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Beindit’s Breakdown: Don’t Look Now, But This Week Could Decide The Big Ten Title Race

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BTPowerhouse Manager Thomas Beindit breaks down some of his thoughts on the conference in a weekly column.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Beindit’s Breakdown is a weekly post from BTPowerhouse Manager Thomas Beindit, where he addresses the hottest Big Ten topics that are on his mind. The post will run weekly and will touch a varying number of topics.

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Big Ten play resumed last week and, boy, did it come with some fireworks. Look no further than Michigan State, who went from No. 1 nationally and blowing out a good Maryland team to losing to Ohio State on the road on Sunday. College basketball is a crazy sports and few places are more unpredictable than the Big Ten.

Today, I want to dive into the league race and why I believe that this week could have a substantial impact on determining the Big Ten’s regular season champion. It may seem early, but plenty is on the line in the coming days.

1. This week is a massive one for Purdue’s title hopes.

Heading into conference play, there’s little debating that Michigan State and Purdue were the overwhelming favorites to win the title. Both teams were (head and shoulders) above the rest of the league in statistical projections and each had proven rosters, star players, and head coaches that could get the job done.

But with Michigan State’s loss to Ohio State on Sunday, the picture is now looking much differently. While it was unrealistic to think Michigan State would run the table in Big Ten play, dropping a game this early was a major blow.

If you don’t believe me, let’s go back to those statistical projections for a second. Heading into the season, Michigan State was the league’s overwhelming favorite to win the title. However, after Sunday’s loss, KenPom now projects Michigan State and Purdue both to finish tied at 15-3 overall.*

Here’s a deeper look into Michigan State and Purdue’s projections:

Of course, there are a few important things to take away from the chart above. To start, as should be obvious, both teams are going to be favorites in virtually all of their remaining games. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Both teams are ranked in the top five on KenPom’s current standings and Final Four contenders.

However, it is important note that that Michigan State and Purdue won’t just be favorites moving forward. They are going to be substantial favorites in nearly every game. In fact, in almost 80 percent of Michigan State and Purdue’s remaining games, they will have at least 75 percent odds to win. And many of those games are above 90 percent. Simply put, that’s a really nice picture, at least on paper.

The one major exception to that statement, of course, is when the two teams tangle in East Lansing, where Michigan State will be favored This is the only game where either team will be an underdog for the rest of the regular season. An amazing statement considering that it’s only January 9th.

What this means is that there’s going to be a premium on the five games where Michigan State and Purdue have 51 to 75 percent odds to win. These are the matchups where both teams are vulnerable. We don’t need weird things happening here. We just need an off game coupled with a strong performance from the opponent. That isn’t the case in the 76 to 100 percent category. There, you need weird things to happen.

Here are the five games that fall into the 51 to 75 category:

  • 1/9 - Purdue at Michigan (59%)
  • 1/13 - Purdue at Minnesota (72%)
  • 1/28 - Michigan State at Maryland (66%)
  • 2/10 - Purdue at Michigan State (67% for MSU)
  • 2/13 - Michigan State at Minnesota (75%)

Putting the February 10th matchup between Purdue and Michigan State aside for a moment, we really have four games that fall into the “danger” category for Michigan State and Purdue. Not exactly a ton of games.

But even saying there are four games in the “danger” category might be overselling it. With the recent injuries to Ivan Bender and Justin Jackson accompanied with the injury to Amir Coffey and suspension of Reggie Lynch, Maryland and Minnesota aren’t exactly looking the way they did a few weeks ago. After all, Indiana just went in and beat Minnesota on the road and Maryland just lost by 30 to Michigan State.

Given these new circumstances, one could make an argument that the only legitimate threat (on paper) from the games above (excluding the head-to-head matchup) is Purdue’s trip to Ann Arbor on Tuesday night. Again, an incredible statement to make, given that it’s January 9th, but one that’s generally realistic.

Now, realistically, we all know Purdue’s trip to Ann Arbor won’t be the only legitimate test. Teams blow road games all the time. It’s going to happen to Michigan State again and it will happen to Purdue eventually. Even excluding that head-to-head matchup, winning 13 of 14 games is insanely tough in its own right, especially in the Big Ten.

But the analysis above sets up something interesting for this week. As you may have noticed, two of Purdue’s three most difficult remaining games (on paper) will occur in the next few days. Purdue will get Michigan on the road on Tuesday and follow that up with Minnesota on the road on Saturday. That’s a huge opportunity on the docket.

Let’s put it this way. If Purdue manages to find a way to win its two games this week, it would find itself sitting at 17-2 overall, 6-0 in Big Ten play, and favored in 11 of its remaining 12 games. And not just favored, either. Purdue would likely have 76 percent or better odds in 11 of those games. That’s insanely good positioning in mid-January, especially with how dominant Purdue has been at home.

We all know there’s plenty more drama ahead for the Big Ten, but Purdue has a chance to put some distance between itself and the rest of the league this week. We will have to wait and see if the Boilermakers can get the job done.

2. Could Ohio State factor into the Big Ten title race?

While Michigan State and Purdue are still the favorites to win and/or split the Big Ten title, Ohio State also needs to be mentioned. The Buckeyes have become the elephant in the room thanks to a hot start to the season.

Despite underwhelming preseason expectations, Ohio State now sits at 13-4 overall and 4-0 in Big Ten play after a win over Michigan State last weekend. As such, many are likely wondering why the Buckeyes aren’t getting a little more Big Ten title attention.

Well, let’s start with the basics. Yes, Ohio State is a Big Ten title contender. The Buckeyes are currently 4-0 and favored in the team’s next eight games. Even if unlikely, Ohio State stands a decent chance of getting to 10-2 or 11-1 to start league play. And with late season games against Iowa, Indiana, Penn State, and Rutgers as well, it’s not insane to think that Ohio State could push for 14, or even 15 league wins.

However, there are some important caveats for Ohio State as well. To begin, Ohio State doesn’t have nearly the same profile as the other two contenders. While Michigan State and Purdue are in the top five on KenPom, Ohio State comes in at No. 33, which means the Buckeyes are far more vulnerable on a night basis.

Remember the chart above? Here’s how it looks for Ohio State:

While the vast majority of Michigan State and Purdue’s remaining games fell into that 76 to 100 percent category, the majority of Ohio State’s lie in the other three groups. The Buckeyes are favored in most of the team’s remaining games, but many of these lie between 57 and 65 percent. Simply put, Ohio State is going to drop some games.

Ohio State can certainly defy the odds, but it’s going to take a pretty remarkable performance for the Buckeyes to have a serious shot at the title. The biggest opportunity will be when the team goes on the road to face Purdue. Unfortunately, Ohio State will be a major underdog in that matchup.

* - Reminder, the Big Ten doesn’t have a tiebreaker for regular season titles. Regardless of head-to-head, if you are tied, both teams get a share of the title.