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Big Ten Basketball Projections 2016: The Penultimate Weekend

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Indiana is the favorite for the first time all year, but the race for the top four is still wide open.

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Midweek Results

Bold means an upset based on projections going into the week; italics mean a road win.

Minnesota 83, Rutgers 61
Michigan State 81, Ohio State 62
Michigan 72, Northwestern 63
Wisconsin 67, Iowa 59
Penn State 56, Nebraska 55
Indiana 74, Illinois 47

Only one upset, but it's a big one in terms of the title race, as Iowa falls out of the projected lead for the first time since they finished the season sweep of MSU. Illinois led Indiana at half in a game that would have turned the title race truly bonkers, but they allowed as many points in the second half as they scored for the entire game. Had the Illini won, a seven-way tie at 12-6 would still be possible.

Conference Projections

All projections are based on my margin-aware ratings. Ratings based on wins and losses only are available here. Ratings are current through Thursday's games.

The Top Eight

Outright and shared title percentages are calculated directly from the various scenarios now. With 13 games left involving at least one top eight team, doing the same for individual seeds is still too complicated, so the percentages for a top 4 finish are based on 100,000 simulations with tiebreakers not used. That will not be the case next week.

Team Current Avg Wins Outright Share Top 4 BUBBLECON
Indiana (+1) 13-3 13.94 54.54% 86.22% 99.44% 5
Iowa (-1) 11-4 12.97 6.23% 35.71% 84.63% 5
Michigan State (+1) 10-5 12.90 9.16% 94.22% 5
Maryland (-1) 11-4 12.61 4.67% 19.94% 73.34% 5
Wisconsin (+1) 10-5 11.76 1.33% 28.83% 5 (+1)
Purdue (-1) 9-6 11.19 14.10% 5
Michigan (+1) 10-6 10.69 4.42% 4
Ohio State (-1) 10-6 10.39 1.01% 2

Amusingly, every team swapped places with someone else in the order. Wisconsin would have to lose out in the regular season to be in any serious danger of missing the tournament now, and since one of those games is against Minnesota that's not very likely. It could be argued to leave them at BUBBLECON 4 for now, but I'll be generous based on their current play. Michigan could use another win before the Big Ten tournament, but it may not be absolutely necessary. At the other end, Ohio State may have to win twice in games where they will be substantial underdogs; they certainly need at least one.

Thanks to the stupidity of the various criteria that show up on team sheets in the committee room (the RPI itself, for one, but also the grouping of opponents based on RPI rank), Michigan is rooting hard for Penn State the rest of the way, as they'd like to be able to count their sweep of Penn State as two top-100 wins. As of right now, the Nittany Lions are in the top 100, but if that changes Michigan would have only three top 100 wins (although all three would be top 25 wins).

Projections by Record and Remaining Schedule
Team Feb 27-28 Mar 1-3 Mar 5-6 9-9 10-8 11-7 12-6 13-5 14-4 15-3
Indiana Bye @ Iowa (27%) vs Mary (67%) 23.94% 58.12% 17.94%
Iowa @ OSU (67%) vs Ind (73%) @ Mich (57%) 3.81% 23.19% 45.10% 27.89%
Michigan State vs PSU (97.1%) @ Rut (98.3%) vs OSU (94.3%) 1 in 34,500 0.31% 9.75% 89.93%
Maryland @ Pur (33%) vs Ill (94.9%) @ Ind (33%) 2.30% 44.96% 42.46% 10.28%
Wisconsin vs Mich (74%) @ Minn (80%) @ Pur (22%) 3.99% 28.81% 54.14% 13.05%
Purdue vs Mary (67%) @ Neb (74%) vs Wisc (78%) 1.89% 15.94% 43.58% 38.59%
Michigan @ Wisc (26%) Bye vs Iowa (43%) 42.03% 46.70% 11.27%
Ohio State vs Iowa (33%) Bye @ MSU (5.7%) 62.95% 35.14% 1.91%

Scenario Chart

13 games is too many to do the seeding chart including every possibility, so I've made a partial table that assumes the five games against non-top 8 teams (MSU vs. PSU, MSU @ Rutgers, Maryland vs. Illinois, Wisconsin @ Minnesota, Purdue @ Nebraska) are all wins for the top-8 team. That combination of five results has about a 54% chance of happening. After this weekend, the table will be expanded to include all games involving a top-8 team. Click on the table for the full-size version.


Because this chart includes assumptions about five other games, I have not calculated individual seed percentages. But a few things worth noting:

  • Everyone in the top eight is still eligible for a double-bye, but no one has clinched.
  • Wisconsin cannot get the 1 seed if nobody loses to a bottom-6 team. I don't know if that's still the case if someone does. Michigan State can get the 1 seed if Indiana loses twice, Iowa loses twice, and Maryland loses at least one.
  • Iowa can land on every seed line from 1 to 8.
  • Purdue can, in theory, be tied with Penn State at 9-9, but they hold the tiebreaker if that happens, so it's irrelevant to the tables here. (Also, in this particular set of scenarios it's impossible since MSU is assumed to beat Penn State.)
  • Maryland is assured of at least the 6 seed if they beat Illinois, and MSU is guaranteed at least the 7 if they beat Penn State and Rutgers.
  • Two cases have a tie for the 1 seed between Indiana and Iowa that is dependent on results outside the top 8.
  • In one case, the last bye depends on results among the bottom six.
  • Even if MSU wins out, they are not guaranteed a double-bye; the cases in which MSU misses out are when Wisconsin wins out, Iowa wins exactly two more, Indiana wins at least one, and Maryland wins at least one (plus the Illinois game). Wisconsin, on the other hand, is guaranteed a double-bye if they win out (at least, without an upset by a bottom-6 team).

The Race for the 9 and 10 Seeds

Here, the scenarios are a little simpler (only eight games remaining), so the percentages do reflect most of the tiebreakers. In cases where the tiebreaker depends on games that do not involve one of these teams, the percentage has been split evenly, so this is still an approximation but probably a closer one than for the top 4.

Team Current Avg wins Bottom 4
Penn State (+1) 6-9 7.35 12.61%
Northwestern (-1) 5-10 7.10 19.73%
Nebraska 6-10 6.52 68.46%
Illinois 4-11 5.13 99.20%

Projections by Record and Remaining Schedule
Team Feb 27-28 Mar 1-3 Mar 5-6 4-14 5-13 6-12 7-11 8-10 9-9
Penn State @ MSU (2.9%) vs NW (60%) vs Ill (72%) 10.91% 44.63% 43.22% 1.25%
Northwestern vs Rut (96.0%) @ PSU (40%) vs Neb (74%) 0.63% 17.32% 53.73% 28.32%
Nebraska Bye vs Pur (26%) @ NW (26%) 54.59% 38.59% 6.82%
Illinois vs Minn (80%) @ Mary (5.1%) @ PSU (28%) 13.93% 60.51% 24.42% 1.14%

Scenario Chart (click for full-size)


Seeding Odds
Team 9 10 11 12
Penn State 59.65%* 22.56%* 1.37%* 8.55%*
Northwestern 28.27%* 44.70%* 16.62%* 0.34%*
Nebraska 4.01%* 21.90%* 66.00%* 0.62%
Illinois 0.01% 0.78% 8.72% 90.48%**

The boxes marked with a single asterisk indicate the possibility of ties that are not resolved by the results in this table. The percentages for these cases are not included in the table itself; they are:

  • Northwestern and Nebraska: tie for 9/10 2.04%, tie for 10/11 0.16%
  • Northwestern and Penn State: tie for 9/10 0.73%, tie for 10/11 1.85%, tie for 11/12 1 in 21,400
  • Northwestern, Nebraska, and Penn State: tie for 9/10/11 5.28%

The double asterisk for Illinois in the 12 seed box is because they can actually fall to the 13 if they lose to Minnesota. The cases in the table where this is possible are marked with asterisks; a single asterisk indicates that if Minnesota wins out, the tie depends on the relative positions of Maryland, Purdue, and Wisconsin (teams beaten by one or, in some rare cases, both of the two). A double asterisk means that Minnesota can take the 12 seed outright if they win out or earn a similar tie by winning one of their other two games (in which case Wisconsin might not be relevant). In the event of a three-way tie with Northwestern and Minnesota, though, Illinois is always assured of the 12 seed; Northwestern swept Minnesota but only played (and beat) Illinois once.

If Minnesota beats Illinois, they will be included in future scenario charts here to track the possibility of them grabbing the 12 seed.

The Bottom End

As mentioned above, Minnesota can potentially grab the 12 seed from Illinois, but they can go no higher than that. To get out of the 14 seed, Rutgers must beat both Michigan State and Minnesota (beating Northwestern doesn't help sufficiently since after head-to-head, Minnesota would win the tiebreaker by virtue of having a win against Maryland). If they win out and Minnesota loses out, they claim the 13 outright; if Minnesota wins one or if Rutgers loses to Northwestern, the relative positions of Maryland and Michigan State (and Wisconsin, if that's the one Minnesota wins) will decide the tie. The chances of Rutgers even winning the two to make this a possibility are less than 1%, though, so it's probably safe to assume the Scarlet Knights will be the 14 seed.

Team Current Avg wins Feb 27-28 Mar 1-3 Mar 5-6 0-18 1-17 2-16 3-15 4-14 5-13
Minnesota 2-13 3.03 @ Ill (20%) vs Wisc (20%) @ Rut (63%) 23.97% 52.02% 21.51% 2.50%
Rutgers 0-15 0.43 @ NW (4.0%) vs MSU (1.7%) vs Minn (37%) 58.99% 38.83% 2.15% 0.03%

This Weekend's Games

All times ET. Odds are based on the margin-aware ratings.

Rutgers at Northwestern - Saturday, 2:00, ESPNU (Northwestern 96.0%, projected margin +18)
Maryland at Purdue - Saturday, 4:00, ESPN (Purdue 67%, +4)
Penn State at Michigan State - Sunday, Noon, BTN (Michigan State 97.1%, +20)
Iowa at Ohio State - Sunday, 4:00, CBS (Iowa 67%, +4)
Michigan at Wisconsin - Sunday, 6:00, BTN (Wisconsin 74%, +6)
Minnesota at Illinois - Sunday, 8:00, BTN (Illinois 80%, +8)

Michigan has a huge opportunity to grab a quality road win and solidly establish themselves as the Big Ten's seventh tournament team. Ohio State can try to extend Iowa's slump and put themselves in the discussion, but it may be too late for them. Purdue can take Maryland out of the outright title race and keep their hopes of a bye alive.