We're just a couple of weeks from the Big Ten Tournament and while I won't be in Chicago, the Boilers will be. Much has been made about how this event will affect Purdue's NCAA case and seeding. Obviously, if Purdue wins the thing it is going dancing regardless of what happens in the last four regular season games. There are some things to remember when thinking about that, however:
- The addition of Rutgers and Maryland to the conference means that the tournament is now five days instead of four, and the four lowest seeded teams will play on Wednesday in 11 vs. 14 and 12 vs. 13 games.
- The Wednesday winners move on to Thursday, where the 11/14 winner will play the 6 seed and the 12/13 winner will play the 5 seed. The other two Thursday games will be 7 vs. 10 and 8 vs. 9, as has always been.
- The top four seeds now receive a double bye to Friday, with the No. 1 seed playing the 8/9 winner, the No. 2 seed playing the 7/10 winner, the No. 3 seed playing the 6/11/14 winner, and the No. 4 playing the 5/12/13 winner. This means the 3 and 4 seeds could be playing a team playing its third game in three days.
- Only once in the previous 17 years a team has won four games in four days to win the tournament, and that was Iowa in 2001, so it is VERY tough to pull off.
- Illinois is kind of a Tournament specialist, with 25 wins, two titles, six total appearances in the final, and twice making it to Sunday as a double-digit seed.
- Purdue is... not good in this thing. Five of its nine wins have come in 1998 and 2009 when they were runner-up and champion, respectively. Only Northwestern has fewer wins among teams that have played in all 17.
- Purdue has won one game in Chicago since 2001, and that was in the 2007 tournament.
So, if we're going to win this thing getting the double bye is wise. It makes sense because you have one less game to get fatigued from. As long as Purdue makes it to the semifinals (and it doesn't do something insane like lose to Rutgers tomorrow) it is probably going to be okay. The Boilers also have an excellent chance now of receiving one of those coveted double byes. Let's look at how things stand right now, and your schedule for the thing is right here.
Clinched Double Bye:
No matter what, the Badgers will not have to play until Friday. Even after losing to Maryland last night they will probably be the No. 1 seed. Only Purdue, Maryland, and Michigan State can catch them and they hold the tiebreaker over Purdue. Maryland's win does give the Terps the tiebreaker and a Michigan State win gives the Spartans the tiebreaker in addition to throwing the B1G race into some chaos.
Wisconsin still has to play Michigan State, at Minnesota, and at Ohio State. For Purdue to catch them for at least a share of the regular season title they have to lose two of those three and Purdue has to win their last four. It is unlikely, but OSU and MSU are good enough to beat Wisconsin. Is Purdue good enough to then beat OSU and MSU on their floors though? It is small chance, but on the night of December 22 no one thought we would even finish with an overall winning record, let alone have a chance to win the Big Ten on March 1.
Likely Getting the Double Byes
Purdue, Maryland, and Michigan State
They are not clinched, but these three teams are all sitting very pretty with a two-game lead in the loss column with four to play (three in the case of Maryland). Only Indiana, Ohio State, Iowa, and Illinois could catch or pass Purdue, and Purdue has the tiebreaker in the event of a tie with Indiana and Iowa, so it is essentially a three game lead over them. For Ohio State, Purdue has the edge right now, but this weekend's game in Columbus could give Purdue a split with the Buckeyes. In that case the tiebreaker is record against the highest team in the Big Ten standings on down. Since Maryland is ahead of Purdue and Ohio State beat the Terrapins (while Purdue lost to them) that means, right now Ohio State would have the tiebreaker with Purdue if it wins this weekend.
So let's look at what needs to happen for Purdue to keep each of Iowa, Indiana, Ohio State, and Illinois passing them:
Indiana - Any combination of Purdue wins and Indiana losses that equals two.
Iowa - Any combination of Purdue wins and Iowa losses that equals two.
Ohio State - If Purdue beats the Buckeyes in Columbus OR any combination of Purdue wins and Ohio State losses that equals three.
Illinois - Any combination of Purdue wins and Illinois losses that equals two (Purdue leads Illinois by three games, but Illinois holds the tiebreaker and can clinch it with a win in West Lafayette).
Purdue is likely going to finish somewhere between 2 and 4 for its conference seeding, which means a game against a lower seed that has already played at least once. Some have said it may be better to play on Thursday against a weaker team for a better shot at a win if we need it, but I would rather play a tired team and be fresh. In my opinion the worst matchup would be Ohio State or Illinois, but Purdue is going to be in far more trouble for the NCAAs if it has to play on Thursday than if it has a bye to Friday.
Who is playing on Wednesday?
No team is going to win five games in five days unless it gets insanely hot. They would clearly be stealing the automatic bid, too. Rutgers is the only team that has clinched playing on Wednesday and they may not even make it out of that day. Penn State, Northwestern, Minnesota, and Nebraska are "battling" for the last three spots. Where this could get interesting is if Purdue is 3 or the 4 seed. They could play one of the Wednesday winners that also springs an upset on Thursday. The way things look now, Minnesota and Northwestern are the teams most likely to go from Wednesday to Friday. Minnesota, with a win over Purdue and close loss in West Lafayette, scares me a little. Penn State also has the "D.J. Newbill catches fire for three days" factor.
I think Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan State, and Maryland get the double byes. Ohio State is fading a little (though they still care me because of their recent history with Purdue). The Boilers having tomorrow's game against a dead team walking in Rutgers helps, as it likely means Purdue could back in with losses elsewhere.
Rutgers, Nebraska, and Penn State look like locks for the Wednesday games, while Northwestern's recent hot streak might see them claw out of it. Illinois and Iowa are dangerous teams that could do a lot of damage while needing a good run to make the NCAAs. Wisconsin, Maryland, Indiana, and Ohio State will probably be NCAA locks heading into the weekend, while Purdue could joint hem if it keeps playing strong, wins its home games, and takes another road game.
It should be fun!