Big Ten Conference Race: Wisconsin’s To Lose

Five Stars of the Past Week:

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin – 28 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 steals in OT win at Minnesota

Melo Trimble, Maryland – 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists in win at Iowa

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue – averaged 20.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in two wins

James Blackmon, Indiana – averaged 25.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in two wins

Corey Sanders, Rutgers – 25 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 blocks in win over Nebraska

Five Games to Watch This Week:

Purdue at Michigan State, Tuesday, 7:00 pm EST, ESPN2

Indiana at Michigan, Thursday, 9:00 pm EST, ESPN2

Maryland at Minnesota, Saturday, 2:15 pm EST, BTN

Michigan at Michigan State, Sunday, 1:00 pm EST, CBS

Indiana at Northwestern, Sunday, 6:30 pm EST, BTN

The power rankings for this league are pretty meaningless, so it seemed like an appropriate time to update every team’s chances of winning the regular season title, with a little help from our friend Bart Torvik.

If you’d like to see all the numbers for yourself, you can visit the site here.

Bart uses 50,000 simulations to give the percent chance of each team winning the title – both as the outright winner and sharing it – and also the percent likelihood of number of wins for each team.

The numbers listed here are each team’s percent chance at winning a share of the title and the win range is based on the three most likely outcomes.

In The Hunt

Wisconsin (Chance to Win: 81.0% / Probable Win Range: 14-16)

The Badgers have a 63% chance to win sole possession. Seems high on the surface given that Maryland has the same record and Purdue and Northwestern only trail by a half game, but KenPom gives them a minimum of a 58% chance in every game and at least a 70% chance in 9 of their 12 remaining games.

They’re probably not good enough to actually run the table, but they’re the safest bet at the top to win.

The biggest question nationally around the Badgers is if they can actually beat a great team. They’re 0-3 against Top 20 competition. But nobody seems better at beating teams that they should beat. The other three teams in this category have lost a game they shouldn’t at home already.

Essentially, Wisconsin may not have the highest ceiling in the league, but on the flip side it’s hard to argue anyone else for the highest floor. They’re the perfect team to thrive in a league full of mediocre teams.

This week: Penn State at home, Rutgers at MSG

Maryland (Chance to Win: 6.9% / Probable Win Range: 10-12)

Maryland fans are at war with KenPom. Well, at least their most famous fan (that I know of and follow on Twitter):

You can really sense the bitterness in that tweet. (They rose up four spots btw).

I get it. The Terps are now 17-2, 5-1 in the Big Ten and they’re still only 44th in KP’s rankings. They’re tied for first in the standings and 7th by the metrics. Terp fans want to enjoy the ride without getting analytics thrown in their face.

Buttttttttttt, I also get the other side of the coin. As insufferable as Jeff (BPredict) is, he actually makes good points most of the time. They don’t beat a lot of teams soundly, teams that you’d expect a typical 17-2 Big Ten team to blowout.

That’s why they’re given 74% less chance to win the league then the team they’re currently tied with atop the standings without there being a big gap in strength of schedule the rest of the way.

With all that said, the Terps are getting better and they’re still missing two of their rotation players. I’d be mildly surprised if they didn’t at least go 12-6.

This week: home for Rutgers, at Minnesota

Purdue (Chance to Win: 27.0% / Probable Win Range: 12-14)

The only other team in the league with more than a 7% chance of even getting a share of the league title. Their title hopes really depend upon the next two and a half weeks, when they play four road games and a home game against Northwestern.

Purdue is one of those teams that may have a higher ceiling than Wisconsin, an opinion that’s probably most supported by their meeting with the Badgers.

However, the home loss to Minnesota and the loss at Iowa are why you have a hard time trusting this team over the course of the long Big Ten season. Their good is Final Four good, but their bad is NIT bad.

With their struggles on the road and having to play 7 of their remaining 11 games away from Mackey Arena, it’s hard to feel good about their chances really.

Speaking from a fan perspective quickly, I don’t even care about winning the Big Ten. It’d be nice, obviously. But Purdue fans have experienced plenty of conference titles over the past four decades. The NCAA Tournament is all that really matters. I’d give up a Big Ten championship for a Final Four in a heartbeat. The best part about winning a B1G title would be that it would help out Purdue’s seeding (assuming 13-5 doesn’t win the league).

This week: at Michigan State and Nebraska

Northwestern (Chance to Win: 6.2% / Probable Win Range: 10-12)

Let’s say the current standings hold true, do you know when the last time Northwestern finished as high as 3rd in the Big Ten? 1960. Not only was I not born, but my parents weren’t born either.

They’ve never won it, obviously. And that’s probably not gonna happen this year either. The schedule just isn’t very forgiving. They have to play Purdue and Indiana twice each, at Wisconsin, and Maryland at home. They’d have to hold serve at home in those games, steal one on the road, not have a slip-up anywhere else and hope that Wisconsin loses three more times (less than 50% chance) to just get a share.

While the chances are slim, it’s pretty cool that that’s even a somewhat realistic conversation.

I’m not saying the Wildcats are a lock for the dance, but they could go like 6-5, win a Big Ten Tournament game, and probably still make the field.

Two wins this week and it’s all pretty much playing for seeding the rest of the way, barring a major collapse.

This week: Nebraska and Indiana at home

Still Lingering

Indiana (Chance to Win: 0.9% / Probable Win Range: 9-11)

A great win for the shorthanded Hoosiers over Michigan State on Saturday. I said before the game that they needed Blackmon and Johnson to carry them and those two delivered with an efficient 50 points combined. That win followed up by the buzzer-beater game winner by Blackmon in Happy Valley. It shouldn’t have been that close, but a win is a win is a win.

The issue is that they have such less room for error without OG Anunoby. They already needed a lot from Blackmon when Anunoby was healthy and in the lineup. To expect JBJ to score 25 (somewhat efficiently) every night is probably unrealistic. You’d hope Thomas Bryant would step up, but it’s been three months now and he’s still not playing at the level he did last season.

Oh, and the Hoosiers have played the softest B1G schedule to date and they have the toughest remaining, including 7 of their 11 games on the road.

It’s hard to count this team out, but things are not really working in their favor right now.

This week: at Michigan and Northwestern

Michigan State (Chance to Win: 0.5% / Probable Win Range: 8-10)

I don’t know, maybe that point when all of Izzo’s magic works and this team turns into one of the best in the league just isn’t going to happen. Maybe it’s this week when they play Purdue and Michigan. Even still, they haven’t really showed much at all away from the Breslin Center, which is pretty important in the postseason.

They’re still a team that struggles a lot offensively and I’m not sure how you really fix that. Defenses know they want to get the ball to Bridges anywhere on the floor and Ward, but exclusively on the low block. Harris has been good at times, but he’s just as likely to go for 6 as he is 20.

The rest of their guards just don’t really pose as a consistent threat. Outside of Harris, they have Winston, Nairn, Langford, McQuaid, and Ellis in their guard/wing rotation. Those five have combined for 15 double-digit scoring efforts out of a possible 99. That makes life really difficult for them, especially when it seems like how they play on offense carries over so much in to how they play defense.

This week: Purdue and Michigan at home

Minnesota (Chance to Win: 0.8% / Probable Win Range: 9-11)

The Gophers appeared to be right in the thick of things after their impressive wins in the first two weeks of conference play, but since then they’re 0-3 with a pair of two-point losses.

They’re still firmly in the tournament at this point, but four losses already in the conference means they pretty much have to go perfect the rest of the way to even get a share of the conference title. That’s obviously not very likely, but luckily for them they’re through the toughest part of their schedule and their last 11 games rate as the easiest in the league.

This week: at Ohio State, home for Maryland

No Real Chance

Michigan (Chance to Win: 0.0% / Probable Win Range: 7-9)

Don’t look now, but Michigan is starting to actually play like they might want to make the tournament!

A win in Madison would’ve been huge, but just the fact they competed was honestly more than I was really expecting from them and then they came back this weekend and took it to Illinois. The Illini have been an easy out away from Champaign, but still, Michigan has played a soft opening schedule and they hadn’t soundly beaten anyone.

It will all be forgotten if they don’t keep it up this week, though.

This week: home for Indiana, at Michigan State

Penn State (Chance to Win: 0.0% / Probable Win Range: 6-8)

A setback week for Penn State. It looked like they may be able to steal a win they didn’t necessarily deserve in overtime against Indiana, but James Blackmon dashed those hopes in regulation.

I’ve been clear on this blog about my Purdue fandom, but even I was disappointed with their performance in West Lafayette. They stood no chance in that game, one in which I thought they could really compete.

That’s been par for the course for this team, though. They play really well for a week or two and then they take a step back.

This week: at Wisconsin, home for Illinois

Nebraska (Chance to Win: 0.0% / Probable Win Range: 6-8)

Brutal week for the Huskers. They had a great opportunity to keep their tourney hopes alive and they end up on the wrong side of two one-point games. The most crushing part about it is you have to think with Ed Morrow, those games go the other way. They have no one to replace his what he does. With him out and no promise of returning anytime in the immediate future, things only look like they’re going to get worse with their upcoming schedule.

This week: at Northwestern, home for Purdue

Iowa (Chance to Win: 0.0% / Probable Win Range: 6-8)

They only played one game this week and they lost at home to Maryland. They spotted the Terps a 15-point advantage in the first half before coming all the way back and taking a lead late in the game, but they couldn’t close it out.

But that’s not the real story this week. The real story is that Fran McCaffery is still an asshat.

That actually just shows a little bit of what happened. He kept going down to the other side of the floor.

It’s fine if you occasionally lose your shit once or twice a decade, but Fran just does it over and over. Everyone remembers the chair slam. Of course there was the North Dakota incident earlier this year. He’s prone to the Belichick/Popovich act of being a dick to the media after a tough loss. The difference is, those two guys are extremely successful and extremely successful people pretty much get to do whatever they want and it’s fine. But Fran is in his 21st year of being a head coach at the D-1 level, he’s 57 and he’s got a whopping 4 NCAA Tournament wins to show for it. Give it a rest, dude.

My favorite part is when Hawkeye fans act like it’s okay their head coach is a child because at least he’s not Todd Lickliter. You guys are the worst.

This week: at Illinois, home for Ohio State

Ohio State (Chance to Win: 0.0% / Probable Win Range: 6-8)

The bad news: they’re 2-5 and KBD is still out for the year.

The good news: they’ve played the most difficult schedule in league play and it’s going to get (slightly) easier.

Their NCAA Tournament hopes are on life-support right now, but a couple of wins this week gets them right back on track. But the guy is just petulant.

This week: home for Minnesota, at Iowa

Illinois (Chance to Win: 0.0% / Probable Win Range: 6-8)

The final score in Ann Arbor ended up a little prettier than the game actually was. The Illini have now gone on the road four times in B1G play and have been blown out four times.

Illinois is headed for their fourth straight missed NCAA Tournament. You can’t really do that at Illinois and keep your job. I don’t care who is coming in the next recruiting class.

So, an Illinois blogger posed the question:

You have to let Groce coach out the season and maybe he turns it around and they do make the tournament, but the team isn’t close to good enough right now. Between his lack of success there and a new AD in town, the writing is on the wall and it’s fun to talk about.

The responses:

Most popular answers: Gregg Marshall, Cuonzo Martin, Archie Miller, Kevin Keatts

Funniest because they were serious: Tony Bennett, Sean Miller, Brad Stevens

Good luck with Marshall. He’s already making $3.3 million a year. He has no problem getting to the tournament and he’s running the biggest program on campus. There’s no football team to cater to.

Martin obviously would be a great fit for the job, but the timing doesn’t seem ideal there. He just signed a three year extension through 2020-21 in October. He’s also only been at Cal for three years now and you’d think he’d like to actually get through a full four-year cycle at a place. Cal is his third stop and he’s yet to spend four years anywhere.

Archie is up for at least one big job every year, but he doesn’t seem in a hurry to leave. He’d probably at least listen, though.

Keatts would seem like the easy get, provided no other major competition is in the picture for him. But that’s not likely the case. At least Mizzou, LSU, and possibly Clemson will be looking for coaches.

Illini fans need to get it out of their heads that they have any shot at anybody like Bennett, Sean Miller, or the head coach of the team that is currently the #3 seed in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Your last three head coaches have come from Tulsa, Southern Illinois, and Ohio.

Name I’d add: Dan Muller

This week: home for Iowa, at Penn State

Rutgers (Chance to Win: 0.0% / Probable Win Range: 2-4)

The Scarlet Knights are officially off the schnide with their win over Nebraska. It was a great game for Corey Sanders and he topped it off with the game winner, rebounding his own miss and putting it back in. It was great to see a good atmosphere in Piscataway. Despite the Knights being on a seven-game losing streak, they showed out and it was cool to see. Now, the goal for Rutgers is besting last year’s 1-17 mark. Might have to wait until next week.

This week: at Maryland, Wisconsin in MSG


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