Big Ten College Basketball Conference Futures: Michigan Wolverines in a Class of Their Own
Dylan Buell/Getty Images. Pictured: Michigan Wolverines forward Isaiah Livers (4).
Big Ten College Basketball Conference Futures
The Big Ten is the best conference in college basketball. Any team can beat any other on any given night. There are no days off in the Big Ten.
Big Ten basketball. The purest form of the sport.
— Tanner McGrath (@tannerstruth) January 30, 2021
Breaking down Big Ten conference futures odds requires a comprehensive review from top to bottom — anything less would be a disservice to the Big Ten’s exceptional depth and quality of play.
Therefore, in this article I will attempt to cover as many teams as possible — roughly broken up into three completely made-up tiers: The Favorites, The Mid-Tier and The Longshots.
The Michigan Wolverines Are the Class of the Conference
Each of these teams has a compelling case to win the Big Ten. Nonetheless, Michigan is still undervalued at 3/1 — even as the outright favorite and despite its active two-week hiatus induced by COVID-19 contact-tracing protocols.
What head coach Juwan Howard and the Wolverines are doing is nothing short of spectacular. Michigan pairs an elite offense with an elite defense, and no other team in the conference does that.
The Wolverines are the only other team besides No. 2 Baylor that ranks top-10 in adjusted offensive efficiency (AdjOE) and adjusted defensive efficiency (AdjDE), per KenPom. In order to emphasize just how spectacular that balance truly is, contrast Michigan’s conference-only efficiency margin versus the rest of its Big Ten competitors:
Big Ten Conference-Only Efficiency Margins
The Wolverines are 13-1 overall and a mind-boggling 11-3 against the spread (ATS). Excluding the team’s loss to Minnesota, Michigan has covered the spread by an average of 15.8 points over its last four games.
Arguments Against Each of Michigan’s Primary Competitors
- Iowa’s longstanding defensive issues were on full display during its 80-75 loss to Illinois on Friday night.
- Despite its experience and well-balanced attack, Wisconsin doesn’t have a go-to offensive player that can go bucket-for-bucket down the stretch with Michigan’s top scorers (Isaiah Livers and Hunter Dickinson).
- Illinois can often be over-reliant on its two star players (Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn).
With or without the Wolverines’ suspension in play, it would be crazy to not play them to win the Big Ten right now.
Rutgers Stands Out as a Mid-Tier Value Play
When the Scarlet Knights are playing well, they are one of the best squads in the country.
For example: Back on Dec. 20, Rutgers took down Illinois for its sixth straight win and third straight win over KenPom top-50 teams. Ron Harper Jr. scored 25 or more points in four of those six wins, and the defense was playing at an elite level.
Then, following Rutgers’ home win against Purdue on Dec. 29, the Scarlet Knights subsequently lost five straight games. The streak included bad losses to Michigan State and Penn State — two teams that might miss the NCAA Tournament.
Rutgers’ success hinges on its team defense and Harper’s offense. However, the team’s defensive metrics have dropped precipitously during its most recent stretch of games, and Harper hasn’t scored 20 points in a game since before his ankle injury.
Yet despite the red flags in Rutgers’ season-to-date resume, we should not easily dismiss the team’s evident ceiling. The Scarlet Knights just ripped off two straight wins, including a 30-point bashing of Michigan State. Rutgers plays flailing Northwestern on Sunday, and a win there could give the Scarlet Knights a much-needed boost for the second half of the season.
One other note about this group: Fade Northwestern.
The Wildcats started the season hot, but don’t be fooled: This is not a good team, and its top players have been shooting dreadfully during conference play. Head coach Chris Collins’ squad has now lost seven straight games, and I expect them to lose against Rutgers as well.
Let’s talk about the Maryland Terrapins.
Maryland is one of the strangest teams in college basketball. The Terrapins are 9-8 overall and just 3-7 in conference play, which is underwhelming at best on paper. However, the Terps also boast with road wins over Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota.
We know that Maryland can beat any team when it’s playing well. Moreover, it is important to note that Maryland has played a really tough schedule so far. In fact, the Terrapins have played the fourth-toughest schedule in the country, per KenPom.
The schedule for Mark Turgeon and co. eases up down the stretch. During its final nine games, Maryland gets to play Penn State (twice), Nebraska, Michigan State and Northwestern. Those four teams are all trending downwards in the Big Ten, and the Terrapins could make a big jump in the conference standings to close out the regular season.
Maryland’s advanced metrics are, on the whole, terrible. However, it has three talented players in Eric Ayala, Donta Scott and Aaron Wiggins. Each member of that trio averages 12.5 or more points per game, and all three players shoot 41.5% or better from the field.
If those three get particularly hot during the second half of this season, then there is a path for Maryland to return value on its 100/1 futures odds as of writing.