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College basketball rankings: Previewing Big Ten conference play

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An in-depth statistical look into what lies ahead in Big Ten season.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

With college basketball's conference season slated to begin this Tuesday -- with what figures to be a great game between Michigan State and Maryland in East Lansing -- it's time to review what we've learned in the non-conference season.

Friday Facts (explanations)

T-Rank Team W-L EM+/G Adj OE Adj DE Barthag Proj. Conf.
3 Wisconsin 11-1 41 121.1 81.6 0.9830 17-1
8 Ohio St. 10-2 34 117.8 87.0 0.9569 15-3
17 Michigan St. 9-4 23 111.3 88.0 0.9172 12-6
27 Maryland 11-1 21 112.8 92.5 0.8845 11-7
31 Iowa 9-4 18 104.8 86.5 0.8773 10-8
34 Minnesota 10-2 19 109.0 90.6 0.8685 10-8
38 Illinois 9-3 19 109.9 92.3 0.8569 10-8
47 Indiana 10-2 18 118.7 101.4 0.8345 9-9
52 Purdue 8-5 15 107.4 92.1 0.8282 9-9
84 Michigan 7-5 8 105.6 96.0 0.7259 6-12
100 Penn St. 12-1 8 104.0 95.9 0.6974 6-12
106 Nebraska 8-4 6 95.6 88.8 0.6806 5-13
132 Northwestern 8-4 3 99.4 96.2 0.5846 4-14
160 Rutgers 7-5 0 95.3 95.5 0.4926 3-15

T-Rank still likes Ohio State and Michigan State, but it's important to note the neither team has really proven itself. Combined, they each have just one win against the T-Rank top 100, and it happens to be the same team: No. 80 Marquette. Not exactly a marquee victory in either case.

Other than Wisconsin (which has six T-Rank top-100 wins, by the way), only Maryland has really proven anything in non-conference play. The Terps have three top-100 wins, and none of them was at home: Arizona State, Iowa State on a neutral court and at Oklahoma State.

Penn State has managed to go 12-1 without really impressing anyone. The Nittany Lions did beat George Washington, which has now gone on to beat Wichita State. So they've got that going for them.

Of course, we learned a lot of negative information about the Big Ten teams in these first six weeks of the season. As expected, the Big Ten is down, and will not retain its Kenpom crown -- but not just because of the addition of lowly Rutgers. Nearly every team had moments of shame.

Michigan has suffered through one of the more disappointing stretches in memory. Nebraska has been consistently not-good. Rutgers is who we thought it was. Northwestern is who it was last year, without the luck. Indiana lost at home to Eastern Washington. Purdue lost to North Florida and Gardner Webb, then got curb-stomped by Notre Dame. Iowa had a great win at North Carolina but then lost convincingly to both Iowa State and Northern Iowa. Michigan State lost to Texas Southern at home (albeit without Branden Dawson). In its only two games against good competition (Louisville and North Carolina), Ohio State was down by almost insurmountable margins by halftime (though in each case, the Buckeyes made runs in the second half to make things interesting).

So, my recap for the Big Ten's non-conference performance in a word: pain.

Big Ten Predictions

You can see the T-Rank projections in the table above. Here's my own projection; feel free to add your own in the comments. At the end of the season, we'll compare and the winner will get tons of pride.

Teams Wins Losses
Wisconsin 16 2
Ohio St. 12 6
Michigan St. 12 6
Maryland 12 6
Illinois 10 8
Michigan 9 9
Iowa 9 9
Indiana 9 9
Purdue 8 10
Nebraska 8 10
Minnesota 8 10
Penn St. 6 12
Northwestern 4 14
Rutgers 3 15

Below the Badgers, this is just a mess. I've never been been less confident about so many teams. A couple notes:

  • I mentioned last week that there could still be hope for Michigan. This was based on the Wolverines' statistical profile, namely the Four Factors. I'm developing a rating system (not yet ready for primetime) that reverse-engineers adjusted offensive and defensive ratings based on the Four Factors, and going into this week, Michigan was still ranked in the 30s. But then it had another disappointing loss to SMU this week, and even its Four Factors profile took a hit. I'm still giving Michigan 10 wins because it's just hard to find a lot of other teams that have really proven themselves worthy of replacing UM at the top of the standings, and I think the Wolverines have been unlucky to have as bad a record as they do. But I could be way off.
  • I'm not optimistic about Minnesota in Big Ten play. The Gophers have a decent Kenpom/T-Rank profile at this point, but if you look at their Four Factors, they rely heavily on forcing turnovers to create offense. That's not gonna work in Big Ten play. At least, that's my theory.

Comparing the No. 1 Seed Contenders

Despite the loss to Duke, Wisconsin remains among the contenders for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. You can compare their offensive and defensive efficiencies at Kenpom.com, but I've also got their Four Factor stats available at the T-Rank homepage. Here's how the top contenders rank in each of the Four Factors (offense and defense):

TEAM W-L OR% RK DR% RK FTR RK DFTR RK EFG% RK EFG%D RK TO% RK DTO% RK
Kentucky 12-0 45.5% 2 33.5% 250 39.5 130 26.1 18 52.1% 60 34.6% 1 17.1% 39 25.8% 9
Virginia 11-0 38.6% 22 22.4% 4 35.5 223 29.2 47 54.8% 24 36.3% 2 17.0% 37 17.3% 298
Wisconsin 11-1 31.2% 171 20.4% 1 36.1 210 23.9 6 55.0% 20 43.0% 28 13.8% 2 20.4% 141
Duke 10-0 39.1% 17 27.2% 42 43.5 61 24.2 7 59.1% 2 44.2% 55 16.3% 26 21.5% 82
Gonzaga 11-1 40.2% 11 29.1% 97 35.4 228 34.2 121 58.5% 6 44.0% 50 17.4% 50 20.2% 156
Louisville 11-0 40.2% 12 29.0% 95 45.8 38 32.7 97 49.3% 140 38.7% 6 19.5% 145 26.5% 7
Villanova 12-0 33.9% 100 29.3% 105 42.2 85 30.6 65 54.5% 32 45.1% 69 16.7% 32 24.6% 15
Arizona 12-1 31.4% 161 24.2% 9 52.4 7 38.8 201 55.4% 19 44.3% 56 17.8% 63 21.4% 85

Wisconsin is the only team, as far as I can tell, that ranks in the top 30 in five or more of these categories.

This Week's Games: Big Ten Action!

The good thing about the conference season is that any embarrassing losses suffered by Big Ten teams will be counterbalanced automatically with a heartwarming upset. The season can't start soon enough.

DATE MATCHUP T-RANK PREDICTION TTQ
12/31 34 Minnesota @ 52 Purdue Purdue, 74-72 (57%) 84
12/27 47 Indiana vs. 30 Georgetown Georgetown, 81-78 (60%) 82
12/30 27 Maryland @ 17 Michigan St. Michigan St., 70-64 (74%) 74
12/30 38 Illinois @ 84 Michigan Illinois, 66-65 (57%) 74
12/31 47 Indiana @ 106 Nebraska Indiana, 71-69 (59%) 73
12/30 31 Iowa @ 8 Ohio St. Ohio St., 75-63 (87%) 72
12/28 97 Buffalo @ 3 Wisconsin Wisconsin, 79-55 (98%) 61
12/31 100 Penn St. @ 3 Wisconsin Wisconsin, 75-52 (98%) 58
12/30 132 Northwestern @ 160 Rutgers Rutgers, 58-57 (55%) 56
12/28 160 Rutgers @ 193 Monmouth Monmouth, 60-59 (56%) 52
12/27 156 Wright St. @ 8 Ohio St. Ohio St., 83-58 (98%) 50
12/27 205 UNC Wilmington @ 34 Minnesota Minnesota, 84-63 (96%) 45
12/27 201 Oakland @ 27 Maryland Maryland, 86-64 (96%) 40
12/27 330 Kennesaw St. @ 38 Illinois Illinois, 90-58 (99%) 30
12/27 253 Northern Kentucky @ 132 Northwestern Northwestern, 65-55 (87%) 27

There's still one big non-conference tilt remaining, Indiana vs. Georgetown. A win by Indiana could put the Hoosiers in good position to get into the Tournament with a .500 Big Ten record.

Then the conference schedule gets going with some decent matchups. As mentioned above, Michigan State hosts Maryland in a battle between potential contenders. State has got to show something in this game. A win by Maryland would really solidify the Terrapins as the field's best shot to take down Wisconsin.

Minnesota has an early chance to prove me wrong in a game at Purdue, which has been reeling and needs to stop the bleeding.

Illinois vs. Michigan is another game that should be revealing. If Illinois wins, I think it can legitimately claim to be a quality team. Likewise, a loss by Michigan would mark it as a legitimate bottom-half team. Reverse the result, though, and a lot of question marks will remain.

This is the last day without college basketball until the day after Selection Sunday. Let's get it on!