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The Logjam: The Big Ten Standings' Sloppy Midsection

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It's safe to say the conference season hasn't gone according to plan for Northwestern. With all but three games to play, NU is in 9th place - 6-9, with little hope of making the NCAA Tournament.

But they're not the only squad bruised and battered by conference play. With juggernauts such as Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Purdue dishing out losses to... well, everybody that isn't Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Purdue, and a parity-laden middle of the conference, as well as two teams in Iowa and Indiana that aren't awful, everybody that isn't elite is pretty cramped in. Take a peek:


Big Ten Conference Standings

(updated 2.21.2011 at 1:22 AM CST)

Conf Overall
W L W L
Ohio St. Buckeyes 12 2 25 2
Purdue Boilermakers 11 3 22 5
Wisconsin Badgers 10 4 20 6
Illinois Fighting Illini 7 7 17 10
Michigan St. Spartans 7 7 15 11
Michigan Wolverines 7 8 17 11
Penn St. Nittany Lions 7 8 14 12
Minnesota Golden Gophers 6 8 17 9
Northwestern Wildcats 6 9 16 10
Indiana Hoosiers 3 11 12 15
Iowa Hawkeyes 3 12 10 17

There's a whole lot of sevens and eights in that "loss" column.

And let's do some quick math: add up all the wins in that column, you'll see there have been 79 conference games played out of a total 99. Out of those 20 remaining games, six of them - including all four games Minnesota has left on its slate - are between teams 5-9.

Illinois' destiny is pretty much set, with games against Ohio State and Purdue (very likely losses) and Iowa and Indiana (very likely wins). But I'll show you how without much going astray, the Big Ten Tournament could see some serious tiebreaker scenarios busted out - find out whether NU has a shot at a nice tourney seeding. (Hint: we don't, really).

Here's what you'll see below: the five teams ranked 5-9 in the conference right now (MIchigan State, Michigan, Penn State, Minnesota, Northwestern), their current records, their upcoming schedules, and the Kenpom likelihood they win each of those games. However, I'll also assign a outcome to each game to go along with my doomsday tiebreak scenario.

 

Michigan State (7-7)

Feb 22, @ Minnesota (33 percent win probability). Scenario outcome: L.

Feb 26, vs. Purdue. (31 percent win probability). Scenario outcome: L

March 2, vs. Iowa (81 percent win probability). Scenario outcome: W

March 5, @ Michigan (39 percent win probability). Scenario outcome: L

Scenario stretch run: 1-3

final record: 8-10

Michigan (7-8)

Feb. 23, vs. Wisconsin (29 percent win probability). Scenario outcome: L

Feb. 26, @ MInnesota (29 percent win probability). Scenario outcome: L

March 5, vs. Michigan State (61 percent win probability). Scenario outcome: W

Scenario stretch run: 1-2

final record: 8-10

Penn State (7-8)

Feb. 24 @ Northwestern (38 percent win probability). Scenario outcome: L

March 1, vs. Ohio State (19 percent win probability). Scenario outcome: L

March 6, @ Minnesota (29 percent win probability). Scenario outcome: W

Scenario stretch run: 1-2

final record: 8-10

Minnesota (6-8)

Feb. 22 vs. Michigan State (67 percent win probability). Scenario outcome: W

Feb. 26 vs. Michigan (71 percent win probability). Scenario outcome: W.

March 2 @ Northwestern (45 percent win probability). Scenario outcome: L

March 6, vs. Penn State (71 percent win probability). Scenario outcome: L

Scenario stretch run: 2-2

final record: 8-10

Northwestern, 6-9

Feb. 24 vs. Penn State (62 percent win probability). Scenario outcome: W

Feb. 27 @ Wisconsin (9 percent win probability). Scenario outcome: L

March 2 vs. Minnesota (55 percent win probability). Scenario outcome: W

Scenario stretch run: 1-2

final record: 8-10

As you can see, I only flipped one projected outcome - Penn State @ Minnesota - to create a scenario where five teams entered the Big Ten Tourney with 8-10 records. In this scenario, records between the teams would be the tiebreak. Sadly, it doesn't work out for NU:

5. Michigan (5-3)

6. MSU (4-4)

7. Penn State (4-4)

8. Minnesota (4-4)

9. Northwestern (3-5)

Even if I stop playing divine unfaulted creator and switch back the Minnesota-Penn State game to the kenpom prediction of a Minnesota victory, tiebreaks won't allow NU to rise up above eighth - the two tight losses to Michigan State are brutal in retrospect.

However, that doesn't mean this logjam scenario is bad for NU. In fact, it's pretty much the best NU can hope for: it would put the Cats on a level pegging in terms of NIT selection with the rest of the conference - as opposed to being a clear worst choice of the five teams - and puts them in the 8-9 game in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. That probably doesn't sound appealing to many people, but I'd feel as comfortable going up against Ohio State - against whom NU played their best game of the season - than Wisconsin or Purdue, especially after what Wisconsin did to Northwestern at home.

So was this an exercise in futility? Yes. You should feel stupid for reading it. But my point is, even after what seemed like a dismal season at some points, NU is still very much in the middle of the pack - provided they get two huge wins against similarly mediocre competition.