The 2020-21 college basketball season is set to kick off on Wednesday, despite dozens of programs that are currently unable to participate due to positive COVID-19 cases.
Nonetheless, games will be played. And if you’re an Illinois Fighting Illini fan, you have to be excited about the upcoming year.
Unfortunately, you can’t bet on Illini games if you’re in the state. That’s a controversial aspect of the Illinois Gambling Act that passed in 2019.
Similarly, Northwestern football fans can’t bet on their undefeated Wildcats in Illinois. You can bet on Northwestern or Illinois games in surrounding states Indiana and Iowa, however.
2020-21 Big Ten basketball odds
To those who are curious about where the Illini would stack up, they are in a similar tier to Wisconsin and Iowa in the AP Poll and KenPom.
Hawkeyes big man Luka Garza is the best returning player in the country, and he’s the main reason for the Iowa optimism. FanDuel has Wooden Award odds, and Garza is the early favorite at +300.
Garza averaged 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game last season. If he can average something like 25 and 10 and Iowa lives up to its top-10 billing, that’s a solid Wooden Award resume.
The Hawkeyes went 20-11 last year and returned their four leading scorers, including Garza. They finished fifth in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency last year, per KenPom, and it’s easy to see them leading the nation in that category this season.
The defense, however, is problematic. This group finished 97th on that end last year, and the Hawkeyes aren’t exactly sprawling with athletes. They have to hope that continuity will give them a boost on that side of the floor.
KenPom isn’t as high on Iowa
Iowa has the shortest odds to win the Big Ten and has the highest AP Poll ranking in the league. But KenPom lists three teams ahead of the Hawkeyes in its preseason rankings.
Those are Wisconsin (7); Ohio State (10) and Michigan State (11). Iowa is 13th, Michigan is 15th and Illinois is 17th. That’s six of the top 17 teams out of the Big Ten, so it figures to be a fun year in the conference.
On paper, Iowa is the best team in the league. But there’s a ton of turnover in college basketball each year, so it’s often harder to project how certain teams will perform than others.
We know less about Ohio State and Michigan State than Iowa, Illinois or Wisconsin. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be inferior come March.
There may be value with the Badgers on the odds board, though. Wisconsin returns four of its top five scorers and won one more game than Iowa last year.
It’s also much better defensively than Iowa, at is finished 17th in adjusted defensive efficiency last year. In essence, these teams look pretty even heading into 2020-21, but Wisconsin doesn’t have as big of a name as Garza. Does that mean it has betting value?
Time will tell.
Michigan and Ohio State may also present some value, as both are 10/1 or higher at DraftKings. The Wolverines and Buckeyes typically outperform preseason expectations, and each has a nice blend of returning players and intriguing transfers.
Big Ten national championship odds
Here’s where DraftKings pits prominent Big Ten teams’ national title hopes. For reference, Villanova (+600) and Gonzaga (+700) are the only teams with shorter odds than Iowa. The Hawkeyes are priced the same as Baylor.