For futures value seekers, the best conference in college basketball is the Big Ten. Preseason #1 and even money favorite Michigan State could be vulnerable. The Spartans are +100 per the odds at DraftKings Sportsbook, but some recent injury news could have lowered the ceiling for the nation’s alleged top team.
Joshua Langford is out indefinitely. The Spartans still have Cassius Winston and a bevy of other talented players to rely on, but with Maryland at +350 and then Ohio State at +700, there are some really, really intriguing double-digit conference winner prices in the Big Ten.
Once again, this appears to be one of the deepest conferences in college hoops, but the Big Ten doesn’t appear to be lockstep with the ACC in that regard this season. After an underwhelming crop of incoming freshmen was signed by the coaches in this conference, the Big Ten’s ceiling may not be as high as we have seen it in the past.
Don’t tell that to Michigan State. Sparty is that even money favorite and the #1 team for Ken Pomeroy coming into the season. Bart Torvik has Michigan State ranked #2 heading into the November debut, which will feature some big litmus tests for Tom Izzo’s team. Winston isn’t the only player with star potential in East Lansing. Xavier Tillman and Aaron Henry are expected to play big minutes and Michigan State’s ability to play small ball or big ball down low will perplex opponents.
Can we count on Maryland to live up to the hype? We’ll have to wait and see, but Mark Turgeon has a lot of star power of his own. Even though Bruno Fernando is gone, the Terrapins have a couple of the conference’s top freshmen in Donta Scott and Makhi Mitchell. Jalen Smith and Aaron Wiggins will also carry a large part of the load. At +350, it would seem that Maryland has the best chance of knocking Michigan State from its likely perch, but there are other, more attractive prices.
Chris Holtmann’s Ohio State Buckeyes are +700 and could be poised for a big year. Holtmann’s best team in Columbus could have a higher ceiling than expected because of how the former Butler head coach has squeezed every ounce of potential out of less-talented teams during his tenure. Kaleb and Andre Wesson are the holdovers that garner the most attention, but six of Ohio State’s top eight are back and the Buckeyes, yes, the Buckeyes, brought in the best freshman class in the conference. Can Holtmann get all the pieces together to run with the big boys? At +700, the price seems pretty juicy to find out.
There are a lot of teams in the Big Ten that could go either way. Both Purdue and Michigan experienced big losses from last season. The Boilermakers are without Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline. The Wolverines are without Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole, and Ignas Brazdeikis. They’ll also go from John Beilein, one of the best coaches in college basketball, to the relatively unproven Juwan Howard. Purdue is +1400 and Michigan is +1000.
Some pundits are high on Illinois and are looking for a bounce back from Wisconsin. Some are eager to see what Richard Pitino can do with another year and another set of recruits at Minnesota. Ethan Happ is the biggest loss from those three teams, but Greg Gard has done well with the Badgers. He’ll just need more from a very experienced backcourt to pick up the slack. Illinois is a test case in potential, as Brad Underwood seemed to figure some things out with a highly-talented team in the second half of last season. The same can be said for Penn State and Patrick Chambers, as the Nittany Lions went 7-3 to close the regular season last year.
Try to imagine the last time we saw Wisconsin lined at +2500 with teams like Indiana and Iowa. Do we really have that much of a changing of the (puts on sunglasses) Gard in the Big Ten?!
All in all, Michigan State enters the season with the fewest questions, but the Big Ten could be in for some chaos given the long prices and the pedigrees of these teams. A lot of teams lost a lot of key pieces. The teams that can overcome it the quickest will have a leg up on the competition in what looks to be a conference that could fall any number of ways from #2 through #7.
The Spartans probably win the conference, especially if they get Langford back at some point, but even with Izzo Magic in March, even money is too much of a price to pay.
Best Bet: Ohio State (+700)