Big Ten Tournament Preview: Five Things Bettors Should Know

Big Ten Tournament Preview: Five Things Bettors Should Know article feature image
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Feb 20, 2018; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Miles Bridges (22) reacts during the first half of a game at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Believe it or not, the Big Ten tournament tips today (at MSG oddly enough) with some late afternoon action between Illinois (-1) and Iowa. The Big Ten is the only Power Conference to hold its postseason tourney this week.

Michigan State, the all-time leader in Big Ten tournament titles with five, is currently listed as the odds-on favorite, nudging out Purdue by just a hair. One of the top two seeds has won in 15 of the 20 years since the Big Ten tournament started in 1998.

Defending champ Michigan won it all last year as a No. 8 seed, which is the lowest seed to ever take the crown. Before Michigan’s victory, the lowest seed to ever win was the No. 6 seed Iowa Hawkeyes in 2001.

Now that you have some background, let’s look at five things every bettor should know ahead of this year’s tournament.


1. The Simulation Speaks

By John Ewing

Our simulation says to back the Boilers

March Madness is unpredictable, but are conference tournaments? In the last eight years, the favorite has won 23 of 48 (48%) Power Conference tournaments (ACC, Big Ten, Big East, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC). The Big Ten favorite has cut down the nets in six of the last eight tourneys.

Based on 10,000 simulations of the Big Ten tournament using the Bracket Simulator and the current betting odds at, Purdue (+178) offers bettors value. The Boilermakers have a 36.0% implied probability of winning, which is less than the 37.3% of the time they win in the simulation.

2. The Big Ten’s Best

By Jordan Majewski

Sparty is the class of the conference

Michigan State is the most balanced team in the country, as it is the only team ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. It finished the regular season on a 12-game winning streak, but the only truly notable win during that stretch was a narrow home victory over Purdue.

MSU doesn’t really have a discernible weakness outside of Cassius Winston’s occasional recklessness, but he atones for those errors with his three point shooting. Winston is canning threes at an absurd 57%, which leads the country, while also owning the nation’s third highest assist rate. With an elite wing in Miles Bridges, a dominant post in Nick Ward, and a budding superstar at the 4 in Jaren Jackson, it’s easy to see why Winston has such a high assist rate. He sees so many open perimeter looks within Tom Izzo’s Hawk action half court offense.

This is the best Sparty defense since the 2012-13 season, as they’re excellent in almost every facet. Ward has caught some unwarranted flak for his defense, but he’s actually been an elite post defender. He also makes up for his lack of overall quickness with some of the best post footwork I’ve seen in several years. His pick and roll defense is improving as well. Sparty will have trouble with big ball handlers (Ohio State) and mobile bigs (Michigan), but Jackson has improved his defense mightily as the season has progressed, particularly in isolation and off screens. That defense could really get tested in a potential semifinal rematch against Michigan, which dominated Sparty in the second half in East Lansing.

3. Look for Early First Half Overs

By Evan Abrams

A trend that has profited for six straight seasons

Early window Power Conference tournament games (ACC, Big Ten, Big East, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) have seen a streak of first half overs in recent years. First half overs in Power Conference tournament games that start at 2pm ET or earlier have turned a profit in each of the last six seasons. Since 2011-12, first half overs are 67-45-1 (59.8%) in this spot, covering by an average of 2.5 points.

4. Who to Back on the Back to Back

By Evan Abrams

Trust Turgeon and the Terps on a quick turnaround

The ability to quickly gameplan and scheme in a Conference Tournament setting is key. Since Mark Turgeon’s first season at Texas A&M in 2007, his teams (Maryland and A&M) are 14-4-1 ATS (77.8%) when playing on a back-to-back days, which is what the Terps will need to do if they make it past Wisconsin in the second round. Over that span, only Mark Gottfried (Alabama and NC State) was more profitable ATS in back-to-back scenarios.

5. Potential Sleepers

By Jordan Majewski

The winner of Nebraska-Michigan could make noise

My two favorite sleepers will likely cross paths in the quarterfinals. Nobody wants to see Michigan (+600) in a tournament setting, which was evident in its Championship run last year. The Wolverines are following an almost identical script:

  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman has recently been doing his best Derrick Walton impersonation.
  • Moe Wagner remains an unstoppable force in pick and roll offense.
  • Zavier Simpson has morphed into one of the league’s best on ball defenders on the perimeter.
  • Frosh Jordan Poole is getting the hang of Beilein’s 2 Guard offense.

Additionally, the defense is currently playing at the same level as the offense, which makes Michigan one of the teams to beat in my eyes.

Having said that, Nebraska (+2100) gave Michigan all it could handle and more in a 20-point blowout win in Lincoln. Since Tim Miles went to the small “Death Lineup”, Nebraska is essentially the worst matchup for Michigan’s pick and roll offense.

Miles switched on every single screen against Michigan, as he uniquely has the personnel to do so with Isaiah Roby, James Palmer, Isaac Copeland, and Evan Taylor. All are capable of defending Wagner in pick and pop situations. Since the Huskers could switch on everything, Michigan could barely get an open look from deep, finishing 4-18 from behind the arc. Wagner was also stymied into his worst offensive game in two years. The Huskers will also be playing with the knowledge that they probably have to win that hypothetical matchup to get into the NCAA Tournament. The potential Michigan-Nebraska meeting could be the game of the tournament in many ways.

Pictured in top photo: Michigan State’s Miles Bridges; credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports