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College Basketball State of the Big Ten Betting Report: Concerns About Purdue, Illinois?

College Basketball State of the Big Ten Betting Report: Concerns About Purdue, Illinois? article feature image
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Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Kofi Cockburn (Illinois)

Every two weeks, The Action Network is providing its loyal readers with updates on the state of each major conference.

I’ve been tasked with covering the Big Ten, which is a total doozy.

However, the conference is starting to come down to the wire, and contenders are starting to separate themselves from the pretenders.

So, I’ve created four made-up tiers and placed all 14 teams in them.

Let’s break down each tier and discuss the major storylines and trends happening in the best conference in college basketball.

Author’s note: Odds to win the conference are provided by BetMGM.



Tier 1: The Favorites

Illinois Fighting Illini +250
Purdue Boilermakers +275
Michigan State Spartans +300
Wisconsin Badgers +350
Ohio State Buckeyes +800

Illinois Fighting Illini

Illinois continues to sneak closer and closer to that regular-season title.

This season, the Illini are 13-2 in games when Andre Curbelo doesn’t play, and 2-4 in games when he does.

That makes you think.

If I’m Brad Underwood, I’ll keep running the offense through Kofi Cockburn, Trent Frazier and Alfonso Plummer. Those three have been lights out offensively and more-than-adequate defensively.


Purdue Boilermakers

We need to have an adult conversation about Purdue’s defense.

The Boilermakers are now 82nd in KenPom’s defensive efficiency. They’re 120th in defensive eFG% and 339th in defensive turnover rate. They also allow one of the highest opponent 3-point rates nationally (43% 3PA/FGA).

I originally thought there were just leaks in the perimeter defense, but this is becoming overwhelming.

Purdue continues to score more efficiently than any team in college hoops. But the poor defense is unsustainable. I’m starting to get excited about fading Purdue as a high NCAA Tournament seed — this has ORU over Ohio State and Oregon over Iowa written all over it.


Other Notes in This Tier

  • Sparty is talented, but the jury is still out on them. They’ve played Illinois and Wisconsin — splitting those — but they have yet to play Purdue.
  • Johnny Davis and Wisconsin continue to hold serve, but E.J. Liddell is looking like the conference’s best player. The Buckeye big man is currently rated first in KenPom’s Big Ten POTY rankings.
  • As such, it might be wise to take a shot at Liddell to win the Wooden Award (+1800 on DraftKings).

Tier 2: The Indiana Tier

Indiana Hoosiers +3000

Indiana Hoosiers

I put Indiana in its own tier for a particular reason: the Hoosiers are very much in the hunt, but aren’t priced that way.

Indiana is two games out of first place and is playing much better basketball — outside of a dud against Michigan.

Indiana is first in the conference in defensive efficiency and the Hoosiers have a go-to guy in Trayce Jackson-Davis.

Most importantly, however, the guards have woken up.

I wrote in the last edition of this column how Indiana’s guard play would hinder it in March. I’m not so sure that’s the case anymore.

Rob Phinisee and Xavier Johnson exploded against Purdue, and although Phinisee got hurt against Penn State, Johnson dropped 18 points and six assists in the win over the Nittany Lions.

"How did he finish that play?!"

There was no stopping Xavier Johnson here. pic.twitter.com/KY8S8A6C1E

— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) January 23, 2022

After being an Indiana denier all season, I’m starting to believe Mike Woodson’s squad has something. I’d take a shot at IU at 30/1 if you’re trying to bet the regular season right now.

The Hoosiers could also be a good bet for the conference tournament.

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Tier 3: On Life Support

Michigan Wolverines +6600
Iowa Hawkeyes +8000
Rutgers Scarlet Knights +8000
Penn State Nittany Lions +50000

Michigan Wolverines

Although I’ve placed them “On Life Support,” it might be time to pull the plug on the Wolverines.

The 2021-22 Michigan Wolverines are the biggest disappointment in college hoops. They laid an egg on the road against Sparty and then came dangerously close to dropping a home game to 0-11 Nebraska.

The defense is inconsistent, the guard play is inconsistent and the wing play is inconsistent. Caleb Houstan got outmatched by Max Christie in the in-state rivalry, and that must hurt for Ann Arbor residents.

Michigan now plays Purdue twice in the next three games. I’m thinking it must win both to revive any at-large hopes.

What’s amazing about Michigan is that the Wolverines are second in the Big Ten in offensive efficiency. But they’re also 11th in defensive eFG% and 13th in 2-point defense.


Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Rutgers put up the most uninspired Big Ten effort I’ve seen in years at Minnesota.

Minnesota was brutalized by COVID protocols and dressed just seven players. The Gophers’ two bench players played just three minutes each.

Rutgers allowed Payton Willis and Luke Loewe to combine for 51 total points, and Minnesota scored just 68 in the three-point win.

Huge shot here from Peyton Willis off of a broken play. Good double late in the shot clock and an attempt that Rutgers is fine with allowing. Minnesota needs this one to get back into the bubble conversation. pic.twitter.com/9zmqvMEnVH

— Benjamin (@been_gee) January 22, 2022

Ron Harper Jr. had a shot to win the game, too. But he took the ball down to the low-post sideline and got called for an offensive foul by shoving the defender.

Just all-around bad execution, coaching and effort for Rutgers.

Also, the Scarlet Knights just dropped an overtime game at Northwestern. Things are getting ugly in Piscataway.


Other Notes in This Tier

  • It was an awesome double-overtime win for Penn State over Iowa on Monday. Micah Shrewsberry continues to prove he’s the right guy for the job in University Park.
  • I would still target PSU to make the tournament, and I’m eyeing home underdog spots vs. Michigan and Michigan State in the coming weeks.
  • Meanwhile, Iowa has now lost three of its last four, including one to Rutgers.

Tier 4: It’s Already Conference Tournament Time

Maryland Terps +100000
Northwestern Wildcats +100000
Minnesota Golden Gophers +100000
Nebraska Cornhuskers +10000

Maryland Terrapins

Maryland has the talent to compete in this conference. It has put nothing together, though.

However, Maryland’s 11-11 resume is rather intriguing. It includes:

  • A four-point loss to Virginia Tech
  • A five-point loss to Iowa
  • One-possession losses to Michigan State and Wisconsin
  • Wins over Illinois and Florida

Meanwhile, ShotQuality does show Maryland is due for some slight positive regression.

If you’re looking for a long shot to win the Big Ten Tournament, I’d look toward Maryland. The perimeter defense is trash, and the offense is worse. But a team with Eric Ayala, Fatts Russell and Qudus Wahab shouldn’t be playing this poorly.

If Danny Manning can get his Terps in a row come March, Maryland can make a run. I’m not saying it will happen, though.


Other Notes in This Tier

  • Nebraska needed to close out the win against Michigan like it needed air to breathe. Fred Hoiberg must be fired ASAP.
  • Amazingly, Minnesota is still in the bubble conversation. BracketWAG.com has the Golden Gophers in the Next 4 Out.

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