- The first round of the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament tips off Wednesday, March 10, with games at 6:30 pm ET, 4:30 pm ET, and 7:00 pm ET
- The tournament’s winner, crowned on Saturday, March 13, receives an auto bid to March Madness; but the Big Ten will get the most at-large bids, regardless
- Odds and picks for the tournament can be found in the article below
Is the Big Ten the most loaded conference in NCAA Division I men’s basketball this season? With six teams in KenPom’s top 15, and four teams in the AP’s top 10, think the answer is a resounding yes.
The Big Ten could easily have 10 or 11 schools make it through to March Madness this season, which presents a fun problem to have entering the conference tournament: there are so many schools that could win this thing.
Let’s check in on the Big Ten tournament odds first, and then go through which schools you should be zeroing in on.
2021 Big Ten Tournament Odds
|(5) Ohio State||+600|
|(9) Michigan State||+2500|
|(11) Penn State||+10000|
Odds as of March 8th.
Defense wins championships, but does it win tournaments?
The Michigan Wolverines sure hope so, as the #4 team in the country will try this week to lean on its defensive prowess, which led to the best adjusted efficiency and effective field goal percentage allowed in conference play.
— Michigan Men's Basketball (@umichbball) March 5, 2021
Michigan has been the model of stability for most of the season, but perhaps there are some stains in the upholstery starting to show. After losing just once in their first 19 games, the Wolverines have suddenly lost two of three (a 23-point drubbing against shorthanded #3 Illinois, and a six-point setback against Michigan State).
With that said, Michigan is 5-0 against the likes of Iowa, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Purdue. No one else can say that.
Illinois has blinked once since Jan. 17, losing by nine a couple of weeks ago on the road against Michigan State. Otherwise, the Fighting Illini are winners in 11 of 12 games and have risen to become the highest-ranked Big Ten team in the AP poll.
Like Michigan, Illinois is ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency ratings. And as we know, Illinois thumped Michigan in their only meeting (without starting guard Ayo Dosunmu).
Ayo Dosunmu (19 PTS, 7-10 FG) came up clutch vs. No. 7 OSU 🔥
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 6, 2021
Iowa is almost as hot as Illinois, which is saying something. The Hawkeyes have won seven of eight, with their lone loss coming on the road against Michigan. Wins in that span include Ohio State, Wisconsin (twice) and Rutgers.
The Hawkeyes are a fun pick because they have arguably the best player in college hoops right now in Luka Garza. We’re talking about a 6-foot-11 forward who averages 23.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game while shooting 43 percent from three. How do you stop a guy like that?
Luka Garza scored 21 points and grabbed 16 rebounds to help lead @IowaHoops to a 77-73 win over Wisconsin.
Highlights from the win: pic.twitter.com/PtdWdJh44a
— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) March 7, 2021
You probably don’t, at least not consistently, which is a big reason why Iowa is a national power this year.
Dark Horse/Value Pick
There’s a t-shirt out there that you can buy (or at least you could have bought at some point), which lists the months of the year on the front: January, February, Izzo …
Wait. Yes, you read that correctly.
— Stay Green (@NeverGraduate) March 30, 2015
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has a tendency to have his team peaking at the right time. And boy, at +2500, wouldn’t it be fun to see if he can do it again?
The Spartans have had their low moments this season, to be sure. Losing in blowout fashion to Northwestern and Minnesota in a span of eight days is not something to brag about. But that was way back in December, a distant memory.
On Sunday, Michigan State beat Michigan (as in, the conference’s top seed) on senior day. That marked the Spartans’ third win over an AP top-five opponent in the past two weeks — no other school has more than one all season.
Our time of year 🏀 pic.twitter.com/uiE9lNsuea
— Michigan State Basketball (@MSU_Basketball) March 8, 2021
On Thursday, 8th-seeded Michigan State opens against 9th-seeded Maryland, a team that just beat the Spartans a little over a week ago. But hey, that’s why Michigan State earned this dark horse distinction — they’re not perfect, but on some days they’re capable of being really special.
Who to Ride?
It’s difficult to overstate how impressive Illinois’s win over Michigan was on March 2. On the road — where Michigan hadn’t lost in over a year — and without Dosunmu, the Illini bulled the Wolverines.
Illinois has two legitimate Naismith candidates in Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, a guard-big combo that any team in college hoops should be jealous of. The team is a bit young (219th in D-I in average experience level), but this group is quite familiar (49th in D-I in minutes continuity). They also love to rebound, which is a nice failsafe on nights when the shooting goes a bit cold.
Oh, and no one on Illinois’s side of the tournament bracket has beaten them this year. So we’ll take the Illini. Hopefully, if there’s a rematch in the final with Michigan, Illinois will play like they did earlier this month against the Wolverines.
Pick: Illinois (+250)