Wisconsin Badgers at No. 16 Iowa Hawkeyes Betting Preview

Saturday, December 12, 2020, Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa, 3:30 p.m. ET

Badgers at Hawkeyes Betting Preview: Badgers  (+1.5), Hawkeyes (-1.5)

Badgers

The Badgers (2-2, 2-2 Big Ten) have struggled while totaling 13 points in consecutive losses to Northwestern and Indiana after scoring 94 in wins over Illinois and Michigan to start the season.

Wisconsin, which has been banged up and hindered by COVID-19 issues inside and outside the program, managed only a pair of field goals by Collin Larsh in last weekend’s 14-6 loss to then-No. 12 Indiana.

“You’ve got to play good football to give yourself a chance to be a good football team,” Badgers coach Paul Chryst said. “If you’re not doing that, you make it harder.

“We’ve had two games now where we didn’t score a lot of points. Two games before we scored a lot of points. I don’t know that I’ve got the answer for you right now on that.”

Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz, who had a bout with COVID-19 earlier this season, threw seven touchdowns without an interception in those first two games, but has just one score with four picks in the last two.

The Badgers have also totaled 276 rushing yards and averaged 3.7 per carry in their two losses.

Still, Wisconsin boasts one of the nation’s top defenses, giving up 49 points on the season and an average of 52.7 rushing yards in the last three games.

Hawkeyes

Considering how well No. 16 Iowa is playing, there’s a good chance it can end some extended struggles against the rival Badgers.

The host Hawkeyes (5-2, 5-2 Big 10) look to conclude this condensed and unique regular season with a sixth consecutive victory, which would also halt a four-game slide against the struggling Badgers.

Iowa is certainly kicking itself by thinking back to the first two weeks of this season when it lost to Purdue and Northwestern by a combined five points. That 21-20 loss to the Wildcats on Halloween is essentially what will keep the Hawkeyes out of the Big Ten title game.

Iowa is looking to head into the bowl season on a roll after outscoring the last five opponents 186-76 during its longest winning streak since starting 12-0 in 2015. The Hawkeyes fell behind 14-0 early in the second quarter at Illinois last week before scoring 35 straight points en route to a 35-21 win.

“Our slow start was a team effort,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Sometimes defensively it takes time to get a feel for the game and how things are going. The best thing that happened was our players kept playing. The coaches kept coaching and things started getting better.”

The Hawkeyes’ offense, paced by running back Tyler Goodson (107.2 average rushing yards and five touchdowns in the last five games) and quarterback Spencer Petras (six touchdown passes, two interceptions in last five games), has averaged 37.2 points during the five-game run.

The Iowa defense has not allowed more than 24 points in any game this season, and that could be the X-factor in this rivalry contest..

“We’re playing a team that is a border rival, and we have had great games with them,” Ferentz said. “We haven’t come out on the right end enough — that’s for sure.”

Badgers at Hawkeyes  Betting Pick for December 12, 2020

The Badgers lead the series 48-43-2 and have won the last four meetings and eight of the last nine. They won last year’s meeting 24-22 by stopping Iowa’s 2-point conversion try with 3:12 left in the game. They won the last meeting in Iowa 28-17 in 2018, outscoring the Hawkeyes 14-0 in the fourth quarter.

Badgers at Hawkeyes Betting Pick:

Hawkeyes 28, Badgers 10

Badgers at Hawkeyes Best Bet for December 12, 2020

Iowa has averaged 37.2 points a game during its five-game winning streak while the Badgers have scored only two touchdowns total in losses to Northwestern and Indiana their last two outings. Wisconsin’s defense, however, has surrendered only 31 points total those two games.

Badgers at Hawkeyes Best Bet: UNDER 43.5

Friday Night College Hoops: Back Creighton and Iowa in Rivalry Matchups

As the 2020 college football season draws to a close, the new college basketball season begins to take our attention on Friday nights. Tonight’s slate is once again juiced with several of the best teams from across the country taking the floor.

From rivalry games to the Big East opener, we have you covered with your Best Bets of the evening. We even threw in an extra bonus bet because it’s the holiday season.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the best college hoops bets on this Friday in December.

Nebraska at #8 Creighton

Spread: Creighton -14
Total: O/U 155
Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET, Big Ten Network

8th ranked Creighton looks to put a heartbreaking one-point loss to #5 Kansas behind them when they return home this evening to take on in-state rival Nebraska.

Calling this match-up a “rivalry” in recent seasons may be kind to the Huskers.  Nebraska has struggled mightily in this spot against their fellow Cornhusker State brethren, going 2-8 straight up and ATS in their last ten matchups against the Bluejays.  They face an immense challenge to buck that trend tonight.

Creighton boasts one of the best shooting units in all of college basketball, though to start the season they’re lagging behind their production from a season ago, particularly from three-point range as the Jays presently have the 154th best long-distance shooting team in the country. 

This is a far cry from last season’s efforts that had the Jays finishing 6th overall in three-point efficiency but good news could be on the horizon for Creighton tonight as Nebraska will give them ample opportunity to find their usual stroke from the perimeter. 

The Huskers have been sound defensively at the start of the season, but have yet to play on the road and have had a Charmin soft start to their non-conference schedule.  A season ago, the Huskers were one of the worst defensive teams in all of college basketball (266th overall per KenPom) and would routinely get punished on the glass as they surrendered an offensive rebound on a third of their opponents’ possessions (335th overall in the country in 2019/20).

Neither of those tendencies bode well for tonight.  Creighton features a dynamic quartet of players with their backcourt of Marcus Zegarowski (13.3 ppg) and Denzel Mahoney (13.3 ppg) pairing up with forwards Christian Bishop (14.5 ppg) and Damien Jefferson (10.8 ppg) to give the team a balanced scoring attack with any of the four Bluejays capable of carrying the offense in any given situation. 

While the three-point shooting as a team is collectively down so far through the first five games of the new season, Creighton presently features three starters that shoot the three at better than a 40% clip.  If the three-point shot is on tonight, this game can get out of hand in a hurry.

Nebraska enters season two under Fred Hoiberg and the former Mayor of Ames is still in the middle of what figures to be a long rebuild to return the Huskers to prominence in the Big Ten.  The Huskers are a very young team who have struggled mightily on the road as evidenced by their current 19-game road losing streak.  Good things are coming to Lincoln, they’re just not going to come with much frequency this season and that includes tonight.

Look for Creighton to bounce back after their disappointing loss against Kansas with another comfortable beat down of their in-state rival.

Prediction: Creighton 85, Nebraska 65
Best Bet: Creighton -14

#9 Villanova at Georgetown

Spread: Villanova -11.5
Total:
O/U 143
Time/TV:
7:00 PM ET, FS1

#9 Villanova and Georgetown rekindle their long Big East rivalry when the two schools tip-off the 2020/21 Big East conference slate tonight from the nation’s capital.

Jay Wright’s Wildcats come into tonight’s contest looking to build off a hard-fought 68-64 victory over then #17 Texas on Sunday, with his stable of shooting guards starting to come to life after a hit and miss performance in ‘Bubbleville’ at the Mohegan Sun Arena. 

Despite the lulls in the offense through the first five games, Nova still boasts the 4th most efficient offense in the country.  While the team still gets its shooting back into form, they’ve been especially good at limiting turnovers as they have committed a turnover on only 13 percent of their possessions, good for the 10th best unit in college basketball to begin the new season.

That comes in direct conflict with how the Hoyas have played basketball to start the season.  While Georgetown is coming off of an 80-48 thumping of Coppin State, they have dropped games to Navy and West Virginia and have been especially careless with the basketball with a turnover rate outside of the top 250. 

Georgetown has turned the ball over one out of every four possessions to start the season and is even worse at forcing their opponents into mistakes, as they force a turnover on 14% of their opposition’s possessions.

When considering how stingy the Villanova offense is at wasting possessions, that may spell out a longer evening for the Hoyas than they’d prefer to endure. 

For Georgetown to be competitive in their conference home opener, they will need a massive night from seniors Jahvon Blair (20.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Jamorko Pickett (14.3 ppg, 10.0 rpg).  The senior duo may not be enough to overtake the swath of talent Jay Wright has assembled in Philadelphia this season, however, as Wright has four starters averaging double-digits and they’ve yet to play anywhere near to their actual potential.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (16.2 ppg, 9.0 rpg), Collin Gillespie (14.6 ppg, 37% 3PM), and Justin Moore (14.2 ppg, 36.7% 3PM) will be the catalysts for the Nova attack this evening, and with the Hoyas being particularly light in the frontcourt with only two players logging significant minutes being taller than 6-9, Robinson-Earl can be in for another big night.  If Nova’s three-point shot travels with them, that makes this matchup that much harder for Ewing’s Hoyas.

Nova enters tonight’s conference opener featuring a sparkling 10-2-1 ATS record in their last 13 road games, while the Hoyas are just 1-6 ATS following a win and 3-7 ATS in their last 10 games on a Friday night. 

This is a spot where a quality Georgetown team is getting a lot of points on their home floor, but I believe Villanova has yet to put together a complete game.  Jay Wright’s crew gets it done tonight behind a dominant performance from Robinson-Earl and the ‘Cats outside shooting coming back to life.

Prediction: Villanova 84, Georgetown 70
Best Bet: Villanova -11.5  

Iowa State at #3 Iowa

Spread: Iowa -12
Total:
O/U 158.5
Time/TV:
9:00 PM ET, Big Ten Network

Life is pretty good if you’re a fan of the Iowa Hawkeyes right about now.  The Hawks are flying high to start the new season with the 3rd overall ranking in the country and the runaway favorite to bring home the 2021 Wooden Award in Iowa scoring machine Luka Garza (29.5 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 55.6% 3PM). 

Iowa has scored 90 points or more in all four of their victories to start the new season, including a 93-80 win over #16 North Carolina on Tuesday.  They look like they will not only be a threat to win the Big Ten but to go on a deep run in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

On the other hand, their in-state rival Iowa State has seen better days.  Steve Prohm enters his sixth year in Ames and is coming off of a disastrous 12-20 campaign a season ago, giving the former Murray State coach his second poor season in the last three seasons (13-18 overall in 2017/18).  That has left Prohm’s seat getting noticeably warmer, and tonight’s opponent is likely not going to feel a whole lot of remorse for Prohm’s potential future on the Iowa State sidelines.

The Cyclones to date have only played in two games, splitting an 80-63 win over Arkansas Pine-Bluff with a 71-68 loss to South Dakota State on December 2nd.  It’s difficult to fully gauge the scope of what this season’s Cyclone team will present, but they face a massive uphill climb in replacing star guard Tyrese Haliburton who departed for the NBA Draft after one season in Ames. 

If the first two games are any indicator of tonight, Iowa State is probably in for a long night.  The Cyclones have shot just 29-percent from three-point range in the first two games, their most recent showing being a 4-for-23 night in their loss to SDSU.  If they repeat that shooting performance tonight, Iowa will run them out of the gym. 

There’s something possibly to be made out of a rivalry game featuring a coach that is very much coaching for his job this season, but Iowa State simply does not have the athletes to stay on the floor with this Iowa team. 

Garza alone is a matchup nightmare that few teams in the nation can account for, and Iowa State is not that team.  In their first two games, the Cyclones surrendered a cozy 51.4% shooting percentage from two-point range, and last season teams shot at a 50.6% clip from inside the perimeter (223rd overall defensive ranking per KenPom).  Iowa State was even friendlier in surrendering three-point shots as they fielded a perimeter defense that ranked outside the top 300 a season ago.  That’s where Garza feasts.  That’s where Iowa feasts.

The only fear you would have tonight is if Iowa flat out overlooks their in-state rival tonight, but they seem like a team on a mission and should easily handle their foes from the Big 12 with another lopsided victory in Iowa City.

Prediction: Iowa 90, Iowa State 73
Best Bet: Iowa -12

Bonus Play: UW-Milwaukee at Kansas State

Spread: Kansas State -10.5
Total:
O/U 132
Time/TV:
8:00 PM ET, ESPN+

Any other season, this game probably wouldn’t register a blip on your radar, but Bruce Weber’s Kansas State Wildcats’ are having quite the difficult start to their season.

The Wildcats were projected to be entering a rebuilding season that would have them finishing at the bottom of the conference, but no one quite expected K-State to struggle like this.  The Wildcats have begun the season with a dismal 1-4 record with their lone win of the season being a 62-58 victory over WAC member Missouri-Kansas City (ranked 290th overall by KenPom).  Their last game was an 81-68 home loss to Division II member Fort Hays State.

Simply put, this team stinks worse than the morning after a late-night Taco Bell binge.

Horizon League member UW-Milwaukee has yet to play a game this season, so we have no idea what’s in store from them tonight. The Panthers finished the 2019/20 season with a 12-19 record giving them their fourth straight season with a losing record, however, they return three starters and add transfer, Vin Baker Jr., from college basketball powerhouse Boston College, so at the least, they have the talent that rivals a D-II school, and that is evidently all you need to beat Kansas State this season.

Until they show a reason not to automatically fade them, I’m going to automatically fade them. Take the Panthers and the points.

Prediction: You will want to watch something else on TV
Best Bet: UW-Milwaukee +10.5

ACC/Big Ten Challenge Best Bets: Look For a ‘B1G’ Tuesday

The college basketball schedule has been littered with captivating matchups out of the gate to begin the season.  While we have lost many games due to the ongoing pandemic, Tuesday night’s slate should be the best college basketball slate of the young season and that’s because the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge officially tips off with a delicious menu of non-conference college basketball goodness.

As we knock on wood to ensure as many of these games as possible can still proceed (we already lost Louisville-Wisconsin and Michigan-NC State), let’s hone in on the Best Bets of the evening in three of the biggest matchups of the week.

#16 North Carolina at #3 Iowa 

Spread: Iowa -3
Total: O/U 155.5
Time/TV: 7:30 PM ET, ESPN

The Iowa Hawkeyes couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season.  

Iowa is ranked 3rd in the country, their highest ranking since 2016, and a perfect 3-0 to start the season winning by an average of 33 points per game.  Wooden Award favorite Luka Garza has been utterly ridiculous out of the gates as he is averaging 34 points and 10 rebounds per game while shooting 76% from the floor and 62.5% (!!) from three-point range.  Have we mentioned the man is nearly 7-feet tall?!

Garza is not a one-man army for Fran McCaffrey’s Hawkeyes either.  Iowa’s trio of Joe Wieskamp, Patrick McCaffery, and Jack Nunge has given the Hawks additional firepower and senior Jordan Bohannon gives Iowa a steady hand at point guard to run the show.     

The Hawkeyes, however, have certainly been feeding off the minnows in college basketball’s ocean of teams.  The likes of NC Central, Southern, and Western Illinois aren’t exactly Final Four sleepers in the making.  Tonight’s contest will be their first true test of the season when the much-improved North Carolina Tar Heels make the rare road trip to Iowa City.

The Heels are off to a 3-1 start to the season, their most recent outing being their lone loss of the season in the Maui Invitational Final to #13 Texas.  The fate of tonight could rest on the ankle of senior center Garrison Brooks, as no one else on the Carolina roster is equipped to handle Garza.  The preseason ACC player of the year has not been cleared to play as of Monday evening, and will likely be a game-time decision for Roy Williams’ bunch.

North Carolina would certainly prefer to have their senior leader on the floor, but if they do not improve upon their grisly shooting numbers of 45.2% from the floor (220th overall by KenPom) and 27.1% from three-point range (237th overall by KenPom), Brooks presence may not mean a whole lot when matching up against the 3rd most efficient offense in the country.  

Fortunately for the Heels, Iowa isn’t exactly known for their defensive prowess.  While they have glowing statistics in every defensive category to start the 2020 season, they will almost surely regress to the mean when they are playing better competition.  A season ago, the Hawkeyes checked in as the 171st most efficient defense in the country and allowed their opponents to shoot nearly 50% from the floor.  North Carolina should have their opportunities to improve their shooting tonight.  

Ultimately this will be one of the more entertaining non-conference games of the season. If Garrison Brooks were 100-percent healthy I would feel a little more comfortable backing the Heels on the road, but Garza is going to be too much to handle. I like the Hawkeyes to cover the 3-point spread if Brooks plays, and I like it even more if he doesn’t.

Prediction: Iowa 80, North Carolina 72
Best Bet: Iowa -3

#6 Illinois at #10 Duke 

Spread: Duke -4
Total: O/U 147.5
Time/TV: 9:30 PM ET, ESPN

The last time these two schools met came back in 2007 when Duke would beat Illinois by the score of 79-66.  To say a few things have changed in the 13 years since would be a slight understatement.  

The one constant in those 13 years would be Duke’s basketball program continually being one of the best in the country, but there are quite a few questions about this season’s Blue Devils, the largest being how they will fare in an empty Cameron Indoor Stadium. 

The results thus far have been mixed.  Duke does enter tonight’s game with a 2-1 record but did lose in their lone test of the early 2020 campaign when they fell 75-69 to now #4 Michigan State.  In their most recent action, the Blue Devils never trailed in a 76-54 victory over Atlantic Sun member Bellarmine as Matthew Hurt chipped in 24 points and went 6-for-8 from distance. 

The competition will see a dramatic boost this evening when 6th ranked Illinois comes to town.  The Illini were last in action six days ago when they would fall to #2 Baylor 82-69 in the Jimmy V Classic.  The Bears’ combination of outside shooting and smothering defense was too much to overcome for Brad Underwood’s team in the second half after the Illini went into the halftime break trailing by just a point.

The Illini are paced by their dynamic duo of Ayo Dosunmu (23.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 6.3 apg) and Kofi Cockburn (13.0 ppg, 9.8 rpg) and feature the 11th best three-point shooting team in the country.  The Illini are not only snipers from outside, they are also a terror on the glass and boast the 2nd best offensive rebounding percentage according to KenPom’s analytic ratings.  That could ultimately be the difference in tonight’s game.  

In Duke’s loss to Michigan State, the Blue Devils struggled against the Spartans’ physicality.  Duke was outrebounded and shot a paltry 32% from the floor.  Without the screaming student body to propel them, the team had a hard time ending the Spartans surge in the second half and the teams’ inexperience began to appear.  While Duke has played another game since the same issues that haunted them in their loss to Michigan State may haunt them once more tonight.

It’s hard to envision Duke being 0-2 on their home floor against a pair of Top 10 opponents, but the 2020 season will be full of surprises with this being the most chaotic season in history.  The young Blue Devils will gel soon enough, but tonight the experienced Illini will use the same blueprint their conference foes used against them last week to land a big road victory.

Prediction: Illinois 79, Duke 74
Best Bet: Illinois +4 (Would also sprinkle some on Illinois ML)

Syracuse at #21 Rutgers 

Spread: Rutgers -3.5
Total: O/U 140.5
Time/TV: 9:30 PM ET, ESPN2

While this matchup doesn’t feature a blue blood program like North Carolina or Duke, this could be one of the better games of the entire ACC/Big Ten Challenge when it’s all said and done.

Syracuse enters tonight’s contest with a perfect 3-0 record on the season, their latest victory being a 35-point drubbing of MAAC member Rider.  Jim Boeheim’s Orange entered the season with expectations that they would be a three-point chucking machine, and they’ve been every bit as advertised.  In their 87-52 win over Rider, ‘Cuse shot 15-of-30 from distance, by far their best showing to date in the young season.

The Orange have been led in large part by the frontcourt tandem of Alan Griffin (16.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg), and Quincy Guerrier (16.3 ppg, 11.0 rpg).  The team did get back shooting specialist, and coach’s son, Buddy Boeheim for their victory over Rider, but he will be missing in action this evening as he is quarantining after being deemed that he was close in contact with a walk-on player that tested positive for COVID-19.  Freshman Kadary Richmond will fill in as Boeheim sits, and while he’s not the shooter that Boeheim is, he has shown to be a very capable defender and feels like a natural fit in Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone defense. 

Meanwhile, Rutgers was on the verge of their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1991 when last season abruptly ended, and several questions swirled over the team entering this season in regards to whether or not they’d be able to replicate last season’s success all over again.

So far, so good for the Scarlet Knights.  Rutgers was one of the stronger home teams in the country a season ago and they’re a perfect 3-0 at the RAC to kick off the new campaign.  The Scarlet Knights have been led by their trio of guards with Ron Harper Jr. (21.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg), Jacob Young (15.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg), and Montez Mathis (15.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg) all picking up where they left off last season.   

Where there could be some concern, however, comes with the fact Rutgers has not played in 10 days.  Additionally, while their guard play is among the strongest in the Big Ten, they’re not an outside shooting team whatsoever.  A season ago, Rutgers had the 295th ranked three-point shooting team in the country, this season that’s up to 202nd, but the Scarlet Knight’s first three opponents have been softer than a new roll of Charmin.  They still can’t shoot from outside.

Rutgers is also a woeful team at the free-throw line, shooting it 55% from the charity stripe to begin the season after fielding the 333rd rated free-throw shooting team a season ago.  

Where Rutgers earns their milk money comes on the defensive end of the floor and by attacking the paint.  Rutgers boasted the 6th most efficient defense in college basketball a season ago per KenPom and currently sits at 12th overall after the first few weeks of action.  They will force the Orange into a lot of contested shots and they will attack the Cuse zone on the glass.  

This game just screams like a hard-fought defensive battle with a lot of shots clanging off the rim.  I don’t have a strong feel for a side in this matchup but I love the under and look for a game in which each opponent struggles to hit 70 points. 

Prediction: Rutgers 68, Syracuse 65
Best Bet: UNDER 140.5

Big Ten College Basketball 2020/21 Preview

When COVID-19 swept over the United States, the Big Ten’s banner season was also unfortunately washed away.  We’ll never know what the conference would have done in the NCAA Tournament, but we do know the Big Ten was on the brink of sending at least 11 of the 14 members of the conference to the dance, with the outside possibility of a 12th team playing their way in with a strong showing in the conference tournament.

Fast forward eight months and the Big Ten is still as deep as ever, and should once again be the deepest conference in college basketball.

A record seven teams from the same conference appear in the preseason college basketball rankings, and this year looks just as promising as a season ago for the Big Ten to potentially send two teams to the Final Four.

How does this mammoth of a conference look heading into the new season?  Let’s take a look at each team in the conference and how they figure to fare in what is sure to be another chaotic season of college basketball.

The Contenders

#5 Iowa (+265 to Win Big Ten)

Two words can best summarize why Iowa is a legit contender this season.

Luka. Garza.

The 6-11 center had a junior season to remember before COVID-19 prevented Garza and the Hawkeyes from their appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

Garza was selected as the Sporting News’ National Player of the Year and the Big Ten Conference player of the year in addition to being named as a consensus first-team All-American.  And in looking at Garza’s stats it’s not difficult to see why the big man brought home a lot of awards last season.  Luka averaged a practical double-double (23.9 ppg, 9.8 rpg) while shooting 54% from the floor and nearly 36% from three-point range.  The 6-11 big man was the Hawkeyes’ best three-point shooter a season ago.

Iowa fans will be ecstatic to find out that most of last season’s team is back with the exception of two senior bench contributors (Ryan Kreiner and Bakari Evelyn), meaning the Hawkeyes are locked and loaded for a potentially deep run in March.

Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes will have senior point guard Jordan Bohannon (8.8 ppg, 3.3 apg) back in the lineup this season after he only played in 10 games a season ago, and will still have the services of the team’s second-leading scorer, Joe Wieskamp (14.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg) along with sophomore guard CJ Fredrick (10.2 ppg, 2.8 apg).  This should provide the Hawkeyes with an explosive offensive unit that will play a quicker tempo than many of the schools in the conference.

If there’s a cause for concern with this Iowa team, however, it does come on the defensive end of the floor where Iowa is… passive to say the least.  Iowa’s guards can shoot the lights out, but their defense is subpar at best.  Luka Garza is a versatile weapon that few teams have an answer for offensively, but on the defensive end of the floor, he has shown a tendency to struggle in defending outside of the paint.

Additionally, the Hawkeyes’ reserves are extremely young with six freshmen, one sophomore, and a lone junior (Connor McCaffrey).  How much depth this team actually has won’t be known until several games into the season. 

If Bohannon can avoid injury and Iowa can find a gem or two on their bench, there’s no reason to believe Iowa won’t be a Top 10 team when it’s all said and done.  But if the bench doesn’t progress the way McCaffrey hopes it will, this could be a team that becomes extremely reliant on Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp once again.

At the very least, expect Iowa to be one of the more entertaining teams in the Big Ten this season, and a likely strong over team given their ability to light up a scoreboard.

#7 Wisconsin (+350 to Win Big Ten)

Before COVID-19 canceled conference tournaments around the country, and then subsequently the NCAA Tournament, the Wisconsin Badgers were in the middle of an eight-game winning streak to close out the season and take the Badgers from a middling 6-6 record in conference to clinching the top seed in the Big Ten tournament.

The bad news for Badger backers is that we didn’t get a chance to see one of the hottest teams in the country during March Madness, the good news for Badger backers is that no other team in the conference will have the experience Greg Gard will have at his disposal this season.

Wisconsin returns six seniors to their team including their entire starting lineup from a season ago.  The program’s only two losses entering the 2020/21 season are that of guards Brevin Pritzl (8.0 ppg) and Kobe King (midseason transfer to Nebraska).

The loss of King, one of the best recruits that Gard has brought to the program, stung initially especially when seeing him link up with a conference foe in Nebraska (though he has since departed the Nebraska program as well), but Gard did a masterful job of righting the ship after losing the team’s most talented player.

There’s a lot of reasons to be excited for this iteration of Wisconsin basketball.  We mentioned the talent they’re bringing back, but possibly the most exciting development to come with this basketball team is getting Micah Potter (10.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 45.1% 3PM) for a full season.  Of the Badgers’ ten losses a season ago, five of them came before Potter was eligible to play.  The moment the 6-10 transfer from Ohio State entered the lineup, Wisconsin was an entirely different team.  Potter provides Gard exactly what Wisconsin hopes to get from their big men – a long-player that can light it up from distance.  Potter was a 45% shooter from distance a season ago.

Three-point shooting will be a running theme with the Badgers all season, as Wisconsin shot 36.1% from three-point range in conference play, only trailing Ohio State (36.2%) in three-point shooting efficiency.  Gard has six players on his roster that shoot the three at a 35% clip or better.  If the three-ball is dropping, the Badgers are going to be a very difficult team to beat.  

Gard is one of the best coaches in the conference and given this senior-laden lineup, it’s hard not to envision the Badgers being a serious contender to the Big Ten crown once more. 

#8 Illinois (+355 to Win Big Ten)

The Illini are back in the Top 10 for the first time since 2012, and while they don’t have the barrage of offensive firepower that Iowa possesses or the experience that Wisconsin brings, they will still be one of the main contenders to win the conference.

Brad Underwood’s team gets Big Ten Conference Player of the Year Candidate Ayo Dosunmu (16.6 ppg) back for his junior season after the guard flirted with the idea of entering the NBA Draft, along with their sensational 7-foot sophomore Kofi Cockburn (13.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg). 

In addition to this terrific tandem, the Illini will count on senior guard Trent Frazier (9.1 ppg) and former Holy Cross guard Jacob Grandison (13.9 ppg in 2018/19) for additional offensive support. 

Underwood does lose the rangy shooting forward Alan Griffin (8.9 ppg, 41.6% 3PM) who transferred to Syracuse, but four-star recruit Adam Miller could immediately start for the Illini and fill that vacancy in the stat sheet.

The fate of the new Illini season in all likelihood rests on Underwood finding another shooting threat to alleviate the pressure on his two future NBA’ers.  If Frazier, Grandison, or Miller can become that dependable piece the Illini should play to the expectations of their preseason ranking.  If they are unable to find consistency outside of their best two players, however, the Big Ten is monstrous enough to send Illinois tumbling down the standings.

Either way, Brad Underwood’s team should still be playing in mid-March.  How far they will go remains to be seen.

#13 Michigan State (+360 to Win Big Ten)

Tom Izzo enters the new season looking to replace one of the best players to ever come through Izzo’s program in guard Cassius Winston.  Arguably no player meant more to their team, at least from a leadership level, than Winston meant to the Spartans.  Most college basketball fans (myself included) were saddened to see Winston’s career end in the sudden manner it did, but he has since graduated and the Spartans are now left to try to fill his absence.

Don’t feel too bad for Izzo’s Spartans, however, as they are poised to reload their roster and once again be a force in the Big Ten Conference.

Michigan State pulled in the 8th best recruiting class of 2020, but it’s Marquette transfer Joey Hauser that may excite Izzo the most.  Hauser is a 6-9 forward that can score inside and out (42.5% 3PM in 2018/19) and in true Izzo fashion look for the rangy sharpshooter to have a lot of pick-and-pop plays drawn up for him this season.

Playing alongside Hauser in the Spartans’ small-ball type of lineup will be guards Rocket Watts (9.0 ppg) and Aaron Henry (10.0 ppg), but the real X-factor to Sparty’s season is that of fifth-year senior Joshua Langford. 

Langford missed all of last season with a nagging foot injury and had his 2018/19 campaign cut short for the same reason, but when Langford was able to play he was a very potent scoring threat as he averaged 15.0 points per contest during his junior season.

If Langford can give the Spartans a full season, or close to it, Michigan State goes from a very good team to a legit contender. 

The Dangerous Dark Horses

#23 Ohio State (+1000 to Win Big Ten)

The Buckeyes 2019/20 season was almost like three separate seasons rolled into one.

Ohio State came out of the gates scorching hot with an 11-1 record and blowout wins over then #10 Villanova, #7 North Carolina, and a narrow 71-65 victory over #6 Kentucky in Las Vegas.

Ohio State would see their ranking soar up to #2 overall before they’d meet Bob Huggins’ #22 West Virginia team.  West Virginia would go on to hand Ohio State their second loss of the season, leading to a 1-6 spiral for the Buckeyes.

Sitting at 13-7 on the year and an ugly 3-6 in conference, Ohio State would find their earlier form and end the season winning nine of their last 12 games before COVID-19 would stop the season dead in its tracks.

Now Chris Holtmann’s team enters the new season with a lot of roster turnover, but still enough talent to at least put Ohio State on the likely path to another NCAA Tournament bid in 2021.

The Buckeyes lost Luther Muhammad, D.J. Carton, and Alonzo Gaffney to the transfer portal but have transfers Seth Towns (16.0 ppg with Harvard), Jimmy Sotos (11.5 ppg with Bucknell), and Justice Sueing (14.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg with Cal) ready to step right in.

Holtmann will not have the luxury of the Wesson twins this season, as Kaleb Wesson turned pro and Andre Wesson graduated, so the top returning player to Columbus this season figures to be that of junior guard Duane Washington Jr. (11.5 ppg).  

While it’s unlikely that Ohio State is a National Championship contending team, they can still make a lot of noise in a loaded Big Ten.  Holtmann will likely need a bit of time to get all of his new players to gel, but come February and March this may be a team that no one in the Big Ten wants any part of.  A Sweet 16 run is certainly not out of the question with this group.

#25 Michigan (+1100 to Win Big Ten)

Juwan Howard’s first season in Ann Arbor was met with mostly positive results.  The first-time collegiate head coach brought Michigan to a 19-12 record overall and a very respectable 10-10 in conference play. 

The Wolverines began the season a perfect 7-0 including wins over then 6th ranked North Carolina and a blowout win in the Maui Invitational Final over 8th ranked Gonzaga.

As the season would go on, we’d eventually discover the North Carolina win wasn’t as impressive as we first thought it was, but their win over Gonzaga would become more impressive with each passing week.

Once Michigan entered Big Ten Conference play, however, the limitations of Michigan’s roster began to emerge.  While Howard’s group was tenacious on the defensive end of the floor, they were a mixed bag offensively. 

After climbing up to #4 in the polls following their blowout over Gonzaga, the Wolverines would go on a 4-8 skid that left them sitting at 11-8 overall and 2-6 in conference play.  In a similar manner to Ohio State, Michigan seemed to rediscover the play they had to start the season and would rattle off eight wins in their last 12 games, putting the Wolverines comfortably in the field of 68. 

Now the Wolverines enter the new season as one of the more dangerous sleepers in not only the Big Ten but in all of college basketball.  The biggest question facing the team is if they will be able to find a point guard to run the offense.  Zavier Simpson graduated from the program and Simpson’s heir to the throne, David DeJulius, shocked the program when he transferred to Cincinnati this offseason.  That leaves Michigan potentially dangerously thin at the most important position on the floor.

Howard will now hope that either senior Eli Brooks or grad-transfer Mike Smith (22.8 ppg with Columbia in 2019/20) can fill the very large shoes left behind by Simpson.  If either guard is up to the task, Michigan is in great hands once again. 

Beyond their question marks at the point, Michigan returns top player Isaiah Livers (12.9 ppg) and 2019 standout frosh Franz Wagner (younger brother of former Michigan star Mo Wagner) to a very athletic and long Wolverines roster.

The floor for Michigan this season is likely where they ended the 2019/20 campaign, but the ceiling could be very high if they’re able to seamlessly replace their backcourt from a season ago.  Look out for this Wolverines team this season.

Indiana (+2000 to Win Big Ten)

This very likely will be a make or break year for Archie Miller in Bloomington. 

Since coming to Indiana in 2017, Miller has not made a single NCAA Tournament appearance and has a meager 55-43 record overall and a sub .500 record in conference play at 26-32.  COVID-19 may have even prolonged his coaching tenure with the Hoosiers a bit further as Indiana needed at least a couple of victories in the Big Ten Tournament (though they did have one under their belt before the cancellation) to safely get into the field of 68.

Fortunately for Archie Miller, this season’s Hoosiers team should fare better than last season’s, and the temperature of his seat should cool off as the season goes on.

The straw that stirs the Hoosiers drink is that of future NBA’er Trayce Jackson-Davis (13.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg).  The 6-9 lefty is a fantastic defender and a tireless glass eater for Archie Miller’s squad.  Jackson-Davis will team up with senior Joey Brunk and junior Race Thompson to give Indiana one of the best frontcourts in the Big Ten. 

While junior Rob Phinisee figures to start for Archie Miller to begin the season, five-star point guard Khristian Lander may eventually take that job by the time conference play begins.  Lander was widely considered as the best recruit to come out of Indiana and was the 27th overall recruit according to ESPN.  So Archie landing him is a pretty big deal for the Hoosiers.

The Hoosiers’ also recruited four-star talent Jordan Geronimo, giving them the 15th best-recruiting class in the country.  If Miller can get the talented freshmen on this team to gel with the talent already in place, Indiana’s NCAA Tournament drought should be coming to an end.   

#24 Rutgers (+3000 to Win Big Ten)

Add Rutgers to the growing pile of teams that were devastated by the cancellation of college basketball eight months ago.

The Scarlet Knights were in the middle of the best season they’ve had in a long time, winning 20 games in a season for the first time since 2004, and were almost surely headed for a trip to the NCAA Tournament.  Now Steve Pikiell is hoping to replicate last season’s success and officially end Rutgers’ 30-year tournament drought.

Replicating last season’s success should be made easier by the return of Rutgers’ two best players in forward Ron Harper Jr. (12.1 ppg) and guard Geo Baker (10.8 ppg), in addition to the signing of Pikiell’s best recruit ever in Cliff Omoruyi (6-10 center, ranked 49th overall).

The Scarlet Knights were ferocious defensively a season ago, ranking 6th in the country per KenPom.  That will need to continue this season if Rutgers is to meet their new expectations.  One cause of concern for Rutgers this season is their woeful 2-10 road record a year ago. 

However, their road woes may be greatly assisted by the fact that there will likely not be any fans for most Rutgers road basketball games this season.  Conversely, that can also work against the Scarlet Knights, as Pikiell’s group was a sensational 18-1 at home last year. 

I don’t believe Rutgers is a title contender or even a threat to win the Big Ten, but they have enough talent to get close to 20-wins once again and that would be a practical automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament given how stacked the Big Ten is this season.

Middle of the Pack

Purdue (+3000 to Win Big Ten)

Matt Painter faces a difficult road if he hopes to take Purdue back to the NCAA Tournament.

Weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic officially ended the Boilers season, Painter watched his two best players Matt Haarms and Nojel Eastern transfer to BYU and Howard respectively, leaving Purdue with  Trevion Williams as their main threat in the low post – a position that holds greater importance in Painter’s system than with other members of the Big Ten.

However, this can also be seen as a blessing in disguise.  Haarms and Eastern both chewed into the playing time and touches for Williams (11.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg), and now Williams will not have to deal with either of those issues as he becomes the focal point of the Purdue offense.

In addition to Williams, Painter will also have the services of junior guards Eric Hunter (10.6 ppg) and Sasha Stefanovic (9.1 ppg), so offensively the Boilers should remain quite the formidable group.  Where Painter will run into some potential issues comes on the defensive side of the floor, as Haarms and Eastern were both outstanding rim protectors. 

Purdue’s bench will be very young with five freshmen, so it remains to be seen how deep Painter’s rotations will be.  If any of the freshmen happen to pop and emerge as a capable depth piece, however, Purdue is likely going to be heading back to the NCAA Tournament. 

Maryland (+5000 to Win Big Ten)

Out of all the teams in the loaded Big Ten, no one lost more from the 2019/20 season than Mark Turgeon’s Maryland Terrapins.

The timing of the COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t have been worse for the Terps eight months ago, as Maryland was in the middle of their best season since their Juan Dixon National Championship team and had just captured a share of the Big Ten regular-season crown.  Maryland was likely in the mix for a 2 or 3 seed in the tournament, and who knows what kind of run they could have eventually gone on.

The holes on this roster are evident, as Turgeon is faced with the daunting task of replacing star guard Anthony Cowan Jr. and NBA’er Jalen Smith.  The Terps also had the worst recruiting class in the conference, not exactly what you hope to achieve in this gauntlet of a conference.

In a best-case scenario, the Terps greatly overachieve and get themselves in the mix of a possible bubble spot.  The more likely scenario is they fight off Minnesota and Purdue for 10th place in the conference.

The Long Shots

Minnesota (+15000 to Win Big Ten)
Penn State (+30000 to Win Big Ten)
Nebraska (+50000 to Win Big Ten)
Northwestern (+50000 to Win Big Ten)

If you dropped any of these four teams into a weaker conference, the outlook for their seasons would probably look much differently.  Unfortunately, though that’s not how college athletics work so these four teams are in for a tough slog in this behemoth of a basketball power conference.

Minnesota adds stand out transfers Liam Robbins (Drake), Brandon Johnson (Western Michigan), and Both Gach (Utah), but loses 2019 star Daniel Oturu in what is a make or break season for Richard Pitino.  Marcus Carr and Gabe Kalscheur return to Minnesota’s backcourt and offer one of the most experienced guard tandems in the conference.  One name of note here is that of 2020 recruit Jamal Mashburn Jr.   Mashburn Jr. is of course the son of former NBA great Jamal Mashburn, so if you want to feel even older than you do after living during a global pandemic, be sure to catch a Gophers game if you can.

Penn State is in for a potentially rough season, as head coach Pat Chambers abruptly resigned in late October.  Former Duquesne head coach Jim Ferry has now become the team’s interim coach, but he will have his hands full after the Nittany Lions had already lost their two best players from a season ago in Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins.  Myreon Jones (13.4 ppg) is the name to look out for here, as he’s the best returning player to Happy Valley.

Nebraska enters year two of the Fred Hoiberg era hoping it goes a lot better than the 7-25 (2-18 Big Ten) showing the Huskers had in his debut season.  Good news for Husker fans is the talent is getting noticeably better, and they shouldn’t be nearly as bad as they were a season ago.  However, Nebraska has the unfortunate luck of their football program uprooting its basketball program into the strongest conference in the United States.  The Huskers will be a team to watch in 2021 and beyond, but this season expect more growing pains in Lincoln.

Northwestern at least has a good football team to cheer for this season.  They won’t have much else besides Mike Greenberg annoyingly reminding you that’s where he went to college.  

Big Ten Projected Order of Finish

  1. Wisconsin
  2. Iowa
  3. Michigan State
  4. Michigan
  5. Illinois
  6. Ohio State
  7. Indiana
  8. Rutgers
  9. Minnesota
  10. Purdue
  11. Maryland
  12. Nebraska
  13. Penn State
  14. Northwestern