Projecting the 2014 Big Ten Basketball Race: February 3

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

After a week of chaos, the race for the fourth bye is wide open.

Going into last week, the top 6 seemed to have a clearly established order with big gaps between 2 and 3, 4 and 5, and 6 and 7. Then:


MSU won at Iowa. Penn State won at Ohio State. Indiana lost at Nebraska before beating Michigan. Wisconsin has three consecutive home losses, one of which was to Northwestern - who now has three consecutive road wins. Dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria. You get the point.

After all that insanity, everything from fourth place on down is just about anyone's guess. MSU and Michigan are absolute locks for the tournament, and Iowa (the only real strike against them at this point is a few too many sub-250 RPI opponents in non-conference, and that can be overlooked when you have three top 50 wins and no losses outside the top 15 - all RPI data via Crashing the Dance) and Wisconsin (whose profile was pretty much bulletproof before the recent slump - three non-conference top 30 wins, only two sub-200) are very close. After that:

  • Ohio State got the marquee win they needed this weekend at Wisconsin; combined with a non-conference schedule that is practically a textbook on how to game the RPI (one borderline top 50 opponent, as North Dakota State bounces back and forth around that cutoff; five more in the 50-100 range, three in 100-150, and only one below 250), they probably have enough margin that 8-10 gets them in and there's a decent chance at 7-11.
  • Minnesota looked a near-lock until dropping games against Nebraska and Northwestern this week. As with Ohio State, they've got an RPI-friendly non-conference schedule (2-1 against top 50 teams, one semi-bad loss against Arkansas, other opponents mostly around or slightly above 200), although I'd start to worry about being 1-3 against the 51-100 range. I'd guess 9-9 has them fairly safe, 8-10 has a chance.
  • Indiana's non-conference schedule has them in much worse shape than their conference record would indicate. They faced only four top-150 opponents, with just one win (against Washington, who currently sits in the 80s). The schedule actually looks even worse according to the Pomeroy ratings, as two of Indiana's opponents in the low 200s by RPI are in the 300s by Pomeroy. Combined with a relatively generous conference schedule (Iowa, Ohio State, and Minnesota are among the single-plays), I don't like Indiana's chances of getting in at 9-9, though they could sneak in if the bubble is absurdly weak.
  • Nebraska's profile is not too dissimilar to Indiana's, and their conference schedule is even softer (single-plays: Iowa, MSU, Wisconsin, Minnesota). I don't see any chance below 10-8.
  • Northwestern's making a nice run in conference, but they just have too much to overcome in non-conference (best win: against #160 Western Michigan; five sub-250 games). I don't think a Big Ten team with 11 conference wins has ever been left out, but I also don't think any have had the sort of profile Northwestern would have if they get there. I'd honestly be surprised if they get in at less than 12-6.
  • Illinois's profile really has nothing to recommend it at this point. The good news is that they have six chances against likely tournament teams left; the bad news is that they need at least four of them, quite possibly five. Penn State and Purdue have the added handicap of additional non-conference losses dragging them down; none of the three have much hope at this point.

On to the charts. As always, ratings are here and title/bye odds are based on 100,000 simulations.

Basic Method

Team Avg wins 11-7 12-6 13-5 14-4 15-3 16-2 17-1 Outright Shared Top 4
Michigan State 14.57 0.59% 3.75% 13.63% 28.16% 31.76% 18.03% 4.02% 49.06% 69.64% 99.91%
Michigan 13.99 2.74% 9.75% 21.49% 29.33% 23.85% 10.46% 1.88% 27.82% 47.98% 99.51%
Iowa 11.75 24.14% 29.03% 20.70% 7.78% 1.12% N/A N/A 1.39% 5.50% 89.52%
Wisconsin 9.66 19.17% 6.70% 0.94% N/A N/A N/A N/A 0.01% 0.15% 41.37%
Ohio State 9.48 16.72% 5.60% 0.77% N/A N/A N/A N/A 0.01% 0.12% 35.78%
Minnesota 8.39 4.70% 0.78% 0.05% N/A N/A N/A N/A <0.01% 0.01% 12.70%
Northwestern 8.34 3.66% 0.46% 0.02% N/A N/A N/A N/A <0.01% <0.01% 10.31%
Indiana 7.81 2.02% 0.26% 0.01% N/A N/A N/A N/A <0.01% 0.01% 6.78%
Nebraska 7.28 0.86% 0.08% 1 in 32,400 N/A N/A N/A N/A <0.01% <0.01% 3.31%
Purdue 5.97 0.03% 1 in 99,400 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A <0.01% <0.01% 0.39%
Penn State 5.71 0.02% 1 in 141k N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A <0.01% <0.01% 0.33%
Illinois 5.05 1 in 56,800 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A <0.01% <0.01% 0.07%

Team Avg wins 2-16 3-15 4-14 5-13 6-12 7-11 8-10 9-9 10-8
Michigan State 14.57 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 1 in 2.04M 1 in 39,500 0.05%
Michigan 13.99 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 1 in 63,500 0.04% 0.46%
Iowa 11.75 N/A N/A N/A N/A 1 in 31,200 0.08% 0.75% 3.97% 12.43%
Wisconsin 9.66 N/A N/A 1 in 26,500 0.09% 0.86% 4.44% 13.58% 25.36% 28.86%
Ohio State 9.48 N/A N/A 1 in 12,600 0.16% 1.34% 5.99% 15.97% 26.36% 27.09%
Minnesota 8.39 N/A N/A 0.09% 1.19% 6.32% 17.59% 28.03% 26.47% 14.78%
Northwestern 8.34 N/A N/A N/A 0.79% 6.02% 18.61% 29.92% 26.92% 13.59%
Indiana 7.81 N/A N/A 0.37% 3.47% 12.85% 24.96% 28.30% 19.54% 8.21%
Nebraska 7.28 N/A 0.17% 1.77% 7.90% 19.16% 27.63% 24.50% 13.45% 4.48%
Purdue 5.97 N/A 1.81% 10.48% 24.46% 30.02% 21.33% 9.14% 2.37% 0.36%
Penn State 5.71 N/A 3.34% 14.83% 27.39% 27.95% 17.49% 6.96% 1.76% 0.27%
Illinois 5.05 1.78% 10.05% 23.19% 29.08% 21.96% 10.34% 3.02% 0.52% 0.05%

MSU retakes the lead with the upset win at Iowa while Michigan lost at Indiana; MSU has more of the high-end road games left but several others as >90% favorites, while Michigan has quite a few moderate difficulty games remaining. Iowa, despite the loss to MSU, sits about where they did last week in terms of projected win total, partly because everyone near but below them took a dive. Wisconsin has slightly better odds than Ohio State of snagging the fourth bye, with Minnesota and Northwestern (up from 0.08% last week!) also in the hunt and Indiana and Nebraska as even longer shots.

Tournament chances:
Ohio State: about 22-to-1 favorite (assuming in at 8-10, 50/50 at 7-11)
Minnesota: about 3-to-2 favorite (assuming in at 9-9, 50/50 at 8-10)
Indiana: about 1 in 6 (assuming in at 10-8, 1/3 chance at 9-9)
Nebraska: about 1 in 18 (assuming in at 10-8)
Northwestern: about 1 in 43 (assuming in at 12-6, 50/50 at 11-7)

Margin-Aware Method

Team Avg wins 11-7 12-6 13-5 14-4 15-3 16-2 17-1 Outright Shared Top 4
Michigan State 14.65 0.24% 2.35% 11.86% 29.16% 34.07% 18.52% 3.79% 52.05% 73.66% 99.94%
Michigan 13.84 2.86% 10.78% 24.04% 31.20% 22.18% 7.54% 0.93% 21.74% 42.07% 99.28%
Iowa 12.47 15.01% 28.60% 30.91% 16.70% 3.17% N/A N/A 2.74% 10.31% 94.81%
Ohio State 10.06 25.45% 10.58% 1.53% N/A N/A N/A N/A <0.01% 0.12% 45.63%
Wisconsin 9.89 22.96% 8.12% 1.06% N/A N/A N/A N/A <0.01% 0.10% 39.31%
Minnesota 8.76 6.51% 1.03% 0.06% N/A N/A N/A N/A <0.01% 0.01% 12.31%
Indiana 7.87 1.80% 0.20% 1 in 12,000 N/A N/A N/A N/A <0.01% <0.01% 4.58%
Northwestern 7.58 0.65% 0.04% 1 in 167k N/A N/A N/A N/A <0.01% <0.01% 1.96%
Nebraska 7.39 0.68% 0.05% 1 in 81,600 N/A N/A N/A N/A <0.01% <0.01% 1.99%
Penn State 5.65 0.01% 1 in 361k N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A <0.01% <0.01% 0.15%
Purdue 5.28 1 in 142k 1 in 11.1M N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A <0.01% <0.01% 0.02%
Illinois 4.56 1 in 916k N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A <0.01% <0.01% 0.01%

Team Avg wins 2-16 3-15 4-14 5-13 6-12 7-11 8-10 9-9 10-8
Michigan State 14.65 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 1 in 29.5M 1 in 304k 0.01%
Michigan 13.84 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 1 in 92,300 0.03% 0.43%
Iowa 12.47 N/A N/A N/A N/A 1 in 1.45M 1 in 24,600 0.09% 0.85% 4.67%
Ohio State 10.06 N/A N/A 1 in 332k 0.01% 0.25% 1.97% 8.47% 21.02% 30.71%
Wisconsin 9.89 N/A N/A 1 in 163k 0.02% 0.36% 2.57% 10.18% 23.44% 31.30%
Minnesota 8.76 N/A N/A 0.02% 0.38% 3.01% 12.00% 26.03% 31.07% 19.89%
Indiana 7.87 N/A N/A 0.23% 2.58% 11.36% 24.82% 29.96% 20.79% 8.26%
Northwestern 7.58 N/A N/A N/A 3.01% 15.14% 30.05% 30.14% 16.29% 4.68%
Nebraska 7.39 N/A 0.07% 1.01% 5.87% 17.53% 29.00% 27.08% 14.41% 4.30%
Penn State 5.65 N/A 3.08% 15.30% 28.86% 28.57% 16.68% 6.00% 1.32% 0.17%
Purdue 5.28 N/A 4.43% 20.96% 34.27% 26.56% 10.95% 2.50% 0.32% 0.02%
Illinois 4.56 3.33% 16.49% 30.10% 28.39% 15.51% 5.09% 0.99% 0.11% 1 in 18,000

Here Ohio State and Wisconsin trade places, although they're separated by about 1/6 of a win in either projection. Northwestern's early blowout losses are a real drag on their rating, keeping them a game below Minnesota instead of neck-and-neck.

Tournament odds (same assumptions as above):
Ohio State: about 80-to-1 favorite
Minnesota: about 5-to-2 favorite
Indiana: about 2 in 11
Nebraska: about 1 in 20
Northwestern: about 1 in 275 - which is still nearly four orders of magnitude better than their odds were three weeks ago (at 1 in 1,600,000) and nearly three orders of magnitude better than last week (1 in 230,000).

Michigan State's Remaining Games

Last week:

@ Iowa: W 71-69 (OT) (projection: 46% no-margin / 35% margin-aware / -3.5 average margin)
Georgetown (neutral court): L 64-60 (85% / 90% / +12)

Remaining games:

Penn State: 93% / 95% / +15.5 (was 95% / 96% / +17.5)
@ Wisconsin: 46% / 40% / -2 (was 37% / 34% / -3.5)
Northwestern: 91% / 97% / +17.5 (was 94% / 98% / +20.5)
Nebraska: 91% / 95% / +15 (was 92% / 95% / +16)
@ Purdue: 76% / 85% / +9 (was 76% / 85% / +9.5)
@ Michigan: 42% / 42% / -1.5 (was 38% / 40% / -2)
Illinois: 91% / 95% / +15 (was 91% / 95% / +16)
Iowa: 75% / 72% / +5 (was 75% / 73% / +5.5)
@ Ohio State: 52% / 43% / -1.5 (was 53% / 44% / -1.5)

Slight downgrades on most of the low-end games as most of the bottom-tier teams had upsets to bring up their ratings, but of the five games that aren't in the 90%+ range, two improved (one significantly) and the other three hardly moved at all.

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