Big Ten Betting Preview: Michigan Stumbles Early, Ohio State Starts Strong

College basketball is back, and we're looking at early season trends in the Big Ten.

Last Updated: Dec 2, 2021 11:42 AM ET Read Time: 6 min
Ohio State Buckeyes forward E.J. Liddell (32) celebrates in the closing minutes of the win over the Duke Blue Devils at Value City Arena.
Photo By - USA TODAY Sports

After a suspended season, extended eligibility rules and player transfers drastically altered the college basketball landscape. Bettors have adjusted their strategies due to disrupted continuity in many 2021-22 college basketball season programs. 

Thus far, the Big Ten’s performance has more than spoken for itself: it is the only Power 6 conference without a single team with a losing record, they boast a collective 75-25 record, and they finished the annual ACC / Big Ten challenge 8-6. Sure, the Big 12 has three teams in the top 10 right now to the Big Ten’s one (No. 4 Baylor, No. 7 Texas, No. 8 Kansas vs. No. 2 Purdue), but the Big Ten as a group has challenged itself more with its scheduling and the results have been promising.

Editor’s note: Preseason analysis has been preserved and immediately follows this early-season update.  

Pre-conference play update

Purdue Boilermakers

No. 2 Purdue has played some convincing basketball, bolstered by the play of sophomores Zach Edey (16.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG) and Jaden Ivey (15.4 PPG, 6.3 RPG). The team is firing on all cylinders, and currently ranks top ten in scoring, field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, assists, rebounds, and rebounds allowed. They’ve been impressive against a respectable schedule, with wins against then-ranked No. 18 North Carolina and No. 5 Villanova, already under their belt.

Michigan Wolverines

Preseason conference favorite No. 24 Michigan (4-3) stumbled early on, with critical losses against current No. 11 Arizona and No. 25 Seton Hall. Growing pains were expected, given that the core of this team relies on a sophomore (Hunter Dickinson), two freshmen (Caleb Houston and Moussa Diabate), and a mid-major transfer (DeVante Jones). Not to suggest anyone on the team is playing poorly, Dickinson has been as advertised, and Jones has been efficient when leaned on, but it will take time to sort out and settle into their respective roles.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State (5-2) deserves a pat on the back for their impressively difficult schedule and for coming out of it in one piece. On top of a pair of wins against No. 1 Duke and No. 25 Seton Hall, their two losses have come against No. 23 Florida (6-1) and Xavier (6-1). EJ Liddell is playing out of his mind with 21.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per game with shooting splits of 55% / 40% / 67% — an insanely remarkable feat for a 6’7” 240-pound forward. Betting on the Buckeyes to make the Final Four at +900 is a nice compliment to our preseason recommendation, given their ceiling.

Michigan State Spartans

No. 22 Michigan State (6-2) deserves similar praise for taking on top-10 ranked Kansas and Baylor, and even though they fell noticeably short in those matchups, they picked up a win against No. 17 UConn. The team’s biggest concern is the lack of focus on the offensive end: None of the nine players in their primary rotations average more than Gabe Brown’s 13.4 PPG, and only one averages fewer than five points per game.

Wisconsin Badgers

No. 23 Wisconsin (6-1) is enjoying early success, thanks to contributions from sophomore breakout Jonathan Davis (20.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG). He scored 30 points on a 10-for-18 shooting performance (including four of seven from three) against current No. 15 Houston. The extent of Davis’ breakout was largely unexpected, and observers essentially wrote off the Badgers as a result, but they are a team worth monitoring moving forward.

Recommended Big Ten bet:

Ohio State to make Final Four (+900)

Big Ten teams to watch

Note: The following is the original analysis published on Nov. 8, 2021

Michigan Wolverines

Star center Hunter Dickinson (14.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG) somewhat surprisingly returns and has a tremendous opportunity ahead of him to boost his draft stock with Franz Wagner (12.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG) gone. In the backcourt, redshirt senior Eli Brooks headlines the returners as a reliable and legitimate all-around talent at guard.

Joining Brooks in the backcourt is DeVante Jones (19.3 PPG, 7.2 RPG for Coastal Carolina), Sun Belt’s Player of the Year last year. Jones represents Juwan Johnson’s lone but magnificent addition to the Wolverines through the transfer portal. His abilities as a scorer, ball handler, and distributor are possibly the one thing the Wolverines have been missing as of late, and he’s a capable perimeter shooter as well (36.8 3P%).

Head coach Juwan Howard did not stop at Devante Jones, though. Michigan brings in arguably the best recruiting class in the nation (ranked second by 24/7 and first by Sports Illustrated), including two five-star recruits and three four-star recruits. With a lot of minutes opening up due to the departures of Franz Wagner (31.7 MPG), Mike Smith (31.6 MPG), Isaiah Livers (31.6 MPG), and Chaundee Brown (20.6 MPG), these fresh faces will have a role to play in 2022.

From a bird’s eye view, Michigan is one of the chalkier teams that may be worth backing heading into the season.

Purdue Boilermakers

Most people will remember last year’s Purdue team as the four-seed who busted their brackets with a first-round exit to 13-seed North Texas.

That team was still learning the ropes and a lot of teams with budding youth like Purdue often disappoint at the big dance, so it’s essential to not hold that against them. After all, this team improved from a 9-11 conference record in 2020 to 14-6 in 2021. We can and should expect Purdue to take the next step in 2022, as they essentially return every single player from last year’s team.

Returning players include star forward Trevion Williams (15.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG), who will continue to be the offensive focus while also cleaning the glass on both ends. When Williams plays, there is rarely a player more talented than him on the floor, and sometimes in college basketball, that’s all that matters. Guards Eric Hunter (8.5 PPG) and Sasha Stefanovic (9.3 PPG) join Williams as the other two veteran leaders.

Behind those three, Purdue has a plethora of sophomore talent that already got a taste of meaningful minutes last season. Jaden Ivey (11.1 PPG) is a budding ball-handler and playmaker who flashed down the stretch, while 7’4” Zach Edey is a true freak of nature who flat out dominates the game when he plays. Sophomore Brandon Newman (37.9 3P%) will play an essential complementary role similar to senior-equivalent Sasha Stefanovic (40.0%) as a floor-spacer.

All in all, there is a lot to like about the Boilermakers this year, and if you’re a college basketball purist, this transfer-less team will be a fantastic watch all season long and into the tournament.

Ohio State Buckeyes

The lasting memory of the 2021 season was a disappointing exit in the first round to a double-digit underdog. No, this isn’t another write-up of Purdue — two seed Ohio State also was a victim to the Madness as they lost to Sweet Sixteen darling and fifteen-seeded Oral Roberts. 

However, unlike Purdue, the Buckeyes have a looming roster question to address: Can Louisiana transfer Cedric Russell (17.2 PPG) replace the production of Duane Washington (16.4 PPG)?

Even if the answer is just “maybe?” Ohio State might still be in good shape. With an uncharacteristically deep and talented frontcourt, the Buckeyes have a team that can win the Big Ten and make a serious run in the tournament. EJ Liddell (16.2 PPG, 6.7 RPG) leads the group heading into his junior year and will undoubtedly become the offense’s focal point in Washington’s absence. What he lacks in size as a 6’7” big man, he more than makes up for with an arsenal of post moves and finishing ability.

Redshirt senior Kyle Young (8.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG) will start alongside Liddell and is quietly a key cog in the Ohio State machine. At the same time, Zed Key (6’8, 245 lbs) will come off the bench and try to improve upon his up-and-down freshman campaign, during which he flashed some truly inspiring potential. Joey Brunk (6’11”) comes over from Indiana after missing last season and will round out the group.

First-round exit be damned, the Ohio State Buckeyes have a lot to look forward to in 2022. In reality, they only need one of two things to fall their way, whether it’s Cedric Russell replacing Duane Washington’s production or one of Zed Key and Joey Brunk providing significant output down the line. If both fall in favor of the Buckeyes, watch out.

Illinois Fighting Illini

Illinois has sky-high expectations heading into the 2022 season. The Fighting Illini sit at 11th in the AP poll and fourth in KenPom rankings. Although they lose leading scorer Ayo Dosunmu, they still have a monster of a man with 7’0 285 pound center Kofi Cockburn (17.7 PPG, 9.5 RPG). Supporting him is a trio of redshirt seniors who have collectively shot 36 percent from three in their careers and will continue to keep defenses honest: Trent Frazier, Da’Monte Williams, and Jacob Grandison. Add in Utah transfer Alfonso Plummer (career 39.9 3P%), and you have arguably the most capable team at the perimeter in the conference.

Even so, Dosunmu’s absence as a shot creator will be felt and could be too large to overcome. Sophomore Andre Curbelo (9.1 PPG, 4.2 APG) showed small flashes of that ability, but it would take a huge step forward from him this year to even come close to closing the gap. 

The Illini bring in three four-star freshmen — Ramses Melendez, Brandin Podziemski, and Luke Goode — but we shouldn’t expect them to produce significantly this year. However, they might generate some exciting play from time to time.

Indiana Hoosiers

The Hoosiers’ offseason had a lot of “we’re going to throw a lot at the wall and see what sticks” type of energy. Mike Woodson continues the growing trend of programs hiring former players to coach and, in his first offseason, has revamped the roster. Star forward Trayce Jackson-Davis (19.1 PPG, 9.0 RPG) returns, but second and third fiddles Amaan Franklin (11.4 PPG) and Aljami Durham (11.3 PPG) depart. Race Thompson (9.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG) is the only other returning talent in Indiana’s starting lineup.

Filling out the rest of the projected starting lineup is UT Martin transfer Parker Stewart (19.2 PPG in 2020, did not play in 2021), Pittsburgh transfer Xavier Johnson (14.2 PPG), and Northwestern transfer Miller Kopp (11.3 PPG). If any of the transfers fail to find their footing, five-star recruit Tamar Bates will be right there to pick up the slack as a quickly-ascending prospect.

Ultimately, the Hoosiers are a tough team to project heading into the season but worth monitoring early. If they can sort out their rotations and identity before conference play begins, there’s reason to be optimistic about their outlook.

Maryland Terrapins

Maryland was a mess last year. They ranked outside the top 100 in nearly every offensive statistical category except for field goal percentage (70th) and three-point percentage (84th). They lost Aaron Wiggins (14.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG) on top of that.

Their 2022 approach is similar to Indiana’s, in which they’ll rely on transfers to help mold the team’s primary rotations. Rhode Island’s Fatts Russell (14.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.5 APG) will work with returning senior Eric Ayala (15.1 PPG) to keep defending backcourts busy. In comparison, Georgetown’s Qudus Wahab (12.7 PPG, 8.2 RPG) will man the frontcourt with returning junior Donta Scott (11.0 PPG, 5.9 RPG). 

Last year, the Terrapins’ biggest problem wasn’t necessarily a lack of talent but rather a lack of identity. Wahab is a talented-enough anchor on the block to run an offense through, which could, in turn, provide more structure for whoever is covering the one to three positions while he’s on the floor. This could be crucial for a team that ended an uncomfortable amount of offensive possessions last year with pull-up jumpers.

Michigan State Spartans

Say what you will about Tom Izzo’s ability to produce consistently productive NBA players, but the man knows how to develop college basketball players. And after all, that's the sport we're are discussing (and betting) here. The departures of Aaron Henry (15.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG), Joshua Langford (9.7 PPG), and Rocket Watts (7.7 PPG) would have fans of most programs worried, but Spartans fans (rightfully) can sleep fine at night given Izzo’s track record.

Northeastern’s bedrock of a player Tyson Walker (18.8 PPG) comes over to run the offense, and Michigan State’s other essential addition of five-star Max Christie rounds out the one-two punch. 

Throughout the rest of the roster, Izzo has a surplus of homegrown talent with which to build. Last season, junior forward Malik Hall showed flashes down the stretch that he can reliably take on a more prominent role. Joey Hauser comes off a mulligan year and has a wide-open opportunity to right the ship. Finally, Gabe Brown provides elite shooting (42.0 3P%) and positional flexibility invaluable to a team that will need to find itself.

Recommended Big Ten bets:

Michigan to win the tournament +1,200

Michigan to win B10 reg season +325 

Ohio State to win the tournament +2,800

Use our NCAA basketball odds comparison tool to find the best odds on your Big Ten wagers.

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