It seems like no matter how much Purdue tries to give away its chances at a Big Ten title, the rest of the conference conspires to give it another chance. With Penn State now causing havoc by beating both Indiana and Iowa at home the Boilers, who sit at 9-5, are still alive in this race.
Yes, even after giving away the game at Michigan.
In fact, just about everyone is still alive with roughly four games to play (six for Wisconsin and five Michigan State, who play tonight, plus five for Maryland).
Eight teams are still alive at this point for a share of the conference title. That means eight teams are battling for one of the four double byes in Indianapolis and, if God likes us, all eight will be the survivors to battle in four great Friday games. And yes, all eight of these teams have legitimate NCAA Tournament hopes.
First, let's look at the bottom:
Playing on Wednesday: Rutgers, Minnesota
Minnesota is now officially locked into Wednesday. Even if they won their last five games they could only pass Illinois and Penn State and they would lose a tiebreaker with also 5-13 Northwestern because the Wildcats won the regular season meeting. Rutgers is also all but locked into Wednesday. They would have to go 5-0 in the final five, but in doing so they would gain tiebreakers over Penn State and Northwestern, so there is a very, very small chance they can avoid Wednesday.
We all know this is not going to happen, and as long as Penn State and Maryland take care of business this weekend not only is 0-28 on Tuesday sealed, it locks both Minnesota and Rutgers into the bottom two seeds, where they will play each other for the honor of being No. 13 If they both go 1-17 beating each other I have no idea what the tiebreaker is and, to save unnecessary fatigue, they should both be forced to stay home and we just don't have a Wednesday session.
The Next Four: Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State, Illinois
This group will have two playing Rutgers and Minnesota on two playing as the 9 and 10 seeds on Thursday. It has yet to be determined who gets out of here. Also, Nebraska, Penn State, and Illinois have proven that if you're napping they can beat you. Penn State beat Iowa and Indiana, Illinois beat Purdue, and Nebraska beat Michigan State. Of these four, Northwestern is likely in the best shape, as they only have one game left against the top 8 and that is at Michigan next Wednesday. Nebraska can still wreck shit at the top by hosting Purdue and Ohio State. Penn State has already wrecked shit, and has three home games left against Rutgers, Northwestern, and Illinois. If they lose to Rutgers after beating Iowa and Indiana I think we can just give up ever trying to predict college basketball again. Illinois still hosts Indiana and goes to Maryland.
Basically, this group knows they will be the 9-12 seeds, will fight it out with some games amongst themselves, but they can still cause chaos at the top.
The Contender Frenzy: Iowa, Indiana, Maryland, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue
Thanks to Penn State stunning both Indiana and Iowa this group is now separated by two games in the loss column and they all have several games left against each other. Let's look at the remaining schedule for all eight:
Iowa: Wisconsin, at Ohio State, Indiana at Michigan
Indiana: Purdue, at Illinois, at Iowa, Maryland
Maryland: at Minnesota, Michigan, at Purdue, Illinois, at Indiana
Michigan: at Maryland, Northwestern, at Wisconsin, Iowa
Michigan State: Wisconsin, at Ohio State, Penn State, at Rutgers, Ohio State
Ohio State: at Nebraska, Michigan State, Iowa, at Michigan State
Purdue: at Indiana, Maryland, at Nebraska, Wisconsin
Wisconsin: at Michigan State, Illinois, at Iowa, Michigan, at Minnesota, at Purdue
Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State are pretty much the most desperate ones here. All already have five conference losses and need to win out to have their best hope. Since Michigan State and Ohio State play each other twice they can knock each other out, or it could have things spiral into a real nutty tie where the conference winner goes 12-6 if all hell breaks loose. Ohio State is basically the crazy person at the back of the room, as they likely need to go 3-1 in their final four without losing that Nebraska game just to reach the NCAAs, but they can really mess with things in doing so. They are desperate, and in being desperate they can mess with Michigan State and Iowa.
Also, when we all thought Iowa had the easiest schedule and would cruise to the title, it turns out they have the hardest schedule left. They have no games left against the bottom six and four against teams still in contention for the conference title and NCAA Tournament. Everyone else has at least one game left against the bottom six.
Indiana also have three games left against this top 8. The same is true for Maryland. That makes this scenario even more crazy, because the top three (Maryland, Iowa, Indiana) have probably the toughest schedules left, including Indiana. The Hoosiers either have the toughest spot left or the best because they play the other two teams they are tied with at the top.
So how does this affect Purdue? Well, the Boilers would be in a lot better shape had they not blown the Iowa home game or the Michigan game in Ann Arbor, but there is nothing we can do about that now. For any scenario that doesn't go into wild six- and seven-way ties at 12-6 Purdue has to win out and finish 13-5 to have a realistic chance at a conference title. That is something that looked dead as the buzzer sounded last Saturday, but that is before Penn State decided to go all, "If I am going down I am taking every one of you MFers with me!" Because the Nittany Lions decided to get nuts Purdue is alive, so thank you, Penn State.
If Purdue goes 4-0 in the final four games it will likely, at minimum, have the four seed in Indianapolis. At 13-5 Purdue would win a tiebreaker with Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State because it would be 4-0 against that grouping. If Michigan also reaches 13-5 their split with Purdue would throw things into either the next tiebreaker between two teams (record vs. highest team in standings on down) or into the group tiebreaker (record vs. the three or more teams tied). This is harder to call because there are so many games that can affect it.
Purdue still has a decent shot at a double bye even if it goes 3-1 because of the tiebreakers it holds over Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin (if it wins the final game of the regular season). Again, Michigan is a wildcard because of their split with Purdue, but since Purdue at least won in West Lafayette that is in flux rather than in their favor. At 3-1 Purdue could also control a direct tiebreaker over Indiana if the Hoosiers fall back further.
As far as winning a share the conference goes, Purdue needs the following to happen:
- Purdue has to go 4-0 in the final four games.
- Indiana must go 2-2 or worse (lose to Purdue and either Maryland or Iowa)
- Maryland must go no better than 3-2 (lose to Purdue and at Indiana or home to Michigan)
- Iowa must go 2-2 or worse (lose to Indiana and at Ohio State or Michigan)
That seemed very unlikely a week ago at this time, but Penn State beating Iowa and Indiana showed than anything can happen.
So if Purdue goes 13-5 who can they tie with? The short answer is anyone. Even Wisconsin can be in there if they win their remaining games but lose at Purdue. I have no earthly idea how the Badgers are in the best shape here of almost anyone, but they are. They would have to do it with four road games in the last six, but if they win out they not only can defend their conference title, they would only need Maryland and Indiana (who still play each other) to lose once each to do it.
Tonight's Michigan State-Wisconsin game will either offer clarity (if Wisconsin wins, knocking MSU to six losses) or muddle things further (if MSU wins, giving us five five-loss teams). The above scenario would involve a 4-way tie for the conference title between Purdue, Maryland, Indiana, and Iowa, but in that scenario Wisconsin can get a piece (if it goes 5-1, losing only to Purdue), Michigan State can jump in (if it goes 5-0), Michigan can get some (if it goes 4-0 and Iowa loses just twice), and Ohio State can get a piece (if it goes 4-0 and Iowa loses just twice). Ohio State getting a share knocks Michigan State out, Michigan State getting a share knocks Wisconsin out (again, assuming Purdue goes 4-0), while, in theory, Michigan and Wisconsin could make it a 6-way tie if some really crazy stuff happens.
After nearly 1,500 words here I am basically saying Purdue needs to win. Don't worry about what happens elsewhere. Just win, starting at the toughest game of our last four Saturday night in Bloomington. Win that, and the Boilers get their next two toughest games at home with an "easier" trip to Lincoln (not easy at all, just easier by comparison) in the middle. Winning the last four likely locks Purdue into a top 4 seed both in Indianapolis and in the NCAA Tournament, and we can hope for continued chaos around us to get more. There is even a way Purdue can still win the outright conference title:
- Purdue goes 4-0
- Indiana goes 1-3 or worse (Say it beats only Illinois)
- Maryland goes 2-3 or worse (say it beats Indiana and Illinois, but loses to Michigan, Purdue, and Minnesota, who has played some very good teams tough at home, stuns them this weekend)
- Iowa goes 1-3 or worse (Say it beats only Indiana)
- Michigan loses one more game (Northwestern springs an upset)
- Ohio State and Michigan State split their two games
- Wisconsin loses twice. (Purdue and Michigan State)
Yeah, that last one is not happening, but there is still a lot to play for, so beat IU.