Chasing No. 1: Wisconsin's odds of getting the top spot and winning the Big Ten

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The Badgers climbed to No. 3 in the latest AP Top 25 released Monday. How far away is No. 1, and how likely is it they win the Big Ten?

Before Wisconsin's win over IowaI looked at UW's chances of eventually getting past Arizona, Ohio State and Syracuse in the AP poll. At that time, the overall chance that Wisconsin would eventually get to No. 1 was 18 percent. Now that they have beaten Iowa and Illinois, Ohio State has lost (twice!) and the Badgers have moved up to No. 2 in the KenPom ratings, you might expect that their chances of getting to No. 1 have improved.

Alas, no. Rerunning the simulations with current KenPom win probabilities results in only about a 16 percent chance of the Badgers eventually getting to No. 1. The problem remains Arizona, which eked out a win at UCLA and crushed USC last week. Getting past UCLA was huge for Arizona, and a huge blow to Wisconsin's chances of getting to No. 1, as Arizona will be a moderate-to-heavy favorite in all of its remaining games:

ARIZONA OPPONENT WIN PROBABILITY
Arizona State 90%
Colorado 91%
Utah 93%
at Stanford 76%
at California 70%
Oregon 90%
Oregon State 97%
at Arizona State 71%
at Utah 79%
at Colorado 74%
California 89%
Stanford 92%
at Oregon State 89%
at Oregon 71%

It doesn't help that Oregon has now lost three games in a row and dropped to 39th in the KenPom ratings. Put it all together, and Pomeroy's system now gives Arizona a respectable 7.5 percent chance of running the table in the Pac-12. So even if Wisconsin swept the Big Ten schedule, it would still have only a 93 percent chance of getting to No. 1!

In any event, here is the same chart from last week, updated to reflect the new odds:

WEEK OPPONENTS CHANCE OF GETTING TO NO. 1 AS UNBEATEN CHANCE STILL UNDEFEATED CHANCE OF BEING NO. 1 IF UNBEATEN
3 at Indiana, Michigan 26% 62% 4%
4 at Minnesota, at Purdue 43% 35% 13%
5 Northwestern, OSU 57% 24% 45%
6 at Illinois, MSU 65% 14% 52%
7 Minnesota, at Michigan 77% 7% 70%
8 at Iowa 89% 3% 83%

Even if Wisconsin beats Ohio State and gets to 22-0, there's less than a 50 percent chance it'll rise to No. 1 the following Monday.

On the bright side, KenPom now projects Wisconsin to go 15-3 in the Big Ten, and projects MSU and Iowa to tie for second at 13-5. A two-game cushion in imaginary projected standings is something, I suppose. It also gave me the idea to simulate the rest of the Big Ten season and calculate the Badgers' chances of getting a share of the title (if the Pomeroy ratings are to be believed). It turns out they are quite good. Based on 10,000 simulations of the remainder of the Big Ten season, here are the contenders' chances of winning a share of the title and their chances of winning it outright:

TEAM TITLE SHARE OUTRIGHT CHAMP
Wisconsin 64% 44%
Michigan State 29% 14%
Iowa 25% 12%
Ohio State 8% 3%
Michigan 7% 3%

At this, point, the Badgers are nothing less than prohibitive favorites to win at least a share of the title. Their chances of winning it outright are better than the chances of the rest of the contending teams combined.

I was frankly shocked by the results for Ohio State, but the Buckeyes still face road games at Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois and Minnesota. They also have another game at home against Michigan State, and two losses already in the bag. As a result, they've got only a 20 percent chance of getting to 14 wins, and that'll get them a share of the title only about half the time. (Remember, the Badgers average 15 wins in the Pomeroy projections.)

Ultimately, Ohio State's loss to Iowa was a killer. When I reran the simulations but with OSU having won that game, it grabbed a share of the title 24% percent of the time. Obviously, every loss -- especially an unexpected one -- is going to have big effects on each team's title chances at this point in the season.

To wit, Wisconsin's upcoming game against Indiana is huge. If the Badgers win, their title chances will improve a bit to 68 percent; if they lose, their chances plummet to 48 percent.

By the way, I also checked to see what the odds are, at this point, of the Badgers' keeping alive their streak of top-four Big Ten finishes: 98 percent.

No surprise, but at 16-0, the Badgers are giving us a lot to be excited about.

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