Projecting the 2013 Big Ten Basketball Race: February 12

USA TODAY Sports

A week of chaos has turned an apparent runaway into a three-team race, Illinois has gotten themselves likely back into the tournament, and Penn State's run at perfect futility "passed" its two largest remaining obstacles.

Two weeks ago, Michigan appeared to be running away with the title. Last week, they were still the favorite, but it appeared to be a two-team race (with MSU a potential dark horse according to the no-margin system). Now, with two losses for Michigan in the last two weeks and one for Indiana, the race has tightened even further. As always, the ratings are here and championship and bye odds are calculated from 100,000 simulations; odds of finishing with a particular record are computed directly from the individual game odds.

The Contenders

Basic Method
Team Avg wins 7-11 8-10 9-9 10-8 11-7 12-6 13-5 14-4 15-3 16-2 Outright Shared Top 4
Indiana 13.78 N/A N/A 1 in 61,500 0.07% 1.21% 8.86% 28.46% 37.23% 20.30% 3.85% 25.82% 51.72% 97.68%
Michigan State 13.43 N/A N/A 0.03% 0.55% 4.27% 15.78% 30.49% 30.98% 15.21% 2.70% 20.82% 42.54% 94.56%
Michigan 13.40 N/A 1 in 368,000 0.02% 0.36% 3.18% 14.39% 33.16% 35.74% 13.16% N/A 16.88% 40.38% 96.61%
Wisconsin 12.31 N/A 0.03% 0.57% 4.56% 17.51% 33.31% 30.55% 11.91% 1.57% N/A 1.63% 9.26% 79.03%
Ohio State 10.88 0.16% 2.06% 10.16% 24.75% 32.28% 22.32% 7.39% 0.87% N/A N/A 0.12% 1.23% 27.82%

Michigan has fallen to third, but it's really closer to 1a, 1b, and 1c than to a distinct 1, 2, and 3. Each has different advantages down the stretch:

  • Indiana has a better rating than MSU and is a game up on Michigan, but they have the toughest schedule remaining (three road games against the top six remain, including both Michigan and MSU).
  • MSU has the weakest rating but is a game up on Michigan and has a slightly softer schedule than Indiana, if only because the majority of the remaining top-six games are at home.
  • Michigan is a game back but has the highest rating and the easiest remaining schedule (Penn State twice, and no road games against the top six after tonight).

Wisconsin and Ohio State are on the fringe due to worse ratings overall (the top three are #2, #5, and #10; OSU is #24, Wisconsin #30). Wisconsin's win over Michigan, combined with Ohio State's failure to hold serve at home against Indiana and narrow loss at Michigan, swings the fourth bye in Wisconsin's direction.

Margin-Aware Method
Team Avg wins 7-11 8-10 9-9 10-8 11-7 12-6 13-5 14-4 15-3 16-2 Outright Shared Top 4
Indiana 14.16 N/A N/A 1 in 2.88M 1 in 21,000 0.21% 3.41% 19.96% 39.57% 29.94% 6.89% 31.61% 60.94% 98.78%
Michigan 13.97 N/A 1 in 85.6M 1 in 321k 0.02% 0.43% 4.51% 21.78% 43.97% 29.29% N/A 26.24% 55.84% 98.85%
Michigan State 12.82 N/A N/A 0.06% 1.33% 9.38% 27.51% 35.16% 20.79% 5.33% 0.43% 6.21% 19.75% 85.80%
Wisconsin 12.41 N/A 1 in 18,800 0.20% 2.68% 15.14% 34.88% 33.70% 12.00% 1.39% N/A 0.75% 6.23% 76.09%
Ohio State 11.37 0.02% 0.46% 3.99% 16.11% 32.71% 32.36% 13.02% 1.33% N/A N/A 0.07% 1.10% 36.99%

Here MSU slides well behind the other two major contenders; a significant part of that is Ohio State's improved rating (both Michigan and Indiana have gotten their road trips to Columbus out of the way already).

The Rest of the League (minus Penn State)

Basic Method
Team Avg wins 3-15 4-14 5-13 6-12 7-11 8-10 9-9 10-8 11-7 12-6 Top 4
Minnesota 9.43 N/A N/A 0.02% 0.64% 4.70% 16.20% 29.85% 30.06% 15.43% 3.11% 4.00%
Illinois 8.16 N/A 0.02% 0.55% 5.13% 20.70% 36.00% 27.88% 8.85% 0.87% N/A 0.19%
Iowa 7.65 N/A 0.29% 3.11% 13.14% 27.88% 31.57% 18.65% 5.01% 0.36% N/A 0.06%
Northwestern 6.69 N/A 1.58% 12.90% 30.03% 32.07% 17.71% 5.02% 0.65% 0.03% N/A 0.02%
Purdue 6.64 N/A N/A 12.39% 34.94% 33.29% 15.17% 3.69% 0.49% 0.03% 1 in 121k 0.01%
Nebraska 4.69 12.35% 33.26% 33.06% 16.29% 4.36% 0.64% 0.05% 1 in 77,200 N/A N/A <0.01%

Minnesota's slide takes them out of championship contention, more or less (simulation indicates less than 0.01% chance of even sharing the title). Illinois has taken a huge leap forward; they're now almost a 3-out-of-4 chance to get to 8-10 or better, and with as many top-end wins as they have, even 7-11 seems like a very likely tournament bid, making it about 1 in 17 for Illinois to miss out. Iowa's chances are dwindling; they missed a huge opportunity in 2OT against Wisconsin. The schedule is favorable for getting some wins, but what their profile lacks is a signature win (along with the ugly non-conference SOS numbers), and opportunities there are very few and far between.

Margin-Aware Method
Team Avg wins 3-15 4-14 5-13 6-12 7-11 8-10 9-9 10-8 11-7 12-6 Top 4
Minnesota 9.67 N/A N/A 1 in 43,600 0.18% 2.29% 11.65% 28.61% 34.36% 19.08% 3.82% 3.41%
Iowa 8.41 N/A 0.01% 0.36% 3.36% 14.87% 32.70% 34.18% 13.79% 0.71% N/A 0.05%
Illinois 7.78 N/A 0.01% 0.52% 6.73% 30.95% 40.51% 18.37% 2.81% 0.11% N/A 0.02%
Northwestern 6.60 N/A 0.97% 13.75% 33.15% 32.74% 15.55% 3.51% 0.32% 0.01% N/A 0.01%
Purdue 6.35 N/A N/A 16.56% 43.71% 29.51% 8.78% 1.34% 0.11% 1 in 25,300 1 in 2.09M <0.01%
Nebraska 4.00 31.93% 42.18% 20.43% 4.82% 0.60% 0.04% 1 in 86,900 1 in 9.58M N/A N/A <0.01%

Iowa's chances look a bit better here based on record, but even if they get to 9-9 with the two losses to Minnesota and Indiana, there's just nothing outside of the win total to recommend them to the committee. I have a feeling they're going to be this year's poster child for how to schedule yourself out of the NCAA tournament (although the fact that their conference schedule is about as soft as a Big Ten schedule can be this year - three of the single-play teams are in the top five - isn't doing them any favors either). Illinois is in slightly more danger according to margin-aware, but they're still likely to make it.

Penn State: The Quest for 0-18

Method Avg wins 0-18 1-17 2-16 3-15 4-14 5-13 6-12 7-11
Basic 0.94 34.55% 42.02% 18.83% 4.10% 0.47% 0.03% 1 in 117k 1 in 10.5M
Margin-Aware 0.45 61.97% 31.63% 5.87% 0.51% 0.02% 1 in 227k 1 in 25.0M 1 in 8.67B

The basic method thinks it's not entirely unlikely that Penn State gets off the schneid; a home game against Iowa offers them a 34% chance and their last two (at Northwestern, home against Wisconsin) are both above 15%. Margin-aware is much more pessimistic: 18, 8, and 11% in those three games, with the rest all below 5% (and at Michigan being around 0.5%).

Michigan State's Remaining Games

From the previous projection:

Minnesota: won by 11 (projected 69% to win by basic method / 57% by margin-aware / +1.5 margin)
@ Purdue: won by 13 (projected 78% / 72% / +5)

Remaining games, in schedule order:

Michigan: 58% / 43% / -1.5 (was 51% / 32% / -4)
@ Nebraska: 78% / 81% / +8 (was 76% / 79% / +7)
Indiana: 62% / 44% / -1 (was 58% / 40% / -2)
@ Ohio State: 49% / 31% / -4.5 (was 40% / 23% / -6.5)
@ Michigan: 28% / 13% / -10.5 (was 23% / 8% / -13)
Wisconsin: 78% / 77% / +6.5 (was 80% / 76% / +6)
Northwestern: 91% / 93% / +13.5 (was 90% / 90% / +12)

Some improvement in the projections pretty much across the board as Michigan and Indiana faltered and we put up two double-digit wins to help close the gap between our no-margin and margin-aware rankings.

Defending home court against Michigan and Indiana is critical for our chances of winning the title. I ran four additional sets of 100,000 simulations with the outcomes of those two fixed:

  • Win both: 45.89% outright / 78.58% share / 99.24% bye for no-margin, 26.66% / 67.99% / 98.36% for margin-aware
  • Beat Indiana only: 10.31% / 30.31% / 95.20% no-margin, 2.73% / 13.06% / 90.74% margin-aware
  • Beat Michigan only: 6.92% / 26.37% / 95.05% no-margin, 1.55% / 12.22% / 90.35% margin-aware
  • Lose both: 0.46% / 4.95% / 82.53% no-margin, 0.03% / 1.07% / 70.32% margin-aware

It's as simple as that: Defend home court and we probably get at least a share of the title. Split and and there's still a chance. Lose to both of the other major contenders at home, and the title chase is effectively over.

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