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Big Ten Basketball Projections 2016: Conference Week 1

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As conference play begins for basketball, how does the title race look?

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

As we looked back at non-conference play two weeks ago, one thing was clear - the Big Ten has some strong teams at the top, but the usually dangerous middle and lower portions of the conference have not been pulling their weight so far. We'll review the final bit of non-conference play before getting into the first set of conference projections.

Winter Break Results

  • Purdue picked up their first loss, a close neutral-site game against Butler, before trashing a solid Vanderbilt team. They've been the biggest positive surprise - perhaps the only one - of the year in the Big Ten.
  • Michigan State pounded Northeastern on the road and weathered an upset bid from Oakland before prevailing in overtime at the Palace.
  • Maryland and Iowa handled cupcakes with ease, the Hawkeyes facing only a mild scare from Drake.
  • Indiana picked up a quality win over Notre Dame in addition to a cupcake win over Kennesaw State.
  • Michigan annihilated a pair of dreadful teams, adding yet more RPI anchors to a resume that really didn't need them.
  • Wisconsin managed not to get swept by in-state competition by surviving a Green Bay comeback attempt (having already lost to Marquette and Milwaukee), but neither that nor Texas A&M-Corpus Christi will provide much of a resume boost.
  • Northwestern ran their record out to 12-1, but when "at DePaul in OT" is probably your second-best win, the sheer number of wins is kind of irrelevant.
  • Ohio State did themselves a huge favor by upsetting Kentucky in Brooklyn. That's the sort of win that might stand out in the committee room in March ... if they can do enough by then to even be in the discussion.
  • Illinois handled its cupcakes with minimal fuss - and yes, Missouri is very much a cupcake this year.
  • Penn State blew an opportunity by losing to Colorado, but taking down Kent State in the Las Vegas Classic consolation game isn't all bad. Sadly, that's their best win to date.
  • It could be worse, though. Just ask Nebraska, who lost to Samford, or Minnesota, who gave Milwaukee a sweep of their two Big Ten opponents.
  • And then there's Rutgers, in a class of their own. When you lose at home to Monmouth (who, to be fair, is having a good start to the year - but come on, they're a MAAC team) and no one bats an eye, you might not be any good. They did at least beat Fairleigh Dickinson and UMass-Lowell (both outside the Kenpom top 250), though.

Conference Projections

All projections are based on my margin-aware ratings, which still include a small preseason adjustment for teams who have played fewer than 15 games. Ratings without the preseason adjustment or which ignore margin are available here. Ratings are current through Sunday's games.

Summary Table

Average conference wins and 10+ win percentages are based on game-by-game projections. Championships (outright or shared) and top/middle/bottom tier finishes are based on 100,000 season simulations; ties are not broken accurately but credit is split evenly (two teams tied for fourth and fifth each get credit for half of a top 4 finish and half of a middle 6 finish). A reminder of the BUBBLECON meanings (based largely on projected records combined with RPI estimates from RPIForecast.com):

BUBBLECON 5: Definitely in the tournament (unless something goes horribly awry).
BUBBLECON 4: Probably in the tournament, but not feeling totally safe yet (a run of toss-up results going the wrong way, or a couple of upsets, could push them out).
BUBBLECON 3: True bubble team; a run of better-than-expected results would see them in but might not be necessary.
BUBBLECON 2: Probably out, but a good run could get them in the discussion.
BUBBLECON 1: Auto-bid or bust.

Team Avg wins Outright Shared Top 4 Middle 6 Bottom 4 10+ Wins BUBBLECON
Michigan State 15.33 49.33% 68.91% 99.34% 0.66% <0.01% 12,300-to-1 fav 5
Purdue 14.57 25.89% 44.09% 97.18% 2.82% <0.01% 910-to-1 fav 5
Maryland 12.14 1.96% 5.80% 70.87% 28.95% 0.18% 94.00% 5
Indiana 11.33 0.72% 2.66% 52.75% 46.39% 0.87% 84.80% 3
Iowa 10.94 0.59% 2.00% 42.88% 56.13% 1.00% 80.08% 4
Northwestern 9.76 0.06% 0.36% 18.67% 77.03% 4.30% 56.02% 2
Michigan 8.81 0.03% 0.15% 9.72% 78.11% 12.17% 35.25% 2
Ohio State 8.02 <0.01% 0.02% 3.93% 75.32% 20.76% 19.47% 2
Wisconsin 7.26 <0.01% 0.01% 1.69% 63.43% 34.88% 9.51% 2
Illinois 7.23 <0.01% <0.01% 1.61% 62.07% 36.33% 9.70% 2
Penn State 6.80 <0.01% <0.01% 0.88% 53.53% 45.58% 5.82% 1
Nebraska 6.34 <0.01% <0.01% 0.46% 43.02% 56.52% 3.24% 1
Minnesota 4.51 <0.01% <0.01% 0.03% 10.99% 88.98% 1 in 525 1
Rutgers 2.98 <0.01% <0.01% <0.01% 1.58% 98.42% 1 in 40,900 1

A word of caution is in order about the big lead for MSU and Purdue: teams with great records and lots of blowouts early tend to be given more separation from the pack than is realistic by my rating method, but both still should have a comfortable lead over the second tier. Maryland's a slightly shaky 5 - it's plausible (though quite unlikely) that they fall apart enough to miss out, whereas Purdue and Michigan State would require apocalyptic collapses. Indiana's schedule is ugly enough that they probably need the 11 wins I'm projecting here. Iowa drops back slightly in the standings (they rank ahead of Indiana on rating) thanks to a brutal draw in conference, facing Purdue, Indiana, and MSU twice each. Putting Wisconsin and Illinois at 2 is probably generous - only 10 wins in conference would mean they're looking at 14 losses (counting one in the Big Ten tournament) on Selection Sunday, and even that is unlikely to be achieved. Michigan and Northwestern, on the other hand, could arguably be at 3, but I'm expecting their awful non-conference schedules to weigh heavily against them.

Projections by Record

Team 0-18 1-17 2-16 3-15 4-14 5-13 6-12 7-11 8-10
Michigan State 1 in 2.13e19 1 in 5.35e16 1 in 327 T 1 in 3.55 T 1 in 59.9 B 1 in 1.48 B 1 in 51.1 M 1 in 2.42 M 1 in 156,000
Purdue 1 in 7.20e15 1 in 40.2 T 1 in 499 B 1 in 10.4 B 1 in 323 M 1 in 14.3 M 1 in 859,000 1 in 69,400 0.01%
Maryland 1 in 571 B 1 in 4.52 B 1 in 91.1 M 1 in 3.33 M 1 in 192,000 1 in 16,400 0.05% 0.30% 1.33%
Indiana 1 in 4.42 B 1 in 68.0 M 1 in 2.38 M 1 in 143,000 1 in 13,000 0.06% 0.33% 1.33% 4.07%
Iowa 1 in 6.70 B 1 in 86.8 M 1 in 2.61 M 1 in 137,000 1 in 11,300 0.07% 0.43% 1.80% 5.48%
Northwestern 1 in 283 M 1 in 4.37 M 1 in 163,000 1 in 11,000 0.08% 0.52% 2.19% 6.51% 13.78%
Michigan 1 in 7.65 M 1 in 157,000 0.01% 0.11% 0.66% 2.56% 6.93% 13.55% 19.62%
Ohio State 1 in 1.68 M 1 in 43,700 0.04% 0.29% 1.50% 5.09% 11.85% 19.44% 22.87%
Wisconsin 1 in 263,000 0.01% 0.15% 0.98% 3.88% 10.11% 18.10% 22.87% 20.74%
Illinois 1 in 137,000 0.02% 0.20% 1.17% 4.27% 10.49% 18.08% 22.39% 20.23%
Penn State 1 in 42,100 0.05% 0.41% 2.01% 6.37% 13.74% 20.85% 22.68% 17.86%
Nebraska 1 in 24,300 0.09% 0.74% 3.36% 9.48% 17.73% 23.01% 21.25% 14.19%
Minnesota 0.19% 1.97% 7.90% 17.30% 23.91% 22.51% 15.10% 7.43% 2.74%
Rutgers 2.64% 12.15% 24.05% 27.22% 19.75% 9.75% 3.40% 0.86% 0.16%

Team 9-9 10-8 11-7 12-6 13-5 14-4 15-3 16-2 17-1 18-0
Michigan State 1 in 13,400 0.06% 0.41% 1.97% 6.76% 16.41% 26.98% 27.92% 15.89% 3.58%
Purdue 0.10% 0.51% 2.08% 6.33% 14.18% 22.89% 25.63% 18.76% 8.01% 1.50%
Maryland 4.31% 10.31% 18.15% 23.27% 21.32% 13.56% 5.71% 1.46% 0.20% 0.01%
Indiana 9.40% 16.40% 21.51% 21.01% 15.01% 7.62% 2.62% 0.56% 0.06% 1 in 36,300
Iowa 12.13% 19.59% 23.00% 19.45% 11.66% 4.82% 1.32% 0.22% 0.02% 1 in 132,000
Northwestern 20.89% 22.79% 17.88% 10.04% 3.99% 1.10% 0.20% 0.02% 1 in 65,200 1 in 2.40 M
Michigan 21.29% 17.43% 10.74% 4.94% 1.67% 0.40% 0.07% 1 in 13,900 1 in 229,000 1 in 9.02 M
Ohio State 19.44% 11.98% 5.34% 1.70% 0.38% 0.06% 1 in 17,200 1 in 282,000 1 in 8.59 M 1 in 649 M
Wisconsin 13.65% 6.54% 2.28% 0.58% 0.10% 0.01% 1 in 92,300 1 in 1.76 M 1 in 60.1 M 1 in 4.93 B
Illinois 13.44% 6.58% 2.37% 0.62% 0.12% 0.02% 1 in 75,200 1 in 1.39 M 1 in 47.6 M 1 in 4.23 B
Penn State 10.22% 4.24% 1.27% 0.27% 0.04% 1 in 24,000 1 in 357,000 1 in 8.62 M 1 in 382 M 1 in 41.4 B
Nebraska 6.91% 2.46% 0.64% 0.12% 0.02% 1 in 69,000 1 in 1.15 M 1 in 31.3 M 1 in 1.60 B 1 in 204 B
Minnesota 0.76% 0.16% 0.03% 1 in 31,600 1 in 346,000 1 in 5.16 M 1 in 108 M 1 in 3.40 B 1 in 178 B 1 in 20.7 T
Rutgers 0.02% 1 in 44,300 1 in 576,000 1 in 10.1 M 1 in 244 M 1 in 8.24 B 1 in 409 B 1 in 32.0 T 1 in 4.54e15 1 in 1.63e18

Rutgers is actually favored in one game - the season finale at home against Minnesota. Three others have better than an 18% chance of being wins. At the other extreme, for Michigan State, only once are they an underdog (at Purdue) and only three other games are below 80% win probability.

This Week's Games

All times ET. Odds are per the margin-aware ratings, as before.

Midweek

Purdue at Wisconsin - Tuesday, 7:00, BTN (Purdue 76%; projected margin +6.5)
Michigan State at Iowa - Tuesday, 9:00, BTN (Michigan State 60%; +2)
Indiana at Rutgers - Wednesday, 1:00, ESPN2 (Indiana 84%; +9.5)
Michigan at Illinois - Wednesday, 3:00, ESPN2 (Illinois 52%; +0.5)
Northwestern at Nebraska - Wednesday, 4:00, ESPNU (Northwestern 53%; +0.5)
Penn State at Maryland - Wednesday, 5:00, ESPN2 (Maryland 92.4%; +13.5)
Minnesota at Ohio State - Wednesday, 7:00, BTN (Ohio State 88%; +11)

Weekend

Penn State at Michigan - Saturday, Noon, BTN (Michigan 83%; +8.5)
Rutgers at Wisconsin - Saturday, 2:00, BTN (Wisconsin 93.6%; +14.5)
Michigan State at Minnesota - Saturday, 3:00, ESPN2 (Michigan State 92.8%; +14)
Indiana at Nebraska - Saturday, 4:00, BTN (Indiana 61%; +2.5)
Iowa at Purdue - Saturday, 6:00, BTN (Purdue 86%; +10)
Maryland at Northwestern - Saturday, 8:00, BTN (Maryland 50.09%; +0)
Illinois at Ohio State - Sunday, 5:00, BTN (Ohio State 79%; +7)

Iowa probably has the most important game for the title race in both sets, although Maryland-Northwestern is a big game to see if the Wildcats' great start is a mirage created by an abysmal schedule.