Big Ten Tournament Preview

(Originally posted at JustCoverBlog on March 14, 2013)

Not to be a killjoy but the Big Ten Tournament isn’t as wide open as you might imagine. Sure the conference – this year more than ever – is loaded but here’s a simple yet important fact: Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Illinois have won 11 of the 15 tournaments.
Much like Duke’s seemingly single-handed dominance of the ACC Tournament (with UNC success sprinkled in), these four horses have pretty much dominated the Big Ten Tournament.
Even more interesting: The No. 1 seed has won six of the past eight tournaments, losing in the finals of another one.
So, as much as we all want to be giddy about the winner of the 8/9 Illinois/Minnesota game  making a run history says we need to relax and drink a tall glass of reality.
This statistical trio isn’t meant to sway you from looking at a sleeper team making a deep run, just that your sleeper team probably won’t win the whole thing. On four occasions the championship game has featured a No. 8, No. 9, No. 10 and No. 11 seed. While all those teams lost, it leaves open the possibility that a likely NIT-bound team could have a 50/50 shot in the title game of being a NCAA Tournament party crasher.
Outside of No. 4 seeded Michigan winning the tournament in 1998 – a title that has since been vacated – only one non-Top 3 seed (No. 6 Iowa in 2001) has won the tournament.
Here’s a look at each team’s odds to reach each round compliments of

Not surprisingly the Big Ten’s Top 5 teams – who have all spent most of this season in the Top 25 – dominate the odds. The only thing that sticks out might be No. 2 Ohio State having better odds of reaching the semifinals than No. 1 Indiana despite the Hoosiers having the best odds of reaching the finals and winning the tournament. It seems to smell like oddsmakers know an Illinois/Minnesota vs. Indiana game will be much tougher on the Hoosiers than a Purdue/Nebraska vs. Ohio State game will on the Buckeyes.
The only teams, based on these odds, that would really qualify as that deep sleeper team that could make a run are Minnesota and Iowa. Keep that in mind when looking at the following betting odds compliments of
INDIANA (+140): It should come as no surprise that the Hoosiers are overwhelming favorites. It is a little surprising that other teams don’t have better odds, especially since this isn’t being played at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Still, Indiana proved it was the Big Ten’s best team all season and deservedly won the outright Big Ten Championship (albeit by a few inches). I’ve said it all season and the numbers agree: the one team that can beat Indiana is… Indiana. Whether it is Tom Crean’s unusually substitution patters that turn a 10-3 lead at Michigan to a 27-16 deficit or his team forgetting how to make layups (14 missed first-half layups at Michigan) or shoot the 3-ball, Indiana’s hiccups have been when it has a major off night. Does that mean the Hoosiers can’t be beat? Absolutely not. If you look at the games Indiana probably should have lost during the regular season but pulled out look no further than both games vs Michigan State (won 75-70 at home and 72-68 on the road) and the season finale at Michigan (won 72-71). In the first of the three games Indiana benefitted from what some would say was the “Hall of Calls” atmosphere in a game. The latter two involved the Spartans and Wolverines missing crucial free throws down the stretch that would have sealed a victory. 
Now, maybe that’s being too hard on the Hoosiers. Maybe Indiana showed resiliency in winning those games. That could be true, but it’s an important point to mention because as such heavy favorites it appears like Indiana cruised its way through the Big Ten season en route to the title when that is far from truthful. Indiana very well could win the tournament and secure a No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region so +140 is a nice deal if you want to wear candy-striped pants this weekend.
OHIO STATE (+350): Ohio State could have been the No. 4 or No. 5 seed and I have a feeling these odds would be quite similar. Why? Ohio State has reached the final in six of the past seven years including the past four. The Buckeyes have three championships in that span? The reason Ohio State has been so successful under Thad Matta is because the Buckeyes bring it on defense every night that despite offensive deficiencies the team is always in the game. Based on experts I’ve talked with it’s about 50-35-15 on who wins the Big Ten Tournament (compared to the above-listed odds). Indiana gets the 50 percent and the Buckeyes get the 35 percent. (Michigan State is getting the 15 percent). Not only did Ohio State finish the year on a five-game winning streak to fall just one game back of a co-championship but the Buckeyes did so in large part because they won in Bloomington. It was such an impressive performance that many feel Ohio State’s defense is a Big Ten kryptonite for the Hoosiers. At 7/2 Ohio State looks like the best buy in the Big Ten Tournament, especially by drawing the easiest quarterfinal matchup it seems.
MICHIGAN STATE (+400): The Spartans have been fluctuating around 5/1 and 4/1 odds. This seems about right as a quarterfinal matchup with desperate Iowa – a team that has given MSU fits in the past – likely awaits. That coupled with MSU’s history of early Big Ten Tournament exits and oddsmakers are being realistic. (If MSU had OSU’s history in this event I could see the Spartans closer to 3/1 or 5/2). That being said, for the second straight season it appears Tom Izzo really wants to win this tournament. He might say that’s always been the case but body language and early exits against inferior teams say otherwise. This year’s slogan is “Win the Championship We Didn’t Win The First Time.” That in itself tells me the Spartans are planning for a long stay in Chicago. The outside shot at a No. 1 seed (MSU would have to win the tournament and likely beat OSU in the semifinals and either Indiana or Michigan in the title game) still exists and is one reason the Spartans are a phenomenal buy at +400.
MICHIGAN (+450): The Wolverines have never won this event since their inaugural 1998 title has been vacated. Michigan hasn’t even sniffed the finals since. Another odd factoid is that only one No. 5 seed – Ohio State in 2009 – has reached the title game. Being in the 4/5 game used to be a daunting task because it’s the toughest quarterfinal game to win, obviously, and the winner gets a date with likely the No. 1 team. With recently added Nebraska the No. 5 team now plays in the first round against the league’s bottomfeeder. It’s an “easy” game but one that requires an extra day en route to the championship. (Last year’s first No. 5 vs. No. 12 game ended with Indiana beating Penn State but losing to No. 4 Wisconsin in the quarterfinals). With all that said we’re still talking about a team that’s seeded fifth in is conference tournament and is No. 6 in the latest AP Poll. Don’t kid yourself, this isn’t your Grandpa’s No. 5 seed. Michigan should get revenge against Wisconsin and set up another classic with Indiana in the semifinals. Despite going 0-2 vs. the Hoosiers this year the Wolverines showed they’re not that much different in terms of NCAA ceiling. If there is one Big Ten team that can win four games in four days and cut down the nets it’s the Wolverines. At 9/2 it’s a very solid bargain.
WISCONSIN (+1000): No one is buying the Badgers and for good reason. This isn’t one of Bo Ryan’s great teams. Despite another top four finish in the Big Ten – Wisconsin’s 12th straight under Ryan – this team was bailed out with only one game vs. Indiana and no return trip to Ann Arbor. Throw in what seems like a dozen heroic-yet-fluky game-winning baskets and this team has early exit written all over it. Can the Badgers make some noise? Of course, especially since their path would include Michigan (beat in Madison), Indiana (beat in Bloomington) and Ohio State (split with but beat by 22 in Madison) or Michigan State (0-2 vs. the Spartans). It’s possible that Wisconsin wins the Big Ten Tournament but, as the odds says, highly unlikely.
MINNESOTA (+2200): There are two reasons the Gophers are this high. First, it wasn’t that long ago that Minnesota beat Indiana at The Barn. Second, this team started the year 15-1 and was ranked as high as No. 8 in the polls. Those to facts combined make oddsmakers leery of the Gophers getting hot. The problem with Minnesota is it hasn’t been hot since January. It’s had surges no doubt (Indiana) but for the most part the Gophers have lost to every good team they’ve played since starting 15-1. That’s not the recipe for a sleeper. It’s the recipe for a one-and-done or, best-case-scenario a team that reaches the quarterfinals. Pass on the Gophers.
IOWA (+2500): The only reason I’ll give you a quick rundown of Iowa is because I have a strong feeling that Iowa could make a finals run. Northwestern won’t put up much of a fight in the first round game and the Hawkeyes very well could slay Michigan State and Ohio State. I worry about any type of matchup with Indiana or Michigan, but if you think the Hawkeyes can beat the Spartans and Buckeyes why not take a chance at 25/1?
OTHERS (+2500): Illinois, despite having the same odds as “The Field” was listed separately because the Illini always play well at the United Center (see 2003 and 2005 titles at the United Center as well as a spot in the 2000 finals as the No. 11 seed). That said, teams wins games, not venues. Illinois, like all “field” Big Ten teams are much too hot and cold to win four games in four days. Purdue has been playing extremely well recently in almost upsetting Michigan and whooping Wisconsin on the road before that and Minnesota at home after that. I would argue that Purdue is the most dangerous No. 7 seed this tournament has seen in some time because of how it is playing right now. Purdue is playing much more like a 21-10 team fighting for a No. 9/10 NCAA seed than a team that is sitting at 15-16 with the NIT being the best-case scenario. Still, think about that when filling out your Big Ten bracket as Purdue could very well wreck some havoc on the favorites in the lower half of the bracket.

The Pick: Usually I have a great vibe to  pick against the Spartans in any Big Ten Tournaments. Last year, for the first time since early in the new Millennium, I didn’t get that feeling. I went with MSU to win the tournament over OSU and the Spartans did just that. Now I’m getting a similar feeling. the team I would be most worrisome about as a MSU fan would be Ohio State. But, as I mentioned above, don’t overlook a surging Purdue team that could give Ohio State a big run in the quarterfinals. With that fatigue I think the Spartans win the season series against the Buckeyes en route to the title.
While I don’t think the Spartans will get a No. 1 seed by winning the Big Ten Tournament I think it will cement them on the No. 2 line and gives MSU an outside shot at being in the Midwest Region (Indianapolis) if somehow Louisville surpasses Indiana on the S-Curve for a spot in that region. (If Indiana is in the Midwest – which is likely now – the next two Big Ten teams on the S-Curve, likely Michigan and Michigan State, can’t be in the same region). In the finale we should see another classic Big Ten game – what else would you expect with this season? – where the winner gets the better No. 2 seed. Look for the Spartans to outlast the Wolverines 67-64 to win their second straight Big Ten Tournament title and fourth overall. At +400 the Spartans are your team.