Big Ten country has a lot in common with Kansas City Chiefs’ head coach, Andy Reid, beyond just their love for an oversized burger. Like Reid, the Big Ten has developed a reputation for consistently being one of the best in the business, while falling just a bit short when it really matters. Since Michigan State won it all in 2000, the conference has made seven appearances in the National Championship, losing all of them. With Reid finally getting the monkey off his back, maybe that signals a turn of the tides for the Big Ten. We’ll take a look at who has the best chances of reversing the conference’s misfortune (odds via VegasInsider).
-Michigan State Spartans (16-1)
The Spartans have had quite an up-and-down season after being named the Preseason AP No. 1. Since that preliminary ranking, they’ve lost senior captain Joshua Langford to a season-ending foot injury, had to overcome the death of Cassius Winston’s brother, and battle through the deepest Big Ten in recent memory.
Michigan State hit a rough patch when the calendar flipped to February, however, they rebounded nicely on Tuesday night by beating No. 22 Illinois in a one-point game. They have arguably the hardest remaining schedule in the conference playing Maryland twice, Iowa, Penn State, and then Ohio State to close the year. We’re going to see what the team is made of down the stretch the next couple weeks.
With all the struggles that the Spartans have had this season, Vegas still thinks they have the best odds of winning it all this year. Their thinking must be that they have Cassius Winston who is the reigning 2019 Big Ten Player of the Year.
With Winston and Xavier Tillman running the pick-and-roll, opponents will have a hard time deciding what they’re willing to sacrifice on defense. Add in all the young guys like Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, and Rocket Watts, and it’s easy to see why Vegas likes the Spartans. All it takes is for a couple guys to get hot down the stretch for Michigan State to win Tom Izzo his second National Championship.
- Prediction: Sweet Sixteen
- Ceiling: Final Four
-Maryland Terrapins (20-1)
Mark Turgeon’s team seems to have the right recipe to make a deep run in the Tournament. Anthony Cowan is a stabilizing force at point guard, averaging 16.3 ppg and 4.6 apg, and Jalen Smith is one of the most well-rounded big men in the country.
He’s impossible to defend in a PnR situation because of his superior athleticism on a roll but he also shoots 39% from three. The Terps also have guys that know their roles in Eric Ayala and Darryl Morsell. Like Michigan State, the X-factor for Maryland is if they can get their sophomore to step up in March.
The majority of Tournament teams have two guys that they can rely on. What separates good from great is finding that third scorer. If the Terps make a run, don’t be surprised if Aaron Wiggins has a game or two with 15+ points when Cowan or Smith can’t get it going.
- Prediction: Elite Eight
- Ceiling: National Championship
-Penn State Nittany Lions (40-1)
Penn State is ranked for the first time in nearly 25 years and are led by one of the most proven scorers in the conference, Lamar Stevens, who has averaged 15+ ppg each of the last three seasons.
Stevens isn’t a great three-point shooter, but the rest of the roster makes up for his only weakness. The Nittany Lions are second in the conference in 3P% at 35.6%, including Myreon Jones who shoots 41.3% on 5.7 3PA per game.
Mike Watkins provides some muscle down low for Penn State. They rarely run set plays for him, but Watkins always seems to hustle his way into 8-10 points per game. As offense becomes hard to come by in the Tournament, it’s important to have guys that are willing to do the dirty work to still put points on the board.
- Prediction: Sweet Sixteen
- Ceiling: Elite Eight
Iowa Hawkeyes (50-1)
It helps that Luka Garza is most likely the Big Ten Player of the Year, but Iowa has done a really good job of not becoming a one-man band. What allows Garza to do so much damage down low is that he’s surrounded by respectable shooters. Joe Weiskamp (38% from three), CJ Fredrick (47%), and Ryan Kreiner (33%) do a good job of not allowing the defense to collapse when Garza posts up.
The Hawkeyes never an issue scoring the basketball. Where Fran McCaffrey needs some work is at least being able to keep opposing offenses under control. Iowa scores the most points per game but is allowing the second-most points per game.
In the Tournament, when everyone’s legs are tired and shooting may suffer, can the Hawkeyes win if they don’t score 80 points? It’s really hard to rely on Iowa to make a run when they’re so one-dimensional.
- Prediction: Round of 32
- Ceiling: Sweet Sixteen
- Michigan Wolverines (60-1)
- Ohio State Buckeyes (60-1)
- Purdue Boilermakers (60-1)
- Illinois Fighting Illini (80-1)
Full disclosure, the result of Saturday night’s game when Maryland visits Michigan State may completely alter each team’s perception going forward. In a wide-open Big Ten like we have this year, it’s been impossible to narrow down what to expect from teams on a game-to-game basis.