Big Ten Basketball Tournament Odds & Picks: Previewing Wednesday’s 2 Opening-Round Games
Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images. Pictured: Trey McGowens (Nebraska)
The opening round of the Big Ten Tournament begins Wednesday evening in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Nebraska and Northwestern will face off before Minnesota and Penn State take the court.
There is value on both lines, so let’s get to it.
Nebraska vs. Northwestern
Nebraska has been lethal at playing spoiler in the Big Ten. Illinois basketball fans are thanking the Cornhuskers for taking down Wisconsin in Madison on the last day of the regular season.
They won that matchup without having Bryce and Trey McGowens for much of the game. Alonzo Verge Jr. went on a tear to help close the door.
Bryce McGowens could be out again on Wednesday, but even without him, the Huskers should keep this game tight, as they are playing better than Northwestern at the moment.
Northwestern crushed Nebraska twice this season, but that was not the same Nebraska team.
Verge looks to be the X-factor for Nebraska. He contributes to the shockingly decent interior approach from the Cornhuskers. He is averaging 18 points per game over the last three games.
He has a tendency to get sloppy — averaging over three turnovers per game — but Northwestern only turns opponents over at a 19.4% clip.
The good should outweigh the bad with Verge.
Now, Northwestern is brutal at guarding the perimeter. It has allowed opponents to shoot 35.9% from deep this season, which is even worse than Nebraska’s 34.7% opponent 3 rate.
The Wildcats also have a better Rim & 3 Rate on both offense and defense, per ShotQuality. This means they get reasonable, high-quality shots both inside and out.
Finally, also from ShotQuality, Nebraska loves using the isolation. It ranks 59th in the NCAA in doing so, and Northwestern ranks 237th in defending the iso-ball.
This will allow Verge and others open shots, improving their efficiency.
Northwestern’s edge in this game is going to be rebounding. It holds opponents to 24.6% on the offensive glass. Meanwhile, Nebraska struggles with rebounding on both sides of the floor.
That said, outside of not turning over the ball, Northwestern does not do anything spectacularly. The Wildcats only turn it over at a 14% clip, ranking sixth in the country. The Huskers do not turn opponents over often, so expect NU to at least play a clean game.
Otherwise, Northwestern needs to make shots from outside. On the season, 34.2% of its total point distribution is from deep. Nebraska is rough on the defensive end, but as stated above, it can defend the arc a bit better than the Wildcats.
Lastly, since Nebraska likes getting the ball inside and rarely shoots 3s, NU will be overworked in the paint. Yes, the Wildcats hold opponents to only 47.1% on 2-pointers. But efficiency does not matter all that much to Nebraska in totality.
The Huskers run at a super-charged pace (18th in adjusted tempo, per KenPom), so they will produce as many shot opportunities as possible. In doing so, they should be able to keep this game close, and potentially win.
Pick: Nebraska +5 (Play to +3.5)
Minnesota vs. Penn State
Penn State and Minnesota will round off the first night of the Big Ten Tournament. These teams are virtually dead even.
Per KenPom, Penn State and Minnesota rank 91st and 107th overall, respectively.
Given that Penn State solely relies on its snail’s pace and strong defense to get it through games, it will not be able to keep up with Minnesota’s shooting.
Minnesota ranks 33rd in the nation in 3-point shooting (37.1%), while Penn State struggles mightily when it comes to defending the deep shot. The Nittany Lions are allowing the opposition to shoot over 35% on the season, so the Gophers will exploit this.
Jamison Battle, Payton Willis and E.J. Stephens each have over 105 3-point attempts. They are also each shooting over 36%. They will have plenty of opportunities to launch 3s in this one, as 35.1% of Minnesota’s total points this season have come from outside the arc.
The Golden Gophers will have trouble rebounding. Penn State ranks 47th in defensive rebounding rate, so the Gophers will likely only have one chance on each trip down the floor (356th in offensive rebounding rate).
Since the Gophers rely on the 3, though, second chances points are few and far between anyways. This should not impact the game much.
Finally, Minnesota thrives when protecting the ball. The Gophers only turn over the ball 14.1% of the time, ranking seventh nationally. Since Penn State does not force mistakes on defense, the Gophers should be in prime position to get consistent open shots.
Penn State also banks on shooting 3s — 37.6% of its total offense has come from downtown this season. Minnesota has held opponents to around 33.6% from outside this season. This is about in line with how the Nittany Lions shoot, so expect nothing out of the ordinary for them.
Now, Penn State depends on interior defense. It starts with John Harrar, who averages a double-double — points and boards.
Per ShotQuality, the Nittany Lions defend cuts well (59th) and also excel at defending the mid-range (46th). This means Minnesota will have to hit its outside shots or it is sunk. Regardless, the Gophers depend so much on the deep shot, it should not matter.
Again, per ShotQuality, each team ranks amongst the bottom in the NCAA in Finishing at the Rim. Knowing this, fans can see why Penn State’s offense has been lacking all season.
Minnesota has the offensive wherewithal to possibly win this game, but it will at least keep it close. Penn State will leave open 3s for the Golden Gophers, which will keep this in a one-possession range.
Minnesota beat Penn State earlier in the season by shooting 50% from deep, even while losing the rebounding battle. A similar outcome should occur here.
Pick: Minnesota +3 (Play to +2)