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Monday Stats: Friends and Enemies

When the Big Ten is good, which other leagues are, too?

NCAA Basketball: Big 10 Media Day Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t know how to break it to you guys, but the Big Ten is not a Midwestern league.

I know, I know, but I ran the numbers, and it turns out we’re a snooty, uppity, elite, coastal conference.

I’m sure Jim Delany knew that already, but most of the rest of us are a little surprised.

A recent photo of The Commish counting that sweet BTN money

Let me back up a bit.

The Big Ten is good this year; most people recognize that. Living in the Midwest, I also noticed a couple of other leagues with several teams in our region—the Big East and the Missouri Valley—are down.

Well, naturally I wondered if one had anything to do with the other. You can make a plausible case that leagues in the same region compete with each other for recruits (and poach each other’s coaches), so that when one league is good, the others should be bad.

But you can also make the case that if a particular region finds itself rich in talent, all conferences with teams in that region should prosper.

Then if you’re like me, you pull data off KenPom and test both hypotheses.

Here’s what I did: for every year since 2002, I pulled the average conference rating for every single league. Then I made scatter plots of the Big Ten vs. every other league for each year. That’s 18 data points to graph on X-Y axes (though really 17, since I had to drop 2004 since it was such a big outlier and skewed the results). Then I added regression lines to see how much one league being good is correlated with another league being good.

Here’s the Big Ten and several Midwestern leagues. (Big Ten is always on the X-axis).

I didn’t include the Big East since they have had significant membership changes and are now much more Midwestern than they were back in 2002, but that regression was flat, too.

Look at that! No correlation whatsoever, except with the MAC. For some reason, the Big Ten is good when the MAC is bad and vice versa. But the MAC isn’t our real enemy here. As will come as no surprise to most of you, our real enemy is the South.

Wow. It doesn’t stun me that the ACC and SEC are negatively correlated with the Big Ten since both conferences compete with us for top national recruits. (Though why the Big 12 is uncorrelated is a little bit of a mystery.) But is there any explanation for the SoCon and Sun Belt?

I think our football friends at Off Tackle Empire have it right: they have General William Tecumseh Sherman on their masthead. Based on this data, if we want the Big Ten to be good at basketball for the foreseeable future, we need to take a leaf out of Sherman’s book and burn everything between the Ohio River and the Atlantic Ocean.

Having plausible justification to pillage the South is the good news from this analysis, though. The bad news lies in the conferences that the Big Ten is positively correlated with. As I hinted at in the beginning, it’s the upper crust coastal leagues—the Ivy League, NEC, Patriot League, and WCC.

Based on this, it’s only a matter of time before the conference announces that the next four Big Ten Tournaments will be in New York, Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco.

Maryland and Rutgers fans, next time you hear someone complaining that your shouldn’t be in the Big Ten because “we’re a Midwestern league,” just point them to this article. At least in men’s basketball, our teams act more like snobby coast-dwellers than down-home breadbasketers. But no matter if you buy my argument or not, we can all agree on one thing—

The hell with the SEC and ACC.