2023 Big Ten, Big East Tournament picks, long shots
It’s the most wonderful time of the year — March Madness!
Whether you are a college basketball lover or not, you’re hopping on the wagon to watch four straight weeks of nonstop action on the hardwood.
During this championship week, we’re zoning in on the Big Ten and Big East Tournaments to hand out some winners.
Let’s dive into it who I like to win the tournaments and a couple of teams I can see being good long-shot bets.
Big Ten Tournament
My pick: Indiana
The Hoosiers have never won the Big Ten Tournament, but there’s no time like the present to cut down the nets in Chicago this weekend.
Why? Trayce Jackson-Davis is a first-team All-American, averaging 20.5 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game while shooting 57% from the floor. He’s been an absolute beast down the stretch, scoring 25 or more points in five of the past nine games. The biggest key for IU is what happens around its superstar big man.
Jalen Hood-Schifino figures to play a key role. The five-star freshman opens up a different dimension for the Hoosiers and is gifted at creating his own shots. His 35-point showing in Indiana’s 79-71 win over Purdue on Feb. 25 at Mackey Arena was the latest proof of his ability to hit big-time shots.
The Hoosiers have the star power and a top-50 defense. While depth and perimeter shooting are slight issues, their pathway in the Big Ten Tournament is a smooth ride, in my opinion.
Indiana will likely meet Maryland in the Big Ten quarterfinals, a group that hasn’t proved it can win away from College Park. In the semifinals, it’s one of Northwestern, Illinois or Penn State. The fact that the Hoosiers won’t have to meet Purdue, Iowa (who they got blitzed by 90-68 on Feb. 28) or Michigan State is a win.
PICK: Indiana (+400 at FOX Bet) to win Big Ten Tournament
Long shot: Illinois
The Illini are the most confusing team in the country, but would it really surprise you if they made a run to the title game with wins over Penn State, Northwestern and Indiana or Maryland? It shouldn’t.
Now, the first game will be very difficult for the Illini against a Nittany Lions team that swept the season series and won both games by double digits. But part of this long-shot thought is that it is hard to beat a team three times.
One big positive for the Illini is that they do get stops, ranking 28th in KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency. Coach Brad Underwood needs Terrence Shannon Jr. to take control of games, manage the ball and stay efficient. Matthew Mayer is a big-time shot maker and comes into the Big Ten Tournament having totals of 40 points and 13 rebounds in the past two games.
A big question: Will Coleman Hawkins rise to the occasion? It’s also important that Dain Dainja stays out of foul trouble.
The Illini have shown how dangerous they can be in spurts, with a big first half at Indiana on Feb. 18 and a huge second half at Purdue on Feb. 25, only to fall just short.
If they can put 40 solid minutes together against Penn State, it could ignite something. This is the type of team that actually gets hurt from days in between games. In that regard, maybe a conference tournament setting is a good thing for Illinois.
PICK: Illinois (+1000 at FOX Bet) to win Big Ten Tournament
Big East Tournament
My pick: Creighton
The Creighton Bluejays have tasted the Big East Tournament championship game four times in nine years, but they’ve yet to take home the trophy.
They went through the low of a six-game losing streak and some tough results in February, including a heartbreaker at home to Marquette that eliminated the hopes of winning the conference regular season championship. They will see Villanova on Thursday night, a Wildcats team that commanded them less than two weeks ago, 79-67.
And yet, I’m sticking with the Bluejays to win the conference tournament title. Their starting five is so tough to prepare for, from Ryan Nembhard at the point to the shot-making ability of Baylor Scheierman and Trey Alexander.
That’s a huge key to this week for the Jays, who have not been one of Greg McDermott’s typical strong shooting teams. They have two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year Ryan Kalkbrenner ready to protect the rim, and when Arthur Kaluma plays within himself and doesn’t try to do too much, Creighton is really well-rounded. The Jays’ ability to get stops may be my favorite quality, as CU owns the nation’s 10th-most efficient defense, according to Ken Pomeroy.
If the 3-pointers are falling — which is funny to say about Creighton — the Jays will cut down the nets in Manhattan for the first time!
PICK: Creighton (+275 at FOX Bet) to win Big East Tournament
Long shot: Villanova
As if Villanova could ever be a “long” shot. The Wildcats are getting hot at the right time, as the team has won six of its past eight games. Yes, they are coming off a home loss to Connecticut in which Caleb Daniels, Eric Dixon and Brandon Slater combined to shoot 4-for-20, but the Cats have regained their DNA in recent weeks behind the senior leadership of Justin Moore.
Over the past six games, Moore has finally found his footing after coming back from the Achilles injury. The 6-foot-4 guard has averaged 18 points per contest in that stretch. He will walk into Madison Square Garden knowing what it’s like to win the Big East Tournament, having done it last year.
Winning four games in as many days? Sure, it is a concern, but the Cats have experience, and they’ve developed offensive balance behind Moore.
Additionally, Villanova has the most talented freshman in the conference in Cam Whitmore, who has gotten more comfortable since the return of the Wildcats captain.
If you’ve got it, it would be foolish not to sprinkle something on a hot team that has players who know what it takes to win this time of year. That’s why the Wildcats are basically a no-brainer as a long-shot bet.
PICK: Villanova (+900 at FOX Bet) to win Big East Tournament
John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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