by Jim Feist for VegasTopDogs.com
Tournament play is on the horizon! It’s the start of a wild few weeks with conference tournament play helping to whittle the field. In the Big 10, Ohio State made the title game five years ago with Greg Oden while Michigan State won it all in 2000 along with a string of Final Fours. Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin are locks for the March tourney, with several others on the bubble. Here’s a look at some of the top teams of the Big 10.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes have been a powerhouse team for Thad Matta, second in the Big 10 in scoring, second in points allowed. They pound the post with sophomore 6-9, 280-pound Jared Sullinger (17 ppg, 9 rpg, 56%), 6-4 soph Lenzelle Smith (4.8 rpg), plus 6-6 senior William Buford (15 ppg) and soph Aaron Craft (4.6 apg) in the backcourt.
They are 24th in the nation in shooting (.478%) and 6-2 ATS in their last 8 home games. Keep in mind that the Buckeyes are 21-9-1 under the total in their last 31 games as a home favorite of 13.0 or greater. Ohio State finishes up the regular season this week with a pair of road games at Northwestern and Michigan State. The latter is a revenge spot, with the Spartans winning at Ohio State on February 11, ending the Buckeyes’ 39-game home winning streak.
Michigan State: The Spartans streak of 14 straaight NCAA Tournament appearances is the longest current streak among Big Ten schools. They’ve been in the Final 4 six times in 13 years. Tom Izzo has another hard working team led by 6-7 senior Draymond Green (15 ppg, 10.5 rpg), soph G Keith Appling (12 ppg) and 6-6 freshman Branden Dawson (8.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg).
Their balance is exceptional, tops in rebounding in Big 10, third in points allowed (60.5 ppg), second in blocked shots, while offensively they are fourth in shooting (46%), 4th in points (73.2) and second in assists. The Spartans are 6-0 ATS in their last six home games and the under is 20-9-1 in their last 30 games following a win.
Michigan: The Wolverines have taken a big step forward, topping 20 wins, and on a recent 4-1 SU/ATS run, upsetting Ohio State (56-51) but losing as a dog, 64-54 at Michigan State. Michigan is led by 6-6 sophomore Timi Hardaway Jr (14 ppg, 41%), 5-11 freshman Trey Burke (14 ppg), with 6-8, 250-lb sophomore Jordan Morgan (5.3 rpg) up front.
Michigan is on an 11-3 run under the total, fourth in the Big 10 in points allowed (60.5). They are not a big team, last in the conference in blocked shots and 309th in the nation in rebounding for Coach John Beilein. With the recent shooting struggles that leading scorer Tim Hardaway Jr. has had to work through, the bench has been an important component to keeping Michigan in the Big Ten race. The Wolverines are 35-15-1 ATS in their last 51 games as an underdog!
Wisconsin: The Badgers like to slow the pace down, allowing 51 per game in conference play, tops in the Big 10. They allow 40% shooting (third in the Big 10) for Coach Bo Ryan, led by 6-6 junior Ryan Evans (6.7 rpg), 6-10 junior Jared Berggren (10.6 ppg) and 6-6 junior Mike Bruesewitz (6.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg) up front, with senior guard Jordan Taylor (13.9 ppg, 4.3 apg) running the backcourt. But as good as the defense is, the offense is not reliable, shooting just 42%, 10th in the Big 10. Wisconsin beat Indiana (57-50) even though the Badgers shot 23.5% from three-point range (4 of 17) and 39.6% overall (19 of 48). The offensive troubles were on display in late season losses to Ohio State (58-52) and Michigan State (69-55).
Indiana: The Hoosiers have reach 20 wins because of an uptempo offense led by 6-11 freshman Cody Zeller (15.6 ppg) and 6-9 junior Christian Watford (12 ppg). Indiana is tops in the Big 10 in scoring (78 ppg), field goal percentage, three-point shooting and even free throws (75%)!
The defense, however, has been spotty, giving up 77, 80 and 70 points during a three-game conference skid last month as well as a 78-66 loss at Iowa last week as a 4-point favorite. The Hoosiers are 7-0 ATS in their last seven non-conference games, 8-3 ATS in their last 11 home games and 3-10 ATS in their last 13 games following an ATS loss. That offense in big frontcourt won’t be fun for opponents in March, but how far can they go with this shaky defense?