Analyzing the Big Ten Race For the Top Four Seeds

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on February 24th, 2015

Let’s face it — barring serious injury to another Wisconsin player, the Badgers have all but won the Big Ten regular season. Bo Ryan’s club is 13-1 and comfortably in first place with a three-game lead and four games left in its schedule. While three of those upcoming contests are away from Madison, Wisconsin will be favored in all four games. But that presumed fact at the top of the standings doesn’t mean there’s no excitement to be found in the final two weeks of the regular season. Seven other Big Ten teams are currently vying to finish as one of the three remaining top seeds: IllinoisIndiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue. A top-four finish isn’t just ceremonial, either, as it gives a team a coveted double-bye in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament. That means a team’s first game (on Friday March 13) will come against a team that played the day before (perhaps even twice before), and will need only three wins in three days to be crowned tournament champions. Needless to say, it’s quite the advantage. The table below, provided by Daniel Borup and using KenPom’s win percentages, shows the current probabilities of each Big Ten team finishing at each of the 14 seed lines. After the table is a team-by-team synopsis on each of those squads vying for a top-four seed.

btt probabilities

Source: Daniel Borup

  • Illinois (1% likelihood of a top four finish). The Illini are mathematically still in contention for a top-four seed but a home loss to Michigan State on Sunday really set them back. Now the Illini may need to pull an upset either at Iowa or Purdue to ensure that they’re even on the right side of the bubble.
  • Indiana (11%). The Hoosiers currently sit at fifth place and have three games left — at Northwestern, Iowa and Michigan State. They’ll likely need to run the table on those to have a chance to catch up to Purdue or Michigan State. If they can accomplish that, they’ll still need the Spartans to tumble as Indiana owns the tiebreaker over Michigan State but not the Boilermakers.
  • Iowa (19%). Though two games back of fourth place, the Hawkeyes have a fairly manageable schedule still ahead of them: Illinois, at Penn State, at Indiana and Northwestern. That gives Iowa a fighting chance as two of the teams currently in the top four — Purdue and Michigan State — both have challenging schedules ahead. The problem is that Iowa has run so hot and cold all season — as evidenced by their win at Ohio State and home loss to Minnesota — that it’s hard to put much faith in this team.

  • Maryland (89%). The Terrapins have a stronghold on second place in the Big Ten. The Terps are tied in the standings with Purdue and Michigan State but own the tiebreaker over both and have the easier schedule ahead of them. Maryland’s remaining schedule includes games at Wisconsin, Michigan, at Rutgers and at Nebraska. It’ll take an epic collapse for this team to drop below the four seed.
  • Michigan State (87%). The Spartans have been one of the hottest teams in conference. After winning at Illinois on Sunday, Michigan State has now won four straight and is in a three-way tie for second place with Maryland and Purdue. That hot streak will get tested soon, though, as three of Sparty’s last four games are at Wisconsin, Purdue and at Indiana. Michigan State may need to take two of those three just to ensure itself as one of the top four seeds.
  • Ohio State (20%). On talent level alone, the Buckeyes should easily be among the top four teams of this conference. But thanks to head-scratching performances like a weekend loss at Michigan, Ohio State finds itself at risk of playing an extra game in Chicago. Currently, the Buckeyes are two games behind the top four teams with four games left against Nebraska, Purdue, at Penn State and Wisconsin. Finishing 3-1 with a win over Purdue gives Thad Matta’s team the best shot to make up some ground and secure a double-bye.
  • Purdue (74%). The Boilermakers have the been the real surprise of the league this season. After a statement win at Indiana last week, Purdue finds itself with a two-game lead ahead of fifth place but the Boilermakers also the most likely of the three second-place teams to suffer due to the difficulty of their remaining schedule. After what should be an easy win against Rutgers on Thursday night, they’ll play at Ohio State and against Michigan State and Illinois at home. Matt Painter’s team will definitely have to earn its double-bye over these next two weeks.
Alex Moscoso (170 Posts)

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