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.
We’ve finally made it. After weeks of hype and plenty of underwhelming games, the Big Ten’s blockbuster week has finally arrived. The Big Ten title will likely be decided this week and fans will have a great idea on how the Big Ten Tournament will look by season’s end.
Let’s jump into some of the most important topics of the week.
1. What does Purdue need to do this week to win the Big Ten title?
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of important games this week. Michigan gets two tricky road games, Maryland and Nebraska are fighting to stay alive in the NCAA Tournament race, and Penn State gets two key opportunities of its own. There is a lot to like about the slate scheduled for the next few days.
However, the games that are going to suck all the air out of the room are Ohio State’s battle with Purdue and the Boilermakers’ trip to face Michigan State on Saturday. The Big Ten’s top three teams are squaring off this week and the Big Ten title is on the line. No bubble team battle is going to get more attention than those matchups.
But what do these games actually mean?
We know they’re important, but how will they actually impact the Big Ten title race?
Well, let’s take a look.
Heading into this week, Purdue sits at 12-0 in Big Ten play, Ohio State sits one game back at 11-1, and Michigan State sits another game back at 10-2. There’s no tiebreaker for determining the Big Ten regular season title, so evaluating where things sit as of Monday morning with regard to these three is pretty easy.
Obviously, things are going to be shaken up this week. Ohio State and Purdue face off on Wednesday and Purdue and Michigan State face off on Saturday. The Buckeyes and Spartans also both play Iowa over the course of the next few days. Both will be significant favorites against the Hawkeyes, but those games are worth mentioning.
This leaves all three teams with a huge opportunity. Ohio State could move itself to the top of the standings with a win on Wednesday, Michigan State could get itself back into the heart of the race with two wins, and Purdue could take a commanding lead in the race with two victories.
However, the most important development will come from Purdue. That shouldn’t be surprising considering that the Boilermakers sit atop the standings, but it is important. Purdue has the most skin in the game this week, so we’ll focus our analysis there.
Specifically, I want to focus on what Purdue needs to do to win the Big Ten this week.
Let’s first start with the obvious. Yes, I know Purdue technically can’t win the Big Ten title this week. After all, it still has four games remaining after Saturday’s matchup against the Spartans and it can’t actually clinch the title in the next few days.
We all understand the nature of clinching a league title, but I want to talk in realistic projections here, not technicalities. And with an incredibly manageable final slate, it’s tough to comprehend how Purdue would lose more than one game in those four games. After all, KenPom has Purdue with 83 percent odds or better in every remaining game after Saturday’s matchup with Michigan State.
So, where does that leave us?
Well, it leaves us with a scenario where Purdue really only needs a one-game lead after this week to win the Big Ten. I won’t guarantee Purdue wins those final four games, but can either Michigan State or Ohio State make up a deficit over that stretch? Their schedules look far more daunting.
Let’s start with Michigan State. Over the final four games of the season, Michigan State gets three of four on the road, including tricky road trips to Minnesota and Northwestern teams who have looked better over the last few weeks. Remember how Purdue has 83 percent odds or better in its four final games? Well, Michigan State only has those odds in one game, a home matchup against Illinois.
Ohio State’s projection is even worse. The Buckeyes also get three of the team’s final four games on the road and two of those games are against Michigan and Penn State. Not only is Ohio State an underdog against the Wolverines, but the Buckeyes already lost to the Nittany Lions this season. Not only does Ohio State have lower odds than Purdue to finish 4-0 in its final stretch, but the Buckeyes are going to have a major challenge even finishing 3-1 in those games.
Most simply put, Purdue looks the most capable of these three teams of finishing its final stretch at 4-0. This is important because it means Michigan State and Ohio State likely need to close the gap this week to have a realistic shot at catching the Boilermakers. It wouldn’t be unprecedented for Purdue to drop a “dumb” game and for a team like Michigan State to catch up, but the odds don’t favor such an outcome.
The point here is a simple one. Purdue simply needs to find a way to split its games this week. If the Boilermakers can go 1-1 against Ohio State and Michigan State, the Big Ten title race is probably over.
2. The Big Ten is in the danger zone right now.
Earlier this season, I wrote extensively about my concerns regarding a down Big Ten and what it would mean for the league’s best teams. While I thought teams like Michigan State and Purdue projected to be in the national title hunt, I was concerned about how they would fare against a gauntlet of potential RPI bombs.
The idea here was pretty simple. I thought it was unlikely that the Big Ten’s best teams could avoid the numerous trap games of Big Ten play. I thought teams like Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern, Rutgers, and Wisconsin would score enough upsets to ruin some RPI profiles. At some point, I figured the bomb would go off.
So far though, that hasn’t been the case.
As of Monday morning, the Big Ten’s top four teams remain unbeaten against the bottom half of the league. Additionally, Nebraska has avoided any bottom half losses and Maryland’s lone black mark was a road loss to Indiana. Through two thirds of league play, that’s great news for the Big Ten’s postseason hopes.
But one has to wonder if something is on the way. The Big Ten’s top four teams all nearly went down to bad teams over the weekend and Maryland barely avoided a home loss to Wisconsin on Sunday as well. If the ball had bounced the other way just a few times last weekend, it could have been absolutely disastrous for the league.
Of course, the Big Ten avoided that bomb, even if it did so by the narrowest of margins. However, so many close wins against underwhelming competition doesn’t build confidence moving forward. And a down Big Ten cannot afford many bad losses for its top teams heading into March. It’s just reality this season.
And this all leads me to this week. While Purdue gets two marquee opponents this week, all the league’s remaining NCAA Tournament contenders have potential bad losses on the docket. Here’s how things look over the next few days:
Potential Bad Losses This Week:
- 2/6 - Michigan at Northwestern
- 2/6 - Michigan State at Iowa
- 2/6 - Nebraska at Minnesota
- 2/10 - Iowa at Ohio State
- 2/10 - Northwestern at Maryland
- 2/10 - Rutgers at Nebraska
- 2/11 - Michigan at Wisconsin
- 2/11 - Penn State at Illinois
That’s eight games with potential damaging RPI implications just this week. While one can argue with regard to Maryland, Nebraska, and Penn State’s postseason positioning, all at least have some faint NCAA Tournament hope. And considering that Penn State has wins over Ohio State and Nebraska, the Big Ten needs the Nittany Lions to avoid bad losses moving forward.
Diving into these a little further, the teams to watch this week are going to be Michigan and Nebraska. Can the the Huskers and Wolverines avoid two potential bad losses this week? That’s an incredibly important question.
The odds right now say . . . maybe. KenPom gives Michigan mixed odds against Northwestern (55%) and Wisconsin (60%) and Nebraska is projected as a minor underdog (49%) against Minnesota. The Big Ten really needs the Huskers and Wolverines to find a way to win all their games this week.
I don’t want to be pessimistic about the Big Ten’s chances, but last weekend was definitely a wake up call for what’s to come. The Big Ten’s best teams have done a good job of avoiding bad losses, but can they continue this week? We will see.