Projecting the 2014 Big Ten Basketball Race: February 18

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

With Michigan and Michigan State both dropping home games, the title race has opened up a little bit, but they are still the favorites. Further down, can Minnesota and Nebraska make it seven tournament bids for the Big Ten?

Last week, the race appeared to be a dead heat between the two Michigan schools. Michigan did us a big favor by dropping a home game against Wisconsin - which we repaid with interest two hours later with a much worse home loss to Nebraska. Suddenly Iowa is a Michigan loss away from controlling their own destiny for a share of the title. In bubble and NIT territory, Indiana's chance to dance is on life support after a late collapse against Penn State and demolition by Purdue, while Minnesota stays right around the cut line (losing at Wisconsin and winning at Northwestern) and Nebraska makes a sudden late surge. Northwestern has dropped three straight after getting to the far outer fringe of the discussion, but they were never seriously under consideration anyway thanks to a catastrophic non-conference schedule.

Let's look at the tables. As always, ratings are here and title odds are estimated from 100,000 simulations of the remainder of the season. For tournament odds, we will use the same assumptions as before (Minnesota 50-50 at 8-10; Indiana 1 in 3 at 9-9; Nebraska in at 10-8).

Tournament Locks

Basic Method
Team Avg wins 7-11 8-10 9-9 10-8 11-7 12-6 13-5 14-4 15-3 Outright Shared Top 4
Michigan 13.65 N/A N/A N/A 0.10% 1.68% 10.29% 29.14% 38.92% 19.87% 49.40% 74.47% 99.30%
Michigan State 13.01 N/A N/A N/A 0.44% 5.90% 23.56% 38.45% 25.71% 5.93% 21.15% 43.40% 96.44%
Iowa 11.75 N/A 0.10% 1.69% 10.38% 27.81% 35.29% 20.50% 4.24% N/A 2.01% 9.68% 77.58%
Wisconsin 11.71 N/A 0.03% 0.89% 8.00% 29.27% 42.52% 19.29% N/A N/A 0.32% 5.19% 79.34%
Ohio State 10.62 0.10% 1.79% 10.78% 29.78% 38.57% 18.97% N/A N/A N/A <0.01% 0.25% 35.22%

Sunday hurt us more than Michigan; had we won, considering the rating impact in addition to having an extra win, we we might be looking at 50% to win the conference outright. There is no longer enough margin for error to have much chance at winning the conference without stealing the game in Ann Arbor. Additional simulation runs with next Sunday's outcome fixed show the following probabilities for the top three teams:

  • MSU wins: MSU 48.83% outright / 79.72% share; Michigan 13.92% / 43.55%; Iowa 2.90% / 12.32%
  • Michigan wins: Michigan 69.94% / 92.16%; MSU 5.29% / 22.37%; Iowa 1.54% / 8.19%

While the Iowa and Wisconsin average win totals are so close together, Iowa's chances are significantly better because 1) their best-case scenario is better and 2) they can give themselves some of the help they need when they play at MSU (Wisconsin is done playing the Michigan schools).

Margin-Aware Method
Team Avg wins 7-11 8-10 9-9 10-8 11-7 12-6 13-5 14-4 15-3 Outright Shared Top 4
Michigan 13.75 N/A N/A N/A 0.06% 1.23% 8.50% 27.13% 40.44% 22.64% 47.24% 73.07% 99.17%
Michigan State 13.15 N/A N/A N/A 0.15% 3.57% 20.13% 39.99% 29.18% 6.98% 21.52% 43.90% 96.89%
Iowa 12.22 N/A 1 in 17,000 0.27% 3.86% 18.51% 37.30% 31.51% 8.55% N/A 3.08% 13.63% 85.90%
Wisconsin 11.72 N/A 0.01% 0.49% 6.46% 29.62% 47.08% 16.35% N/A N/A 0.12% 3.27% 75.62%
Ohio State 10.84 0.02% 0.76% 6.77% 25.15% 41.74% 25.56% N/A N/A N/A <0.01% 0.10% 35.01%

The story here is pretty similar. Michigan's percentages drop a little, as do Wisconsin's, but more to the benefit of Iowa than MSU. Here's how this weekend's game in Ann Arbor affects things:

  • MSU wins: MSU 48.00% / 80.16%; Michigan 11.53% / 42.95%; Iowa 4.42% / 17.26%
  • Michigan wins: Michigan 70.48% / 92.67%; MSU 4.34% / 20.49%; Iowa 2.14% / 11.08%

Everyone Else

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
Nebraska 9.56 N/A N/A N/A 0.24% 2.96% 13.70% 30.22% 32.79% 16.84% 3.25% 10.68%
Minnesota 8.54 N/A N/A N/A 1.21% 11.64% 35.47% 36.82% 13.31% 1.55% N/A 1.36%
Purdue 6.88 N/A N/A 7.27% 29.98% 36.75% 20.03% 5.29% 0.64% 0.03% N/A 0.07%
Northwestern 6.86 N/A N/A 6.95% 28.94% 39.51% 20.22% 4.11% 0.27% N/A N/A 0.02%
Indiana 5.84 N/A 9.53% 29.76% 35.02% 19.64% 5.37% 0.65% 0.03% N/A N/A <0.01%
Penn State 5.26 N/A 23.11% 39.91% 26.77% 8.74% 1.39% 0.09% N/A N/A N/A <0.01%
Illinois 4.33 18.71% 41.46% 29.62% 8.97% 1.19% 0.06% N/A N/A N/A N/A <0.01%

Nebraska surges to the top of the stack here, though their worse non-conference results and softer conference schedule mean they need to do more in conference than Minnesota does. On the assumption that 10-8 is enough for the Huskers, they're now just ahead of 50% (a 9:8 favorite) to make the tournament. Their next five games are all against the bottom five before finishing at home against Wisconsin; 4-2 (which would get them to 10-8) is certainly achievable.

Minnesota gained a little ground this week as well; there's no shame in losing at Wisconsin, and they avenged a home loss to Northwestern by winning in Evanston. Their odds are now around 70%. They have three tough games (@OSU, Iowa, @Mich) bookended by home games against the bottom two. Take one of the middle three (and dodge the upset bug that's been going around) and they can feel fairly safe; lose all three and it will depend on the conference tournaments.

On the other end, Indiana's at-large hopes are all but gone: from a little above 1 in 12 going into last week, they're now looking at 1 in 400. Northwestern is now firmly in auto-bid-or-bust territory (not that their at-large chances were ever better than "need a miracle").

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
Nebraska 9.51 N/A N/A N/A 0.16% 2.47% 13.64% 32.89% 33.60% 14.87% 2.36% 6.73%
Minnesota 8.55 N/A N/A N/A 0.66% 9.40% 38.76% 38.10% 11.92% 1.17% N/A 0.67%
Northwestern 6.55 N/A N/A 12.10% 36.98% 36.29% 12.94% 1.64% 0.05% N/A N/A <0.01%
Purdue 6.48 N/A N/A 11.21% 43.02% 33.71% 10.53% 1.44% 0.08% 1 in 70,600 N/A 0.01%
Indiana 5.91 N/A 7.37% 28.36% 37.20% 21.09% 5.39% 0.56% 0.02% N/A N/A <0.01%
Penn State 5.19 N/A 24.55% 41.23% 25.63% 7.50% 1.04% 0.05% N/A N/A N/A <0.01%
Illinois 4.12 22.88% 47.23% 25.00% 4.57% 0.32% 1 in 13,700 N/A N/A N/A N/A <0.01%

The numbers here are quite similar. Nebraska is a little closer to 50-50, while Minnesota creeps up very slightly (just over 70% instead of just under) and Indiana sits close to 1 in 500.

Michigan State's Remaining Games

Last week:

Northwestern: W 85-70 (projected 92% basic / 97% margin-aware / +18 average margin)
Nebraska: L 60-51 (projected 89% / 95% / +15)

Remaining games:

@ Purdue: 68% / 80% / +7.5 (was 73% / 86% / +9)
@ Michigan: 37% / 39% / -2.5 (was 41% / 44% / -1)
Illinois: 89% / 94% / +14.5 (was 90% / 95% / +15)
Iowa: 69% / 66% / +3.5 (was 74% / 74% / +5.5)
@ Ohio State: 39% / 36% / -3 (was 44% / 39% / -2.5)

Unsurprisingly, when you lose a game you were 90-95% to win, your rating drops and future projections fall. The Iowa game takes the biggest hit, as they're the only one of the bunch not to lose since the last ratings update (Ohio State's loss to Michigan wasn't factored in yet last week).

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