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Projecting the 2014 Big Ten Basketball Race: February 24

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Michigan now has a clear lead in the race for the Big Ten title, but it's not over yet. Meanwhile, Nebraska's surge and Minnesota's slide both continue.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into last week, Michigan had a small lead in the projections with a big game ahead and Iowa lurking one game back. Michigan's win in Ann Arbor gives them a full game lead, while Wisconsin's win at Iowa means the race is essentially down to two teams. On the bubble, Nebraska picked up two wins over the bottom of the Big Ten to stay in the hunt, while Minnesota is in very rough shape after losing at home to Illinois and blowing a big halftime lead at Ohio State.

As always, ratings are here. The title race hasn't quite gotten simple enough to do scenario calculation, so simulation will be the method again. I've started including tiebreaker information for seeding, but scenarios will have to wait until at least midweek, possibly the beginning of next week. For tournament odds, we will continue to assume Minnesota has a 50-50 shot if they get to 8-10 and will make it at 9-9, and Nebraska gets in at 10-8. That might be slightly optimistic (particularly for Nebraska, given that three of their remaining games are of modest quality at best), but it gives a consistent baseline from previous weeks.

The Top Half

Since there's a relatively big divide between the 6th and 7th spots (six teams with six or fewer losses and six with eight or more), I'll include Ohio State and Nebraska here despite them being very far on the fringe of the title race.

Basic Method
Team Avg wins 8-10 9-9 10-8 11-7 12-6 13-5 14-4 15-3 Outright Shared Top 4
Michigan 14.11 N/A N/A N/A 0.18% 3.11% 18.19% 43.06% 35.46% 70.26% 92.62% 99.84%
Michigan State 12.97 N/A N/A N/A 2.23% 22.45% 51.31% 24.01% N/A 6.14% 26.79% 96.92%
Wisconsin 12.31 N/A 0.04% 1.20% 11.57% 41.67% 45.52% N/A N/A 0.31% 7.68% 91.98%
Iowa 11.13 0.29% 4.17% 20.42% 38.89% 29.42% 6.82% N/A N/A 0.07% 1.58% 52.50%
Ohio State 10.98 N/A 3.83% 22.96% 44.73% 28.48% N/A N/A N/A <0.01% 0.15% 44.98%
Nebraska 10.08 3.46% 23.53% 40.61% 26.54% 5.86% N/A N/A N/A <0.01% 0.03% 13.77%

The good news for Michigan State: despite being favored in all four games, the odds still favor Michigan dropping at least one game by a nearly 2:1 margin. The bad news: Michigan State has to win all three for that to be likely to matter, and that includes a road trip to Ohio State and a tricky home game against Iowa. Wisconsin's win at Iowa pushes them a game ahead in the projections and makes them a third 90%-plus favorite to get a bye; Iowa and Ohio State are near even for the fourth bye, with Nebraska having nearly a 1 in 7 chance of taking one. Assuming that 10-8 is good enough for Nebraska to reach the tournament, they've gone from a fringe candidate two weeks ago to a solid favorite (about 8-to-3 odds); if 10-8 is only good for a 50-50 shot, the Huskers are just over 50% overall.

Margin-Aware Method
Team Avg wins 8-10 9-9 10-8 11-7 12-6 13-5 14-4 15-3 Outright Shared Top 4
Michigan 14.26 N/A N/A N/A 0.08% 1.80% 13.49% 41.29% 43.33% 76.60% 95.24% 99.86%
Michigan State 12.96 N/A N/A N/A 1.32% 22.85% 54.15% 21.67% N/A 3.85% 20.77% 95.99%
Wisconsin 12.44 N/A 1 in 10,100 0.52% 7.96% 38.69% 52.82% N/A N/A 0.16% 6.50% 92.17%
Iowa 11.53 0.02% 0.87% 10.59% 35.63% 40.83% 12.06% N/A N/A 0.10% 2.00% 61.66%
Ohio State 11.14 N/A 2.26% 17.68% 44.24% 35.83% N/A N/A N/A <0.01% 0.07% 42.36%
Nebraska 10.00 2.83% 26.93% 42.27% 23.59% 4.38% N/A N/A N/A <0.01% 0.02% 7.95%

Everything here is very similar, with Michigan having a slightly better chance of running the table to avoid any risk of being caught for the title and Iowa having a slight leg up for the fourth bye. Nebraska's tournament chances are very slightly lower by this method (about 7-to-3 favorite if 10-8 is good enough; just short of 50% if 10-8 is only good enough for a coin flip). I'm a little surprised the two methods have been as close as they have all season long; usually there's at least one team with a big disagreement (Iowa last year, Wisconsin every football season).

Remaining Schedule and Tiebreaker Situation

As was the case last year, the tiebreakers are as follows:

  1. Head-to-head win percentage against all tied teams
  2. Win percentage against each team or set of tied teams, starting from the top of the standings
  3. Win percentage of all D-1 opponents (although given the oddities in wording in some of the other tiebreakers, it would not surprise me if they actually mean win percentage against all D-1 opponents; it's unlikely to get this far anyway, though)
  4. Coin toss

While it is possible for some of the teams from the bottom half to catch some of the top half teams, we'll ignore those for tiebreaker purposes for the moment. If it's still possible at the next update, we'll consider it then. Game projections are, as usual, in the format of win probability by basic method / win probability by margin-aware method / projected margin. For looking at head-to-head, the home game is listed first; ? indicates the game has not yet been played while - indicates there is no such game.

Team This week This weekend Next week Next weekend vs Mich vs MSU vs Wisc vs Iowa vs OSU vs Neb
Michigan @PUR
--- W/W L/W W/L -/W W/W
Michigan State BYE ILL
L/L --- -/L ?/W W/? L/-
Wisconsin IND
L/W W/- --- W/W L/- -/?
Iowa @MINN
W/L L/? L/L --- L/W W/-
Ohio State @PSU
L/- ?/L -/W L/W --- W/L
Nebraska @ILL
L/L -/W ?/- -/L W/L ---

Two wins will clinch a bye for MSU (and three wins would clinch at least the 2 seed), but the tiebreaker situation is dire if it's needed. The only two-way tie that can be won is with Iowa (Ohio State can't be tied if we beat them again, and they will almost certainly have the advantage if it gets past head-to-head). As a result, the bye percentages in the earlier tables (which gave partial credit for teams tied for the last bye, essentially assuming ties are broken by a coin flip) are probably slightly optimistic.

The per-game projections didn't move much for MSU; the raw rating actually improved slightly (mostly due to strength-of-schedule effects, as the average predicted was just slightly above 1 win for last week), so the slight adjustments are mostly due to other teams' movement.

The Bottom Half

Basic Method
Team Avg wins 4-14 5-13 6-12 7-11 8-10 9-9 10-8
Minnesota 7.43 N/A N/A 9.14% 44.92% 39.82% 6.13% N/A
Indiana 6.49 N/A 14.68% 37.83% 33.47% 12.25% 1.70% 0.08%
Purdue 6.22 N/A 15.99% 50.95% 28.18% 4.65% 0.22% N/A
Northwestern 6.09 N/A 21.80% 50.44% 24.57% 3.18% N/A N/A
Illinois 5.15 22.71% 45.49% 26.13% 5.31% 0.35% N/A N/A
Penn State 5.04 29.46% 42.95% 22.29% 4.91% 0.39% N/A N/A

Minnesota's tournament hopes are fading fast; if given a 50-50 shot at making the tournament at 8-10, the Gophers are looking at about a 3-in-11 chance to get to the tournament. Indiana is in deep trouble still, although improved ever so slightly from last week by their win over Northwestern (up to around 1 in 150 with the prior assumptions of a 1-in-3 chance if they get to 9-9). Illinois and Penn State are fairly clear favorites for the 11 and 12 seeds, which would force them to play top-half teams on the first day.

Margin-Aware Method
Team Avg wins 4-14 5-13 6-12 7-11 8-10 9-9 10-8
Minnesota 7.37 N/A N/A 8.05% 51.09% 36.26% 4.60% N/A
Indiana 6.39 N/A 15.58% 41.78% 32.08% 9.50% 1.03% 0.03%
Purdue 6.01 N/A 19.60% 60.99% 18.29% 1.11% 0.02% N/A
Northwestern 5.96 N/A 27.09% 51.29% 19.85% 1.77% N/A N/A
Illinois 5.00 26.27% 49.89% 21.48% 2.29% 0.07% N/A N/A
Penn State 4.95 32.49% 44.25% 19.53% 3.51% 0.22% N/A N/A

According to margin-aware, Minnesota's chances dip even further, to about 2 in 9, and Indiana is just over 1 in 300. Notably, Purdue's schedule skews very heavily toward a 1-3 finish; they have the two most lopsided projections on the board (both against them) and both other games are reasonably far away from 50%.

Remaining Games and Tiebreaker Situation
Team This week This weekend Next week Next weekend vs Minn vs Ind
vs Pur
vs NW
vs Ill
vs PSU
Minnesota IOWA
--- W/- W/L L/W L/- ?/W
Indiana @WISC
-/L --- -/L L/W W/L L/W
Purdue MICH
W/L W/- --- ?/L -/W W/L
Northwestern BYE @NEB
L/W L/W W/? --- W/- ?/-
Illinois NEB
-/W W/L L/- -/L --- W/W
Penn State
L/? L/W W/L -/? L/L ---

A little tougher to spot patterns in the tiebreak situations here, though Indiana loses to the two nearest to them in the projections (both single-plays on the road which they lost). Should it come to who beat top teams, as it easily could, Minnesota split with Wisconsin and Ohio State, Indiana has beaten Michigan and Wisconsin, Purdue has beaten Nebraska, Northwestern has beaten Wisconsin, Illinois is winless against the top half, and Penn State has beaten Ohio State and Nebraska.

If time permits and the situation has altered enough by then to warrant an update, I'll try to get another update in after the midweek games.