College Basketball State of the Big Ten Betting Report: Illinois & Wisconsin Rising Up Conference Ranks

College Basketball State of the Big Ten Betting Report: Illinois & Wisconsin Rising Up Conference Ranks article feature image

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Every Big Ten team now has three conference games under their belt. But now that we’re into January, we’ve entered the thick of the conference season.

There are more than a few storylines to break down since the previous edition of this column, including one team skyrocketing toward the top of the conference leaderboard.

I’ve come up with four completely made-up tiers and placed all 14 teams in them, so let’s break down the best conference in college basketball from top-to-bottom.

Author’s note: Odds to win the conference are via BetMGM

The Favorites

Purdue Boilermakers+275
Illinois Fighting Illini+400
Ohio State Buckeyes+400
Michigan State Spartans+500

Purdue Boilermakers

Two weeks ago, Purdue looked like a lock to win the Big Ten — even in spite of the Boilermakers’ road loss to Rutgers.

But a home loss to Wisconsin — to drop to 1-2 in conference play — is not a promising result.

Is it possible that dominant ball-heavy players could take advantage of Purdue’s defense? Jaden Ivey and Eric Hunter Jr. are lengthy, but the Boilermakers' perimeter defense has been all-around lackadaisical.

The team is 328th in defensive turnover rate — including 294th in steal rate — and ranks below the 20th percentile in Pick-and-roll PPP allowed (.841).

In that Wisconsin game, Johnny Davis went thermonuclear with 37 points, but Brad Davison had a quiet 15 himself. No other player scored more than six, but it was enough to beat the Boilermakers.

Purdue is still first nationally in offensive efficiency. It’s a long season, and Purdue is probably still the team to beat.

Illinois Fighting Illini

The biggest climber from my previous Big Ten state of the union article is Illinois, which has won nine of 10 since dropping back-to-back games to Marquette and Cincinnati. The only loss during that stretch came to top-tier Arizona, meaning the Illini are 3-0 in conference play so far.

Nobody roots for injuries, but Illinois has been thriving without Andre Curbelo on the court. Before his concussion, Curbelo was simply a liability running the offense — something I didn’t expect.

Curbelo’s turnover issues and below-average defensive presence have held Illinois' offensive and defensive turnover rate at sub-300 levels.

But with Trent Frazier and Alfonso Plummer running the backcourt, the Illini offense has exploded. Frazier’s offensive capabilities are well-known, but Plummer has dropped 20+ points in six of his last eight starts with a true-shooting percentage that ranks top-20 nationally.

Kofi Cockburn is still the heart-and-soul of the team, however, as he's currently ranked third in KenPom’s Player of the Year rankings. Moreover, he’s the leading rebounder on the second-best offensive rebounding team in the nation.

Ohio State Buckeyes

The story of this season’s Buckeyes — who are 3-0 in conference play with a non-conference victory over Duke — is E.J. Liddell.

Liddell is used on almost 34% of Ohio State’s possessions (ninth nationally) and is scoring almost 20 per game while averaging over seven rebounds. He’s currently first in KenPom’s Player of the Year rankings and has a legitimate shot at the Wooden Award.

Chris Holtmann’s teams are known for being electric offensively, and the addition of freshman Malaki Branham has bolstered that. The former Ohio Mr. Basketball is the Buckeyes’ third-leading scorer, but he showed his true potential with a 35-point performance at Nebraska.

However, it did take the Buckeyes overtime to beat the Cornhuskers, which is a rather unremarkable achievement.

Michigan State Spartans

Somehow, Tom Izzo’s team has snuck into the AP top-10.

That has come from winning nine of their last 10, with seven of the victories coming against KenPom top-100 teams.

The defense anchors the Spartans, but Tyson Walker is starting to find his own. He hasn’t been much of a scoring presence, but he’s top-10 nationally in assist rate and has cut his turnovers way down. Over his last seven games, he has a 48:12 assist-to-turnover ratio while dropping double-digit dimes twice.

However, Sparty did not look super good in a close win over Northwestern.

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The Question Marks

Michigan Wolverines+850
Wisconsin Badgers+1200
Iowa Hawkeyes+2000
Indiana Hoosiers+2000

Michigan Wolverines

Michigan is still broken. There are currently no redeeming qualities about this edition of Juwan Howard’s Wolverines.

Big Blue has lost three of four to Rutgers, UCF and Minnesota.

However, we could start to target Michigan in buy-low spots, given its non-conference ineptitude. But the team must get it together first.

Wisconsin Badgers

If Davis continues to scorch the college basketball earth, Wisconsin’s ceiling is significantly raised.

I’m thinking second-in-the-conference raised.

This team has a solid defense — one that’s top-30 nationally in efficiency. The offense, however, has been all-around bad.

But Davis’ shot-volume (34.2 shot%, eighth nationally) and efficiency (45 FG%, 35 3P%) can carry this team on the offensive end.

The only question is: can he keep it up?

The “What is Happening Here”

Rutgers Scarlet Knights+3330
Maryland Terrapins +6600
Northwestern Wildcats+6600

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • Lost to DePaul, Lafayette and UMass
  • Beat Clemson, Purdue and Michigan

Maryland Terps

  • Lost to George Mason
  • Beat Florida

Northwestern Wildcats

  • Lost to Providence and Wake Forest
  • Almost beat Michigan State

The anarchy of the Big Ten.


Minnesota Golden Gophers+15000
Nebraska Cornhuskers+15000

Minnesota Golden Gophers

It might be time to buy the Golden Gophers.

Ben Johnson’s band of transfer misfits are 10-2 with wins against Mississippi State and Michigan. In the losses, Minnesota managed to hang with Michigan State at home, but got blown out by Illinois.

Either way, Charleston transfer guard Payton Willis and George Mason transfer Jamison Battle are leading a somewhat-competent offensive basketball team — specifically, one that takes care of the ball (ninth in turnover rate).

However, I have two massive worries when it comes to Minnesota:

  1. Opponents are shooting just 25.8% from deep against the Golden Gophers, a simply unsustainable number.
  2. The lineup only runs seven deep, and the five starters are all nationally ranked in minutes percentage, meaning this team could lose steam come February or conference tournament time.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Fred Hoiberg is fully on the hot seat.

He needs to start delivering wins with five-star recruit Bryce McGowens, or it’s over in Lincoln.

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