BettorIQ’s College Basketball Betting Preview: Big Ten
Following up on our ACC, and SEC previews, today we take a look at the Big Ten. This year, the conference shows out with four teams ranked in the AP preseason Top 25, including the #1 ranked Michigan State Spartans. Yet, this conference may yet be underrated. Purdue are ranked 23rd in the poll, yet 7th in the KenPom preseason rankings. Ohio State are 11th in KenPom, yet only 18th in the AP poll. Michigan are 21st in KenPom, but only received 2 votes from the Associated Press. The conference as a whole appears to have exceptional depth. A remarkable ten teams in this conference find themselves in the Top 45 in KenPom. There’s every chance that the Big Ten will provide plenty of value betting opportunities as non-conference play gets underway next Wednesday. With less than a week to go before NCAA hoops action begins, let’s take a look at the state of a few Big Ten teams and their prospects to meet expectations, surprise, or disappoint.
Michigan State Spartans
We simply have to start at the top. Last year, Tom Izzo once again did wonders with a Michigan State team facing key injuries and adversity. All he did was respond and get his team back to the Final Four for the eighth time. Izzo is now fifth all-time in Final Four appearances, and third among active coaches, trailing only Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams. This year, Izzo should have every reason to believe his Spartans can win a national championship.
It all starts with on and off-court leader Cassius Winston. The preseason Big Ten Player of the Year will provide the focus and calm required to ensure this team deals with its lofty expectations and hits the ground running. His grasp of Izzo’s scheme on both ends of the floor trickles on down to the rest of the team. His team-first mentality has fed down to the other players and Izzo has taken note. “The team has worked extremely hard. I really like the lack of egos. I like the fact that nobody acts like they’re better than somebody else. The chemistry is good. When you get a lot of guys back, that’s important.” The best Spartan teams have always exhibited great togetherness, and this team should have that characteristic in spades.
Last season, the Spartans went a fantastic 27-12 ATS, for a cover rate of 69.2%, with an impressive cover margins of +3.2. Both figures rank second among Power Five conference teams. Deeper still, the Spartans were an absurd 12-2 ATS against ranked opponents. While one might lean toward a regression in these spots, their cover margin of +6.2 suggests they may not fall as far as one might think.
One area of concern is that star scorer Joshua Langford remains injured. Indications are that Langford will be out until January and he will be missed as the team negotiates a very difficult early schedule that includes matchups against Kentucky, Kansas, and Seton Hall. That said, Langford was injured at the end of December last year, and the team still won the Big Ten and made a run to the Final Four. They are prepared for this, and the continuity afforded the Spartans suggests that they may be well-positioned to perform against these quality opponents.
Interestingly, of the four Big Ten teams ranked in the AP preseason poll, Maryland is the only one whose ranking (7) is higher than its KenPom preseason slot (16). Whether the public perception built from their high ranking presents some value against the Terrapins in the early running remains to be seen, but it is certainly notable. Despite the lofty ranking, Maryland are only 12th favorites to win the NCAA tournament, listed at 30-1. Those odds have shortened a bit, but CBS sports expert Matt Norlander does believe this team is for real. The previous line of 40-1 was of note to him, when he wrote, “At 40-1, you’d best try to get a ticket on Maryland now if you can because that’s a bargain…Potentially No. 2 seed material. The biggest reason why is a dual breakout season. Anthony Cowan has been flirting at the fringes of meaningful, consistent point guard play for three seasons. I’m all in on him unlocking his potential at the same time Jalen Smith turns into one of the five or six best big men in college basketball. The Terps return four starters from a 23-win team…”
The loss of big Bruno Fernando (13.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 1.9 bpg, 60.7 FG%) will certainly hurt in a Big Ten conference that will feature plenty of good front court play. Hopes are high for incoming center Chol Marial. A top-60 ESPN recruit, the 7-footer will not be available until league play begins, but he should provide valuable cover to preseason All-Big Ten postman Jalen Smith. Maryland should have plenty of shooting to cope with the expanded three-point line, and a high-low game featuring Smith and fellow all-conference player point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. should be adept at exploiting the space afforded in this year’s brand of college basketball. Cowan Jr. will be leading a team that will be favored in most of their games this year, and it’s not a spot where he and his Maryland club have excelled, going only 26-29-3 ATS as a favorite since the point guard arrived on campus.
The outlook on Purdue is sort of the reverse of what we see with Maryland. Despite a phenomenal run to the Elite Eight last season, where they suffered a heart-breaking defeat at the hands of eventual national champion Virginia, Purdue barely made the AP Top 25, coming in as the 23rd ranked team. As stated above, they are rated much higher (7th) in the preseason KenPom ratings. One suspects that the public and media perception of the Boilermakers is on the wane primarily because of the loss of Carsen Edwards. Edwards was certainly Purdue’s best player last year, but the historic performance he produced in March has probably led to a bit of an overreaction about Purdue’s limitations and prospects in the 2019-2020 season.
Granted, the fact that Purdue only return 53.5% of their minutes from last season suggests there’s more to overcome than the loss of the scoring leader. However, a lot of the optimism comes from two main factors. First, there’s the feeling that returning players Nojel Eastern and Matt Haarms are ready for the increased roles that are coming their way. Now upperclassmen, they have the chance to be all-conference performers. They’ll be helped by their familiarity with Head Coach Matt Painter’s schemes, and they should get help from grad transfer Jahaad Proctor. The senior guard arrives from High Point and only adds to what should be one of the deepest teams in the Big Ten.
Underpinning any optimism to be had in Purdue, is the presence of Painter. He’s been the leading this program since 2005 and his teams typically play hard and almost always exhibit great team work and chemistry. It’s not surprising to find that since Painter took the job, Purdue are the best ATS team in the entire Big Ten, going 236-201-11.
Albeit briefly, it’s important to take stock of the biggest change in the Big Ten. After 12 years as the head coach, John Beilein decided he was ready for the new challenge of the NBA, and took the Cleveland Cavaliers job. Beilein returned Michigan to national prominence and closed strong, as the Wolverines had two Sweet 16 appearances and a National Championship game appearance in his last three seasons. Add to that the Elite Eight run in 2013-14 and Beilein had an incredible run. The fact is, he was one of the best coaches in the country, and routinely produced a top defensive team in Ann Arbor. Into the void steps Michigan playing legend Juwan Howard. The hire makes sense on many levels, as it helps to maintain continuity, keeps the historic brand alive, and gives a chance to Howard, a man so honored and happy to take over that he broke down in tears during his introductory press conference.
Simply put, Howard is inexperienced. He was an assistant in the NBA for the Miami Heat, but this is uncharted territory. Clearly, expectations are going to be a little tempered. Despite the 21st ranking in the preseason KenPom, they’ve received little love from the AP. There may be a bit of value here, though. Howard has built an impressive staff that should go great lengths in helping him acclimate to the role. Importantly, he retained key Beilein assistant Saddi Washington, who was the former coach’s longest-tenured assistant. In addition, long-time St. Joseph’s boss Phil Martelli has come on board, as has former Knicks assistant Howard Eisley. There could be more stability here than meets the eye.