THE BRACKET

THE ODDS

Favorite

Michigan State +190

Other Contenders

Purdue +250

Michigan +350

Wisconsin +650

Darkhorse Candidates

Maryland +1550

Indiana +3300

Penn State +5000

Iowa +6000

Minnesota +6600

Ohio State +10000

Unfortunately Irrelevant

Nebraska +15000

Illinois +30000

Rutgers +30000

Northwestern +30000

WHO TO BACK

NCAA Bracket Maximizer

Excluded: Michigan State, Michigan, Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Iowa, Minnesota (probably)

The Big Ten has been a little crazy over the last few weeks with some of the mid-level teams arguably playing even better than the Top 5.

Ohio State is currently playing themselves out of the field thanks to Kaleb Wesson’s suspension and it might be for the best in terms of the NCAAT. They’ve never been the most entertaining team to watch and they didn’t pick up a single victory over the Top 5 in the league.

Indiana certainly has the program cache and the starpower to make things interesting. From a basketball standpoint, I would’ve said they were a drag a couple weeks ago, but they suddenly started playing some entertaining offense again and I can get on board with that version of the Hoosiers.

Penn State is on a tear right now and capable of beating anybody when they’re locked in defensively.

Illinois might be the most fun pick, though. They create some chaos defensively. Big Giorgi has an infectious personality. Ayo Dosunmu is a potential lottery pick. And Trent Frazier has a little bit of crazy in him and is a great shooter, which can make for some crazy shotmaking at times. But they might’ve hit their peak a few weeks ago.

Best Bet

Michigan +350

Based on the way John Beilein is talking, it sounds like Charles Matthews will most likely be back soon. Of the Top 4 teams that get double byes, I think the Wolverines have the best draw. They’re either playing Iowa, Illinois, or Northwestern in the quarters. All three are ice cold. They’re not guaranteed to have to face Purdue because the Boilers either have to play Minnesota – a terrible matchup for them – or Penn State, who is red hot.

Obviously the first two games against Michigan State didn’t go well, but I hardly think it’s because they’re incapable of beating the Spartans. It’s also hard not to like Beilein here. He’s won the last two BTTs and has obviously had a lot of success in the NCAAT. He’s great in these scenarios.

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Big Ten Power Rankings: 2/18/19

 


Six Stars From the Past Week:

Cassius Winston, Michigan State

James Palmer, Nebraska

Bruno Fernando, Maryland

Jordan Murphy, Minnesota

Charles Matthews, Michigan

Geo Baker, Rutgers

Six Best Games to Watch This Week:

Purdue at Indiana, Tuesday, 7:00 EST, ESPN2

Maryland at Iowa, Tuesday, 8:00 EST, BTN

Michigan at Minnesota, Thursday, 7:00 EST, ESPN

Ohio State at Maryland, Saturday, 2:00 EST, ESPN

Purdue at Nebraska, Saturday, 4:00 EST, BTN

Michigan State at Michigan, Sunday, 3:45 EST, CBS


 

In parentheses is their current standing in the Bracket Matrix.

1. Michigan (BM: 2 seed)

Highs and lows for the Wolverines this week. They had a good chance to sit alone atop the conference standings after Purdue lost at Maryland, but Michigan played their worst game of the season at Penn State on Tuesday night. Offensively, they were actually pretty good, but they couldn’t slow Myles Dread down on the other end and they were abused on the glass by the Nittany Lions. Of course to make matters worse, they were without John Beilein the entire second half.

They responded with a dominant first half performance on defense against Maryland. They let Aaron Wiggins loose a few times in the second half for some open shots, but otherwise they kept the Terp shooters under wraps. Michigan continues to overcome their own shooting woes by giving opponents even greater shooting woes.

This week: at Minnesota, home for Michigan State

2. Michigan State (BM: 2 seed)

The Spartans scored the biggest win of the conference title race in the last few weeks on Tuesday. Adding in losses for Michigan and Purdue on the same night, it only magnified the importance of MSU’s victory at Wisconsin.

It looked for a minute like MSU was going to give the big win right back with an extended slow start at home against Ohio State. Things were looking a little bleaker after Nick Ward hurt his hand – looks like that may be serious – but they completely locked up the Buckeyes in the second half and won comfortably.

This week: home for Rutgers, at Michigan

3. Purdue (BM: 3 seed)

It looked like Purdue might put themselves firmly in the driver’s seat for a championship after they took an eight-point halftime lead at Maryland. That did not hold. The Boilers had their worst shooting half of the season in the second half and it appeared as if the shooting frustrations carried over to the other end of the floor. All of a sudden they started giving up easy buckets to the Maryland bigs on seemingly every possession.

The Boilers were extremely careless with the ball at home against Penn State, but they overcame a slow start and built a big second half lead with some strong bench contributions and Carsen Edwards actually making some good decisions with his shot selection.

This week: at Indiana and Nebraska

4. Wisconsin (BM: 5 seed)

The only game this week for the Badgers was the home loss to Michigan State. Wisconsin had their chances to win, but they didn’t get a good shooting night from anybody besides Nate Reuvers. Ethan Happ was able to score 20, but the Spartans forced him to take 20 shots doing it and Happ had six turnovers, which usually means it’s going to be a long night for the Badgers. They’re just 3-8 in Happ’s career when he has five or more.

We’re also now at six straight games that D’Mitrik Trice has been held to a single-digit scoring total. It only happened four times in the first twenty games. Trice hasn’t seen his shooting percentages drop off a cliff, but his usage rate certainly has gone down. I know Badger fans have their issues with some of Trice’s decision making at times, but the offense has undoubtedly been worse the less it involves Trice.

This week: home for Illinois, at Northwestern

5. Maryland (BM: 6 seed)

The Terps scored a big win over Purdue on the back of an A+ defensive effort in the second half. Purdue simply couldn’t guard Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith on the other end and the freshmen wings knocked down quite a few big shots to get Maryland the lead initially.

Only Aaron Wiggins could repeat his shooting performance on the road at Michigan, however. Everyone else went 3-16 from three in Ann Arbor. The Terps were able to do good work on the offensive glass, but it didn’t matter much with 16 turnovers.

This week: at Iowa, home for Ohio State

6. Iowa (BM: 6 seed)

The Hawkeyes keep flirting with some not so good losses, but they keep dodging them with some very timely shotmaking. I imagine the ends of these games are incredibly fun for Iowa fans, but I’m guessing the constant stress of these games isn’t going to go away with the polarization of Iowa’s offense and defense.

Speaking of polarizing, I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone run as hot and cold as Isaiah Moss. He may give you 25 or he might give you 2. You never know and they’re about the same likelihood.

This week: home for Maryland and Indiana

7. Illinois (BM: N/A)

I’m not sure anybody wants to see the Illini right now. They were never going to be fun with the way they attack and try to force turnovers on defense, but now they’re starting to score the ball pretty well, too. They’re not a tournament team unless they win the BTT, but they’re playing a lot better at the moment than some of the Big Ten teams that are still in the NCAA conversation.

This week: at Wisconsin, home for Penn State

8. Ohio State (BM: 9 seed)

I’m not sure what has happened to the Buckeye offense, but it’s been a downhill slide ever since they scored 77 against Michigan State at home back on Jan. 5. That slide was punctuated by the 44 point effort they had against the Spartans on Sunday, with OSU only mustering 13 in the second half. Playing at home is worth something, but it’s not worth 33 points on offense.

They made mention during Sunday’s broadcast that Chris Holtmann had to recruit Keyshawn Woods three times before he finally got him to commit to Holtmann’s program. Holtmann finally got him to say yes to OSU and this has without a doubt been the worst season of Woods’ career. Tough break.

This week: home for Northwestern, at Maryland

9. Minnesota (BM: 10 seed)

The Gophers got their turn with IU and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Minnesota was on a four-game losing streak, fresh off the controversial heartbreaker at Nebraska.

The Gophers are still flirting with the bubble a bit. Going 2-0 this week would relieve a lot of stresses. They’ve proven it’s not likely they repeat their 12-22 three-point shooting effort against the Hoosiers, but Minnesota needs to keep finding different ways to win.

This week: home for Michigan, at Rutgers

10. Rutgers (BM: N/A)

Rutgers was this close to being 6-8 in league play until Joe Wieskamp defied physics with a prayer of a three from the corner. Earlier in the week they won their second Big Ten road game of the year, which has been no small feat for the Scarlet Knights.

This week: at Michigan State, home for Minnesota

11. Penn State (BM: N/A)

If you watch the Big Ten long enough, you know the Nittany Lions are going to be a real, real problem for at least one of the title contenders when they come to the BJC. They nearly took down Purdue and then led to start to finish this week against Michigan.

The Nittany Lions are actually pretty good when they’ve got Rasir Bolton and Myles Dread going at the same time.

This week: home for Nebraska, at Illinois

12. Nebraska (BM: Second Four Out)

This week’s games couldn’t have come at a better time for the Huskers. They desperately needed some winnable games and they took advantage. Neither win is going to be at the top of their NCAA Tournament resume, but more than anything, the Huskers just needed a win of any kind to get some confidence back. They’re still alive.

This week: at Penn State, home for Purdue

13. Northwestern (BM: N/A)

Things are bad. Only thing keeping them out of the cellar is the fact they beat IU fairly easily a few weeks ago.

This week: at Ohio State, home for Wisconsin

14. Indiana (BM: First Four Out)

Despite some of their wins, including the random Michigan State win recently, nobody has been as consistently poor since the start of the new year. I’m sure they’ll beat Purdue Tuesday.

This week: home for Purdue, at Iowa

Big Ten Power Rankings: 2/11/19

 


Seven Stars From the Past Week:

Jon Teske, Michigan

Jordan Bohannon, Iowa

Carsen Edwards, Purdue

Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Illinois

Andre Wesson, Ohio State

Bruno Fernando, Maryland

Matt McQuaid, Michigan State

Five Best Games to Watch This Week:

Purdue at Maryland, Tuesday, 6:30 EST, BTN

Michigan State at Wisconsin, Tuesday, 7:00 EST, ESPN

Michigan at Penn State, Tuesday, 8:30 EST, BTN

Minnesota at Nebraska, Wednesday, 9:00 EST, BTN

Maryland at Michigan, Saturday, Noon EST, FOX


 

In parenthesis is their current standing in the Bracket Matrix. Obviously, we have a better idea where the Top 4 stand right now.

1. Michigan (BM: 2 seed)

If there were any hope that the strong shooting performance at Rutgers was a sign the tide had turned, that was quickly put to rest with a 4-17 outing against Wisconsin. But the end result of both games were the same because the Michigan defense doesn’t take a game off. The Wolverines won comfortably at a tough place to play and they beat one of the hottest teams in the country at home.

Maybe the most important development of Saturday’s game was Charles Matthews busting out of an extended slump. Matthews has a tendency to go on these slumps and it undoubtedly holds them back as a team. They’ll need the best version of Matthews if they want to win the Big Ten.

This week: at Penn State, home for Maryland

2. Purdue (BM: 3 seed)

If Michigan’s Achilles’ heel is shooting, Purdue’s is stopping shooters, even average or below-average ones. It’s a rare trait for a Matt Painter team to have, but it’s happened enough times now this year that it can no longer be considered a series of flukes.

This has happened several times in games recently, but Purdue has always had a bigger response of their own. It seems like clockwork that there’s a point in the game where they flip the score by 12 points, or even up to 20 points.

I’m not sure I would count on it at Maryland if I were them.

This week: at Maryland, home for Penn State

3. Wisconsin (BM: 4 seed)

The streak of wins is over for the Badgers, but the streak of good play is still alive. The nine-point loss is a misrepresentation of just how close they were to winning at Michigan on Saturday. Obviously it wasn’t a perfect offensive performance. They couldn’t find many openings for shooters and Ethan Happ only having one assist is a telling stat when you consider he hasn’t had less than three in a game since Nov. 21.

It also bears mentioning that they won the game wire-to-wire at Minnesota, completely locking up the Gophers on their home floor.

This week: home for Michigan State

4. Michigan State (BM: 2 seed)

The Spartans looked like the best team in the league again on Saturday, but they were a bit exposed again on Tuesday at Illinois. Twice this year, the Spartans have faced teams that force a lot of turnovers and they’ve really struggled on each occasion. They were able to win at Florida, but not as fortunate against the Illini. It may not matter if MSU doesn’t see a team like that in the postseason, but it’s something to watch for when the brackets come out.

This week: at Wisconsin, home for Ohio State

5. Maryland (BM: 6 seed)

The only game of the week was an easy win at Nebraska and they were able to do it without a good offensive performance from Anthony Cowan. Cowan did hold Glynn Watson scoreless and as a team, the Terps only allowed the Huskers to shoot 21% from the field.

This week: home for Purdue, at Michigan

6. Iowa (BM: 6 seed)

Well, it’s safe to say Jordan Bohannon was the MVP this week. He hit roughly 100 big shots down the stretch in two games. It was also another outstanding week for Joe Wieskamp.

Obviously both wins this week were fun and exciting, but the same issues persist for the Hawkeyes and it’s all on one end of the court. You can’t be giving up 79 to the worst offense in the league on your home floor. Northwestern is also one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the Big Ten and they were able to grab 10 in Iowa City.

This week: at Rutgers

7. Ohio State (BM: 8 seed)

Every victory is an important one for the Buckeyes as they try to fight off bubble talk, so the ugliness of this week’s wins doesn’t matter much in the long run. The other good news is that Kyle Young is back. And the further good news is that Andre Wesson had double-digit scoring outings for just the third time in his career. If the elder Wesson can start to consistently produce at the level of his apparent confidence, it’ll be a much needed boost to a frequently stagnant offense.

This week: home for Illinois, at Michigan State

8. Minnesota (BM: 10 seed)

The Gophers looked like they were due for some big wins with the way they were playing, but they missed a big opportunity at home against Wisconsin with an ill-timed terrible shooting performance. I’m not sure anyone would’ve won in East Lansing on Saturday. This is a big week for them.

This weekend: at Nebraska, home for Indiana

9. Illinois (BM: N/A)

It’s been a rough year for the Illini, but it was their week in the sun. The Brad Underwood era has had an incredibly rocky start, but you do have to feel optimistic about how well their young Big 3 have played. Whether they can keep all three in Champaign is another story.

This week: at Ohio State

10. Northwestern (BM: N/A)

Wow, what a tough week. Their offense against Iowa was the best its looked for months and it was all for naught after a few brutal minutes

This week: home for Penn State, at Iowa

11. Rutgers (BM: N/A)

They didn’t get a win, but they did score 94 in a road game and their young guys keep getting better.

This week: at Northwestern, home for Iowa

12. Penn State (BM: N/A)

The Nittany Lions are on the board and have actually played three pretty good games in a row.

This week: home for Michigan, at Purdue

13. Indiana (BM: 11 seed)

They’re a tough watch right now. I actually think they defend pretty well most of the time, but the offense is so bogged down. They’re not dead yet from a tournament perspective because of how good their first two months were, but they’re running out of time and their play doesn’t inspire much confidence they can get the wins they need.

This week: at Minnesota

14. Nebraska (BM: First Four Out)

Not a good situation without Copeland. The offense isn’t very good. The defense isn’t very good. We’ve got Tim Miles nearly in tears during a press conference. It’s been a nightmare lately. But they did look on Saturday like a team that wasn’t ready to quit just yet. If they can scratch out a couple of wins at home this week, they might be able to get things going again.

This week: home for Minnesota and Northwestern

Big Ten Power Rankings: 2/4/19

 


Seven Stars From the Past Week:

Carsen Edwards, Purdue

Joe Wieskamp, Iowa

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

Zavier Simpson, Michigan

Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State

Amir Coffey, Minnesota

De’Ron Davis, Indiana

Five Best Games to Watch This Week:

Maryland At Nebraska, Wednesday, 7:00 EST, BTN

Wisconsin at Minnesota, Wednesday, 9:00 EST, BTN

Iowa at Indiana, Thursday, 9:00 EST, ESPN

Wisconsin at Michigan, Saturday, Noon EST, FOX

Ohio State at Indiana, Sunday, 1:00 EST, CBS


 

1. Michigan (NET: 5)

It’s hard not to be repetitive here, but the defense continues to be elite and the offense continues to be a red flag that only gets brighter every week. It’s easy to keep faith that things will improve on that end because John Beilein is the coach, but he can’t make shots for them.

It feels like a long time ago that the Wolverines were making 24-48 threes in back-to-back games against North Carolina and Purdue. They went 8-33 on Friday night against an Iowa team that might have the worst defense in the league and they could only manage 59 points. They’ve only hit 31.5% in league play, good for 10th in the Big Ten.

But Michigan holds on to the top spot because that defense is still great enough to beat good teams despite poor offensive performances. And they’re still good enough to win the league, but the shooting will have to improve if the Wolverines are going to be in the national title hunt.

This week: at Rutgers, home for Wisconsin

2. Purdue (NET: 12)

It’s hard to say Purdue played particularly well this week. After all, they gave up 90 points to one of the worst offenses in the league and they were down 13 in the second half at home against a team they were expected to beat somewhat easily.

But they ended up winning both games, making it seven straight and 10 of their last 11. More importantly, they played their best when the situation demanded it and that’s the opposite of what you saw from the Boilers in November and December. They won one game with stellar guard play and the other with stellar big man play.

It’s hard to believe that a team that was 6-5 less than two months ago is now tied for the Big Ten lead more than halfway through the race, but here we are.

This week: home for Nebraska

3. Michigan State (NET: 8)

It’s hard to find a way to comprehend what happened Saturday night against IU, who was largely Juwan Morgan-less and was also coming in on a seven-game skid. There were a couple of random “this is a single college basketball game, anything can happen” things that happened in the game. Most notably, the Spartans went 8-22 from the FT line and IU went 10-20 from three, the first time they’ve hit 10 threes since Nov. 23 against UC Davis.

But giving up 20 offensive rebounds is pretty avoidable and pretty shocking after Tom Izzo called out his big guys following the Purdue loss. The leading defensive rebounder for the Spartans was…point guard Cassius Winston.

This week: at Illinois, home for Minnesota

4. Wisconsin (NET: 11)

The Badgers are in fourth in both the power rankings and standings, but no one has been better over the last couple of weeks. They continue to shut down everyone they play and they’ve established a pretty reputable Big Three in the scoring department with Happ, Brad Davison, and D’Mitrik Trice, with the occasional Nate Reuvers outburst.

Big week for the Badgers coming up.

This week: at Minnesota and Michigan

5. Iowa (NET: 22)

The Hawkeyes won the week by bringing their A+ game Friday night against Michigan. It was by far their best performance defensively of the year. And considering how good the Wolverine defense has been, one of their better offensive showings, as well.

The star of the show was freshman Joe Wieskamp. Wieskamp is a player to keep an eye on down the stretch of the season. He seems to be fine deferring to his older teammates most of the time, but he’s had some big games lately and he’s one of the most efficient players in the league.

This week: at Indiana, home for Northwestern

6. Maryland (NET: 24)

The Terps have hit a bit of a lull in their season, but certainly played much better this week. It’s not a coincidence that they’ve lost three of four and it’s been the lowest four-game scoring stretch of the season for Anthony Cowan.

This is a crucial four games coming up for them. KenPom gives them less than a 50% chance of winning each of them. The Illinois loss set them back by maybe a seed line or two in the NCAA Tournament. While the schedule is tough, it also presents them some opportunities to get back that ground with a good couple of weeks.

This week: at Nebraska

7. Minnesota (NET: 51)

The Gophers missed a big opportunity on Sunday, letting a 13-point second half lead slip away at Purdue. That’s the bad news. The good news is that they’ll have a lot more opportunities and they’re playing well enough right now to win a few of them and secure their NCAA Tournament bid. They’re starting to get more consistency out of freshmen Oturu and Kalscheur, but need to get Dupree McBrayer going again if they’re going to reach their ceiling.

This week: home for Wisconsin, at Michigan State

8. Ohio State (NET: 35)

The biggest news of the week for the Buckeyes was that Kaleb Wesson went a whole game without getting into foul trouble. Not coincidentally, Wesson scored 27 points in that game.

This week: home for Penn State, at Indiana

9. Northwestern (NET: 58)

They got absolutely killed at Maryland.

This week: home for Penn State, at Iowa

10. Illinois (NET: 95)

What a wild season for Kipper Nichols so far. Scored in double figures in 7 of their first 11 games, slowly tapered off, didn’t score for five straight games, and then scored 18 points on 7-for-8 shooting on Saturday.

This week: home for Michigan State and Rutgers

11. Rutgers (NET: 119)

Rutgers at the RAC is pretty scary. Rutgers on the road has not been.

This week: Michigan at home, Illinois on the road

12. Indiana (NET: 44)

I had absolutely no idea what to do with Indiana. Obviously the MSU win was massive, but that still only improved them to 1-7 in their last eight. They also lost to Rutgers this week. We’ll see if the win in East Lansing is a sign that they’ve got the ship turned back around or if it was just an anomaly. If they get a couple wins this week, they’ll move up in a hurry.

This week: home for Iowa and Ohio State

13. Nebraska (NET: 33)

This could be too harsh, but I’m projecting a bit going forward with how they’ve looked without Copeland. They’ve looked bad.

This week: home for Maryland, at Purdue

14. Penn State (NET: 85)

Things are getting pretty cruel for the Nittany Lions.

This week: at Northwestern and Ohio State

Big Ten Power Rankings: 1/28/19

 


Six Stars From the Past Week:

Ignas Brazdeikis, Michigan

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

Cassius Winston, Michigan State

Ryan Cline, Purdue

Jordan Murphy, Minnesota

Geo Baker, Rutgers

Five Best Games to Watch This Week:

Northwestern at Maryland, Tuesday, 7:00 EST, FS1

Wisconsin at Nebraska, Tuesday, 8:00 EST, BTN

Ohio State at Michigan, Tuesday, 9:00 EST, ESPN2

Michigan at Iowa, Friday, 7:00 EST, FS1

Maryland at Wisconsin, Friday, 9:00 EST, FS1


Note: NET Rankings are from before Sunday’s games

1a. Michigan (NET: 5)

I refuse to be forced into making a decision between the two Michigan schools so we’re going 1a and 1b until further notice.

The Wolverines won the weekend with their rout of Indiana in Bloomington. It was another dominant defensive effort. I don’t know what else to say about it. They just refused to let IU score. It was incredible.

And lately Michigan has seemed to need that defense more and more because the offense continues to have some struggles, particularly shooting the basketball. That nearly cost them a home game against Minnesota, a game you’d expect them to win rather comfortably. Beilein’s offense is a machine that basically guarantees good looks. The Wolverines aren’t consistently knocking them down right now.

This week: home for Ohio State, at Iowa

1b. Michigan State (NET: 3)

The Spartans were able to overcome a bit of a slow start at Iowa and ended up still winning going away. They weren’t as fortunate after getting in a much bigger hole at Purdue.

The first half was an awful one in West Lafayette, but it’s hardly reason to change opinion on the Spartans. With the absence of Kyle Ahrens – and still Josh Langford – MSU was in a tough spot. It was their third game of the week, without two of their top wings, and playing in one of the toughest environments in the country against a team that’s been surging.

Tom Izzo seemed upset after the game about his big men getting outworked, so best of luck to IU’s bigs after Ward, Goins, and Tillman have to put up with four or five Izzo practices this week.

This week: home for Indiana

3. Purdue (NET: 12)

After the big win over MSU on Sunday, it might be time to start thinking about the Boilers as a third contender for the Big Ten title. They’ve already played road games against the rest of the Top 4 and still sit here at 7-2. They’ve played the most difficult conference schedule so far – according to KenPom – and none of the other teams at the top have been tested nearly as much.

I’m not sure I buy what I’m even suggesting, but this team’s already exceeding my expectations so why not?  The biggest question is if all these freshmen that are playing well will continue to do so for another month-and-a-half of rugged Big Ten play.

Those freshmen – along with sophomores Nojel Eastern and Matt Haarms and senior Grady Eifert – have all fit into their roles so nicely while rarely veering into “trying to make plays when they shouldn’t” territory. They’ve fit into them so well that they’ve reached the point where they can now beat a Top 10 team while their two scoring stars go a collective 10-33 from the field.

This week is the ultimate “how well can you handle success?” week for the young team.

This week: at Penn State, home for Minnesota

4. Wisconsin (NET: 14)

It’s easy to overlook the road win at Illinois because Illinois is near the bottom of the league, but in context it was a bit of a landmark victory. The context is that Ethan Happ didn’t score in double figures for the first time in like 50 games and the Badgers still managed to win. The four other starters stepped up and all scored in double figures and combined for 60 points.

Wisconsin is about to hit the meat of their schedule and those contributions will need to be more frequent if the Badgers are to make it through these next five games and still be near the top of the league.

The defense continues to be outstanding. The Badgers have only given up more than 70 points one time so far in Big Ten play and just held Northwestern to 25.7% shooting from two-point range.

This week: at Nebraska, home for Maryland

5. Maryland (NET: 22)

The loss at MSU was expected. The Spartans are one of the best teams in the country, are lethal at home, and are one of the few teams in the league that can match Maryland’s bigs.

But the Illinois loss is kind of troubling. They’re a young team and it’s a weird neutral environment, but being good in weird neutral environments is kind of  important with the way college basketball decides its postseason champions.

Illinois turns a lot of people over, but 21 is an unacceptable number for the Terps, especially when your point guard and primary ball-handler only was responsible for two of those.

It’s just one game, but the Terps have a brutal stretch coming up and they can’t let things snowball.

This week: home for Northwestern, at Wisconsin

6. Minnesota (NET: 58)

I’m not sure how much credit goes to the Gophers for playing Michigan so close in Ann Arbor. After all, the Wolverines went 3-22 from three. I’d give Minnesota more credit if locking down three-point shooters was a consistent thing they did. They just allowed Iowa to go 10-18 in The Barn on Sunday.

But at the end of the day, they did play Michigan close and they did beat Iowa. And, really, that’s the Gophers. They don’t do many things consistently well, but they do enough to sit at 5-4 in the best league in the country. Sunday night that meant scoring 92 points when they hadn’t eclipsed 70 in weeks.

This week: home for Illinois, at Purdue

7. Iowa (NET: 25)

I hate to quit harping on the same point with the Hawkeyes in every blog I write…but you can’t be a team that gives up 92 to Minnesota and live to contend for a Big Ten championship or be a legitimate threat in the NCAA Tournament. Their games are fun, but fun has an expiration date.

This week: home for Michigan, at Indiana

8. Ohio State (NET: 38)

Going 1-1 without Kyle Young this week has to be considered a win. They were aided by the Isaac Copeland injury at Nebraska, but it really doesn’t matter. That’s a good win and the Buckeyes were in desperate need as they were sliding toward the wrong side of the tournament bubble.

But it’s just one win and OSU still needs more from Kaleb Wesson and CJ Jackson. Luther Muhammad’s 24 points were huge at Nebraska. Andre Wesson’s 22 against Purdue nearly brought them a great comeback win. But those guys aren’t going to be able to do that every night.

I hate to single out Kaleb Wesson, but he has to be mentally tougher and continue to be productive in somewhat limited minutes when he gets in foul trouble. Either that or stop getting into foul trouble nearly every game. He’s had at least four fouls in eight of their last nine games.

This week: at Michigan, home for Rutgers

9. Nebraska (NET: 24)

The worst news of the week was the torn ACL Isaac Copeland suffered against OSU. It’s hard for any team to lose a player as good as Copeland and to still maintain their level of play, but its especially problematic for the smallest rotation in the Big Ten.

I’m not going to write them off just yet, but they were already performing under expectations/potential and now are without one of their best players. We’ll see.

This week: home for Wisconsin, at Illinois

10. Northwestern (NET: 52)

The offensive performance at Wisconsin was ugly, but the story of the week was the victory over Indiana and, specifically, Aaron Falzon’s breakout performance in it. I don’t think Chris Collins is expecting 21 a game from Falzon, but if he can become a reliable threat off the bench, that’s a huge boost to a team that really only has one other consistent producer outside the starting lineup.

This week: at Maryland

11. Rutgers (NET: 122)

Two landmarks for the Scarlet Knights this week: they won back-to-back regular season Big Ten wins for the first time in 4.5 years of league play and they won just their second road game in league play during the same time. Oh, and both of those road wins are against Penn State.

This week: home for Indiana, at Ohio State

12. Illinois (NET: 116)

Credit to the Illini for turning up the heat on Maryland and scoring a big win out of it. But last I checked, they don’t praise you in Champaign for getting a big win to improve to 6-14 on the season.

This week: at Minnesota, home for Nebraska.

13. Indiana (NET: 42)

Indiana’s not the 13th best team in the conference, but they’re sure playing like it lately. Six straight losses and they really haven’t even been close to winning for two-and-a-half weeks. My hands are tied here.

This week: at Rutgers and Michigan State

14. Penn State (NET: 85)

0-9. Just lost at home to Rutgers. Next few home games are Purdue, Michigan, Nebraska, and Maryland. Yikes.

This week: home for Purdue

Big Ten Power Rankings: 1/21/19

I thought about punting on the power rankings this season. Obviously I have so far, wanting to spend more time on gambling-related research. The power rankings blogs are a labor of love, you see. I could spend 10 hours writing this thing and it wouldn’t get half the page views as a “blog” with a couple of cricket picks from the Bangladesh Premier League with no reasoning and no explanation of how and when I started taking an interest in the sixth-best cricket league.

But this league is too good not to write about. I spent every week last season talking about a group of teams that produced four NCAA Tournament participants and only a couple more that reached the NIT. It was brutal. There often weren’t enough candidates for the “Five Best Games to Watch” portion of the blog because there were barely five good teams. It was a rich man’s Pac-12 and I was there every step of the way, hating it.

What I’m trying to say is I deserve this. This blog has never been about you, the reader. It was about me, the self-fellating, spare-time blogger who just needs to be heard. Sure, the precious picks are for you. But the content? The content is mine. It’s just a bonus if you enjoy it.

Now the skeptics may find the timing of the power rankings comeback rather curious. I’ve been very open about my Purdue fandom and, yes, it is very convenient that they’ve been playing a lot better lately and just beat their biggest rival on Saturday.

And for those of you in my brain, it’s also very convenient that Michigan lost this weekend and now I can justify putting Michigan State ahead of them because I’ve thought the Spartans were the better team for the past month or so.

But the truth is, I’m no longer knee-deep in self-assigned spreadsheet work and I have more time.

But enough about me. It’s about the kids.


Seven Stars From the Past Week Twelve Weeks: 

Cassius Winston, Michigan State

Carsen Edwards, Purdue

Michigan

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

Bruno Fernando, Maryland

Juwan Morgan, Indiana

James Palmer, Nebraska

Five Best Games to Watch This Week:

Maryland at Michigan State, Monday, 6:30 EST, FS1

Purdue at Ohio State, Wednesday, 7:00 EST, BTN

Michigan State at Iowa, Thursday, 7:00 EST, FS1

Michigan at Indiana, Friday, 6:30 EST, FS1

Michigan State at Purdue, Sunday, 1:00 EST, CBS


 

Great

1. Michigan State (NET: 5)

This is far from Tom Izzo’s flashiest team. There’s no household names – although Cassius Winston should be – and there aren’t any surefire lottery picks on the roster. But it might be his most complete team in a while.

It’s the best offense they’ve had since Denzel Valentine graduated, but this one might be even better because they’re much more balanced and have multiple options to score down low. These Spartans are not living and dying by the three like those Valentine teams were.

They also might have the best defense they’ve had since Draymond Green graduated. There’s no Jaren Jackson level of rim protector this year, but as a unit, they’re still the best shot blocking team in the league and they’re the best team nationally when it comes to actually scoring in the paint. If you can’t make perimeter shots against the Spartans, you really don’t have a chance to win the game.

They’ve won three straight road games and buried Purdue at home without the services of Josh Langford, who was averaging 15.0 PPG the first couple of months.

This week: home for Maryland, at Iowa and Purdue

2. Michigan (NET: 6)

Much like their in-state rivals, the Wolverines lack big names on the roster. And also like Spartans, it hasn’t held them back by any measure. They’re as balanced as you could possibly be and they’ve only strengthened their elite defense that led them to the national championship game a year ago.

You can hardly notice that the NC finalist lost three starters from that team. All returnees have raised their game and 30-year-old freshman Ignas Brazdeikis has certainly helped quite a bit, but none has been more significant than Jon Teske becoming one of the better big men in the league.

Teske isn’t the biggest scorer, but he doesn’t have to be with the guys around him. From an offensive standpoint, maybe the most important aspect he brings is that he’s a threat to shoot from outside. Teske had only attempted two three-pointers his first two years in Ann Arbor. He’s now 9-20 from the outside in Big Ten games this year. If the 5 man can shoot in John Beilein’s offense, best of luck guarding that.

Teske also leads the league in blocked shots and is top two in a bunch of defensive analytical categories that I’m sure you don’t care about.

While I think the Spartans have been the better team lately, it’s far from a finished race. While Izzo has historically gotten the praise for his team’s performances in March, it’s been the Wolverines that have turned it on late the past couple of years.

This week: home for Minnesota, at Indiana

Good

3. Maryland (NET: 20)

Most analytical rankings prefer Purdue, Nebraska, and Wisconsin by a hair over the Terps, but they’ve been rolling lately. They’ve won their last three road games by double digits. They’ve held off a big comeback at home against the Badgers and completed one of their own against Indiana. Their only conference loss came on the road by two points against Purdue back in early December.

Anthony Cowan continues to be a picture of consistency and one of the best guards in the league. Bruno Fernando is the star of the show for me, though. He’s one of the best rebounders and shot blockers in the country. He’s also one of the most efficient offensively and his efficiency isn’t just limited to around the basket. And he’s got Jalen Smith right beside him, who does a lot of the same things effectively.

Take those three and toss in a 48% three-point shooter in Eric Ayala and it’s easy to see why this is Mark Turgeon’s best offense at Maryland.

This week: at Michigan State, Illinois in NYC

4. Purdue (NET: 14)

Purdue certainly seems to have turned a corner over the last month, especially defensively as the young guys understand the defense better. It also helps to uncover a walking double-double midseason and use him to replace the worst defensive player on the team. The Trevion Williams for Evan Boudreaux exchange in the lineup has yielded nothing but positive results so far.

The emergence of the freshmen hasn’t just been defensive for the Boilers. They’ve also started to take on bigger roles offensively. That has coincided with a Carsen Edwards usage rate that is trending downward. This can only be viewed as positive. Edwards is a remarkably talented player, but his team is just 1-4 when his usage rate is over 38%.

This week: at Ohio State, home for Michigan State

5. Wisconsin (NET: 16)

The Badgers are a wild ride, man. Their last six games: lost at WKU, lost at home to Minnesota, destroyed Penn State in Happy Valley, lost to Purdue at home in OT, get down by 21 at Maryland and then nearly win the game, and finally, beat 17-0 Michigan at home.

The Badgers are one of the best defensive teams in the country and rarely have a bad game in that department. They also rarely get a bad game from Ethan Happ. Those are two things you can really depend on with them. What’s a little less dependable, but extremely important, is how well the other guys shoot from the perimeter. The only time they’ve shot well and lost was against Purdue. The only times they’ve shot poorly and won games were against Stanford, Rutgers, and Iowa. All three opponents shot worse than Wisconsin.

This isn’t revolutionary. A lot of basketball is just making more shots than your opponent. But outside of Happ, the only other guy in the rotation who doesn’t shoot a lot of threes is Khalil Iverson, who’s only attempts 2.4 shots per game in Big Ten play. If the supporting cast isn’t hitting threes, it’s essentially a one-man offense.

This week: at Illinois, home for Northwestern

6. Iowa (NET: 25)

I’ve never been confused for the world’s biggest fan of this crop of Iowa players, but the offense is undeniably great and they’ve handled business both home and away lately. They’ll certainly rack up a lot of wins this season, but you can’t simply outscore your way to a championship.

That’s the conundrum with Iowa. They’ve had the second best offense in conference play, but also the second worst defense. They have had some of their better performances defensively over these last five games, but we’ll see if that trend continues with home games against the Michigan schools coming up.

This week: home for Michigan, at Minnesota

7. Nebraska (NET: 15)

The analytics seem to support the Huskers more than the win/loss record. I’m not saying Nebraska isn’t a Top 15 team like many of those rankings suggest, but the facts are that they’re 0-4 against Top 25 teams in those same rankings and I would only call one of those games a true toss-up at the finish. They’re just 3-4 in Big Ten play so far.

Of course there’s still a lot to like in Lincoln. Their starting five is about as good as any you’ll find in the conference. Each with a unique skill set, they make quite a quintet. And don’t get me wrong – I love a tight rotation – but outside of those five, the cupboard is pretty bare.

We’ll see if the Huskers prove to be an analytical darling or if they can turn it on and start winning some of these bigger games.

This week: at Rutgers, home for Ohio State

Good Sometimes

8. Indiana (NET: 34)

Indiana’s good enough to make the tournament, but the ceiling is pretty limited unless they have a serious uptick in perimeter shooting. The Hoosiers have a few guys that can knock down wide open set shots, but it’s certainly not a strength of their team. With that said, they have some great finishers around the basket.

The most glaring issue right now has to be the defensive end. Their last four games have been among their worst statistically. Opponent and location play a big factor, but IU wasted their best offensive road performance at Maryland by giving up 18 offensive rebounds.

This week presents some opportunities for them to score some momentum-changing victories and get the ship turned in the right direction again.

This week: at Northwestern, home for Michigan

9. Minnesota (NET: 67)

I’m not sure that the Gophers are really that good, but they’ve avoided any catastrophic losses and racked up a couple nice wins already. But they did almost just lose to Penn State at home. In their defense, the injuries to their role players have started to pile up. In great news, they did get Eric Curry back after missing a year-and-a-half due to knee issues.

The problem for me with the Gophers is…well I don’t know what they’re especially good at. Game-to-game what can you count on? They put up some gaudy rebounding numbers in the non-conference, but that’s been slowed down quite a bit against Big Ten foes.

They haven’t really gotten into the meat of the schedule yet, so we’ll see if Minnesota really has the goods to make the dance when it’s all said and done.

This week: at Michigan, home for Iowa

10. Ohio State (NET: 40)

The Buckeyes need a win bad after losing four straight, punctuated by getting blown out at home by Maryland. The double-edged sword aspect of playing in a conference this competitive is that losses can keep piling up before getting an opportunity to play a weak opponent at home and regain confidence. The positive part of that sword is the sheer number of opportunities to get big wins to put on an NCAA Tournament resume and dig yourself out of a hole.

Issue number one that needs sorted out is the offense. The Buckeyes haven’t eclipsed 62 points in their last three games. Two of those games have come against the two worst defenses in conference play.

They need to get it sorted out quickly. They’re trending in the wrong direction and they won’t be favored to win any of their next three games. It starts with Kaleb Wesson being Kaleb Wesson again and he needs some help from guys like Keyshawn Woods, who need to start playing to their potential.

This week: home for Purdue, at Nebraska

The Rest

11. Northwestern (NET: 60)

The Wildcats aren’t a bad team, but being not bad isn’t enough to legitimately compete in the league this year. They’ll be a tough out at home, but they just don’t have the offensive firepower to hang with good teams on the road.

This week: home for IU, at Wisconsin

12. Illinois (NET: 104)

Thought maybe they had turned a bit of a corner with the blowout win over Minnesota, but then they gave up 95 to Iowa and lost by 24. So maybe not.

This week: home for Wisconsin, Maryland in NYC

13. Penn State (NET: 75)

The Nittany Lions have played a brutal schedule and are probably actually better than Illinois, but I mean, 0-8 is 0-8. The offense is putrid. A Pat Chambers staple.

This week: home for Rutgers

14. Rutgers (NET: 142)

Of all the teams that couldn’t afford losing their top scorer and rebounder to injury, Rutgers has the past couple weeks with the injury to Eugene Omoruyi.

This week: home for Nebraska, at Penn State

2018 CFB Season Win Totals: Big Ten West

I’m picking every over/under regular season win total for all 130 schools in college football. I’ll try to keep the odds/injuries/suspensions as current as possible, but I’m doing this in pieces, so it is what it is.

1* through 5* based on confidence. I’ll be betting anything 3* and higher. 

Last year was pretty successful, to say the least. Results:
3*: 10-2-3 (+24.1*)
4*: 1-1 (+0.0*)
5*: 1-0 (+5.0*)

I’ll give my best bet for the conference champion based on perceived value.

Big Ten: East

BIG TEN – WEST

Wisconsin – over 10 (-115) – 1*

The Badgers return nine starters from the most productive offense they’ve had since Melvin Gordon left Madison. And it seems fairly clear that’s a result of getting another stud RB in Jonathan Taylor, a favorite for the Heisman this year. Phil Steele didn’t rank Wisconsin’s QBs among the Top 55 and that’s outrageous. I’m not the biggest Hornibrook guy, but go find me 55 other guys who could’ve hung 258 yards and 4 TDs (0 INTs) on Miami in the freaking Orange Bowl.

Hornibrook loses TE Troy Fumagalli to the NFL, but I’m pretty sure Wisconsin just grows NFL tight ends in some lab up there. They also return all five starting O-Linemen and they’re all monsters and four of them are potential/likely first rounders next year. It’s honestly disgusting.

The defensive backs need to be rebuilt, but there’s really no reason to worry. The Badgers are good defensively every year and will give up somewhere between 14 and 20 points per game.

The schedule is good and bad. The good news for the Badgers: they’ll be favored to win all of their non-conference games by at least 21 points. The bad news: they have road games at Michigan, Penn State, Northwestern, Iowa, and Purdue. Obviously you don’t count them out of any of those and they’ll probably actually be favorites in those last three.

Iowa – over 7.5 (even) – 3*

There’s definitely some questions that stick out with the Hawkeyes this year. They lose 1,100 yard back Akrum Wadley. They lose AA and Big 10 DPOY Josey Jewell and their other two starting linebackers. They lose Josh Jackson, who had 8 INTs last year. Their offensive line isn’t expected to be very good, a staple position group of Iowa football.

On the other hand, their front and back four on defense are still Top 20-30 in the country. Nathan Stanley is probably the best QB they’ve had since Drew Tate.  Noah Fant is the best TE in the league. And, I might add, K Miguel Recinos is money.

More than anything this play is about track record. The Hawks have some big losses defensively, but history says that they’re still going to be pretty good. History also says that Iowa has one losing regular season since 2000.

The schedule has two elite teams on it (@ PSU, home for UW) and a lot of mediocre. They have four very winnable road games against Minnesota, IU, Purdue, and Illinois. They avoid OSU, MSU, and Michigan out of the East. Their non-con consists of NIU, Iowa State, and Northern Iowa at home.

Northwestern – over 6 (-110) – 2*

Wouldn’t suggest touching this when their still seems to be some uncertainty of how quickly Clayton Thorson will be ready to go. And he needs to be ready to go early. They start at Purdue, followed by home games with Duke and Akron, who won their MAC division last year. With how poorly the Cats have started recently, that’s a concerning stretch. They draw Michigan, @ MSU, @ Rutgers out of the East. And they’re also playing Notre Dame.

They do have a promising defense and Thorson is one of the best QBs in the league and that’s why I’d definitely lean over here. But if Thorson isn’t 100% early, things could get off the rails quickly.

Nebraska – under 6.5 (+110) – 3*

Scott Frost is the savior and he seemed to talk quite a big game at the Big Ten media days, but it’s still just his first year and he’s returning a 4-8 team that has a Top 10 most difficult schedule this year and their wins last year were against Arkansas State, Rutgers, Illinois, and Purdue.

Frost does have quite a duo to work with at WR in his offense with Stanley Morgan and JD Spielman returning. His running backs are decent, but are dependent upon a JUCO (you’ve seen Last Chance U, no?) and Tre Bryant, who was very productive last year, but only lasted two games.

Outside of that…it’s tough. They’re probably going to start a freshman at QB. They’re both very talented, but I wouldn’t have high hopes right away. The defense returns eight starters, but they gave up over 36 points a game last year. Frost and Co. did a lot right at UCF, but I wouldn’t say they built a stellar defense.

Again, the schedule is tough. Maybe it’s dangerous, but I’m just chalking them up to 0-5 on the road this year. Those five road games: Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Ohio State, and Iowa. They didn’t play Michigan last year, but they went 0-4 at home against the others and lost by an average of 28 points. Their home schedule: Akron, Colorado, Troy, Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan State. It’s not a murderer’s row, but only maybe Akron and Illinois are a walkover in that group. Do you feel confident a team that went 2-5 at home last year is going to run the table this year?

Minnesota – under 6 (-130) – 1*

I think they’re definitely winning two games and I think they’re definitely losing two games and I have no idea what’s happening with the other eight. Their defense will be solid, Rodney Smith will be good, their QB situation appears to be a bit of a disaster, and PJ Fleck will annoy the hell out of me. Really excited to not watch them play a lot of games that are 17-17 in the fourth.

Purdue – over 6 (+110) – 1*

The fact this total is set at six while Phil Steele has them facing the #2 most difficult schedule in the country is a testament to Jeff Brohm. The roster talent is still largely at a slightly above average Mountain West team level.

I would expect Purdue to make a jump offensively with nine starters returning in Brohm’s system and some dynamic playmakers added to the mix. Everything seems primed for Elijah Sindelar to control the QB job, but having David Blough on standby is a nice luxury.

Defensively they only return four starters. On the surface, that’s very problematic for a team that only gave up 20.5 PPG last year and doesn’t have a bunch of highly touted guys waiting in the wings. However, those same guys that gave up 20.5 also gave up 38.3 the year before Nick Holt got there. While I’m sure the defense won’t be quite as good, Holt’s guidance makes you think they’ll keep it respectable.

Illinois – under 4 (-140) – 3*

They went 2-10 last year. They averaged 15.4 PPG on offense and their starting QB this year couldn’t beat out Jeff George Jr. or Chayce Crouch last season. I don’t know what else to say.

According to Bill Connelly’s S&P+’s projections, the Illini’s highest percent chance at winning a game after Week 2 are 37% against Minnesota at home.

BEST BET TO WIN BIG TEN

Iowa +2700

Wisconsin’s the obvious favorite to come out of the West, but the schedule works well in the Hawkeyes’ favor. Iowa gets the head-to-head at home and they’re at least one team in the West who’s had a modicum of success against the Badgers recently. They also avoid three of the big four from the East, while UW has their five toughest conference opponents all on the road. You can take a stab at somebody out of the East, but there’s four Top 12 teams there and any of them could make the championship. The Badgers are the favorite in the West for a reason, but you can get the Hawkeyes at more than 10x the return.

 

2018 CFB Season Win Totals: Big Ten East

I’m picking every over/under regular season win total for all 130 schools in college football. I’ll try to keep the odds/injuries/suspensions as current as possible, but I’m doing this in pieces, so it is what it is.

1* through 5* based on confidence. I’ll be betting anything 3* and higher. 

Last year was pretty successful, to say the least. Results:
3*: 10-2-3 (+24.1*)
4*: 1-1 (+0.0*)
5*: 1-0 (+5.0*)

I’ll give my best bet for the conference champion based on perceived value.

BIG TEN – EAST

Ohio State – over 10.5 (-120) – 1*

There’s a good reason why many are putting the Buckeyes as the top team in the country. They’re loaded everywhere.

The big key for the offense is obviously replacing JT Barrett, but Dwayne Haskins is supremely talented and already beat Michigan once. They might have the best back in the country in JK Dobbins and they return their top six receivers.

The defense has a few more holes to fill, but the Bucks are one of the few teams that it doesn’t seem to matter. They’ll just reload. It helps that Greg Schiano is still the DC.

S&P+ has them favored in every game this year, with a minimum of a 60% chance to win each game. With that said, it’s still the Big Ten East and they have road games at Penn State and Michigan State and Michigan at home. Of course, it’s worth mentioning that they did manage to get their doors blown off by Iowa last year.

Note: This was written before the whole Zach Smith thing. I think Urban will stay and I’m sure they’ll be fine, but, ya know, they might not be if he happens to get fired.

Michigan – over 9 (-115) – 1*

Pretty typical Harbaugh-era Michigan team, although they return more experienced talent than any other. But they’ll be built around what should be a Top 5 defense nationally. And they’ll surely have a very solid running game.

There are a few issues though. For starters, they don’t really have an offensive coordinator. They have three guys who are probably capable of calling the plays, but…no one is really sure which of the three that’s going to be.

Shea Patterson is supposed to finally be the dynamic, playmaking QB that Wolverine fans have been waiting for. He’s capable of doing that and he’s proven he could do it at Ole Miss. However, it seems like they’re running the same archaic system they have been and it’s quite opposite of the more modern offense Patterson was running under Hugh Freeze and Matt Luke in Oxford.

And finally, the schedule is a bear. Road games with OSU, ND, Michigan State, Northwestern and home games with Penn State and Wisconsin. That’s brutal.

With all that said, I still slightly lean over because I think the defense might only give up 12-14 points a game this year.

Penn State – under 9.5 (-115) – 1*

I don’t have a ton of strong feelings on the Nittany Lions. Of these Top 4 teams in the East, they have the least coming back and the most question marks. They only have three starters back on D. They lost Saquon and three of their top four pass catchers. And they lost Joe Moorhead, who turned this offense into what it’s become the past couple of years.

The trump card for them may be Trace McSorley, though. He’s one of the best QBs in the country, if not the best. They’ve also recruited incredibly well recently and could be making the step into the elite program category.

They unfavorably draw Wisconsin and Iowa out of the West, but they do get both of them at home, as well as Michigan State and Ohio State.

Michigan State – over 8.5 (-125) – 3*

19 starters coming back from a 10-3 team is a great place to start. The only super notable loss was C Brian Allen, who was one of the best linemen in the Big Ten for the past three years. Otherwise, you’re pretty much dealing with the same Spartan roster, except they’ve got another year under their belts.

I wouldn’t expect a ton of sizzle from the offense, but Brian Lewerke is capable of actually making plays and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them average 30+ this year. LJ Scott had a down year last year, but is still among the best RBs in the league. Felton Davis might be the best WR in the Big Ten and had the big (and timely) plays to back that up in 2017.

With nine starters back from a defense that only gave up 20 PPG, it’s easy to see how they could return to their form of early in the decade when they were only giving up two touchdowns a game.

The schedule has its ups and downs. Good news: of the above trio, they get Michigan and Ohio State at home. Bad news: they have five road games against teams who will be in the bowl conversation this year.

Maryland – over 5 (-145) – 4*

The Terps went 4-8 last year, but to me, the season ended in the first quarter of their third game. That’s when QB2 Kasim Hill was knocked out for the year, two weeks after QB1 Tyrell Pigrome was knocked out for the year. After that it was all the Max Bortenschlager era and Max Bortenschlager should’ve never been on the roster (his next best offer out of HS was Buffalo).

In the Pigrome/Hill era, the Terps won at Texas, obliterated Towson, and were moving the ball with ease against UCF. Under those two, MD averaged 57.0 PPG. Under Bortenschlager, the Terps averaged 17.5 PPG.

I’m not expecting 57 a game (obviously), but the offense should still improve greatly with an expected healthier season. They do lose stud WR D.J. Moore, but they return their entire offensive line, the two QBs, and a productive RB duo, who will benefit from competent QB play. They will also benefit greatly from new OC Matt Canada. Canada turned Pittsburgh into one of the most explosive offenses in the country a couple of years ago, before he was hired and fired by Ed Orgeron at LSU because Ed Orgeron has no idea how to run a football program. If DJ Durkin just lets Canada do his thing, this offense will flourish in a big way.

The defense only returns five starters, but it can’t get a lot worse after the way they played last year. I do think that the numbers from last year are partially a product of the failures of the offense in more ways than one. They do add a couple of uber-talented transfers in Byron Cowart and Marcus Lewis.

The schedule is pretty difficult overall, but you only need five wins to even get a push. I’m already penciling them in for four wins: @ BGSU, Temple, Rutgers, and Illinois. The next most winnable games: Minnesota and Texas at home. Outside of that they’re capable of beating Michigan State at home and Iowa or Indiana on the road.

Indiana – over 5.5 (-105) – 1*

The Hoosiers don’t have a ton returning from a 5-7 team, but the schedule is easier this year. There’s two games I don’t think they can win, but otherwise they have a lot of opportunity.

They lose QB Richard Lagow, but it’s not a big deal. Lagow was average at best and whoever gets the call between Peyton Ramsey and grad transfer Brandon Dawkins should at the very minimum match his production. The skill guys surrounding the QBs are more of a concern. They lose four of their top six pass catchers last year and they’re going to need Nick Westbrook to be the big play threat he was in ’16, otherwise they don’t really have one. The RBs lacked much production last year. Good news: the O-Line is one of the best in the conference.

The defense is a gigantic question mark. They’ve been much improved as a program after Tom Allen came in initially as the DC, but there’s only three starters coming back and only one is in the front seven. With that said, Nile Sykes and Marcelino Ball are returning from injury and would’ve been starters last year.

Rutgers – over 4 (+120) – 1*

I’m optimistic about the Scarlet Knights this year with 15 starters returning from a 4-8 team. It’s Chris Ash’s third year and three of those wins came in the Big Ten this year.

But I’m not about to bet actual money on this given that I don’t think Rutgers really has a shot in hell at winning a single game in November. The schedule looks like this during the final month: @ Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, @ Michigan State. Fun fact: all four of those programs have shutout the Knights in one of their last two meetings. I like Rutgers so I’m not going to pile on and mention that their Week 2 opponent (Ohio State) has beaten them by a combined score of 114-0 the last two years. It would be uncalled for to mention that.

 

2017-18 Big Ten Postseason Awards and Conference Tournament Preview

 

AWARDS

Keita Bates-Diop

Player of the Year

Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State

This should be unanimous. There are some other really talented guys that will join KBD on the first team, but he separated himself early and never really let up. No offense to his teammates, but without KBD they’re an NIT team at best. If you look at individual Top 10 lists for every statistical category, Bates-Diop is on nearly every single one of them. It’s an easy pick.

 

Defensive Player of the Year

Jaren Jackson, Michigan State

The only real argument against Jackson here is his propensity for fouling. Admittedly, it takes him off the floor too often, but his impact on the defensive end is undeniable. His individual defensive rating for the year was 84.4, three points better than anybody else in the league. Jackson’s an elite shot blocker. There were SIX Big Ten games this year where JJJ had 5 or more blocks and only on three occasions did he not have at least two.

 

Freshman of the Year

Jaren Jackson, Michigan State

On the offensive end, Jackson scored 12.4 points per game with .563/.429/.781 shooting splits. He’s pretty good.

 

Sixth Man of the Year

Justin Smith, Indiana

I found this award unbelievably difficult to choose. You could make a case for several guys. Smith started eight Big Ten games this year, but I thought he did his best work late in the season when he was coming off the bench. I’m preferential to Smith over a lot of other guys because I felt like IU was more dependent on him playing well than McQuaid for MSU, Taylor for Nebraska, or Haarms for Purdue. When the Hoosiers lost De’Ron Davis midway through the season, they needed somebody to step up and Smith – along with Freddie McSwain – did that.

 

Chris Holtmann

Coach of the Year

Chris Holtmann, Ohio State

I was right there with the Big Ten media in voting OSU 11th before the season started. Here’s my take from the preview:

Consensus Outlook: They’ll rely heavily on Jae’Sean Tate, Kam Williams, and Keita Bates-Diop. There’s talent, but maybe not the type of talent that Chris Holtmann would prefer in terms of system fit.

What They’re Not Saying: This program needs a big-time culture change. The good news on that front is that perpetual pouty faces JaQuan Lyle and Marc Loving are now gone. I believe Thad Matta to be a great coach, but he didn’t seem to have the same juice the past couple years due to his poor health. Chris Holtmann should bring a youthful passion to that position that was probably necessary.

Projection: There’s still quite a bit of talent in Columbus, but clearly there’s been other issues in the program. I think Holtmann will do a great job there, but I’m not sure the results will appear as fast as Buckeye fans would hope.

Turns out Holtmann can win with any type of talent. Having KBD helps, but the defensive improvement the Buckeyes made this year was incredible.

 

First Team

Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State
Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Carsen Edwards, Purdue
Tony Carr, Penn State
James Palmer, Nebraska

KBD is obvious.

I think Bridges might be a unanimous selection. He’s the best player on the best team, but his numbers this year aren’t the gaudiest compared to some of the competition.

For me, the younger Edwards should be the Purdue representative and I imagine the tear he’s been on lately will help. A couple of his teammates have a case, but on such a balanced team, Carsen is the only one who’s able to score outside the structure of the offense and it makes him the most important player on their team moving forward.

Tony Carr seems to be a bit polarizing for people who watch a lot of the league. Some identify him as the best guard in the league. Others consider him to be a ball hog whose ball hoggyness is a detriment to Penn State. I think you could make a case Carr is the best guard in the league, but you could probably make a similar case for Edwards, Cassius Winston, and Anthony Cowan. AND sometimes he shoots too much.

If I had to bet, I would guess Palmer doesn’t actually make the first team. I obviously think he should. Tim Miles has never been a very good offensive coach and Palmer is the focal point of his best offense in 13 years of D-1 coaching. He’s a better passing, more efficient Terran Petteway. Nebraska may not make the tournament, but Palmer is still the leading man on a 13-5 Big Ten team.

Second Team

Juwan Morgan, Indiana
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Jaren Jackson, Michigan State
Vincent Edwards, Purdue
Cassius Winston, Michigan State

Morgan was probably the toughest guy for me to leave off the first team. He absolutely carried IU through the middle of the Big Ten schedule when they were playing a lot of tough games.

I’m guessing Happ makes first team. I don’t have a huge problem with that. He certainly has the numbers and his team would be Pittsburgh-level bad without him. But there’s a lot of deserving guys and at some point winning has to be a factor.

Jackson might actually be the best player in the league. He’s ultra-efficient, an elite defender, and there’s not much he can’t do. But due to the overall talent on MSU, Jackson didn’t always need to do much and most guys mentioned here didn’t have the same luxury.

Put simply, Edwards does pretty much everything for Purdue.

I swear Cassius Winston hits every big shot he takes. And if he’s not hitting them, he’s likely assisting. Winston doesn’t garner the media attention that Bridges and Jackson do, but he might be the most important player on the team. He’s the best traditional point guard the league has seen in a while and his ability to set the table – while also being a scoring threat – is what makes them so dangerous offensively.

Third Team

Jae’Sean Tate, Ohio State
Mike Watkins, Penn State
Anthony Cowan, Maryland
Isaac Haas, Purdue
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Michigan

I’ve always been a big fan of Tate, which mainly started out because his effort and appearance to actually enjoy playing basketball stuck out like a sore thumb around some of his teammates the past couple years.

Watkins’ value will always largely be found on the defensive end, but a league-leading 70% EFG percentage doesn’t hurt either. In terms of importance to his team, Penn State was trending way up until the last three games when he was only able to play a combined 14 minutes and the Nittany Lions dropped all three.

In the best guard conversation, Cowan can claim the consistency crown. He’s about as steady as they come and he’s improved almost every part of his game from a year ago.

No one affects a gameplan quite like Haas. He doesn’t always produce, but his presence alone makes all of his teammates better.

MAAR probably won’t make it, but as soon as he took more control of the Michigan offense, they took off as a team. It’s made the Wolverines as dangerous as anybody else in the league.

Toughest guys to leave off: CJ Jackson, Isaac Copeland, Mo Wagner, Josh Reaves, Lamar Stevens, Dakota Mathias, Kevin Huerter, Jordan Murphy, Leron Black

Defensive Team

Jaren Jackson, Michigan State
Mike Watkins, Penn State
Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State
Josh Reaves, Penn State
DeShawn Freeman, Rutgers

For my money, Reaves is the best on-ball defender in the league and might be as important as Watkins defensively for the Nittany Lions.

Freeman’s unlikely to get any attention because of the team he plays for and the fact it’s so difficult to quantify individual defensive numbers. But there are some measures out there and here’s where Freeman ranks in the Big Ten: 5th in steals per game, 4th in steal %, 7th in defensive rebounding %, 3rd in defensive rating, 5th in defensive win shares (on a team that doesn’t win a lot), and he’s just outside the Top 10 in defensive box plus/minus. He’s constantly deflecting passes. If you actually subject yourself to Rutgers games, his constant effort and activity is noticeable.

There are a lot of guys that could make this list, buy you can only pick five out of a big pool.

Freshman Team

Jaren Jackson, Michigan State
Luka Garza, Iowa
Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State
Brad Davison, Wisconsin
Trent Frazier, Illinois

I made the list before Sunday’s games. I amended the list after watching Brad Davison light up Michigan State. He was the last cut until that happened, but now that distinction belongs to Bruno Fernando. I’m sorry, Bruno. It wasn’t a star-studded year for freshmen, but there are quite a few guys who will likely be around for four years. So that’s something.


TOURNAMENT PREVIEW

Favorite

Michigan State (1 seed; +225)

They’ve played close games on the road with both Wisconsin and Maryland, but I’m not sure you worry much about their first game on Friday now that it’s a neutral floor. But I’ve pretty much been on the “MSU is overvalued” train for a while now. They’re good obviously, but based on their head-to-head matchups with these other Top 4 teams, would you really say they should have considerably lower odds than the rest? They’re also on the same side of scorching hot Michigan and the Wolverines already rolled them once in East Lansing.

With that said, Izzo squads have won three of the last six.

 

Probable Runner-Up

Purdue (3 seed; +400)

It appears as though Purdue has found their way out of a recent slump and they’ve started to shoot well again. I thought their side of the bracket broke pretty well for them in terms of matchup advantages. That’s not to say (probably) IU and (probably) Ohio State are a walk in the park by any means, but it could’ve been worse for them.

On the flip side, this event hasn’t always been the kindest to them. Painter won the championship in 2009 and the upperclassmen on this team made the title game a couple of years ago, but otherwise it’s been a lot of quick exits.

Best Value Bet

Michigan (5 seed; +800)

Who’s playing better right now? They’ve maintained their level of play defensively and now the offense is starting to take off with MAAR in more of a leading role. The problem for the Wolverines is that they’ve got the toughest road of the four teams with the lowest odds.

I don’t hate IU at +2000 either. They’ve competed with the best the league has to offer, but those have all occurred at home. Still, they’ve kept steadily improving all year. I’m not sure the Hoosiers at 20-1 is exactly “value”, but it’s a darkhorse option.

I should point out for both that a non-Top 3 seed has only won this tournament three times. Of course one of those was Michigan a year ago as an 8 seed.

 

 

 

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 9

 


Five Six Stars From the Past Week:

Cassius Winston, Michigan State – averaged 14.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 6.0 assists in two wins

Tony Carr, Penn State – averaged 24.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 4.0 assists in two games

Robert Johnson, Indiana – averaged 21.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.0 assists in two games

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin – 21 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 steals in win over Purdue

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Michigan – averaged 17.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 5.0 assists in two wins

Carsen Edwards, Purdue – averaged 24.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.5 steals in two games

Five Six Games to Watch This Week:

Indiana at Nebraska, Tuesday, 9:00 PM EST, BTN

Michigan at Penn State, Wednesday, 7:00 PM EST, BTN

Ohio State at Indiana, Friday, 8:00 PM EST, FS1

Michigan at Maryland, Saturday, Noon EST, ESPN

Michigan State at Wisconsin, Sunday, 1:00 PM EST, CBS

Penn State at Nebraska, Sunday, 5:15 PM EST, BTN


Power Rankings

Tournament Locks

1.Michigan State (BracketMatrix: 2 seed; 50/50 brackets)

The Spartans will be your outright champions of the league. The schedule was favorable thanks once again to unbalanced schedules and conference expansion, but you have to give them credit. They’ve avoided the slip-ups against lesser competition. Others did not.

In order to do so, the Spartans had to overcome a 27-point deficit on the road. It helped that they had more fans at the arena in Rosemont, but no one else in the league could do that. Their defense against Northwestern in the second half was incredible. The Wildcats literally could not get one open shot.

But it still begs the question: why are you down 27 to a Northwestern team without their point guard? Sure, the Wildcats were hitting some tough shots, but that doesn’t explain Sparty only scoring 16 points in the first 16 minutes. That’s an effort that won’t fly in their quest to win a national title.

 

This Week: home for Illinois, at Wisconsin

2. Ohio State (BracketMatrix: 4 seed; 50/50 brackets)

February was always a bit of a cloud looming over the feel-good story of the Buckeyes’ chase for a Big Ten title. They survived the first big hurdle of winning at Purdue, but they ran into a buzzsaw in Happy Valley this week and obviously Ann Arbor wasn’t much easier.

Here’s a blazing take: maybe they’re better off without Kam Williams. Williams is a great shooter, but he provides little else and he clearly has some issues off the court. He scored 6 points on 9 shots this week and had 7 fouls. Fouled out in 12 minutes against Michigan. Basically every time he’s had a big game in his career, it’s been against bad competition. Musa Jallow and Andre Wesson aren’t world beaters, but they played pretty well in his absence. I just convinced myself that was actually a pretty good take.

Probably a bigger issue for the Buckeyes heading into the postseason is their over-reliance on Keita Bates-Diop. The red line one the chart below is the offensive efficiency numbers for OSU as a team, in order from best to worst. The gray line is KBD’s personal offensive rating in those games.

KBD

As you can see, the team numbers are basically a trend line for KBD’s personal numbers. You also might notice that the teams on the right-hand side are most of the tournament teams OSU has played this year.

Those teams are basically making KBD an inefficient high-volume shooter. Not quite Trae Young levels, but still. Below you can see the number of points relative to his field goal attempts in those ten games.

KBD2.png

It’s not rocket science to know that it helps OSU when KBD plays well, but these charts are basically telling you it’s a necessity. Of their seven least efficient games as a team, they’ve lost six with the only win coming on KBD’s tip-in with three seconds to go at Purdue. If the Buckeyes are going to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, it’s going to be on KBD’s back. No pressure.

This Week: home for Rutgers, at Indiana

3. Purdue (BracketMatrix: 2 seed; 50/50 brackets)

As Sunday night showed, it helps when you play with energy. Shooting will come and go, but Purdue’s biggest problem lately was the appearance that it didn’t seem to think playing hard was still necessary. I don’t know if they got full of themselves with all the national attention they were getting or it was February blues, but they finally played with a sense of urgency against Penn State.

Make no mistake, beating the scorching hot Nittany Lions without Vince Edwards was a big deal for this team.

Losing to Wisconsin was bad from a perception standpoint and a conference championship race standpoint, but it really probably only knocks them from a shaky 1 seed down to a 2. And I don’t think that’s the worst thing for this team, for a number of reasons.

Worth noting: Carsen Edwards is carrying this team right now. When Purdue was playing so well in December and January, it relied upon balance. The motto of the offense was “the go-to guy was the open guy.” That is not currently the case.

This Week: at Illinois, home for Minnesota

4. Michigan (BracketMatrix: 9 seed; 50/50 brackets)

Sunday was big for the Wolverines. I don’t think their tournament status would’ve been in grave danger (is there another kind?) if they lost, but a loss there with their tough schedule this week and things might’ve got a little dicey.

But Michigan was largely in control from start to finish against Ohio State. They made life difficult for basically every Buckeye except for Jae’Sean Tate.

There is something interesting going on with the offense, though. For most of the season they were in need of more consistency outside of Charles Matthews. They’ve gotten that from MAAR and Wagner. But now Matthews hasn’t scored 20 points in a game since December 21st. It’s been 15 games. Matthews scored 20+ six times in the first 14 games of the season. I’m not saying Michigan needs him to put up 20 every game, but they definitely need more than he’s giving them right now.

This Week: at Penn State and Maryland

Hanging On The Bubble

5. Penn State (BracketMatrix: “Others Receiving Votes”; 3/50 brackets)

It was almost a home run week for the Lions. They not only took care of business at home against Ohio State, they murdered the Buckeyes from the jump. Usually when Tony Carr is going for 30, it’s on 20+ shots and the Nittany Lions tend to lose those games. Not this time. He was 9-15 from the field and only turned the ball over once. I’d say it’s the best game of his career, but his game against the Buckeyes was equally exceptional.

The Purdue loss hurts. It’s obviously not a bad loss, but the Boilers were vulnerable with the way they were playing and with the absence of Vince Edwards.

The good news for PSU is that they still have two more opportunities for big wins this week and they’re still playing really well. The OSU win put them firmly in the conversation for one of the last NCAA bids. Their rankings in analytical measures like KenPom are a plus. They just need to strike while the iron’s hot this week.

This Week: home for Michigan, at Nebraska

6. Nebraska (BracketMatrix: “First Four Out”; 5/50 brackets)

The BracketMatrix data was gathered before the loss to Illinois. I don’t know how much that affects things for them, but I know it’s not good.

The Huskers put themselves in a difficult situation where they had almost no room for error and they erred. All the positivity around them is still true despite the loss, but now they absolutely have to win two games against teams that are also playing their best basketball right now. And after they do that, they’ll probably need to beat at least one of the Top 4 in the BTT.

This Week: home for Indiana and Penn State

 

7. Indiana (BracketMatrix: N/A; 0/50 brackets)

The resume isn’t there at all for the Hoosiers. They’re 0-8 in Quad 1 and they’ve got 3 bad losses.

But I feel like you have to include them just for the way that they’re playing and their potential to get big wins down the stretch. They have two opportunities for big wins this week and obviously the Big Ten Tournament as well.

IU hasn’t exactly been beating a murderer’s row during their current four-game win streak, but they were playing well against top competition before that. They’ve largely done it on the backs of their defense, but they found themselves in a shootout on Saturday in Iowa City. The Hoosiers won that too via 14-24 three-point shooting. Shooting has been a burden for them all year, but they’ve made 47% of their attempts from distance over this four game stretch.

This Week: at Nebraska, home for Ohio State

8. Maryland (BracketMatrix: “Others Receiving Votes”; 1/50 brackets)

Well the one guy who has the Terps appears to be a little misguided. It appears to be some formulaic apparatus he’s using that not only has Maryland in the field, but comfortably as a 9 seed. He also has Nevada as a 3 seed, so yeah.

The Terps essentially have the perfectly average NIT resume. They’re not a bad team, but they’re 0-9 in Quad 1 games and 1-2 in Quad 2. They’re a title contender next year.

This Week: at Northwestern, home for Michigan

Perhaps Next Year

9. Wisconsin

I thought there had been a lot of reasons for the Badgers to feel encouraged heading into next year with everybody in line to come back. That feeling is a little more tangible now with how they’ve played the past couple weeks.

This Week: home for Minnesota, at Northwestern, home for Michigan State

10. Northwestern

This Week: home for Maryland and Wisconsin, at Iowa

11. Illinois

This Week: at Michigan State, home for Purdue, at Rutgers

12. Iowa

This Week: at Minnesota, home for Northwestern

13. Minnesota

This Week: at Wisconsin, home for Iowa, at Purdue

14. Rutgers

This Week: at Ohio State, home for Illinois