Plenty of things have changed throughout the college basketball season, but one thing has held true: The Big Ten is the best conference in college basketball.
Any team can beat any other on any given night. There are no days off in the Big Ten. That hasn’t changed this season, and it likely won’t for the remaining games.
Big Ten basketball. The purest form of the sport.
— Tanner McGrath (@tannerstruth) January 30, 2021
Breaking down Big Ten conference futures odds requires a comprehensive review from top to bottom — anything less would be a disservice to the Big Ten’s exceptional depth and quality of play.
This week, a number of things have changed in the conference’s “tier” system.
Therefore, in this article I will attempt to cover as many teams as possible — roughly broken up into three completely made-up tiers: The Favorites, The Mid-Tiers and The Longshots.
What the Michigan Wolverines did on Sunday was nothing short of spectacular.
Juwan Howard and company survived a brutal offensive onslaught from Ohio State’s duo of Duane Washington and E.J. Liddell. Washington and Liddell combined for 53 points on 19-for-33 shooting and still couldn’t defeat Michigan at home.
Instead, five Wolverine players scored in double digits. Hunter Dickinson poured in 22 on 8-for-14 shooting while Chaundee Brown came off the bench to drop 15 points in 23 minutes.
I’ve been advocating that Michigan is the best team in the Big Ten for weeks now. However, the Wolverines continue to win the games they should lose. Michigan just won three straight games following a 23-day pause in play, including road wins over Wisconsin and Ohio State.
The Big Ten continues to be the best conference in college basketball. However, Michigan has proven to be head-and-shoulders above anyone else in the conference.
At this point, I’m ready to believe Michigan could beat Baylor and Gonzaga on the way to a national title.
However, the better value-play in this tier is Illinois at +405. With Trent Frazier emerging as a third star, the Fighting Illini become very dangerous. Over the last six games, the senior guard is averaging 14.2 points per game on 47.3% shooting from the field and 40% from 3.
If Frazier can take some of the offensive load off of Ayo Donsunmu and Kofi Cockburn, Illinois becomes a much more dangerous team going into March.
My final point in this tier—Iowa is not to be trusted going into March. The advanced metrics have the Hawkeyes rated very high because of their offensive dominance, but their defense isn’t good enough to trust.
Iowa is just 4-5 in Quad 1 opportunities this season. At this moment, there is no reason to suspect it will perform better against top-quality competition during March.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a team in this tier that provides any value.
Wisconsin has fallen off a cliff in recent weeks. Not only are the Badgers just 4-5 straight up in the last nine games, they’re just 3-7 in Quad 1 opportunities on the season. Wisconsin does a lot of things well, but to consider it a real contender in the conference would be wrong.
Indiana is a total disaster. At one point last Saturday, the Hoosiers held a 13-point lead over Michigan State. Indiana proceeded to allow a 13-2 run at the end of the game to an abysmal Spartan team before losing by seven on its home court.
Archie Miller simply cannot be trusted as a head coach. For as much talent as the Hoosier frontcourt has (in Trayce Jackson-Davis specifically), the guard play is awful, and the overall team chemistry isn’t good enough for a March Madness run.
At this point, Indiana is finding ways to play itself out of the tournament picture.
One could make a case for any of Minnesota, Purdue or Rutgers. However, I don’t believe there is one to be made.
Instead, fade everyone in this tier.
Once again, I must draw more attention to the Maryland Terrapins. The Terps are winners of four straight, most recently winning a road game at Rutgers.
This recent stretch has catapulted Maryland to fifth in the conference in defensive efficiency and first in the conference in defensive rebounding percentage.
On the offensive end, Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala have been playing excellent recently. Wiggins has scored 17 points or more in six of his last eight games, and Ayala has scored at least 20 points in three of his last nine games.
If the Terps continue to play good defense and its offensive stars continue to perform, a long-shot ticket on the Terrapins isn’t the worst investment.