Michigan State beat Michigan on Sunday. That gave us a lot of clarity around what to expect at the top of the league. The bottom of the league is a different story.
Just like last week, I ran 1000 simulations of the season using KenPom’s victory probabilities for each remaining game. Tiebreakers are determined according to official Big Ten rules, which are shown below.
- Results of head-to-head competition during the regular season.
- 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).
- Win/loss percentage of all Division I opponents.
- Toss of a fair coin
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
- Win/loss percentage of all Division I opponents.
- Toss of a fair coin.
Let’s just go from top to bottom, shall we?
Michigan State winning in Ann Arbor gave them the inside track on the one seed. They still have to play Michigan in East Lansing, but you have to figure that if they’re good enough to beat Michigan at Michigan, they’re good enough to beat Michigan at home. (Though by that same logic, we should expect a Spartan loss in Bloomington on Saturday.)
Purdue is looking like the two seed, likely finishing ahead of Michigan by a game or two. Purdue still has to go to Minnesota, but Michigan has to go to Maryland and Michigan State. Michigan holds the tiebreaker with Purdue by virtue of winning their only meeting, and since Purdue and Michigan State split their season series, the next tiebreaker is the record against the next best team. Since Purdue is 0-1 against Michigan and Sparty will either be 2-0 or 1-1, that means that Michigan State holds the tiebreaker over Purdue, too. The Boilermakers will have to win an outright title to be the top seed.
Don’t look now, but there’s a nontrivial chance Michigan plays themselves out of the double-bye. They’re currently only a game up on both Maryland and Wisconsin, and with two possible L’s on their schedule, they could fall back to fifth.
Maryland and Wisconsin both went 2-0 this past week, but Maryland has now leapfrogged the Badgers as the favorite for the final double-bye. That’s because Wisconsin’s win over Michigan is now paying fewer tiebreaker dividends than Maryland’s win against Purdue. This is the most nip-and-tuck seed race in the top half of the league, and the implications are huge because the difference between fourth and fifth is the difference between having to play on Thursday and getting an automatic pass to Friday.
Iowa pretty much has an iron lock on the six seed. I’m not sure if I’d want to play the Hawkeyes because of how close they’ve played poor competition recently, or if they terrify me because of how clutch Joe Wieskamp and (especially) Jordan Bohannon have been.
Ohio State has a firm grip on the seven for now, but there’s a lot more downside risk than upside for Chris Holtmann’s squad. The odds of catching Iowa are minuscule, and there’s a decent chance that Minnesota and/or Illinois could pass the Buckeyes if they falter down the stretch.
After Maryland/Wisconsin, Minnesota/Illinois looks like the next-best race in the next two weeks. Minnesota is the better team and finishes with the higher seed on average, but Illinois has double the chance that the Gophers do of passing Ohio State to nab the seven. That’s because Minnesota and Illinois split their season series, meaning that Illinois’ win over Michigan State becomes tiebreaker gold for the Illini. These two are the most can-beat-anybody-and-lose-to-anybody teams in the conference. Maybe they’ll get a chance to meet again in the 8/9 game.
Holy crap, Rutgers is favored not only to avoid the 14 line for the first time in Big Ten history, as of now they are better-than-even favorites to avoid Wednesday altogether.
What’s more, Iowa, Penn State, and Indiana are all winnable games. If Rutgers wins out and a few other things break right, they could find themselves in the top half of the Big Ten. What a time to be alive.
As recently as last week, it looked like Penn State had last place on lockdown. Not so fast! The Lions obliterated Nebraska in State College and went on the road to Champaign to notch a win in the Big Ten’s most underrated low-key rivalry.
Pat Chambers’ squad has won four of six and is starting to resemble the team that most people expected to be on the bubble at the start of the season.
And then there’s Indiana. Indiana is literally the polar opposite of Iowa. Whereas Iowa wins close games late against bad teams, Indiana loses close games late against good teams. I don’t think anyone was surprised at how the Hoosiers’ game in Iowa City turned out. At this point it’s a question of which red team bedeviled with injuries had the more disappointing season—Indiana or Nebraska. If chalk holds, it looks like those two teams will square off on Wednesday in Chicago.
Northwestern is slotted into the 14, but the Cats gave Wisconsin all they could handle in Evanston this past week, and they have more remaining home games—three—than any other Big Ten team. Two of those are against Minnesota and Ohio State, both worse opponents than Wisconsin, and the last is against Purdue on senior night for Vic Law and Dererk Pardon, and Purdue’s been struggling lately. Win those three, or even two of those three, and the Wildcats will likely be able to hand off the shame of being the caboose of the league to someone else.