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2018 Masters Picks and Props

I’ll admit it: might have gotten a little crazy with the number of guys I’m playing this year. All plays are in the parenthesis and you can bet all of the longshots have a little sprinkled on them to win the whole damn show. What a treat this weekend is going to be.

Picks: Individual Finishes

Dustin Johnson (Top 5: +250 / To Win: +1200)

DJ isn’t as hot as he was coming into Augusta last year (3 straight wins), but he’s only finished outside the Top 20 in one stroke play event in the past 9 months. Remember, he headed into last year as the favorite at +500. His last two outings at the Masters he finished T6 and T4. He’s still the #1 ranked player in the world.

Justin Rose (Top 5: +300 / To Win: +1500)

If you don’t bet on Justin Rose at the Masters, you’re an idiot. He hasn’t finished outside the Top 25 in his last seven outings here and he’s finished in the Top 10 four times in that stretch. He’s also got five Top 10s in seven events played this season. Don’t be an idiot.

Jason Day (Top 5: +400 / To Win: +2000)

He’s been a little shaky lately, but he did win a tournament a couple months ago. Also, he might have the most consistent career of this generation’s top players when it comes to major competition. He’s played in 29 and finished in the Top 10 nearly half the time.

Paul Casey (Top 5: +500 / To Win: +2800)

Three straight Top 10s at Augusta for Paul. The odds keep dropping every year, but I’ll keep taking him. He’s second on tour tee-to-green, which is a key number in this tournament. He won the Valspar a month ago and has seven Top 20s in eight events this season.

Matt Kuchar (Top 5: +1000 / To Win: +5000)

Kuch hasn’t lit the world on fire this season, but he plays as much as anybody and he might be hitting his stride at the right time, finishing in the Top 10 the past couple weeks. He’s compiled four Top 10s, including three Top 5s, in his last six outings at the Masters. He went T4, T16, 2nd, T9 in the majors last year.

Tommy Fleetwood (Top 10: +350 / Top 5: +800)

Tommy doesn’t have much of a track record on ANGC – one MC – but he’s 5th on tour tee-to-green. He’s up to 12th now in the world rankings. He got a win early in the season and has added two other Top 5s since then and hasn’t finished a tournament outside the Top 40. Shades of Danny Willett in 2016 here.

Adam Scott (Top 10: +600 / Top 5: +1300)

Scott hasn’t done anything really noteworthy this season, but these are pretty good odds for a former champion that has four Top 10s in his last seven trips to Augusta. He hasn’t missed a cut here since ’09. Scott was in a somewhat similar form last year, missing the cut in Houston the week before, but he still finished T9 with a pair of 69s on Friday and Saturday.

Brian Harman (Top 10: +650 / Top 5: +1400)

First good news about Harman: he’s a lefty. They’ve won 6 of the last 15 Masters. He’s only played here once and he missed the cut, but it’s impossible to ignore a guy at these numbers that has seven Top 10 finishes in 11 events this season. He did have a T2 in the US Open last year and a T13 in the PGA Championship.

Kevin Chappell (Top 20: +400 / Top 10: +900)

Chappell’s got a bit of a back issue, but I’ll still take a flyer. He ranks 8th tee-to-green, finished T7 here last year, and has been rock solid for four months now.

Daniel Berger (Top 20: +400 / Top 10: +900)

He’s gone T10 and T27 in his first two Masters runs. He’s made six Top 25s in 10 events this year. That’s not the most impressive number in the world, but remember that this field is about half the size of a typical field. I like his consistency.

Cameron Smith (Top 20: +500 / Top 10: +1150)

He’s 1-for-1 in made cuts here. He’s got four Top 10s on the season. He’s decent tee-to-green, but among the best in the world around the green. That could elevate him around the top of the leaderboard this week if he strikes it well.

Ryan Moore (Top 20: +500 / Top 10: +1150)

Form is tough to pinpoint with Moore. He’s had three Top 10s and two missed cuts in his past six events. More importantly with Moore: he’s finished in the Top 15 of the Masters four times in nine tries.

Adam Hadwin (Top 20: +600 / Top 10: +1350)

Hasn’t missed a cut since August and hasn’t missed a Top 20 in two months. He’s 21st tee-to-green on tour and he was T36 in his Masters debut last year.

Prop Bets

Hole in One – Round 4 +137

I’ve wrote about this every year. If there is going to be a Hole-in-One, it’s going to be on 16, and it’s going to be on Sunday. Two years ago, there was three of them in the matter of like 45 minutes.

Top Former Winner – Phil Mickelson +450

This is just my way to bet on Phil. I don’t love his odds to win the tournament, but here he really only has to win a competition of, realistically, about eight guys.

Will there be a playoff? – Yes +300

There’s absolutely no way to handicap this, it’s a total roll of the dice. However, it’s been a winner three of the past six years and it’s fun. Root for fun.

Top Amateur Player – Doug Ghim +330

Joaquin Niemann is the favorite here and the top ranked amateur in the world, but I like the cut of Ghim’s jib. He’s currently 4th in the WAGR and finished runner-up in the 2017 US Amateur. But why I really like him: he’s 8-0 as a member of Team USA in international competition.

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2018 Power Ratings By Region: West

I’m gonna do this blog because I love doing this blog and giving my opinion on every team, but if you’d like picks, upset potential, fade material, please visit http://spreadinvestor.com/march-madness-sheet/

It’s $9.99. That’s like two beers at the bar, one if you’re on the coast. The picks are included there, but trust me, the spreadsheet/NFW list/historical trends is where the value is really at. I’m never going tout – although the @mlparlays Venmo is open – but this is a once a year thing that myself, @Return_of_RB, @THold42, and @spreadinvestor have put a lot of time into. For the OGs, you’ve gotten free material for three years now. This is a small ask. As always, thanks for reading.

West

16. Texas Southern (16 seed / -97.10)

They went 0-13 against non-SWAC teams, so it’s safe to say they’re not going to pull off the historic upset.

15. Lipscomb (15 seed / -68.20)

Lipscomb is a lot of fun and they love to play fast, but getting into a track meet with UNC is probably not going to end well for them.

14. UNC Greensboro (13 seed / 1.07)

Greensboro can absolutely lock people up, but their upset potential took a blow when they were given the underseeded Zags.

13. South Dakota State (12 seed / 19.97)

The Jackrabbits are another popular upset pick with almost 1 out of 4 brackets having SDSU knock off Ohio State. Daum is always the focal point of the offense, but if they are going to win, it’s the supporting cast that needs to catch fire.

12. Providence (10 seed / 23.22)

Ed Cooley is fun, I just wish his team wasn’t always itching for a rock fight. But if the Friars can get their wish the first weekend, they’re a sneaky underdog to make the Sweet 16.

11. Montana (14 seed / 25.30)

Montana is underseeded here, but Michigan is probably the worst case 3 seed scenario for them. They’re going to have a real difficult time trying to bottle up the Wolverine ball screen action and when Beilein finds a weakness, he does not relent. While it’s not a great matchup for the Grizz, they can stick in it because, well, they’re just a good basketball team.

10. San Diego State (11 seed / 52.82)

The Aztecs enter the tournament on a tear, but of course the committee matches them up with another team that’s been playing at a really high level. This team is fairly similar to the Steve Fisher coached SDSU teams, but one big difference is that they’ve played at a quicker pace. They’ve got some offensive punch as well. Tough pod for them, though.

9. Missouri (8 seed / 66.48)

I was a big Mizzou supporter all year, but they just have way too much instability going on right now. You can’t NOT play Michael Porter if he wants to play, but I don’t really like the idea of inserting a guy who hasn’t played all year and he’s going to suddenly account for 36% of the possessions he’s on the floor.

8. Florida State (9 seed / 66.55)

Can’t remember the last time I’ve been impressed by a Leonard Hamilton team in a tournament game. It’s been a while.

7. Xavier (1 seed / 68.95)

There’s a lot of red flags with X’s defensive profile. There’s also the red flag of: JP Macura is the second-best player. On the other hand, if it’s a close game I’d like to be on Trevon Bluiett’s side, please.

6. Houston (6 seed / 70.44)

Ended the season on a great run, but so did the other three teams in their pod.  They don’t have many holes, but they’re definitely not as efficient as you’d like inside the three-point line. They’re really a team you’d like to get behind, but the draw was very unfortunate.

5. Texas A&M (7 seed / 71.40)

A&M was disappointing, but they did have a great non-conference and they are still an elite defensive squad. Guard play is a big question mark after some midseason attrition, but they can hang with UNC if they’re able to get past pesky Providence.

4. North Carolina (2 seed / 82.08)

I doubted the Heels last year and they rubbed it in my face. And it’s hard to ever bet against Roy Williams, who by the numbers is the best tournament coach in college basketball. But it’s also important to point out the Heels were real close to being bounced out in the first weekend last year. Their profile is very similar to last year – albeit a little worse defensively – but I still just have a hard time rolling with a team that isn’t very efficient from the floor.

3. Ohio State (5 seed / 82.82)

Ohio State’s been overachieving all year, so it’s not surprising to see so many people dismiss them so quickly. Just at least keep in mind that they were 15-1 against Big Ten teams not named Penn State, they have an All-American, Chris Holtmann, and are Top 26 on both ends of the floor. They did not catch a break with having to go to Boise and likely playing Gonzaga, though.

2. Michigan (3 seed / 83.00)

I wouldn’t expect Michigan to have a big dropoff from the level they were playing at in the Big Ten Tournament. It wasn’t like they just rode some hot shooting streak to the title, they’ve just grown a lot as team, which is what a John Beilein team does. With that said, it’s not going to be an easy road. They open with an underseeded Montana, will likely face an underseeded Houston, and will more than likely follow that up with two Top 10 teams. And that’s just to reach San Antonio.

1. Gonzaga (4 seed / 91.14)

The Zags are really good again, but I do still question if they’re good enough defending the perimeter. Their numbers have started to look a lot better in that area, but you have to wonder if that will hold up now that they’re out of the WCC again.

 

2018 Power Ratings By Region: Midwest

I’m gonna do this blog because I love doing this blog and giving my opinion on every team, but if you’d like picks, upset potential, fade material, please visit http://spreadinvestor.com/march-madness-sheet/

It’s $9.99. That’s like two beers at the bar, one if you’re on the coast. The picks are included there, but trust me, the spreadsheet/NFW list/historical trends is where the value is really at. I’m never going tout – although the @mlparlays Venmo is open – but this is a once a year thing that myself, @Return_of_RB, @THold42, and @spreadinvestor have put a lot of time into. For the OGs, you’ve gotten free material for three years now. This is a small ask. As always, thanks for reading.

Midwest

17. Iona (15 seed / -30.27)

It’s tough to count out Iona because they’ve been in the tournament before and Tim Cluess is great, but Duke is a tall task.

16. Charleston (13 seed / -13.70)

The Cougars are an experienced, tough bunch and they’ll be a tough matchup for an Auburn team that seems to fading to the finish.

15. Penn (16 seed / -8.36)

Penn’s probably underseeded, but it’s not some great injustice. It’s kind of what you deserve if you’re only going to play one high-major team a year. I think their chances of pulling the first 16 over 1 upset ever have been greatly exaggerated. You’ve gotta score if you’re gonna beat Kansas.

14. Bucknell (14 seed / 8.21)

Tough draw for Bucknell, but they’re an experienced team that was in the tournament – and played well – just a year ago. Don’t think they’ll be phased by the moment, but not sure they have the horses to stop MSU.

13. Rhode Island (7 seed / 28.02)

Last year, Rhody was an 11 seed and I didn’t consider picking against them for a second. This year they’re a 7 and they’re playing Twitter’s favorite punching bag and I’m real hesitant to take the Rams. Weird things happen in this sport all the time, but a senior-laden group getting beat by 30 (they were favored by 14) on senior night is a major red flag.

12. NC State (9 seed / 29.03)

Kevin Keatts did a great job with this group and they had some big wins, but with that defense I think it’s tough to believe they can win more than a game. Especially if that second game is against Kansas in the state of Kansas.

11. Arizona State (11 seed / 32.60)

I despise their existence in this tournament and I hope they’re losing as you read this. All due respect.

10. Syracuse (11 seed / 38.06)

Ditto. On a related note, Middle Tennessee destroyed a very good Vermont team last night.

9. New Mexico State (12 seed / 41.15)

A lot of upset buzz around the Aggies this year. They’ve got some high-level athletes, tournament experience, and they face a Clemson team that seems pretty vulnerable. I think the problem for NMSU is that they’re not a team that makes a bunch of jumpers. They pretty much have to rebound well to win and that gets a lot more difficult when you no longer have that athletic advantage over the competition.

8. TCU (6 seed / 44.14)

They can win a game, but their chances of winning two went out the window when Jaylen Fisher got hurt two months ago.

7. Oklahoma (10 seed / 46.27)

Has to be the most publicized 10 seed of all-time.

6. Auburn (4 seed / 52.50)

I normally would probably dismiss the Tigers, but the other top team in their pod – Clemson – is also scuffling. I do think Sweet 16 is the ceiling, though.

5. Seton Hall (8 seed / 59.00)

Seton Hall is maddening to me. I keep waiting for them to play like a team that has a boatload of experience, but it was a disappointing Big East season. I will say that it might benefit them to get out of their league and play some teams that don’t know them as well. They beat Texas Tech and won at Louisville in non-conference.

4. Clemson (5 seed / 76.24)

They maintained for a while without Donte Grantham, but they appear to be running on fumes at this point. But the Sweet 16 is still possible for this team and that would still be a great year for the program.

3. Kansas (1 seed / 91.09)

My only futures bet from the season was on Kansas, so I was extremely pleased to see their draw. They get the first two rounds in Kansas and the 4 and 5 seeds in their half of the region are overachievers who have been scuffling due in part to significant injuries. Nothing’s a given in the tournament, but they’ve got a great set-up for the first three rounds. After that, you’re always going to have to beat quality competition.

2. Michigan State (3 seed / 94.98)

I like to consider myself leader of the Sparty doubter bandwagon. There aren’t many of us. Probably because we’re on the opposite side of a bunch of future NBA players and one of the greatest tournament coaches of all-time. Not an easy side to be on. But sometimes I feel like the only one that notices how poorly MSU has played against the few amount of good teams they’ve played this year. I also don’t like the fact that they only play their best lineup when forced by foul trouble. With that said, they’ve basically been gifted an appearance in the second weekend and they have the most underrated point guard on their roster.

1. Duke (2 seed / 110.96)

If it’s possible, I feel like a really good Duke team isn’t being talked about enough. The zone has been great for them. They went from having a suspect defense to one of the best in the country. They have the third rated offense. They have a ton of NBA guys. They have a 5x national champion coach. What’s not to like?

Oh, and as it stands, only three teams have ever been rated higher than the Blue Devils and they all won the title.

 

2018 Power Ratings By Region: South

I’m gonna do this blog because I love doing this blog and giving my opinion on every team, but if you’d like picks, upset potential, fade material, please visit http://spreadinvestor.com/march-madness-sheet/

It’s $9.99. That’s like two beers at the bar, one if you’re on the coast. The picks are included there, but trust me, the spreadsheet/NFW list/historical trends is where the value is really at. I’m never going tout – although the @mlparlays Venmo is open – but this is a once a year thing that myself, @Return_of_RB, @THold42, and @spreadinvestor have put a lot of time into. For the OGs, you’ve gotten free material for three years now. This is a small ask. As always, thanks for reading.

South

Ranked in order of their MLP Final Four ranking. Number in parenthesis is their score.

16. UMBC (16 seed / -71.48)

Things could get fun if UMBC is able to give Virginia a game for a while late Friday night and the nation discovers KJ Maura.

15. Wright State (14 seed / -28.08)

It’s not often that a team takes off when they lose one of their best scorers, but the Raiders did just that after Justin Mitchell left the team in January. Offense isn’t the calling card for Scott Nagy’s group, but he’s molded them into the best defense he’s ever had. Nagy is an extremely experienced 51-year old head coach, already in his 23rd year at that level. He took South Dakota State to the dance three times in his last five years there after transitioning them from D-2.

14. Georgia State (15 seed / 12.53)

Ron Hunter’s back. That’s fun. He brings with him our second-highest ranked 15 seed ever. Cincinnati’s going to make it a grind, but it could be interesting.

13. Buffalo (13 seed / 30.88)

Buffalo and their upset potential is going way under the radar because the country is currently enamored with DeAndre Ayton. That seems unwise. The Bulls can really score and they’re more athletic than your typical mid-major.

12. Davidson (12 seed / 39.09)

Rhode Island and St. Bonaventure had the NCAA Tournament resumes all along, but Davidson was just as good of a team all along and earned their bid the hard way. I don’t know that they have the horses to really challenge Kentucky, but it helps if Jarred Vanderbilt doesn’t play.

11. Kansas State (9 seed / 47.47)

K-State is kind of a milk toast team normally, but that’s especially true if Dean Wade isn’t healthy. Bruce Weber is a good coach, but it’s been a while since his teams have done anything significant in March.

10. Loyola Chicago (11 seed / 55.40)

The Ramblers are rated the highest among the 11 seeds, which is due to them being so great defensively. And the committee did them a big favor by giving them the 6 seed that really struggles to score at times.

9. Nevada (7 seed / 56.97)

Nevada stock is at an all-time low, but I think there’s still reason to buy. The Lindsey Drew loss has hurt, but they’re still the best offense on their half of the region. The San Diego State blowout was humbling, hopefully it helps the Pack refocus and not go the other way and crumble.

8. Miami Florida (6 seed / 59.54)

This would be the 6 seed that struggles to score. It doesn’t help that Bruce Brown is still unexpected to play in the opener. With that said, they did score 91 in a win at North Carolina two weeks ago so…

7. Creighton (8 seed / 60.20)

Creighton can rack up the points and I think a potentially hampered Kansas State is a pretty good draw for them because the Wildcat offense isn’t going hurt them too bad. Don’t think they have what it takes to take out Virginia, however.

6. Texas (10 seed / 64.65)

No offense to Texas, but I’ve seen enough Texas basketball this season. I can’t watch Dylan Osetkowski anymore. I just can’t.

5. Tennessee (3 seed / 68.97)

The Vols are probably one of the five or so most physically imposing teams in the country, but they might actually rank third or fourth just in this region. That’s well known, as is their elite-ness defensively. But the underrated part about beating Tennessee is shutting their water off from three.

4. Arizona (4 seed / 71.75)

If I had Zona stock, I’d sell it. They played one KenPom Top 25 team all year and lost by 25. They’re a below average 4 seed that’s getting 10-1 odds to win it all. It’s outrageous. If I’m wrong, you can rub it in my face.

3. Kentucky (5 seed / 74.20)

Kentucky’s definitely trending in the right direction, but Vanderbilt’s potential absence is a big deal for them and it’s tough to ride a horse to win it all if you think they have a semi-decent chance of losing their first game.

2. Cincinnati (2 seed / 82.98)

Do I think Cincinnati is going to the Final Four? No. But it’s crazy to me not one of the thousand national media guys out there aren’t picking them to go to San Antonio. If you’re looking for a semi-safe contrarian play in a big bracket pool, I’d put the Bearcats to make it out of the South.

1. Virginia (1 seed / 97.80)

The Cavs just have terrible injury luck almost every year. I don’t think De’Andre Hunter’s absence is a deal breaker for UVA, but it certainly doesn’t help matters. He’s a next-level type of athlete on a team that doesn’t have very many. But they’re still going to be an elite defense, they’re still going to be able to shoot, they’re still going to be able to take care of the ball and control the game. Hunter’s a nice player, but he ranked 4th on the team in points, 4th in rebounds, 6th in assists, 6th in blocks, and 5th in steals. He played less than half of the minutes for the Cavs this year. If you’re selling because Hunter’s out, I’m inclined to believe that you were just looking for a reason to do it anyway because you probably doubted UVA all year and were just forced to accept their greatness because all they did was keep winning in the deepest conference in the league.

 

 

CBB Picks: 3/3

Kentucky (+6) over FLORIDA

SETON HALL (-2) over Butler

LSU (-1.5) over Mississippi State

Boston College (+9) over FLORIDA STATE

KANSAS STATE (-2.5) over Baylor

LOUISIANA MONROE (-6.5) over Arkansas State

TEXAS TECH (-4.5) over TCU

NC STATE (-1.5) over Louisville

YALE (-2) over Princeton

DARTMOUTH (-1) over Cornell

GEORGE MASON (+1.5) over Richmond

UAB (+1) over Western Kentucky

UTAH STATE (pick) over UNLV

Loyola Marymount (+11.5) over Gonzaga – 1H

San Francisco (-3) over Pacific

Delaware (+1) over Elon

 

YTD: 127-106 (+8.5u)

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.