Simplified View of the World
The conference has now split pretty clearly into a top five (MSU, Ohio St., Purdue, Wisconsin, Illinois) and a bottom six (everybody else). The first group of teams consists of locks (or near-lock in the case of Illinois) for the NCAA Tournament. The other teams have no chance or a very small chance (Northwestern) to make the Big Dance.
Right now, it looks like 14-4 might be good enough to win the Big Ten title (unless MSU, OSU, or Purdue run the table). You could get to that record by:
- Taking care of business in 10 games against teams outside the top five. (TCOB)
- Winning your 4 home games against the other contenders. (CONT-H)
- Dropping your 4 away games against the other contenders. (CONT-A)
(The assumption is that neither of the hypothetical team's byes are against a fellow contender. That's true for everyone except MSU and Ohio State, who don't play in Columbus, giving those two teams a slight edge.)
The tables below display the state of the Big Ten race from this perspective.
How We Got Here
, Purdue,and Wisconsin have allboth run the slate against the non-contenders. (Corrected per commenter's note that Purdue lost at Northwestern. Wins at Illinois and MSU [more than] offset.)
- Ohio State dropped 2 games against non-contenders but has made up for it by pulling off two road wins against contenders and being the only contender not to lose at home against a fellow contender (although they've played only one such game so far).
- MSU and Wisconsin have not won a game against a fellow contender on the road yet. Wisconsin's last chance is at Illinois; ours is, of course, at Purdue.
- Illinois has the toughest remaining schedule, with 3 games against contenders, 2 of which are on the road. Fairly safe to count them out from winning/sharing the title.
- Wisconsin has the easiest remaining schedule; only one game against a contender left.
- Minnesota has a chance to play spoiler, with both Wisconsin and Purdue yet to visit Minneapolis.
- Ohio State hasn't lost to any Big Ten team since Evan Turner returned from his back injury--an 11-game stretch that includes 3 games against fellow contenders, 2 of which were on the road.
- KenPom has Illinois, MSU, and Purdue all a game below the projections here due to a combination of (1) the chances someone gets upset by a non-contender and (2) rounding.
That Makes Ohio State The (Very Slight) Favorite Except That . . .
Jon Diebler has had his right wrist X-rayed twice in the past 24 hours and it is immobilized in a splint, coach Thad Matta said today when asked about the junior guard rubbing the wrist after falling on it late in the win at Illinois on Sunday.
"It was not broken," Matta said during the Big Ten coaches teleconference. "We X-rayed it last night when we got back and then they did another X-ray today and the X-ray was negative. They’ve got him in a splint immobilizing it today, but everything is full go and hopefully, as the day wears on, we’ll get him in for treatment and more movement."
That's a very tough break for Thad Matta's team considering that:
- A wrist injury is going to be tougher to play through for a 3-point shooting specialist (he's right-handed).
- There are a total of exactly zero experienced wing players on Ohio State's bench.
- The Buckeyes play contenders in back-to-back games this week (home to Purdue Wednesday night, at our place on Sunday).
If Purdue can take advantage of Ohio State's best-in-the-league starting lineup being disrupted once again and pull out the win Wednesday night, their path to winning the outright Big Ten title may be blocked only by MSU (their other remaining game vs. a contender is at home against Illinois).
Bottom Line: The outright league crown is still there for three teams to grab (Purdue, Ohio St., MSU). And a multi-team tie at the top of the standings--very likely to include Wisconsin--remains a plausible outcome. If I had to bet right now on the team most like to at least share the conference title, it would be Purdue.
From a Spartan Perspective: A Purdue win Wednesday night would mean that beating Ohio State at home and losing to Purdue on the road (and winning the other three games, of course) no longer works as a relatively-surefire route to a conference championship. Jon Diebler playing at least somewhat effectively in both of the next two games is, I think, preferable to him missing both games.
P.S. Other Big Ten contender-related injury news: Jon Leuer practiced today for the first time since injuring his wrist. So the Badgers could get be back at full strength at some point in the near future.