Big Ten Tournament: Yes, It Started Earlier Than Normal

Rainman M.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018 1:04 PM UTC

Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018 1:04 PM UTC

The Big Ten Tournament tipped off Wednesday at Madison Square Garden in New York City and concludes with the championship game on Sunday at 4:30 ET. Read on for a prediction of the tournament winner and other things that bettors should keep an eye on.

2018 Big Ten TournamentFree NCAAB Pick: Purdue +275Best Line Offered: BetOnline

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The 2018 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament bracket. #B1GTourney #B1GAtMSG

— Big Ten Men's Hoops (@B1GMBBall) February 26, 2018

  • Michigan State +250
  • Purdue +275
  • Ohio State +600
  • Michigan +700
  • Penn State +1000
  • Nebraska +1000
  • Indiana +2000
  • Maryland +2500
  • Wisconsin +3300
  • Northwestern +3300
  • Minnesota +10000
  • Illinois +10000
  • Rutgers +10000
  • Iowa +10000

Bubble Teams and Possible Surprises

The Big Ten Tournament is starting a week early this season because it's being held at Madison Square Garden for the first time, and the Garden is booked next week for the Big East Tournament.

Nebraska is surging with wins in 10 of its last 12 games and is an attractive long-shot betting option. The Cornhuskers will need at least one win in the conference tournament to have a good chance of making it to the Big Dance as an at-large team. The Huskers will likely square off against defending conference tournament champion Michigan, another surging squad that has won five straight games. Michigan lost on Jan. 18, 72-52 at Nebraska, thanks especially to its 4-for-18 effort from three. Michigan's inability to succeed from three is critical because it ranks first in proportion of threes attempted and has the Big Ten's highest point distribution from three.

Nebraska's defense matches up optimally against Michigan because it is the best in the Big Ten at contesting the three and ranks second in proportion of attempted threes allowed. Offensively, Nebraska's ability to draw fouls provides itself a boost because it relies more than any other team in the conference on points from the free-throw line, while Michigan ranks ninth in opposing free throws attempted. If bettors take a chance with Nebraska, they will likely need Nebraska to upset Michigan State, which, considering Michigan State's tendency to underperform and not cover against lesser competition away from home, wouldn't be impossible. Bettors could then hedge the final by money-lining Nebraska's opponent.

Penn State is another bubble team but is a less attractive betting choice as long as the health of center Mike Watkins is still, in the words of PSU coach Pat Chambers, "being assessed." PSU, which has hardly been competitive in its past two losses against Michigan and Nebraska, needs Watkins, who ranks 13th in two-point completion percentage, in the top 300 in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage and 32nd in block percentage. He is a major force around the rim, scoring and on defense, and his absence was ostensible Sunday as Nebraska was able to bully Penn State inside. If Watkins turns out to be healthy, Penn State would be an attractive choice to beat Northwestern and beat Ohio State for the third time, and then likely getting Purdue, which it really challenged at its home court. Bettors could then hedge the final.

Predicting Michigan State vs. Purdue Final

Michigan State is a less attractive betting option in case it does have to face Michigan again, which beat Sparty by 10 on Jan. 13 in East Lansing. What makes UM such a difficult matchup for MSU is its ability to win the turnover battle. The Spartans are bottom-ranked in turnover percentage allowed, while Michigan's top-ranked half-court defense and fifth-ranked turnover defense gives turnover-prone MSU point guard Cassius Winston fits. UM is also difficult because of the versatility of its center Moritz Wagner, who scored 27 in the first matchup.

But even if Michigan State makes it to the final, I think Purdue is a better bet. Purdue lost a coin-flip game vs. OSU while in a tough stretch during which its two offensively most efficient players (according to KenPom), guards Dakota Mathias and PJ Thompson, were essentially non-existent. Purdue had lost on Feb. 10 at Michigan State 68-65 thanks to a Miles Bridges three-pointer with 2.7 seconds left. In a game between two top-ranked offenses and defenses, turnovers, physicality and experience will make the difference for Purdue. The Boilers rank second in percentage of turnovers allowed and ninth in percentage of turnovers forced, while Michigan State ranks outside the top 10 in both categories. Regarding physicality, Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms rank in the top 200 in block percentage and two-point shooting. They are bigger and stronger than Sparty's big men. Lastly, Purdue has much more experience with four seniors in the lineup.

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