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Projecting the 2015 Big Ten Basketball Race: Pre-Conference

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A quick look at the race for the Big Ten basketball title as conference play begins.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

With conference play about to begin in earnest, it's time for a quick look at the projected standings. As always, these are based on a margin-aware version of the Bradley-Terry method; the ratings are available here. This still includes some preseason projection, based on last year's final ratings, for teams that have played fewer than 15 games; however, it's a much smaller factor than at the beginning of conference play in football. The ratings are updated through Sunday's games. (Other versions of the ratings, without considering margin and/or without any previous-season bias, are also available.)

Because of the addition of two teams, the Big Ten basketball tournament's format has changed. The tournament opens on a Wednesday with two games: 11 vs 14 and 12 vs 13. The winners of those two advance into the familiar 12-team bracket. So now there are three separate groups of seeds that matter:

  • 1-4 get a "double bye" directly to the quarterfinals.
  • 5-10 begin play on Thursday, as before.
  • 11-14 play in the Wednesday preliminary round.

As such, I have included simulation odds for all three groups in addition to title odds. These are all based on 100,000 season simulations; odds for various records are all based on game-by-game odds. Since Joe summarized non-conference play for the conference earlier this week (go read it if you haven't), I'm not going to go into much detail on that. One caveat: at this point in the season the value of home-court advantage in the model is usually higher than it should be, as the fact that the better team has usually been at home makes it harder to separate the two effects. That will tend to skew projections toward .500, as the games in which that will have the most impact are games where good teams are on the road against weaker teams.

Projected Standings

Team Avg wins Outright Shared Top 4 Middle 6 Bottom 4
Wisconsin 15.36 69.26% 84.26% 99.45% 0.55% <0.01%
Maryland 12.78 6.73% 15.34% 82.01% 17.93% 0.06%
Ohio State 12.57 5.55% 13.18% 78.71% 21.19% 0.10%
Minnesota 11.04 0.94% 3.06% 46.17% 53.06% 0.78%
Michigan State 10.96 0.69% 2.48% 44.76% 54.20% 1.05%
Illinois 9.94 0.12% 0.58% 22.41% 74.38% 3.22%
Indiana 9.47 0.06% 0.34% 16.32% 78.04% 5.64%
Iowa 8.44 0.03% 0.16% 7.05% 77.94% 15.01%
Penn State 7.21 <0.01% 0.02% 1.38% 64.16% 34.47%
Michigan 6.56 <0.01% <0.01% 0.74% 48.96% 50.30%
Nebraska 6.44 <0.01% <0.01% 0.54% 46.12% 53.34%
Purdue 6.16 <0.01% <0.01% 0.42% 40.33% 59.26%
Northwestern 4.56 <0.01% <0.01% 0.03% 12.21% 87.77%
Rutgers 4.49 <0.01% <0.01% 0.02% 10.98% 89.00%

Wisconsin pulls way ahead of the pack, already having a 99%+ chance of a double bye. Maryland and Ohio State are in the driver's seat for two more free passes to Friday in Chicago, with Minnesota and Michigan State in almost a dead heat for the fourth spot and Illinois and Indiana waiting behind. Northwestern and Rutgers are likely to have to play Wednesday, with Michigan, Nebraska, Purdue, and Penn State (and to a lesser extent Iowa) fighting to avoid joining them. Despite their currently gaudy record, the ratings are rather unimpressed by Penn State; most of their wins have been uncomfortably close against mediocre or worse teams.

Odds for specific records:

Team 0-18 1-17 2-16 3-15 4-14 5-13 6-12 7-11 8-10
Wisconsin 1 in 6.55e+19 1 in 1.65e+17 1 in 960 T 1 in 9.61 T 1 in 148 B 1 in 3.30 B 1 in 103 M 1 in 4.37 M 1 in 252,000
Maryland 1 in 14.0 T 1 in 87.3 B 1 in 1.29 B 1 in 33.9 M 1 in 1.42 M 1 in 89,600 0.01% 0.09% 0.52%
Ohio State 1 in 779 B 1 in 7.65 B 1 in 169 M 1 in 6.40 M 1 in 369,000 1 in 30,700 0.03% 0.18% 0.83%
Minnesota 1 in 41.6 B 1 in 397 M 1 in 8.94 M 1 in 360,000 1 in 23,300 0.04% 0.30% 1.43% 4.78%
Michigan State 1 in 4.47 B 1 in 60.8 M 1 in 1.93 M 1 in 107,000 0.01% 0.08% 0.47% 1.87% 5.48%
Illinois 1 in 539 M 1 in 8.40 M 1 in 303,000 1 in 19,200 0.05% 0.35% 1.62% 5.28% 12.17%
Indiana 1 in 51.2 M 1 in 1.03 M 1 in 49,100 0.02% 0.18% 0.93% 3.31% 8.49% 15.84%
Iowa 1 in 3.21 M 1 in 79,100 0.02% 0.18% 1.01% 3.62% 9.04% 16.24% 21.37%
Penn State 1 in 257,000 0.01% 0.14% 0.91% 3.77% 10.18% 18.62% 23.61% 21.06%
Michigan 1 in 32,300 0.06% 0.56% 2.69% 7.99% 15.89% 22.03% 21.90% 15.87%
Nebraska 1 in 35,600 0.06% 0.59% 2.90% 8.65% 16.97% 22.89% 21.84% 15.00%
Purdue 1 in 11,200 0.15% 1.06% 4.27% 10.92% 18.92% 23.04% 20.17% 12.85%
Northwestern 0.22% 1.93% 7.43% 16.49% 23.58% 23.02% 15.83% 7.82% 2.80%
Rutgers 0.19% 1.84% 7.57% 17.29% 24.61% 23.23% 15.15% 7.03% 2.37%

Team 9-9 10-8 11-7 12-6 13-5 14-4 15-3 16-2 17-1 18-0
Wisconsin 1 in 19,500 0.05% 0.34% 1.76% 6.41% 16.16% 27.04% 28.11% 16.21% 3.92%
Maryland 2.09% 6.11% 13.12% 20.56% 23.35% 18.88% 10.54% 3.84% 0.81% 0.08%
Ohio State 2.90% 7.56% 14.73% 21.29% 22.54% 17.13% 9.03% 3.11% 0.63% 0.06%
Minnesota 11.32% 19.17% 23.29% 20.24% 12.42% 5.26% 1.47% 0.25% 0.02% 1 in 127,000
Michigan State 11.90% 19.13% 22.66% 19.55% 12.04% 5.12% 1.43% 0.24% 0.02% 1 in 153,000
Illinois 20.00% 23.44% 19.53% 11.44% 4.62% 1.25% 0.22% 0.02% 1 in 81,400 1 in 4.08 M
Indiana 21.67% 21.71% 15.80% 8.22% 2.98% 0.73% 0.11% 0.01% 1 in 191,000 1 in 10.3 M
Iowa 20.84% 15.14% 8.16% 3.24% 0.93% 0.19% 0.02% 1 in 48,500 1 in 1.09 M 1 in 65.5 M
Penn State 13.32% 5.98% 1.91% 0.43% 0.07% 1 in 13,700 1 in 193,000 1 in 4.34 M 1 in 178 M 1 in 18.1 B
Michigan 8.47% 3.33% 0.97% 0.20% 0.03% 1 in 29,800 1 in 407,000 1 in 8.65 M 1 in 321 M 1 in 27.6 B
Nebraska 7.48% 2.72% 0.72% 0.14% 0.02% 1 in 56,400 1 in 897,000 1 in 23.0 M 1 in 1.07 B 1 in 126 B
Purdue 5.98% 2.03% 0.50% 0.09% 0.01% 1 in 110,000 1 in 1.97 M 1 in 58.1 M 1 in 3.19 B 1 in 459 B
Northwestern 0.73% 0.14% 0.02% 1 in 53,300 1 in 763,000 1 in 15.8 M 1 in 495 M 1 in 25.1 B 1 in 2.36 T 1 in 568 T
Rutgers 0.59% 0.11% 0.02% 1 in 64,400 1 in 851,000 1 in 15.6 M 1 in 411 M 1 in 16.5 B 1 in 1.14 T 1 in 178 T

How good is Wisconsin? Their 0-18 odds of 1 in 65 quintillion are pretty impressive, but to me these two are even more impressive:

  • They are less likely to finish with a losing record in conference than the fifth-best team is to finish unbeaten.
  • They are more likely to finish unbeaten than Nebraska is to finish with a winning record in conference.

Odds for This Week's Games

All times ET.

Tuesday, December 30

Northwestern at Rutgers (Noon, ESPNU): Rutgers 74%, +5 projected margin
Iowa at Ohio State (1:00, ESPN2): OSU 89% (+10.5)
Illinois at Michigan (3:00, ESPN2): Michigan 56% (+1)
Maryland at Michigan State (5:00, ESPN2): MSU 62% (+2.5)

Wednesday, December 31

Penn State at Wisconsin (1:00, BTN): Wisconsin 97.5% (+18.5)
Minnesota at Purdue (3:15, BTN): Minnesota 62% (+2.5)
Indiana at Nebraska (5:30, BTN): Nebraska 60% (+2)

Saturday, January 3

Minnesota at Maryland (Noon, BTN): Maryland 82% (+7.5)
Michigan at Purdue (2:15, BTN): Purdue 73% (+5)
Illinois at Ohio State (3:30, ESPN2): OSU 88% (+9.5)
Penn State at Rutgers (7:30, ESPN2): Rutgers 52% (<1 point)

Sunday, January 4

Wisconsin at Northwestern (8:30, BTN): Wisconsin 91.7% (+12)

Monday, January 5

Indiana at Michigan State (7:00, BTN): MSU 82% (+7.5)
Nebraska at Iowa (9:00, BTN): Iowa 84% (+8)