There are plenty of standards you can examine that would tell you the Big Ten is the best conference in all of college basketball. So it goes without saying that the team that wins the post-season tournament in that league will have an inside track on getting a high seed when the NCAA tourney, otherwise known as the "Big Dance," takes place.
For years the conference resisted having a championship tournament, but the promise of revenues brought the Big Ten right into line with all of the other leagues. So there has been a tournament every year since 1998, and this year it is happening in the Windy City, at the United Center.
It could be a very wide-open affair, and presents special opportunities for one team to wrap up what could be the NCAA Tournament's #1 overall seed, and another to gain entry with a strong showing.
Here is the setup:
Big Ten Championship Tournament
United Center, Chicago
Defending Champion: Michigan State
Last year was a bit of a change for the Michigan State Spartans, as they rallied to the Big Ten tournament title. Usually, Tom Izzo is pointing toward his team putting forth his best performance in the NCAA's, and the conference tournament is an after-throught, so we don't generally recommend the Spartans, but what is also worth mentioning is that they have won the event three times under Izzo. They are also a solid value at BetAnySports where they are currently listed at +425!
This year Michigan State brings another team that has some of the traits that are common with Izzo-coached teams; that is to say, they can defend, possess a lot of mental toughness and usually have a solid rebounding edge over the opposition. This season, however, the latter characteristic isn't as abundant as it has been in the past. Michigan State's rebound margin is still +7, which is 14th best in the nation.
Izzo has some impressive offensive balance at his disposal, with five starters averaging between 9.3 and 12.4 points. Everybody does his part in crashing the glass, but this is not a tremendously deep team; MSU has only seven players who have logged more than six minutes a game.
There are five members of the Big Ten residing within the nation's Top 25, in either of the major polls (AP and coaches'), but when people look for the favorite in this year's tournament, there is a clear choice - the Indiana Hoosiers. BetAnySports currently has the Hoosiers as the favorite to win the Big 10 Championship at +170. They have been #1 in the country on a few different occasions this season, and even after losing, they manage to come back with big wins. This past Sunday they completed a sweep of Michigan, nailing down the Big Ten regular season championship and scoring their seventh win over a team that was nationally-ranked at the time.
What is intriguing about the Hoosiers is the fact that they probably spread the floor better than anyone. There are four players who register at least twelve minutes a game who shoot 48% or better from three-point range, led by Jordan Hulls and Chrisitian Watford. Hulls and Kevin Farrell (4.3 assists per game) are deft ball-handlers. Indiana may the nation's best inside player in Cody Zeller (57% FG's, 16.5 ppg), and they've also got the guy who may be the most talented in the country in Victor Oladipo, a tremendous athlete who shoots 63% and pulls down six rebounds a game from the guard position.
It is clear that this is a squad that has the ability to win the national title, and it would undoubtedly be a great story if, after brothers John and Jim Harbaugh took their teams to the Super Bowl, that their brother-in-law, Tom Crean, could guide his club to the NCAA championship on the hardwood.
Beyond those two teams, there are others who have a chance. Ohio State (+320) has sure-handed Aaron Craft at the point and one of the nation's more well-rounded players in Deshaun Thomas (19.8 ppg). The Buckeyes have traveled to Bloomington to beat Indiana, and they got ever-so-close in road losses at Duke, Michigan and Michigan State.
Wisconsin is rarely going to be out of a game with resourceful Bo Ryan at the helm; the Badgers don't have the talent they had last year, but they have scored wins against Michigan and Ohio State, and hung a defeat on Indiana at Assembly Hall. Illinois lost ten times in Big Ten play, but they were good enough to beat the current #1 team in the nation (Gonzaga) and another that has been #1 three different times (Indiana), not to mention Butler and Ohio State. Minnesota stumbled down the stretch, losing six of its last nine, but the Gophers were formidable enough to defeat Indiana, Michigan State, Wisconsin and a nationally-ranked Memphis team. At +850 at BetAnySports this is a huge value for a solid team with big wins.
Then there is the school that really needs to do well to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Iowa has lost six conference games by four points or less, and they have also chalked up meaningful wins over Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois. They may need a very good showing in this event to have a shot at the Big Dance. Figure that into your equation. They start Big Ten tourney play against Northwestern, so that could be a good first positive step.
For all of your tournament futures head to BetAnySports for the best in NCAA Basketball betting.
Read more gambling insights from Charles J right here at OSGA.