Tuesday’s clash between ranked Indiana and Wisconsin teams was billed as a marquee one for the conference. It was a chance for fans to see two great units battle it out in front of a raucous crowd with Big Ten title implications on the line.
And for the most part, the game lived up to the hype.
The crowd was rocking early and often and the game was competitive throughout. In fact, until Wisconsin took control in the final five minutes, it was nearly a 50-50 proposition for both sides. Ultimately, Wisconsin ended up grabbing a 75-68 win over the Hoosiers to improve to 13-2 overall and 2-0 in Big Ten play this season.
The respective impact for Indiana and Wisconsin’s teams will be analyzed in the coming days and weeks by fans and members of the media, but there’s one question that continues to pop up as the result of last night’s win.
Did Wisconsin just end the Big Ten title race?
Overreacting to the outcome of a single game is always risky, but there are some serious reasons to think Wisconsin took a stranglehold on the Big Ten title race following last night’s win. Let’s take a look at each side of the argument.
-Point: Wisconsin Realistically Just Locked Up The Big Ten.
While we can never be completely sure as to what upcoming games will be prove the most difficult, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to project that Wisconsin’s toughest matchups in the Big Ten this season were going to come against Indiana and Purdue. Those two figured to be Wisconsin’s most talented opposition and each brought back multiple potential All-Big Ten players on the roster.
However, due to the Big Ten’s scheduling office, Wisconsin only has three regular season matchups with Indiana and Purdue this season. The Badgers would face Indiana twice and would get Purdue on the road. Both road matchups are scheduled for this week and Wisconsin’s home clash with Indiana is set for the first Sunday in February.
With Wisconsin’s win over Indiana on Tuesday night, one of those three matchups is now in the record books and it’s a win for the Badgers. This means that even if the Badgers lose on the road to Purdue and at home to Indiana, Wisconsin can still finish with a 16-2 conference record, which would be really impressive. In fact, that record is so impressive that it would even match Wisconsin’s loaded 2014-’15 team.
Grabbing that win also means that Wisconsin is set to be an underdog in just one (one!) remaining game during the regular season. That lone matchup will come for Wisocnsin on Sunday on the road against Purdue. Otherwise, Wisconsin will have 52 percent odds or better against every remaining opponent on its schedule.
That seems good.
Wisconsin also still has eight home games and a neutral game against Rutgers in New York City remaining. Considering that Wisconsin will have a year-long winning streak heading into its next game against Ohio State, that’s a pretty high floor for success.
To put what that means in perspective, just consider the scenario where Wisconsin wins its remaining home and neutral games, but loses everything else. Wisconsin would still finish at 11-7 in the Big Ten, which would have been good enough for seventh in last year’s Big Ten and maybe even better this season.
And, of course, Wisconsin isn’t going to lose its final seven road games.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Wisconsin can only lose the Big Ten title race if another team beats it out. At the time of this writing, Wisconsin’s top projected competition (Indiana and Purdue) have already combined for three home conference losses, that same top competition still plays each other twice, and everybody else in the Big Ten is projected at 10-8 or worse.
Wisconsin can still be topped, but that avenue is looking smaller by the day.
-Counter Point: Don’t Count Anybody Out Just Yet.
Let’s start with the obvious: It’s still January! And even more so, it’s the first week of January and nobody in the Big Ten has even played three conference games yet. Giving out the trophy this early is always going to be a bad idea.
After all, remember when everyone picked Maryland to win the Big Ten in January last year, but the Terps ended up tied for third by season’s end?
Yeah, we should remember that in times like this.
Additionally, it bears mentioning that Wisconsin’s 2-0 record isn’t even that unique at the moment. Michigan State and Nebraska are also both 2-0 in the Big Ten and if the Badgers drop to Purdue on Sunday (as projected), Wisconsin would fall right into the ranks of the nine other Big Ten teams with one loss.
And even if KenPom has Wisconsin as the favorite in 15 of its 16 remaining Big Ten games, it bears mentioning that there are still plenty of hurdles remaining. Obviously, that road game at Purdue is massive road block, but road trips to Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Ohio State are also far from guarantees.
Teams also change and improve over the next two months. After all, who would have predicted that Nebraska could record back-to-back road wins over Indiana and Maryland? Trying to slot wins and losses right now seems easy, but nobody can be sure how the conference picture looks by season’s end. We’ve seen countless teams trend in all sorts of directions over the last two months.
And who knows about the Spartans. Michigan State may have been inconsistent in non-conference play, but the team is 2-0 in the Big Ten, gets three manageable games next on the schedule, and is getting Miles Bridges back. Most viewed Indiana and Purdue as Wisconsin’s top competition, but would it be that unrealistic to see Michigan State end up being a Big Ten title contender.
Wisconsin deserves to be the Big Ten favorite after Tuesday’s win over Indiana, but let’s hold off on giving them the trophy just yet.
So, what’s your take on Wisconsin’s title chances? Let us know in the comments below.