Friday Facts: Battle at the Top?

I first got into figuring out "adjusted efficiency" stuff in an effort to adjust raw conference-only efficiency margins, popularized by John Gasaway in his "Tuesday Truths" column, for schedule strength. Even before the Big Ten had 14 teams, the schedule could be quite unbalanced at least until late in the season. Back when I started doing this in 2014, the Big Ten didn't play on Fridays, so I would post them every-ish Friday as "the Friday Facts." Nowadays, the Big Ten does play on Fridays and I update adjusted conference efficiency margins in realtime on the conference pages at the T-Rank site. So the Friday Facts is even more of a metaphor than it used to be; now it's sort of my version of a "power rankings" post. Here goes:

The conference efficiency data is in those middle columns, both raw and adjusted. As you can see, there isn't a huge chasm between them, but Ohio State does jump ahead of Purdue after the adjustment thanks to its significantly more difficult schedule so far. A 16-point win over Michigan State makes my laptop swoon. Maryland's -4 raw EM looks much better when adjusted for their schedule, which has been the toughest in the conference so far. The Terps remain the most likely team to earn the conference a fifth bid in the tourney.

With Purdue and Ohio State tied at 7-0, and erstwhile behemoth Michigan State licking its wounds at 5-2, things look to be shaping up for an interesting regular season title battle. Based on T-Rank, Purdue is the heavy favorite, but all it would take is a single upset to throw those odds out the window. Generally, those kinds of upsets happen on the road in the Big Ten. I'm expecting fireworks at the top.

Nebraska: Tourney team?

Other than the rise of Ohio State, the big story in the Big Ten right at this moment has to be Nebraska, which is coming off a blowout win over Michigan and is now 5th in conference-only adjusted efficiency. The Huskers are now 5-3, with all their losses on the road, and they have been steadily moving up in the computer rankings.

But their remaining schedule is a problem. After traveling to Ohio State on Monday, Nebraska will almost certainly not get any other opportunities for a "Quadrant 1" win, and probably only two opportunities for even "Quadrant 2" wins:

Even with the difficult trip to Columbus in the equation, Nebraska has the easiest remaining schedule in Big Ten play:

This is good in the sense that it gives them a realistic opportunity of putting together a good conference record, but bad in that historically the committee places a high premium on quality wins. The only one the Huskers have so far is the win over Michigan, and even that win caused Michigan to fall out of the projected top 30 in RPI (meaning it would not qualify as a Quadrant 1 win). As a result, Nebraska could finish 14-4 in the Big Ten with ZERO Quadrant 1 wins. Have to believe they would get into the tournament with that record, but it would be a unique circumstance.

Indiana on the rise?

Since losing to a woefully undermanned Wisconsin team, Indiana has won three straight and seems poised to join Nebraska in filling the vacuum left by Northwestern, Minnesota, and Penn State as a potential upper division team. But I remain skeptical. On paper, the win at Minnesota seemed good, but the Gophers are in a death spiral without Lynch and Coffey, and home wins over Penn State and Northwestern don't move the needle much either. We'll have a lot better idea of where Indiana stands after this upcoming stretch of games has been played:

Going 1-5 in this stretch is a distinct possibility.

Hoping for March

One lesser noticed aspect of the Big Ten playing its conference tourney a week early is that the Wednesday games will be played on February 28th. That means the losers of the first round games likely won't even play a game in March. (Thanks, Delany!) So a reasonable goal for the teams at the bottom of the conference is to avoid finishing in the bottom four, to at least avoid the ignominy of a Marchless season. Iowa and Illinois look like sure things for the first round, but the other spots are in play for pretty much all of the teams currently under .500. Buckle up, the battle for 10th place is going to be a barn-burner!