Northwestern (22-3, 12-2 Big Ten) has four games and just under two weeks to go until the regular season comes to close. As the Wildcats continue their chase towards a Big Ten title and prime positioning in both the conference and NCAA Tournaments, let’s take a brief look at how the rest of the regular season schedule (and beyond) shapes up. First, it’s time to take a closer look at the current state of the conference.
At this moment in time, it’s a three-horse race for the Big Ten regular season championship. No. 7 Maryland holds a half-game lead over 18th-ranked Northwestern and a one-game lead over #19 Iowa with three games remaining on their schedule. The Terps also hold the tie-breaker over the Wildcats as a result of a 1-1 record against the third-place Hawkeyes (Northwestern is 0-1 against Iowa, and NU and UMD split their regular season matchups, pushing things to the second tiebreaker).
It is mathematically possible that both no. 24 Indiana and Ohio State could also win the conference, but they will need a nearly inconceivable amount of help. Those two will also fight for the no. 4 seed in the conference tournament and the automatic double bye to the quarterfinals that comes with it. The Buckeyes, by virtue of an 80-76 victory over the Hoosiers on Sunday, hold the tiebreaker there.
For the title race, the Terps have a relatively easier schedule on the docket than Northwestern and Iowa, who both face likely NCAA Tournament teams on the road. Here’s a quick look at the remaining schedule for the three teams with a realistic shot along with HHS ratings and WarrenNolan.com’s predicted outcomes (via the ELO metric):
Maryland (HHS: 4)
@Wisconsin (11-15, 3-12 B1G)—(HHS: 114, ELO: 85-57 W)
Purdue (17-10, 8-7 B1G)—(HHS: 58, ELO: 79-57 W)
@Minnesota (15-11, 5-10 B1G)—(HHS: 63, RPI: 75-66 W)
Northwestern (HHS: 17)
Rutgers (18-7, 8-6 B1G)—(HHS: 34, ELO: 66-50 W)
@Wisconsin (11-15, 3-12 B1G)—(HHS: 114, ELO: 74-52 W)
@Ohio State (16-9, 9-5 B1G)—(HHS: 30/RPI: 68-64 W)
Illinois (11-14, 2-12 B1G)—(HHS: 228, ELO: 80-48 W)
Iowa (HHS: 22)
Penn State (7-19, 1-14 B1G)—(HHS: 189, ELO: 96-62 W)
Minnesota (15-11, 5-10 B1G)—(HHS: 63, RPI: 86-68 W)
@Rutgers (18-7, 8-6 B1G)—(HHS: 34, ELO: 72-66 W)
With Iowa down a game in the loss column and that tough trip to Rutgers on the horizon, they certainly look to be the odd team out in this group. But even though Maryland seems overwhelmingly likely to win out and the ‘Cats still have an extremely difficult home tilt with Ohio State on the docket, Northwestern’s chances of at least sharing the Big Ten regular season title are very much alive and well.
With that said, let’s move on to forecasting what could be a very consequential conference tournament.
Big Ten Tournament
Based on current records, here’s what the bracket for the Big Ten Tournament would look like if it started today:
First Round (March 4)
#12 Wisconsin vs. #13 Illinois
#11 Minnesota vs. #14 Penn State
Second Round (March 5)
#8 Michigan vs. #9 Michigan State
#5 Ohio State vs. Wisconsin/Illinois
#7 Purdue vs. #10 Nebraska
#6 Rutgers vs. Minnesota/Penn State
Quarterfinals (March 6)
#1 Maryland vs. Michigan/Michigan State
#4 Indiana vs. Ohio State/Wisconsin/Illinois
#2 Northwestern vs. Purdue/Nebraska
#3 Iowa vs. Rutgers/Minnesota/Penn State
If these seeds were to hold, each of the top ten would be playing extremely important games to either potentially get themselves on the right side of the bubble, or, in Northwestern’s case (along with a few others) move up a few seed lines.
With the top-heavy nature of 2019-20 women’s college basketball, moving up from potentially being seeded as a 4 or a 5 (a significant distinction itself with regard to hosting the first two rounds) to a 2 or a 3 and avoiding top seeds for as long as possible could be huge. And that’s not to mention the importance these teams place on the Big Ten Tournament itself!
Clearly, we’ve got an exciting finish on our hands here. With plenty on the line, the last two weeks of the Big Ten season will be crucial, no matter the ultimate outcome for Northwestern.