Men’s College Basketball: Big 10 Betting Guide

With the start of the NCAA Men’s Basketball season now less than two weeks away, the sportsbooks have released betting odds to win each of the nation’s top conferences regular-season championships. We have odds posted for ten leagues, and in the lead up to the official kickoff of the college hoops season later this month, we here at TheSportsGeek are going to handicap each of the ten conferences and give you teams to bet on from each one.

We will start our college hoops conference coverage today by breaking down what I see as the top league in the land, the Big 10. Last year, the Big 10 was uber-competitive, with three teams finishing the year tied for the regular-season title. Michigan State, Maryland, and Wisconsin all went 14-6 in league play to tie for the title, and while we were cheated out of March Madness by COVID-19, the Big 10 was expected to send as many as 10 teams to the Big Dance.

This year, the league is again loaded as Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois are all ranked in the preseason top-10 of the AP Poll, and Michigan State, Michigan, Rutgers, and Ohio State all in the top-25. In this article, we are going to break down the favorites, the contenders, and the longshots in the Big 10 and give you one team to be from each tier. Let’s get started!

The Favorites

The top tier of the Big 10 is no surprise as the Michigan State Spartans join the three teams ranked in the top-10 as the betting favorites. Let’s take a quick look at the odds for each of the four favorites.

  • Iowa Hawkeyes (+265)
  • Wisconsin Badgers (+350)
  • Illinois Fighting Illini (+355)
  • Michigan State Spartans (+360)

As you can see, there isn’t a lot separating these four teams as less than 100 points separate the group. Last year was one of the more competitive years in recent big 10 history, and it looks like this year may be even tighter.

Iowa Hawkeyes (+265)

The Hawkeyes have what might be the nation’s top player in Luka Garza. Garza is a preseason All-American and is the leading candidate to take home the National Player of the Year Award. But it isn’t a one-man show in Iowa City, as the Hawkeyes have redshirt senior guard Jordan Bohannon finally healthy, as well as junior wing Joe Wieskamp that collectively make up a team that could be the most efficient offensive team in the nation.

I really like this Iowa team, but I am a bit surprised that they are the favorites right now. They are the team that I see as having the best chance of making a run to the Final Four from the Big 10, but that doesn’t mean they are going to be able to win the Big 10 regular-season title.

The Hawkeyes have the highest ceiling, but they have never come close to a Big 10 title in head coach Fran McCaffrey’s decade long stint, and they actually have a losing record in the league under McCaffery at (89-95). There are lots of reasons to be optimistic at Iowa this year, but there is too long of a history of conference struggles to like them as betting favorites.

Wisconsin Badgers (+350)

No team in the Big 10 finished last season hotter than the Wisconsin Badgers did. Wisconsin finished the year by winning eight straight games, all coming in league play, and they were a sexy dark horse Final Four pick before the tournament was canceled. This year, the Badgers bring basically everyone back, and they have a roster loaded with upperclassmen. Wisconsin will start five seniors, with another senior coming off of the bench.

No team in the league will have that type of experience to rely upon, and it is going to be a major advantage for the Badgers. Unlike Iowa, who never wins in conference play, the Badgers shared the regular-season title last season and won the title outright in 2015 and 2008. Outside of the Michigan State Spartans, few teams have had as much success in the Big 10 as the Badgers have in the last several years. Do the Badgers show value at this price? Yes. Are they my favorite pick of the favorites? No.

Illinois Fighting Illini (+355)

My favorite bet on the board for this tier of favorites? The Fighting Illini of Illinois. Brad Underwood has the most talent that he has ever had in Champaign and sports two of the top players in the country in Ayo Dusunmu and Kofi Cockburn. The Illini finished one game back of the pack last year for the regular-season title, and Underwood is finally starting to see his strong recruiting efforts bear fruit in his fifth year running the program.

Dosunmu is an early favorite for National Player of the Year, and Cockburn might be the most physically imposing player in the country at over 7 feet tall and nearly 300 pounds. Underwood made a name for himself by turning little known Stephen F Austin into a perennial tournament team, and now that he finally has his brand of basketball player on the floor, he has Illinois looking like legit national title contenders. In terms of raw talent, no team has more of it in the Big 10 than Illinois does this year.

Michigan State Spartans (+360)

Tom Izzo can flat out coach basketball. No coach has dominated Big 10 play like Izzo and his Spartans have, as Sparty has won at least a share of the Big 10 title for the last three consecutive seasons. Going back to 1998, Michigan State has won 10 Big 10 regular-season titles. No other team has won more than five in that same time frame. Michigan State will have to find a new way of life with longtime point guard Cassius Winston gone, and Xavier Tillman left to play pro ball as well.

Replacing your best player is never easy, but the Spartans have a couple of guys that can pick up the slack in Rocket Watts and Josh Langford. Watts showed flashes of greatest as a freshman last year and returns as a potential Big 10 player of the year candidate in his sophomore season.

Langford was looking like an All-American two years ago before multiple injuries derailed his career in East Lansing and returns for his senior year, looking to make up for lost time. I don’t see Michigan State as being on the same level as these top three teams, but with Izzo running the show, I can’t blame the books for pricing them so aggressively.

My Pick
Illinois Fighting Illini

The Contenders

In this next section, we are going to take a look at the middle of the pack teams that would need things to break their way in order to move up into that top tier of teams and really compete for the Big 10 title. Please see the odds below.

  • Ohio State Buckeyes (+1000)
  • Michigan Wolverines (+1100)
  • Indiana Hoosiers (+2000)
  • Rutgers Scarlet Knights (+2500)
  • Purdue Boilermakers (+3000)
  • Maryland Terrapins (+5000)

There are a bunch of tournament level teams that will finish in the middle of the Big 10 standings this season. After last season, where most expected the league to get 10 teams into the Big Dance, the Big 10 will again flirt with sending double-digit teams to the NCAA tournament. It wouldn’t be shocking to see all of the teams in this tier dancing in March.

Ohio State Buckeyes (+1000)

The Buckeyes lost a lot from last year’s squad that at times looked like a Final Four team. Last year, in the non-conference, the Bucks beat teams like Kentucky, Cincinnati, North Carolina, and Villanova. But once Ohio State hit league play, reality set in, as after winning their first Big 10 game of the year, they went on to lose six out of their next seven conference games, with the only win coming against the cellar-dwelling Cornhuskers of Nebraska.

Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann got things turned back around by the end of the year but will have to figure out how to win games this year without Kaleb and Andre Wesson, two of their best players from 2020. The Buckeyes will start three seniors and a junior, so they have experience, but they are going to have to lean on several transfers to get the job done this season.

Holtmann brought in Seth Towns from Harvard, Justice Sueing from Cal, and Abel Porter from Utah State to reload his roster, and will need to have this rehauled roster playing well together by the time league play rolls around to avoid another slow start to conference play like last season.

Michigan Wolverines (+1100)

The Michigan Wolverines had a very similar season as their archrival Buckeyes, as they looked like a world-beater early in the season, only to fall on hard times late and then get it going again by the end of the season. Big Blue, with their new head coach, Juwan Howard, knocked off Gonzaga, handing the Bulldogs one of their only two losses last year, and beat a very good Creighton team as well. But just like Ohio State, the start of Big 10 play was tough on Howard and his Wolverines, as they lost six out of their first eight conference games.

Michigan got hit hard with the losses of Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske and will need Franz Wagner to emerge as a star if they want a shot at really contending for the league title. Wagner does have the potential to break out, though, as he averaged 11.6 points and 5.6 rebounds last year as one of the best freshmen in the conference. Juwan Howard is using his Michigan pedigree to ramp up the recruiting efforts in Ann Arbor, and while I do think he is the right guy for the job, I see the real success still a couple of years out.

Indiana Hoosiers (+2000)

Archie Miller hasn’t quite lived up to the hype yet in Bloomington. Miller was supposed to be the savior of the Hoosiers after turning in-state rival Dayton into a powerhouse, but hasn’t been able to recreate that success at Indiana yet. The Hoosiers were sitting squarely on the bubble last year, and while most people had them getting into the tournament, their 9-11 Big 10 record said otherwise. But don’t let last year’s mediocrity distract you from the fact that this Hoosiers team has some talent.

Trayce Jackson-Davis is going to be the star of the show for Indiana, as the sophomore could have been headed to the NBA but instead decided to come back to school. Jackson-Davis is a threat to get to the rim any time he has the ball and can rebound with the best of them in the Big 10. Jackson-Davis will rack up the stats, but the key player at Indiana this year will be freshman Khristian Lander.

Lander is a five-star recruit that provides all of the upside for the Hoosiers. If he can hit the ground running and pair up with Jackson-Davis to make one of the best duos in the league, this team could sneak its way towards the top of the standings. If not, another mediocre season is in store for Miller and Indiana and it could put Miller on the hotseat.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (+2500)

Something that hadn’t happened for nearly 30 years was going to happen last year before the NCAA tournament got canceled. Rutgers was on track for their first tourney appearance since 1991 after finishing with a winning record in the Big 10 and winning 20 games. But alas, the long-suffering Scarlet Knights were robbed of their shot at snapping their streak of ineptitude and will have to try to stay the course again this year to get back to the Big Dance for the first time in a generation.

Rutgers brings a lot back this season, and I really like this Steve Pikiell coached defense. The Scarlet Knights finished last year as the 6th best defense in the country per kenpom and they were basically unbeatable in New Jersey, with a 17-1 record at the RAC.

Steve Pikiell got his start at Stoney Brook and turned that program around before leaving for the state college of New Jersey, and I see him getting across the finish line this year as well for Rutgers and taking the Knights dancing. At 25-1, I love a high-risk, high-reward play on Rutgers.

Purdue Boilermakers (+3000)

Purdue was supposed to have a battle-tested squad full of upperclassmen ready to compete at the top of the Big 10 this year. Then Matt Painter inexplicitly lost seniors Matt Haarms and Nojel Eastern. Both players decided to make questionable grad transfers to smaller schools, and now Painter has a talented, yet less experienced, roster to work with. The Boilermakers played a brutal schedule last year (6th toughest in the nation), and it showed with their 16-15 record.

This year, the opinions on Purdue are all over the place, as some people are picking them to finish as high as 5th in the league, and others see them as again missing out on the NCAA tournament. I am in the latter group, as I don’t think this team is going to be able to make up for their unexpected losses and will be a bubble team at best. Matt Painter has done a lot of winning at Purdue, but he doesn’t have the bodies this year to compete with the best of the Big 10.

Maryland Terrapins (+5000)

Poor Maryland. The Terrapins were really good last year, like Final Four good. The Terps finished the regular season with 24 wins and were going to be a top 3 seed in the madness. But then COVID-19 happened, and Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith lost out on their shot at a national title before leaving school. Maryland really only played six guys last year, and with the two biggest contributors gone, they are going to be very thin this year.

There are some leagues you can get away with being thin, but the Big 10 is most certainly not one of them. Maryland will upset some teams at home, because they always do, but winning on the road is going to be very hard for this team. They will finish with a losing record in league play and miss out on March Madness.

My Pick
Rutgers Scarlet Knights

The Longshots

In this final section, we will highlight the longshots at the bottom of the Big 10. Every year we see a team that nobody sees coming emerge as a threat, think Rutgers last year, or Northwestern in 2017, and this year will be no different. I’m not saying one of these teams is going to win the Big 10, but at these jumbo odds, they may be worth a lottery ticket. Let’s take a look at the odds.

  • Minnesota Golden Gophers (+30000)
  • Penn State Nittany Lions (+30000)
  • Nebraska Cornhuskers (+50000)
  • Northwestern Wildcats (+50000)

Minnesota Golden Gophers (+30000)

Minnesota will sorely miss big man Daniel Oturu as he was a double-double machine last year for a much better than their record might have led you to believe Gophers team. This year, Minnesota has loaded up on transfers with the additions of Liam Robbins (Drake), Brandon Johnson (Western Michigan), and Both Gach (Utah). All three of those guys are expected to start from day one, and with the influx in talent, the Gophers could be a bubble team.

Penn State Nittany Lions (+30000)

Penn State was on track to win the Big 10 last year after a 10-4 start but stumbled to the finish line, losing five out of their last six games. This year’s team will have to deal with the loss of their two best players from last year’s team, Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins. There is talent on the roster, with Myreon Jones looking to breakout, but this team is a year or two away from getting back to the tournament.

Nebraska Cornhuskers (+50000)

Fred Hoiberg will have this team improved over last season, but that’s not saying much as the Cornhuskers finished the year on a 17-game losing streak and lost 25 total games. Last year Nebraska had embarrassing losses to UC Riverside, Southern Utah, George Mason, and North Dakota. Expect more out of the Huskers this year, but not much. This team will fight with Northwestern for last place.

Northwestern Wildcats (+50000)

It wasn’t that long ago that the Northwestern Wildcats were the belle of the ball when they made their first and only trip to the NCAA tournament in 2017. But those days are now seemingly long gone, as this team is awful. Don’t expect many wins in league play for the Wildcats in 2021. But they do have a player named Boo Buie, and that’s kind of cool, I guess.

My Pick
Minnesota Golden Gophers

Wrap Up

The 2020-21 NCAA Men’s Basketball season is just over a week away from officially kicking off, and we here at TheSportsGeek are going to be right here with you providing all the sharp betting advice and analysis you need to make money betting college hoops. Thanks for reading, and make sure you check out TheSportsGeek’s college basketball betting page, where we bring you free daily picks all year long!

Jason Gray / Author

Jason is a true Las Vegas insider as he has called the sports betting capital of the world his home for sixteen years. Jason started out his career in gaming by running the biggest poker tournaments in the world and managing some of the biggest sportsbooks on the strip. Jason has transitioned out of casino operations and has been covering sports betting for the sports geek for just over two years. His main focus is on baseball, college basketball, and the NFL