It is hard to believe, but the Big Ten Tournament is just around the corner. Sadly, it is not here in the Midwest where it belongs this year. It is in Washington, DC because of Jim Delaney’s east coast infatuation. We will have someone in attendance, however. The Midwest’s loss is Andrew Ledman’s gain as Jumboheroes has already been approved and will be there representing us.
With most teams having about four games left we can even start to look at seeding scenarios, too.
Wednesday’s Unlucky Losers
In the 19 year history of the Big Ten Tournament only one team has ever won four games in four days to take the event. In 2001 Iowa went from the six seed on Thursday to tournament champion and steal the auto-bid. Some teams, such as Illinois as an 11 in 1999, Iowa as a 9 in 2002, and Illinois as a 10 in 2008, have at least made the final, but teams that have played on Thursday are 1-6 in the Sunday final. It is just really damn hard to win four games in four days, and most of the time if a team makes it to Sunday from Thursday they are exhausted. The six teams have lost by 17, 17, 13, 13, 29, and 11. They just have nothing left.
Of course, since 2015, the tournament has expanded to five rounds with the bottom four teams playing on Wednesday just to get to Thursday. In both instances so far a team that has played on Wednesday has won two games to get to Friday and face one of the double bye teams. Purdue eliminated said team both times. In 2015 Penn State beat Nebraska and Iowa as the 13 seed before losing to Purdue. Last year it was Illinois, who beat Minnesota and Iowa before getting blown out by Purdue. Each time the Boilers were the four seed.
So who are the Wednesday candidates?
14 Seed – Rutgers - The Scarlet Knights are better, but their loss to Northwestern knocked them to 2-13 in the league and will very likely be the 14 seed. They can still tie Indiana, Illinois, or Ohio State for last place, but Ohio State and Indiana have the tiebreaker over them. They play Illinois on the final day of the season, but with one more Illinois win or Rutgers loss it won’t matter. It will be the third straight season Rutgers is the 14 seed, but if they win one of their final three games the three season wins will be their most since joining the Big Ten.
11-13 Seeds – Indiana, Ohio State, and Illinois – It is bizarre to see these three teams be this low in the standings. There are a combined 61 regular season Big Ten titles between the three, but they are all struggling greatly.
All three of these teams have only five wins in league play, while everyone else not named Rutgers has at least six. Ohio State is slightly further back at 5-10, while Indiana and Illinois are 5-9. Indiana has the “edge” as the 11 seed at 5-9 with the tiebreaker over Illinois, but that means very little. Illinois has a decent chance to play its way out of this group with two home games and a trip to Rutgers.
In terms of the eye test though, Indiana is D-O-N-E. Put them on Wednesday in sharpie, as they will be lucky to win another game.
The top four teams in the league standings get a double bye and don’t have to play until Friday. As of right now, three teams are a virtual lock for that. Purdue, Wisconsin, and Maryland all only have three losses. Purdue, at 11-3, has the best chance at a double bye as the Boilers are not only in first place all alone this very second, they have a wealth of tiebreakers in their pocket. Two of the teams they have lost to (Nebraska and Iowa) cannot catch Purdue. That leaves Minnesota, thanks to their 91-82 overtime win in West Lafayette, as the only team that can catch Purdue that has the tiebreaker over them. Purdue is 11-3 and Minnesota is 7-6. Any combination of Purdue wins and Minnesota losses that adds up to two eliminates that tiebreaker.
Maryland and Wisconsin are also in very good shape. The winner of their game on Sunday joins Purdue in the “all but clinched a bye” club.
The No. 1 Seed
The number 1 seed has won 8 of 19 Big Ten Tournaments. An additional three times the No. 1 seed has made the final. It’s the spot you want to be in if you want to win the Big Ten Tournament.
Because of the wealth of tiebreakers, Purdue is in the driver’s seat to be the No. 1 seed. If it wins its final four games Purdue will not only win at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title, it will have the No. 1 seed. The Boilers are in a very good position even in a multi-team tie for the league title. The first tiebreaker is best record among ALL the teams tied and Purdue is 3-0 so far against Maryland, Wisconsin, and Northwestern. Michigan State, at 8-6 in the 5th place, would also lose the tiebreaker with Purdue.
Basically, Purdue holds the direct and multiple team tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed against any team that can mathematically tie for the Big Ten title except Minnesota (and Purdue would win a multi-team tiebreaker) and Michigan (to be decided next week).
Purdue, Maryland, and Wisconsin are all but locked in for double byes as long as they don’t completely collapse. Northwestern is in good shape for the same, but Michigan State is a game behind them and has the tiebreaker since they beat then in East Lansing. As far as playing Wednesday as a bottom 4 seed, Rutgers is locked in, and Indiana, Ohio State, and Illinois are headed that way.