The Tumultuous Big Ten is Ripe for the Picking

By Nicholas Jervey on February 9, 2014 at 6:04a
First, Purdue. Next, Michigan. Then, the Big Ten.

Back in January, Ohio State had lost five of six games and was on course for the NIT. What a difference a fortnight makes, eh?

This is not the same Buckeye team that blew games against Nebraska and Penn State. The Buckeyes earned road wins over Wisconsin and Iowa, and followed that up with a thumping of Purdue. The Buckeyes are back over .500, but that doesn't feel like enough.

This isn't the season to feel warm and fuzzy about a 10-8 record. If the Big Ten holds to form, Ohio State has an opportunity to do something many thought impossible: win the Big Ten championship.

Under normal circumstances, this would be insane. Ohio State is 6-5, three and a half games behind 9-1 Michigan State. The difference between this year and others is the extraordinary parity of the Big Ten.

Worst Team From Each Power Conference
Conference Team Rank
American South Florida 181th
ACC Virginia Tech 209th
Big 12 TCU 208th
Big East Depaul 144th
Big Ten Northwestern 117th
Pac-12 Washington St. 189th
SEC Mississippi St. 213th

If you want to understand how topsy-turvy the Big Ten is, try this: Ohio State's three game winning streak is the longest in the conference by two whole games.

The Big Ten doesn't conform to a typical Bell curve, with one or two elite teams, a bunch of teams ranging from good to mediocre, and a couple piles of puke. This year's Big Ten has two distinct groups, really good and middling, with only Minnesota in between.

At the top of the standings, the Big Ten's top five teams (Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin) are amazingly close. In the esteemed Pomeroy rankings, the five title contenders are separated by only ten spots, by far the most competitive of all major conferences.

The result: with all the contenders being flawed and at a similar skill level, every game between top five teams is a toss-up.

At the same time, the bottom of the Big Ten is uncommonly strong. Only two teams miss the top 100; one is a narrow miss (Purdue, 103rd) and the other, Northwestern, is 5-6 with road wins at Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Indiana.

With the exception of Illinois, the bottom seven teams have all beaten a ranked opponent – and Illinois was nationally ranked to start 2014. The result: upsets galore.

Ohio State will be the favorite in each of its last seven games; should they finish 13-5, the Buckeyes can win or share the Big Ten title with a little help from their friends.

Wisconsin And Iowa

Currently, Wisconsin is half a game behind Ohio State in the standings, and they have games against Michigan State, Michigan, and Iowa to go, the latter two away. They're going to lose one of those, dropping them out of title contention. They are beneath concern.

Difference Between 1st and 5th best teams By conference
Conference Best 5th best Δ
American 8th 30th 22
ACC 2nd 26th 24
Big 12 9th 36th 27
Big East 3rd 52nd 49
Big Ten 7th 17th 10
Pac-12 1st 35th 34
SEC 10th 54th 44

Iowa is one of the only Big Ten teams not to have a mortifying loss in conference play, but there are questions about their ability to beat elite teams. Before Saturday's game against Michigan, the Hawkeyes were 1-6 against top 20 teams with that one team being formerly despondent Ohio State.

Ohio State is a game behind Iowa, and the Hawkeyes are streaky. They seem due for a road shocker against Penn State or Northwestern, don’t you think?

Michigan And Michigan State

Until a couple weeks ago, the Big Ten looked like Michigan and Michigan State's playground. Several embarrassing losses later, the Big Ten is wide open again.

Michigan started Big Ten play 8-0 in spite of missing Mitch McGary, even beating Michigan State in East Lansing.  In the last couple of games, though, Indiana beat the Wolverines by double digits and Iowa shredded their defense.

As it so happens, Ohio State has a home date with Michigan in two days. Aaron Craft and/or Shannon Scott should be able to shut down team MVP Nik Stauskas on the perimeter, and if Michigan follows a loss with home losses to Wisconsin and Michigan State, OSU will have a tiebreaker in the standings.

Michigan State has total command of the conference at 9-1 and no embarrassing losses – at least in conference. Last Sunday, the Spartans lost to 12-9 Georgetown and proved they're not invincible either.

For OSU to catch up to Michigan State, the Spartans have to drop the three road games against Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State in the season finale. The problem: someone has to win the second Michigan/Michigan State game, giving them control of the conference.

If there's one thing that can derail Sparty, it's injuries; Adreian Payne just returned from injury at the same time Keith Appling went out with a wrist injury.

The Spartans are projected to go 14-4, meaning that Ohio State needs them to suffer an upset. That could happen against Iowa or Minnesota or one of the Big Ten's underclass pulling a signature WTF road win.

What This Really Means

How likely is all of this to happen? Not very. Ohio State tied for a conference championship at 13-5 two years ago and it could happen again, but the Buckeyes need a lot of breaks to get back in the title picture. Here's the real point of chasing a conference championship: to set a high benchmark.

Ever since losing five of six games, this team has shown an offensive spark that wasn’t there before. Some people reversed trends– Amedeo Della Valle came up big against Wisconsin, Aaron Craft went berserk against Iowa, and Lenzelle Smith hit three after three against Purdue.

Ohio State may be unpredictable in terms of where the offense comes from, but when on any given night several people can pick up the slack, that makes the Buckeyes dangerous.

Slowly but surely the team is developing. Amir Williams is more aggressive than he's ever been, Shannon Scott is finishing at the rim, LaQuinton Ross is getting more comfortable. It's taken longer than expected, but they're finally jelling.

Throughout the six game slump, Thad Matta kept saying that the team's biggest challenge was maintaining mental toughness. Well, there's no better way to keep everyone on the right track than picking one overarching goal that everyone buys into.

Pursuing a Big Ten championship will help the team develop resiliency it needs for the rest of the year. Actually winning the title would just be icing on the cake.


Comments Show All Comments

buckeye4life050233's picture

 Winning in the B1G ten this year is all about preparation because the teams are so close in terms of talent relative to each other.  MSU and Michigan have stood out in front the whole year but now it is getting down to crunch time and at least 6 teams realistically could still get up into 1st or 2nd place by the end of the year.

+2 HS
InvertMyVeer's picture

With the conference being this talented it would be un-american to not have a Big Ten team in the NCAA championship. 

Football is complicated...

+22 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

I see what you did there!

“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.” ~Carl Rogers

+2 HS
TMac's picture

It would take an Auburn-like Miracle for the Buckeyes to win the B1G!!  But it's soo much nicer to be considering winning the conference than if we can avoid the NIT!! 

GO BUCKS!! BEAT *ichigan!

ONE Not Done!

+7 HS
bukyze's picture

I think it would take an Auburn miracle x 10 to win the B1G, or something like the Colorado Rockies winning 21 of their last 22 games to make the playoffs.  But I agree, it's nice to be  talking about the NCAA's instead of the NIT.  It's amazing, just 10 days ago, after the loss to Penn State, I was so sure OSU was going to the NIT, that I said I would print the page and eat it if they made the NCAA's.  Well, it's looking more and more like said page is going to have to be digested.  I hope the Bucks can at least make it worthwhile and somehow make the sweet 16 instead of an early round exit.

+1 HS
TMac's picture

Maybe a little siracha sauce to make that paper a little more tasty?

ONE Not Done!

+3 HS
bukyze's picture

I will definitely take that into consideration!

+1 HS
Buckeye5000's picture

It does now seem like you are going to have to eat that paper...although I wouldn't count to much on the "digesting" part though. :)

2014 Undisputed National Champions!

wyatt's picture

Maybe now the Buckeyes will get back in the top 25 rankings.

+1 HS
route4buckeye's picture

They're ranked 25th.

+1 HS
TMac's picture

25th coaches & unranked in the AP - Which should be corrected soon

ONE Not Done!

+2 HS's picture

Great article. One game at a time, Bucks. Beat m*chAgain! 


+2 HS
Shangheyed's picture

I wonder how Northwestern at 117 would rank in the other power conferences?

+1 HS
Nicholas Jervey's picture

Good question. As of today, Northwestern would be:

  • 6th in the American
  • 13th in the ACC
  • 10th in the Big 12
  • 8th in the Big East
  • 11th in the Pac-12
  • 11th in the SEC

Bear in mind Northwestern is playing far better now than they did a few months ago. If they had played like this all year, they would be in the top 100.

Ceci n'est pas une signature.

TMac's picture

They may also have more Wins in other conferences

ONE Not Done!

+4 HS
Nicholas Jervey's picture

KenPom doesn't factor wins into the formula nearly as much as per-possession efficiency. The # of wins in other conferences wouldn't change much.

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IGotAWoody's picture

I like what KenPom does, but the number of wins for Northwestern in a different conference (esp. the SEC) would most assuredly go up. But, there's no way to come up with that, so for comparison purposes, you have to treat all the conferences as apples to apples.

“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.” ~Carl Rogers

Buckeye5000's picture

True the # of wins might not matter, but playing in another conference where the competition isn't so stiff, their points per possession would certainly go up.

2014 Undisputed National Champions!

+1 HS
SgtMdx's picture

If this team wins the B1G tourney or makes the Sweet 16, it may turn out to be Matta's best coaching jobs at TOSU. They were lost in January and the NIT had begun to look like a long shot. They aren't great now but at least, they're playing like a team and they're really fun to watch. They seem to have developed the chemistry they were lacking last month.

The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle.
Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing, U.S. Army

+1 HS
pabdublin78's picture

Let's win against TTUN and then go from there....  This team isn't good enough to look past any next game.  Losing to Penn State should be their reality check that they are flawed but so are the other teams left to play.   I have faith in them but I know our strengths as a team are dependent on eliminating these horrible shooting nights and minimizing late game turnovers and mistakes.  Should be fun to watch it all unfold.  Go Bucks!

+3 HS
thePhilipJFry's picture

I think this is an overreaction to Wisconsin and Iowa shooting 3 pointers poorly and a home win against Purdue.  The B1G (in terms of efficiency margin in B1G play) has a top tier that is MSU, Michigan and Iowa (all above 0.12 entering the weekend), then Wisconsin (0.08), then OSU (0.02), Indiana (even) and everyone else in negative territory.  The conference champion is coming from the MSU, Michigan, Iowa group and most likely from the winner of the MSU @ Michigan game February 23.

COhio Buckeye's picture

Eff scUM...they're not winning a damn thing this year.  Basketball Bucks will hold serve against those bums on Tuesday night at home.  It's going to be a rocking crowd!

Buckeye5000's picture

What the hell is "efficiency margin"? Does that factor in a teams Heart, Chemistry, Experience to win important games when it counts, or the quality of the coaching staff when it comes to excelling in the B1G or NCAA tournaments?

2014 Undisputed National Champions!

sbentz4's picture

Don't know what to make of this conference, except that no one is really good or really bad.  MSU has been banged up all year, so hard to say how good they are and Mich lost to Charlotte and IU.  Looking forward to March to sort things out.

+1 HS
NCBuckeye2011's picture

Down goes Sparty, they've been banged up lately though. No Dawson or Appeling today, and Payne had previously been out for some time too. It must be an aggravating season for MSU fans with all these key injuries. If they're healthy, that roster should run away with a B1G regular season crown.

BME_Buckeye's picture

Let's beat Michigan first before anything....

Look closely, because the closer you think you are, the less you will actually see.


buckeye4life050233's picture
Realistically I see us being a 2 seed max for the B1G Tourny.  It is just not feasible to win out the last 7 games.  Crazier things have happened though this year in the B1G


-1 HS
Go1Bucks's picture

I don't know if I'm the only person on here that thought this, but at no time did I think we were or are NIT bound.  I think we will end up at the Dance regardless.  How well we do will depend on how we finish out the regular season. Still hate the B1G tourney though as I think it has been responsible for an un-needed extension of the season that has cost us performance and win streak wise previously going into the Dance.   But as it is here to stay, not important.  Hopefully we make to B1G C game, but only need to make semis.  Matta has shown that he can get consistent performance from his teams overall and records prove it.  We travel well, so the tourney loves us.  I think we will max out at the 8 this year and recruit godz willing, Myles Turner will decide to come here and solidify our 2014 class and the NC we are going to win.

Go Bucks!

+1 HS
Buckeye5000's picture

I also never believed we would be NIT bound. The same thing happened last year, only in Feb., then the Bucks ran off 11 straight till we ran into a Wichita State team that obviously turned out to be a lot better than most Buckeye fans (and maybe the team) thought they were. 

2014 Undisputed National Champions!

Buckeye5000's picture

It's is fun to think the Bucks could somehow pull out a share of the B1G Championship but I'm afraid the PSU loss may have put the last nail in that coffin.

2014 Undisputed National Champions!

+1 HS
buckeye4life050233's picture

Thad has shown a habit for shortening the bench down the stretch but this year he has definitely been more open to plugging and playing certain guys depending on who has it going that night