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Big Ten Tournament 2016: Seeding scenarios, tiebreakers heading into final week of season

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We hope these don't hurt your brain, but no promises.

The final week of the Big Ten basketball regular season is upon us, but with two rounds of games remaining, the Big Ten tournament picture is anything but clear. Five different teams could still win the title, and none of the 14 are locked into a particular seed.

With that being said, after a wild and wacky weekend of Big Ten action, the conference tournament picture is getting a little bit clearer. Here are the conference standings heading into the final week:

1) Indiana (23-6, 13-3)
2) Michigan State (24-5, 11-5)
3) Iowa (20-8, 11-5)
4) Maryland (23-6, 11-5)
5) Wisconsin (19-10, 11-5)
6) Ohio State (19-11, 11-6)
7) Purdue (22-7, 10-6)
8) Michigan (20-10, 10-7)
9) Penn State (15-14, 6-10)
10) Northwestern (18-11, 6-10)
11) Nebraska (14-15, 6-10)
12) Illinois (13-16, 5-11)
13) Minnesota (8-20, 2-14)
14) Rutgers (6-23, 0-16)

As you can tell, there are multiples clusters of teams that could finish with similar records, which means it's time to brush up on your tiebreaking procedures. Here's what the Big Ten uses:

Tiebreakers

Two-team tie:

1) Head-to-head record.

Simple.

2) Each team's record vs. the team occupying the highest position in the final regular season standings (or in the case of a tie for the championship, the next highest position in the regular season standings) continuing down through the standings until one team gains an advantage.

For Northwestern, who may well be tied with Penn State at the end of the year, this could be crucial as NU's best win is against Wisconsin and Penn State beat both Indiana and Iowa.

3) Win-loss percentage of all Division I opponents.

Another bummer for Northwestern (though it will never get to this point).

4) Coin flip.

Three- or more-team tie:

1) Best winning percentage against the group of tied teams. 2-0 is better than 3-1, but 3-0 is not better than 2-0.

2) If the remaining teams are still tied, then each tied team's record shall be compared to the team occupying the highest position in the final regular-season standings, continuing down through the standings until one team gains an advantage.

See above.

3) Win-loss percentage of all D1 opponents.

4) Coin toss.

If you want to do all the permutations for the middle of the conference, good luck and have fun. If you can do it in less than 1,000 words, I'll buy you lunch.

Instead, lets look at stuff that Northwestern fans will care about.

Who gets the top seed?

Indiana controls its own destiny in the conference. The Hoosiers have already earned a share of the Big Ten title thanks to losses by Maryland and Iowa over the weekend. They can take the championship outright with a win in either of their last two games (at Iowa on Tuesday, vs. Maryland on Saturday).

If everything goes wrong for Indiana and it loses both games, we're looking at a potential very big tie atop the standings. Here's where things get really fun.

It is still possible for Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan State, and Wisconsin all to get a share of the Big Ten Title. Maryland, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa would have to win out and Indiana would have to lose out. That would leave all five teams with identical 13-5 records in the conference.

The tiebreaker would be the records against that group of five. In such a scenario, Indiana would miss out on a double-bye thanks to a 2-4 record against Iowa, Maryland, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Iowa and Michigan State would have identical 3-3 records against the group and would have to dig deeper for a tiebreaker. Maryland's 3-2 record would give them the 2-seed, and Wisconsin would get the top seed in the conference tournament thanks to a 4-2 record against the big boys of MSU, Indiana, Maryland, and Iowa.

In fact, there's a scenario in which each of the five gets the top seed.

Does your head hurt yet?

Alright, cool, but what about Northwestern?

A good question!

Northwestern currently sits in the tied-for-9th spot at 6-10. It has a conference record identical to those of Penn State and Nebraska.

Northwestern is 1-1 against those two but will play each team once more. Penn State is 2-1 against Nebraska and Northwestern and will have home court in the Wildcat-Nittany Lion rematch. Nebraska is 1-2 against the group and has to go on the road to take on Northwestern.

If Northwestern wins out, it will get the 9-seed and earn a date with the 8-seed on Thursday — and, if it wins Thursday, the 1-seed on Friday.

If Northwestern loses out, it will likely get the 11-seed and play Rutgers on Wednesday. A win would then get it a matchup with the 6-seed on Thursday. Technically, Northwestern could fall to the 12-seed if it loses out and Illinois wins out.

Now it starts getting funky. Let's play some scenarios.

Scenario 1

Northwestern loses to Penn State, beats Nebraska
Nebraska loses to Northwestern, loses to Purdue
Penn State beats Northwestern, beats Illinois

Penn State finishes 8-10
Northwestern finishes 7-11
Nebraska finishes 6-12

Hooray for simplicity. Northwestern takes the 10-seed and plays the 7-seed on Thursday.

Scenario 2

Northwestern loses to Penn State, beats Nebraska
Nebraska loses to Northwestern, loses to Purdue
Penn State beats Northwestern, loses to Illinois

Penn State finishes 7-11
Northwestern finishes 7-11
Nebraska finishes 6-12

Northwestern would avoid playing in the first round, but would not get the 9-seed, having been swept in the season series with Penn State. Ten-seed here we come.

Now let's get weird.

Scenario 3

Northwestern beats Penn State, loses to Nebraska
Penn State loses to Northwestern, beats Illinois
Nebraska beats Northwestern, loses to Purdue

Penn State finishes 7-11 (2-2 vs NU, NEB)
Northwestern finishes 7-11 (2-2 vs NEB, PSU)
Nebraska finishes 7-11 (2-2 vs PSU, NU)

Oh boy. If that all goes down, Northwestern, Penn State and Nebraska will all finish with identical conference and head-to-head records, which means we go to the "how did these teams do against the best of the conference" tiebreaker. Penn State has beaten Indiana and Iowa, so the Nittany Lions would have the best shot at the 9-seed. If Indiana wins one of its last two, Penn State would get it.

Northwestern's best win is against Wisconsin. Nebraska's best win is against Michigan State. Therefore, if Wisconsin wins a tiebreaker at the top and gets the 1-seed, Northwestern would get the 9-seed. If Michigan State finishes higher than all of Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana, Nebraska would get the 9-seed. If either Indiana or Iowa finishes highest among the four, Penn State would get the 9-seed. The same tiebreaker would apply to determine which teams get the 10- and 11-seeds.

That would be bad for my health.

Scenario 4

Northwestern beats Penn State, loses to Nebraska
Penn State loses to Northwestern, loses to Illinois
Nebraska beats Northwestern, loses to Purdue

Northwestern finishes 7-11
Nebraska finishes 7-11
Penn State finishes 6-12

Here, Northwestern avoids the first round, but the tiebreaker between Northwestern and Nebraska would be — you guessed it — whoever finishes higher in the standings, Michigan State or Wisconsin. If Michigan State noses ahead, Nebraska gets the 9-seed, if Wisconsin takes the lead, Northwestern does.

Scenario 5

Northwestern beats Penn State, loses to Nebraska
Penn State loses to Northwestern, beats Illinois
Nebraska beats Northwestern, beats Purdue

Nebraska finishes 8-10
Penn State finishes 7-11
Northwestern finishes 7-11

In this bizzaro world where Nebraska beats Purdue, Northwestern would most likely find itself in the 11-14 game. Northwestern and Penn State would split the head-to-head battle, and Penn State's good wins would likely push it ahead of the Wildcats — unless, that is, Wisconsin finishes ahead of both Indiana and Iowa, which is, as explained above, possible.

Scenario 6

Northwestern loses to Penn State, beats Nebraska
Penn State beats Northwestern, loses to Illinois
Nebraska loses to Northwestern, beats Purdue

Penn State finishes 7-11 (3-1 vs NU, NEB)
Northwestern finishes 7-11 (2-2 vs NEB, PSU)
Nebraska finishes 7-11 (1-3 vs NU, PSU)

In this scenario, the head-to-head with Nebraska puts Northwestern in the 10 seed.

So... what should I be rooting for?

It would be simpler for everyone if Northwestern would just win out. But if Northwestern does find itself in a tiebreaker situation, the Wildcats stack up much better against Nebraska thanks to their win over the Huskers in Lincoln. It would also help that Nebraska does not have a wins over Iowa and Indiana like Penn State does.

It wouldn't hurt to root for Wisconsin as well. If Northwestern ends up in a tie with Nebraska, such as in scenarios 3 and 4, the Badgers finishing above Michigan State would be nice to have.

But, if Northwestern ends up in a position where tiebreakers matter, it means it will have lost a game on the way, which would leave any lingering NIT hopes just about dead on arrival in Indianapolis.