ED. NOTE: What follows is a guest post from reader Dave St. Claire. My thoughts are at the end.
Three ugly words: Strength of Schedule. That will be Purdue's undoing between now and the B1G Tournament, relative to the better teams in the conference.
First my prediction, then my assumptions. We'll finish in a tie with Minnesota for 6th place, though the Gophers will hold the tiebreaker based on their win in Mackey earlier this month. Ugh.
Not pretty, and a sad, far cry from our brief stay atop the B1G earlier this year.
Based on strength of schedule (SOS) much tougher than any team other than Indiana, we'll slump to the middle of the conference by the end of the season. And as tough as we have it, so do the Badgers have it easy.
Here is my SOS calculation; I start by lumping each B1G team in to one of three buckets:
Lightweights: SOS = 1
Penn State, Nebraska, Illinois, Ohio State, and Rutgers. A good team like Purdue should look to dominate these teams at home, and win most, if not all, the road games.
Middleweights: SOS = 2
Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa. Not a threat to win the conference, and on the NCAA bubble come March. Win these at home, but they're a tough out on the road.
Heavyweights: SOS = 3
Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Indiana, Michigan State, Northwestern. (Yes, Northwestern. If you haven't heard it by now, you're hearing it here first: the Wildcats are a solid team, and will make their first ever NCAA tournament this year.) These are the cream of the conference; they'll make the Big Dance. If you can win one of these games on the road, you've really accomplished something.
Some of you might take issue with Michigan State; understood, this is a down year for the Spartans. But Tom Izzo typically gets the best out of his players, and the closer we get to March, the better the Spartans perform.
So far, so good. Now I put a multiplier on the 1, 2 or 3 base SOS score to account for the difficulty of road games, and the favoritism of home games. Road games get a 1.2, while home games get a 0.8. So, playing Iowa on the road results in SOS of 2 x 1.2 = 2.4. Playing Maryland at home results in SOS of 3 x .8 = 2.4. So playing Maryland at home is about the same as playing Iowa on the road? Yep.
Simple, bordering on crude; so many fans from such a great STEM school could likely develop a more predictive, scientific algorithm.
Here's how the Heavyweight schedule lays out; as you can see, Wisconsin is in the driver's seat:
The pivotal B1G regular season game will be in Madison on February 19th, when Maryland visits. I expect the Badgers to triumph in the game that will be the tiebreaker key to Wisconsin winning the B1G regular season.
I have the Boilers winning out in Mackey; including victories over Michigan State, Indiana, and Northwestern. However, I have them losing all but one game (Penn State) on the road, including all four of the Heavyweight opponents, as well as Nebraska and Michigan. I realize most won't like my picking the Huskers and Wolverines in those games, but historically, a Matt Painter team is more likely to be upset, than to upset. So whereas an Izzo team gets some benefit of the doubt, a Painter team does not. I truly hope I'm wrong on that, but I think you'd agree that history is on my side.
I got this on Monday, so I am late in publishing it because of everything else we have done this week, but we have already deviated from the projections by winning at Michigan State Tuesday night. That also pretty much removes Michigan State from the "Heavyweights" portion of the list. There is no guarantee MSU will make the tournament, something that is shocking in most years.
They are still good enough to cause chaos, and part of that chaos is hopefully a home win over Wisconsin later this year.
I also think Purdue will do just fine on Sunday at Nebraska. The Huskers started very strong in conference, but they just lost to Rutgers. You don't lose to Rutgers.
As expected, this current 5-game stretch for Purdue is critical. The Boilers need to win in Lincoln on Sunday, then hold home court against Northwestern next week.