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Big Ten Conference Rundown: Race Tightens

This is going to be fun to watch. Purdue currently is up a half-game on Illinois and Wisconsin in the race for the Big Ten regular-season title. With five teams in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, there will be ranked showdowns to keep people’s attention for the rest of the regular season.

Ohio State, Rutgers, Michigan State and Michigan might have too many teams to leap over to finish on top of the standings, that they can still have a say on which team emerges for one of the most competitive Big Ten races in recent memory.

EMILEE CHINN / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA

Purdue (+900) has the best odds to win the national championship according to the latest March Madness odds. Illinois is surprisingly lagging behind at +4000.

Game of the Week

Ohio State Buckeyes vs Illinois Fighting Illini

Date, time, TV: Thursday, 9 p.m. ET

While the favorites have distanced themselves from most of the contenders in the majority of the larger conferences, the Big Ten race is too close to call. Three teams are tied in the loss column and only three games separate the top six squads.

Ohio State and Illinois are right in the thick of things going into the Thursday night showdown.

Although Ohio State did win six games in a row against Illinois from 2013-16, it has been a much different story recently. The teams have split the last eight meetings, including Illinois’ overtime win in the 2021 Big Ten title game. Each of the last five games have been decided by eight points or less.

No. 22 Ohio State (16-7, 9-5) has covered in three of the last four games in the series with three of those going over the total.

Each of Ohio State’s last four games has finished under the total. Ohio State has split its last six games to fall 2½ games out of first place in the Big Ten standings.

No. 15 Illinois (19-7, 12-4) is 2-2 in its last four games and covered in just one of them, but the Fighting Illini are only a half game behind first-place Purdue.

Ohio State opens play this week against Indiana on Monday and is looking to avoid dropping a pair of regular-season games to the Hoosiers for the first time since the 2007-08 campaign.

Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn is second in the Big Ten in scoring and first in rebounding while E.J. Liddell of Ohio State is fourth in scoring.

Cockburn (+350) is the No. 2 choice behind Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe in the national player of the year odds while Liddell is 12th at +4000.

The March Madness predictions have Illinois as a No. 3 seed according to the recent announcement of the current top 16 seeds by the NCAA selection committee.

Here is a team-by-team breakdown of the rest of the Big Ten teams and their upcoming games with some trends and other information to aid those who bet online

Indiana Hoosiers

Indiana had dropped six of the last seven games against Ohio State before a 16-point win at home on Jan. 6 as a 3½-point favorite It was the third time in the last four games in the series that the contest went under the total.

The home team has won the last five meetings between the teams.

Indiana (16-9, 7-8) has dropped its last four games and failed to cover in each of them to fall into ninth place in the Big Ten standings.

The Hoosiers are just 2-6 overall and 1-5 against the spread in true road games. The Hoosiers will look to improve to 14-3 at home when Maryland comes to Bloomington on Thursday night.

The Hoosiers have won the last two games against Maryland and covered against the college basketball spreads in both of them.

Trayce Jackson-Davis is coming off his third 30-point effort in a loss to Wisconsin

Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa has had its struggles with Michigan State over the years, losing 19 of 22 games at one point. But, the Hawkeyes have won two straight vs. the Spartans with the 30-point win in the most recent meeting the largest in the series since 2012.

No. 25 Iowa (18-8, 8-7) has won four of its last five games to move over the .500 mark in conference play. Each of those wins has come by at least 12 points. However, the Hawkeyes have covered in only one of their last four home games. Five of Iowa’s last seven games have gone over the total.

In a conference with multiple national player of the year candidates, Iowa’s Keegan Murray leads the Big Ten in scoring with an average of 23.4 points per game.

 

Maryland Terrapins

Maryland will be looking for back-to-back wins for the first time in more than three weeks when the Terrapins face Penn State on Monday night.

Maryland snapped a five-game losing streak with a 16-point win at Nebraska. The Terrapins were favored on the road for the first time all season.

Ten of the last 11 games between Penn State and Maryland have been decided by single digits heading into Monday’s showdown. Maryland had won each of its four games at home in the series before falling by five points when the teams squared off on March 7, 2021. The game finished under the total four of the last times that the Terps played host to Penn State.

Maryland (12-14, 4-11) heads to play Indiana on Thursday. The game was decided by eight points or less the last three times the Terrapins played at Indiana, including a one-point Maryland win in 2020.

Maryland tops the Big Ten with 392 made free throws.

Michigan Wolverines

When Michigan returns to the court to play host to Rutgers on Wednesday, the biggest question is whether Wolverines head coach Juwan Howard will join them. He exchanged words with Wisconsin coach Greg Gard over a late timeout call and exchanged much more than that with one of the Badgers’ assistant coaches.

There is a chance that Howard is suspended for his actions. The drama surrounding their head coach shouldn’t detract from the importance of Wednesday’s game as Michigan is tied for seventh in the Big Ten and has some work to do to improve its chances of returning to the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan (14-11, 8-7) failed to cover in each of the last two meetings with Rutgers, including the eight-point loss on Jan. 4.

The Wolverines seemed to be figuring things out during a three-game winning streak in late January, but are 4-4 since and 3-5 against the spread.

Michigan was 4 for 25 from 3-point range in Sunday’s loss to Wisconsin.

Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State has fallen to sixth place in the Big Ten standings after losing four of its last five games, with each of the last three defeats coming by eight points or less. The Spartans are 1-5 against the spread in its last six games and have also lost three of their last four road games heading into Tuesday’s 7 p.m. game at Iowa on ESPN.

Michigan State (18-8, 9-6) fell out of the Top 25 rankings and is looking to avoid losing three straight contests to Iowa for the first time since dropping three games in a span of 11 months from 2006-07.

Three of the last four games in the series have finished under the total.

Michigan State leads the Big Ten in free-throw percentage, 3-point percentage defense and blocked shots.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Although Minnesota goes into Wednesday’s matchup with nationally ranked Wisconsin having lost three in a row to the Badgers, Minnesota had covered in three of the last four meetings.

Minnesota has lost four of its last five home games against Wisconsin. The Golden Gophers haven’t won back-to-back home games against Wisconsin since 2013 and 2014.

Minnesota (13-12, 4-12) had lost seven of its last eight games before its 17-point win against Northwestern the last time out. It was just the second time in the last six games that a Minnesota game finished over the total.

Payton Willis and Jamison Battle are second and third in the Big Ten in minutes per game.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Wins have been hard to come by for last-place Nebraska, but thanks to the Cornhuskers being double-digit underdogs seven times, they have covered in nine of the last 14 games.

Nebraska has won just twice in the last 10 meetings with Northwestern going into Tuesday’s showdown, but the Cornhuskers have covered in four of the last five games. Each of the last three games in the series has gone over the total.

Nebraska (7-19, 1-14) has been the underdog in its last 19 games, including its lone win of 2022 against Minnesota on Feb. 9. Four of the Cornhuskers’ last five games have gone over the total.

Nebraska had 12 steals in its lone conference win but just six in the last two games since that victory.

Northwestern Wildcats

Northwestern has dropped its last three games, although the Wildcats are 5-2-1 against the spread in their last eight contests.

Northwestern (12-13, 5-11) has won four straight games against Nebraska going into Tuesday’s matchup in Evanston with each of the last three games going over the total. Three of the Wildcats’ last four games have gone under the total.

Northwestern is fourth in the conference with an average of 6.8 steals per game.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Penn State is looking for its fifth win in a row against Maryland on Monday in a game airing on ESPN2. The Nittany Lions have covered in each of those four wins.

The home team had won eight straight games in the series before Penn State’s 66-61 win in the most recent matchup. The Nittany Lions were 5½-point road underdogs in that game.

Penn State (11-12, 6-9) is eyeing its first three-game winning streak since March, 2021. The Nittany Lions not only defeated Michigan State and Minnesota in their last two games but have covered against the spread in 10 of their last 13 games. Four of Penn State’s last five games finished over the total.

John Harrar leads the Big Ten with an average of 3.5 offensive rebounds per game.

Purdue Boilermakers

No. 4 Purdue did what the previous four ranked teams were unable to get accomplished by beating unranked Rutgers 84-72 on Sunday behind 25 points and four assists from Jaden Ivy. Although Purdue didn’t cover as a 12½-point victory, the win did give the Boilermakers a half-game lead in the Big Ten standings.

Purdue (24-4, 13-4) doesn’t play again until the huge matchup on Saturday at Michigan State.

Zach Edey has connected on at least 60 percent of his shots in 11 of his last 14 games.

Purdue was the No. 7 overall seed in the first edition of the NCAA selection committee revealing the top 16 seeds. That would make the Boilermakers a No. 2 seed in the March Madness bracket.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

One of the early indications that Rutgers was going to be a much tougher foe for Big Ten opponents came when the Scarlet Knights, listed by the Las Vegas odds as 3½-point underdogs at home, upset a Michigan team expected to compete for the conference title. Michigan had won the previous 10 matchups, although each of the last three were decided by eight points or less.

Both Michigan and Rutgers lost on Sunday, but since the coaches didn’t have a confrontation in the handshake line, the loss by the Scarlet Knights didn’t generate the same amount of national attention.

Rutgers (16-10, 10-6) saw its four-game winning streak — all against ranked opponents, — come to an end with the loss to Purdue. Rutgers did cover against the Las Vegas odds in its last six games, losing to Purdue by 12 as a 12½-point underdog.

Paul Mulcahy leads the Big Ten in assists per game.

Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin has won three straight games against Minnesota heading into Wednesday’s matchup. The Badgers won 66-60 against Minnesota on Jan. 30 but failed to cover as an 11½-point favorite at home. Seven of the last eight games in the series have gone under the total.

The March Madness odds for Wisconsin continue to improve. The NCAA Tournament selection committee had Wisconsin as a No. 3 seed when it recently revealed its top 16 seeds if the tourney started now.

No. 13 Wisconsin (21-5, 12-4) has won four of its last five games and covered in three of the last four. The Badgers won have six of their last seven road games, with five of those going over the total. The surge has Wisconsin a half-game out of first place in the Big Ten standings.

Wisconsin shot 94 percent from the foul line in Sunday’s win over Michigan.

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