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Big Ten Basketball This Weekend: January 28 & 29

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All 14 teams are playing, so who should we root for?

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

We’re getting to the point where every Big Ten game matters in some way. Either it helps Purdue’s overall strength of schedule by getting the maximum amount of teams into the NCAA Tournament, pulls a team into the top 100 to erase a “bad loss”, or it helps Purdue in the overall standings.

And let’s talk about the definitions of a “bad loss”. One definition in the context of the overall standings sees Minnesota as a bad loss. It was a home game and Purdue needs to defend its home floor. It is, after all, the easiest place to win Big Ten games. So far, every Big Ten team has lost on its home floor at least once except Wisconsin. What the difference right now between Purdue and the Badgers? The overtime home loss to Minnesota.

In terms of the overall NCAA picture it is NOT a bad loss. Minnesota is still a top 25 RPI team and a top 40 KenPom team. The damage from it on our NCAA profile is light. What is a bad loss for the NCAA profile (and not so much for the Big Ten) is the Iowa loss. Generally, the NCAA looks down on any losses to sub-100 teams. Right now, Iowa is 96th in KenPom and 112 according to the RPI. Yeah, it stings in the conference standings, but no one was going to go undefeated in the Big Ten. No one has even gone through the conference with just one loss since Ohio State in 2007 (and they only had a 16 game schedule). The last 17-1 team was Indiana in 1993, and the last undefeated champion was Indiana in 1976.

It’s been over 40 years since someone ran the table in the Big Ten. A loss was going to happen. Yeah, it sucked that it came against the second worst team in the conference right now according to the computers, but it happens.

So yes, the Minnesota and Iowa losses were bad losses, but for different reasons. Minnesota hurts more in the Big Ten race. Iowa hurts our NCAA seeding more. We’re still alive, however, and Iowa still has chance to get into that top 100 and sting a little less. That can start this weekend, where every Big Ten game has stakes for us.

Saturday

Wisconsin (17-3, 6-1) at Rutgers (12-9, 1-7) Noon, BTN

Two years ago Rutgers stunned everyone with a 67-62 win in Piscataway. It was shocking because this was a Wisconsin team that went 36-4, won the Big Ten easily, and was national runner-up. Rutgers finished 10-22, was 2-16 in the Big Ten, and lost its next 31 conference games. Well, this Rutgers team is better and this Wisconsin team is worse, so…

Nah.

Wisconsin absolutely should roll in this one. They already beat the Scarlet Knights by 20 in Madison. Rutgers has been feisty this year, but this would be pretty shocking if they were to win this one. Still, since we need a Wisconsin loss we can always hope.

Maryland (18-2, 6-1) at Minnesota (15-6, 3-5) 2:15pm, BTN

Minnesota has now lost four in a row after an early Big Ten lead. They have been painful losses too, including by 2 points each at Penn State and at home against Maryland. Three of their five conference losses are by 5 total points, and three of their eight league games have gone to overtime. They need to right the ship if they are going to stay in NCAA consideration, and getting Maryland at home is an excellent opportunity. We could use a Maryland loss in the standings and a strong Minnesota helps our NCAA profile now that they are not a conference title threat. Get it going, Goldy.

Illinois (13-8, 3-5) at Penn State (11-10, 3-5) 4:30pm, BTN

Normally I would say Penn State would be my preference here because you want a team you play twice to be strong, but it is not likely they are going to get into the top 50 of either the RPI or KenPom. Illinois, however, is one of Purdue’s four top 50 RPI wins. In fact, they are stronger in the RPI right now than Michigan State thanks to non-conference wins over NC State and VCU. The Illini are not dead for the tournament, as their computer numbers greatly help them. Let’s keep them in the top 50, please.

Ohio State (13-8, 3-5) at Iowa (11-10, 3-5) 8pm, ESPN2

I am kind of torn on this one. On the one hand, I want Iowa to be stronger. I want them solidly in the top 100 so that loss doesn’t look as bad to the committee. They are currently at 112 in the RPI and 96 in the KenPom. Only two teams in the Big Ten are below the 100 line in the RPI: Iowa and Rutgers.

On the other hand, Purdue has a true road win over Ohio State, a team that has at least a chance of making the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes are at 65 in the RPI and 55 in the KenPom. If they can get into the top 50 that becomes another top 50 win for Purdue, and a road one at that. Right now Purdue has one top 50 true road win: at No. 50 Michigan State (and the Spartans are at 53 in KenPom). Top 50 true road wins are like gold, so I think that outweighs our need for Iowa help. In the end, the committee won’t view the Iowa loss too badly.

Sunday

Michigan (14-7, 4-4) at Michigan State (12-9, 4-4) 1pm, CBS

This one will be interesting. Michigan State is reeling and Michigan basically murdered Indiana last night. The Wolverines are at 57 in the RPI and 33 according to KenPom. Michigan State is at 50 and 53. Purdue still has to play Michigan on the road too, so any win there would be of the valuable “true road win” variety. Purdue already has that in its back pocket for Michigan State and still has a second game against the Spartans. That makes this a “you want the teams you play twice to be as strong as possible” game. Beating a top 50 Michigan State twice would be very nice.

Purdue (17-4, 6-2) at Nebraska (9-11, 3-5) 4:30pm, BTN

Obviously, Purdue can’t afford to lose to the only Big Ten team with an overall losing record. Nebraska’s RPI is still a decent 76 and they are at 90 in the KenPom, so get the top 100 win.

Indiana (14-7, 4-4) at Northwestern (17-4, 6-2) 6:30pm, BTN

This is a huge game for both teams. Indiana needs something positive after last night. A loss puts their NCAA hopes in serious jeopardy with a weak RPI (79) but strong KenPom (38). Either last night was the beginning of the end for Indiana or they begin a turnaround here. For Northwestern, an 18-4 start and 7-2 Big Ten record would get Chris Collins a statue. It also sets up a probable matchup between two ranked teams in Mackey Arena Wednesday night. Northwestern is currently just outside the top 25 at 28 in the AP Poll and 26 in the coaches poll. They have an RPI of 33 and KenPom of 30.

I consulted Purdue’s media guide and Purdue has played Northwestern 171 times. It has only played Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Minnesota more. In all that time, Northwestern has NEVER been a ranked team when it has played Purdue.

Now, to be fair, they have been ranked exactly once, for one week, at No. 25, since 1969. They have only ever been ranked 12 times in the entire history of the AP Poll. Even then, who doesn’t want a ranked team vs. ranked team matchup at Mackey Arena?

Oh, and they are playing IU. You can’t spell “Indiana Basketball” without N-I-T