Venturing east to Washington, D.C. for its tournament this week, the Big Ten's event looks wide open with Purdue, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Maryland the top choices on the NCAA futures odds.
And just like that, four months have passed to plop us right down into Championship Week. One of the most interesting conference tourneys we'll see this week takes place in the nation's capital, where the Big Ten is gathering to determine who gets its automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
It's interesting for several reasons, starting with it being a strange season in the Big Ten without its usual number of high-ranked teams. Just a few weeks ago when the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee released its early top 16 seeds for the Big Dance, not one of the projected top 4 at that time was a Big Ten school. Nothing has changed with projections right now placing Purdue as the top-seeded side at No. 5.
After winning the regular season title, Purdue is the favorite to win the tournament at top-rated sportsbooks, and the Boilermakers enter the event on a pretty high note with victories in seven of their last eight games. Matt Painter's squad is priced around +175 at many shops, and the Boilermakers will be looking for their first conference tournament title since 2009.
Terps No. 3 Seed, But No. 4 In Odds To Win
It has been 16 years since anyone seeded lower than No. 3 in the tournament has taken home the title: Iowa as a No. 6 seed in 2001 the last to accomplish the feat. Assuming that trend continues, it puts Wisconsin at No. 2 and No. 3 Maryland in good positions. The NCAA futures odds have Wisconsin at +225 and Maryland +1000 to upset Purdue's plans.
The No. 1 seed this week seemed to be Wisconsin's for the taking just a few weeks ago, but the Badgers went into a late-season slump and lost five of their last seven contests. Greg Gard's group knotted the Terrapins with the second-best record in the Big Ten, but earned the higher seed thanks to beating Maryland 71-60 about two weeks ago as 6-point home chalk on the NCAA basketball odds.
The Terps also stumbled late with a 3-game skid, but bounced back with victories in their final two games. Rounding out the top 4 seeds to earn byes in the first two rounds is Minnesota. Despite the lower seed, the Golden Gophers are listed +650 on the board after seeing an 8-game win streak come to an end on Sunday in a 66-49 setback at Wisconsin.
Can Spartans Defend 2016 Title?
If there's a team capable of ending the run for 1-2-3 seeds in the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan State certainly qualifies. The Spartans have won three of the last five events and are seeded fifth this time around. Tom Izzo's crew claimed the higher seed of a four-team bunch that finished 10-8 in league play and are priced +1000 for this year's tourney.
Also sitting on a 10/1 return are the Michigan Wolverines. John Beilein's boys ended the slate with six wins in their last eight and are seeded eighth with their first game coming Thursday against No. 9 Illinois.
Everyone has their eyes on Northwestern entering the tournament since it appears the Wildcats are destined to get their first-ever invite to the Big Dance. Chris Collins' kids fell off in the final month after opening the season 18-4, going 3-6 since the start of February to drop to the No. 6 seed and +1200 price on the board.
Iowa (+2800) is seeded seventh, Illinois (+5000) ninth and Indiana (+1600) 10th. The Hoosiers were a huge disappointment during the year after opening No. 11/12 in the preseason polls and begin this tournament facing No. 7 Iowa. Stay with us all week for coverage and free college basketball picks for the tournament.