Big Ten play is almost wrapped up, with just one game left for each team. That means we're getting close to the Big Ten Tournament, where Northwestern is still eagerly awaiting its fate. Right now, the Wildcats have a myriad of seeding options, and we're here to solve the puzzle for you.
First, let's take a look at the current conference tournament picture and where each team stands:
Right now things are looking pretty good for Northwestern, which is hoping to earn a 10 seed and a first round bye. Obviously, things are going to change on the final weekend of the season, but what are NU's chances of ending up at each seed? Luckily, we have projections from KenPom.com that can help us sort that out.
Here's a look at the KenPom projections for each of the final games:
|Team||Projected record||Chance of winning final game||Final game|
|Wisconsin||16-2||54%||at Ohio State|
|Michigan State||12-6||51%||at Indiana|
|Ohio State||11-7||46%||vs. Wisconsin|
|Indiana||9-9||49%||vs. Michigan State|
|Minnesota||7-11||79%||vs. Penn State|
|Penn State||3-15||21%||at Minnesota|
Right now, Northwestern can finish anywhere from the 9 seed and a first round bye to the 12 seed.* Here's NU's chance of each seed happening, using KenPom win probabilities:
9 seed: 1% chance
10 seed: 23% chance
11 seed: 52% chance
12 seed: 24% chance
*So NU can still get the 9 seed! It's just next to impossible.
Here's a look at what needs to happen for each seed possibility:
How the 9 seed can happen
- Northwestern beats Iowa, Rutgers beats Michigan, Wisconsin beats Ohio State
How the 10 seed can happen
- Northwestern beats Iowa
- Northwestern loses to Iowa, Minnesota loses to Penn State and Nebraska loses to Maryland
This is Northwestern's best case scenario in some respects, as it would give the Wildcats a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament. It would also give NU a game against the seven seed, which looks like a far better matchup than any of the potential six seeds. In the very, very slim chance that NU is in the conversation for an NIT bid, it hurts the Wildcats' chances, since it provides one less chance for an easy win and you need to be over .500 to make the NIT.
NU can make this easy by beating Iowa, though that's a lot easier said than done. Yes, the Wildcats beat the Hawkeyes earlier in the season, but Iowa is currently on a five-game winning streak, playing its best basketball of the year and coming off a 14-point beatdown of Indiana in Bloomington. Plus the game is in Iowa City.
If NU can't win that game then it needs Nebraska to lose to Maryland (probable) and Minnesota to lose to Penn State (less probable). In that case, NU would win the tiebreaker over the Gophers as a result of winning their head-to-head meeting.
If NU gets the 10 seed, then it would face Indiana or Illinois. The winner gets Maryland, which will be the 2 seed.
How the 11 seed can happen:
- Northwestern loses to Iowa, Minnesota beats Penn State, Nebraska loses to Maryland
- Northwestern loses to Iowa, Minnesota loses to Penn State, Nebraska beats Maryland
This is the most likely scenario. The most likely overall result (46 percent) is that NU loses, Minnesota wins and Nebraska loses this weekend, giving Minnesota the 10, Northwestern the 11 and Nebraska the 12. However, there is still a small chance (6 percent) that NU could also get the 11 with Nebraska getting the 10 and Minnesota getting the 12. That happens if all three teams finish 6-12.
If NU finishes with the 11 seed, it will probably face Rutgers, though there's still a chance it will face Penn State. Then the Wildcats would face the 6 seed, which could be anyone from the group of Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State and Iowa. A win there would match the NU up with the three seed, which will be from that same group of teams.
How the 12 seed can happen:
- Northwestern loses to Iowa, Minnesota beats Penn State, Nebraska beats Maryland
This happens if NU loses and both Minnesota and Nebraska win. That would put Minnesota at 7-11 and NU and Nebraska at 6-12, with the Cornhuskers holding the tiebreaker. In this case, NU would almost definitely play Penn State. Then the Wildcats would play the 5 seed, then the four seed, which will be some combination of Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State and Iowa.
This should be pretty obvious by now, but if you want Northwestern to get the 10 seed, you should, first and foremost cheer for Northwestern to beat Iowa. Since you're probably already doing that, also cheer for Penn State to beat Minnesota and Maryland to beat Nebraska, in case NU loses.
If you'd rather NU get the 11 seed (which is actually perfectly reasonable, given that the path to the semifinals would be much easier — Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State and Iowa are much more flawed than Maryland), cheer for either Nebraska or Minnesota to win, but not both.
Everyone got that? See you back here on Sunday for when this is all figured out and all my math is irrelevant.