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College basketball rankings: Searching for the Big Ten's No. 2 team

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A detailed look at the Big Ten standings and Wisconsin's chances of getting a No. 1 seed.

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
FEB. 20 FRIDAY FACTS Efficiency Margin Conf SOS Projected Record
Rank Team W-L Raw Adj Adj OE Adj DE Barthag So far Remain OVR W OVR L Conf W OVR L
3 Wisconsin 12-1 0.23 36 133.7 96.4 0.9500 0.7569 0.8701 28 3 16 2
10 Ohio State 8-5 0.11 26 117.2 90.6 0.9105 0.8059 0.8249 23 8 12 6
18 Michigan State 9-4 0.11 26 117.3 91.7 0.9017 0.7748 0.8750 21 10 12 6
27 Iowa 7-6 0.03 22 122.1 97.8 0.8799 0.8511 0.7703 19 12 10 8
36 Purdue 10-4 0.06 23 111.3 89.5 0.8768 0.8143 0.8313 20 11 12 6
43 Indiana 8-6 0.00 18 123.7 103.2 0.8365 0.8419 0.7708 20 11 10 8
38 Maryland 10-4 0.00 16 108.8 93.0 0.8045 0.8124 0.7857 24 7 12 6
46 Illinois 7-6 -0.02 15 108.2 93.5 0.7890 0.8170 0.8090 20 11 10 8
72 Penn State 3-11 -0.04 15 105.3 91.3 0.7836 0.8372 0.8408 16 15 4 14
53 Minnesota 5-9 -0.02 14 111.1 96.6 0.7783 0.7982 0.9201 16 14 6 12
75 Michigan 6-8 -0.06 12 109.3 96.7 0.7519 0.8346 0.7791 14 15 8 10
90 Nebraska 5-9 -0.06 12 101.4 90.4 0.7375 0.8356 0.8715 14 16 6 12
98 Northwestern 3-10 -0.11 9 111.9 101.7 0.7026 0.8632 0.7952 14 17 5 13
165 Rutgers 2-12 -0.18 1 95.6 95.9 0.4930 0.8343 0.8130 11 20 3 15

Wisconsin retains its stranglehold on the conference standings. Because Purdue is off this weekend, the Badgers can't clinch a share of the title this weekend. But if they beat Minnesota, they'll be playing to clinch a share of their first Big Ten title since 2008.

As has been the case for weeks, the real drama in the Big Ten is the race for No. 2. Several teams have been in the running:

Iowa: After a convincing win over Maryland, Iowa looked to be in a strong position to finish the season on a run and grab the title of the conference's second-best team. But the Hawkeyes promptly lost at Minnesota and to Northwestern at home.

Ohio State: Ohio State has seemed like the second-most talented team in the conference all year long, but the Buckeyes have lost basically all their Tournament-Quality Games (see below for definition). So they remain a mystery.

Maryland: The Terps are collecting a bunch of close wins, many of them over inferior competition. T-Rank still projects them to finish with 12 conference wins, but as you can see, their performance in conference play has been similar to Penn State's, from an adjusted efficiency perspective. And the trend is alarming:

Maryland over time

After playing like an elite team for most of the non-conference and into the start of the Big Ten season, Maryland has lately been playing much more like an NIT team. The last time the Terps had a really impressive performance was over a month ago, when they handled Michigan State easily at home.

The upshot is that Maryland continues to win, and continues to be widely considered the Big Ten's second-best team. But the computer ratings continue to see Maryland as a mediocre but lucky team.

Michigan State: With three nice wins in a row, the Spartans are probably the current Sacrificial Second-Best Team. If the season so far is any indication, look for them to lose at Illinois this weekend.

Purdue???

Yes, Purdue. On Jan. 21, Purdue was 11-8, 3-3 in the Big Ten, with losses to Vanderbilt, Gardner-Webb and North Texas. The Boilermakers looked NIT-bound for sure. But since then, they have won seven of eight, with their only loss a close road game to a decent Minnesota team. Purdue is off this weekend, then plays Rutgers on Thursday. Then it closes out the season with three real tests: at Ohio State, at Michigan State and home against Illinois. We'll find out what Purdue's made of.

For what it's worth, Maryland still projects as the most likely team to finish in second place:

Finish Rank Illinois Indiana Iowa Maryland Michigan Michigan State Minnesota Nebraska Northwestern Ohio State Penn State Purdue Rutgers Wisconsin
14 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 2% 0% 3% 0% 77% 0%
13 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 1% 0% 24% 0% 44% 0% 19% 0%
12 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 7% 8% 38% 0% 30% 0% 3% 0%
11 0% 0% 0% 0% 1% 0% 25% 31% 20% 0% 14% 0% 0% 0%
10 0% 0% 0% 0% 7% 0% 50% 43% 13% 0% 8% 0% 0% 0%
9 4% 1% 1% 0% 70% 0% 16% 15% 4% 0% 1% 0% 0% 0%
8 32% 10% 16% 0% 17% 1% 1% 2% 0% 1% 0% 0% 0% 0%
7 28% 25% 22% 0% 4% 4% 0% 0% 0% 3% 0% 0% 0% 0%
6 17% 25% 24% 2% 1% 7% 0% 0% 0% 7% 0% 3% 0% 0%
5 9% 18% 17% 5% 0% 14% 0% 0% 0% 15% 0% 11% 0% 0%
4 6% 12% 10% 10% 0% 18% 0% 0% 0% 20% 0% 17% 0% 0%
3 3% 7% 6% 23% 0% 22% 0% 0% 0% 24% 0% 27% 0% 0.1%
2 1% 3% 2% 57% 0% 33% 0% 0% 0% 30% 0% 41% 0% 0.4%
1 0% 0% 0% 2% 0% 1% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 99.5%
AVG WINS 9.6 10.3 10.2 12.4 7.7 11.8 6.2 6.1 4.9 11.7 4.4 12.1 2.8 15.8
CHAMP % 0% 0% 0% 2% 0% 1% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 99.5%
SOLE CHAMP 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0% 97%

Surveying Wisconsin's chances of getting a No. 1 seed

When your goal is to win a national championship, tournament seeding doesn't make a whole lot of difference. But one of the cool things about college basketball is that there many cool things a team can accomplish short of winning it all. Most notably, there's the Final Four run -- a regional championship -- which is widely treated as kind of a mini-championship, and leads to an entire week of national attention on your program. Short of that, of course, there are conference championships and conference tournament championships, which are fun and must be savored.

Another special and rare accomplishment is getting a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Particularly for programs like Wisconsin's, that have never done it before, the No. 1 seed is a major program milestone. It's something to shoot for. It's pretty cool.

Wisconsin is definitely in the conversation for a No. 1 seed this year. In a recent mock-selection exercise, the media slotted the Badgers into the final No. 1 seed in a close call over Gonzaga (with Kentucky, Virginia and Duke getting the first three slots). Other contenders for the No. 1 line are Villanova, Kansas (with its ridiculous RPI ranking) and Arizona.

One handy resource for analyzing the Badgers' chances is TeamRankings.com, which simulates the rest of the season every day and spits out each team's chances of reaching certain milestones. They currently give Wisconsin a 52.9 percent chance of being a No. 1 seed.

This jibes with my own slightly less scientific experiment. Using the T-Rank rating, I ran the rest of the Big Ten season 10,000 times and ran 10,000 simulations of the Big Ten tournament (using current standings for seeding) to get the chances of UW reaching various win totals on Selection Sunday. Then, looking at the landscape of the top teams this year, and looking at the historical probability of getting a No. 1 seed with various win totals for major conference teams, I ball-parked the odds of getting a No. 1 seed at various win totals and made this chart:

UW WINS CHANCE NO. 1 SEED ODDS TOTAL
28 24% 0 0
29 21% 20% 4%
30 23% 50% 11%
31 22% 95% 21%
32 10% 1 10%
TOTAL NO. 1 SEED CHANCE 47%

A hard look at the Badgers' schedule

Obviously, you can make your own judgments about the chances of Wisconsin getting a No. 1 seed at various different win totals. I think it's pretty clear that the Badgers will get a No.1 seed if they run the table or even lose just one game (depending, of course, on the game), although there are doubters even in those scenarios.

But the clear question mark about this year's Badgers is their schedule. The truth is they have not yet been heavily tested yet this year.

If you look deep, deep into the T-Rank, something called Q-Rank emerges. This is a team's rating if you only include "quality" games. What counts as a quality game? Well, that depends, and you can change the definition to suit your ends. But for these purposes, I'm looking at "Tournament-Quality Games" -- that is, games against opponents where a team's venue-adjusted rating would make it an at-large contender. Roughly speaking, that's a T-Rank rating of .8300 at a given venue. Ultimately, a Tournament-Quality Game is a road game against a top 60-ish team, a neutral court game against a top 40-ish team and a home game against a top 25-ish team.

So, let's look at the stats of T-Rank's top 20's teams if you include only their Tournament-Quality Games:

T-Rank Q-Rank Team QualOE QualDE Q-Pyth Diff No. Games
1 2 Kentucky 124.2 81.8 0.9773 0.00 8
2 6 Virginia 121.0 85.7 0.9568 -0.01 8
3 1 Wisconsin 139.6 90.8 0.9796 0.02 5
4 8 Arizona 127.1 91.1 0.9523 -0.01 5
5 22 Utah 115.0 89.5 0.9057 -0.05 6
6 7 Villanova 128.1 91.4 0.9544 0.01 8
7 5 Gonzaga 119.4 84.5 0.9572 0.02 3
8 4 Duke 129.9 90.5 0.9627 0.02 11
9 9 Oklahoma 118.3 85.4 0.9494 0.01 13
10 45 Ohio State 110.2 93.9 0.8086 -0.12 8
11 10 Kansas 118.8 88.0 0.9373 0.01 15
12 25 North Carolina 119.2 94.0 0.8947 -0.03 11
13 14 Baylor 121.3 92.2 0.9222 0.00 11
14 13 Iowa State 124.3 94.3 0.9233 0.01 11
15 18 Louisville 110.0 85.2 0.9083 0.00 8
16 31 Texas 114.6 92.1 0.8776 -0.03 11
17 56 Wichita State 113.7 100.0 0.7612 -0.14 2
18 28 Michigan State 118.1 94.0 0.8869 -0.01 6
19 21 Notre Dame 126.8 98.6 0.9057 0.01 8
20 23 Butler 116.3 90.5 0.9051 0.01 8

There's that shocking result for Ohio State I mentioned above. Although considered an elite team overall by the T-Rank, if you look at Tournament-Quality Games, the Buckeyes have played like a bubble team.

Looking at the Badgers, you can see they've performed just fine in their Tournament-Quality Games -- really well, actually: better than they have in other games, and better than anyone else in the country. But what really jumps out is the number of them they've played: just five. Specifically: Georgetown, Oklahoma, Duke and both Iowa games (the home game against No. 27 Iowa just barely counts -- and didn't before the the Hawkeyes destroyed Rutgers on Thursday).

As Phil Mitten pointed out on Thursday, the Wisconsin's schedule takes a hard turn starting on Tuesday, with the game at Maryland. Following that will be games against Michigan State, at Minnesota and at Ohio State. So the Badgers will finish with four straight Tournament-Quality Games after having just five in their 27 games. Those final four games will almost certainly determine whether or not the Badgers get that No. 1 seed.