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Sunday Stats: Taking A Look at Big Ten Tournament Seeding

Simulating the seeding for the 2019 BTT

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

With the end of the regular season only a month away, we’re at the point where most teams in the conference are playing less or a shot at a Big Ten title and more to improve their seeding for the conference tournament in Chicago. If you want to see how the seeding would shake out, the best place to look is mred’s bracket generator. The problem with that, though, is that you have to pick a winner and a loser for each game, which isn’t good if you’re looking at “what if” scenarios, but not so good if you’re trying to determine what the most likely outcome is. If you want to do that, you’ll have to use KenPom and Excel.

That, of course, is what I did. But first, since there are going to be teams who finish the season with the same number of wins as another team, let’s look at a refresher on the Big Ten’s tiebreakers:

Two-Team Tie

  1. Results of head-to-head competition during the regular season.
  2. Each team’s record vs. the team occupying the highest position in the final regular-season standings (or in the case of a tie for the championship, the next highest position in the regular-season standings), continuing down through the standings until one team gains an advantage. When arriving at another pair of tied teams while comparing records, use each team’s record against the collective tied teams as a group (prior to their own tie-breaking procedures), rather than the performance against the individual tied teams. When comparing records against a single team or a group of teams, the higher winning percentage shall prevail, even if the number of games played against the team or group are unequal (i.e., 2-0 is better than 3-1, but 2-0 is not better than 1-0).
  3. Win/loss percentage of all Division I opponents.
  4. Toss of a fair coin

Multiple-Team Tie

  1. Results of head-to-head competition during the regular-season. When comparing records against the tied teams, the team with the higher winning percentage shall prevail, even if the number of games played against the team or group are unequal (i.e., 2-0 is better than 3-1, but 2-0 is not better than 1-0).
  2. After the top team among the tied teams is determined, the second team is ranked by its record among the original tied teams, not the head-to-head record vs. the remaining team(s).
  3. If the remaining teams are still tied, then each tied team’s record shall be compared to the team occupying the highest position in the final regular-season standings, continuing down through the standings until one team gains an advantage.
  4. Win/loss percentage of all Division I opponents.
  5. Toss of a fair coin.

The Results

Results are shown below and are based on the conference record through Saturday’s games, and use KenPom winning percentages for games that have not been played yet.

Here are some things that stand out:

  • The top four seeds are pretty well set. Maryland has an outside shot at the 4 seed, but we are almost certainly looking at the double-bye to Friday going to the teams that currently sit atop the league standings: Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State, and Wisconsin.
  • The bottom four seeds are also pretty well set. Penn State has an iron lock on the 14, and while Illinois and Indiana both have between a 13 and 14 chance at having to play on Wednesday, the 11 through 13 seeds are probably going to some combination of Northwestern, Nebraska, and Rutgers.
  • If I’m the Big Ten league office, I don’t know if I’m rooting for Illinois, Indiana, and Northwestern to all play on Wednesday so that there might actually be halfway decent Wednesday attendance for once, or if all three of those teams being bad will jeopardize Thursday and Friday attendance.
  • Michigan is favored to be the top seed over Purdue because the Wolverines beat the Boilermakers in the teams’ only meeting in Ann Arbor back in December. That game was the first of the Big Ten season for both teams, and it may end up being the determining factor if the Boilers and Wolverines split a regular season title.
  • In the middle of the league, the teams that are neck-and-neck with each other the most are Maryland and Iowa for the 5 and 6 seeds, and Indiana and Illinois for the 9 and 10 seeds. Maryland and Iowa play for the only time on February 19, and Illinois and Indiana meet again on March 7, Indiana having won the first meeting in Bloomington.
  • The 6 is an odd line. Michigan and Purdue are the two teams most likely to pull the top seed, but they are also both more likely to drop down to the 6 than is Michigan State. Similarly, although Illinois secures a better seed than Northwestern on average, Northwestern has a better chance at rising up to the 6 than do the Illinois.
  • The clear dividing line in the league is between 6th and 7th. Iowa is sixth and has a slim chance at the double-bye, but practically zero chance at falling down to Wednesday. Ohio State is seventh, and they have a not-completely-insignificant chance of playing on Wednesday, but zero chance of securing the double-bye.
  • Every team in this league is dangerous, and I expect this year’s Big Ten Tournament—back in the Midwest after a two-year sojourn to the East Coast—to be the best in a long time.