Post-season Dreamin'

With the non-conference season nearly behind us, I thought it would be a good time to take a quick look at each Big Ten team's post-season hopes and dreams. First, here's where things stand, according to the T-Rank "TourneyCast" simulations:

Screenshot-2017-12-26-16.18.58

This is a relatively pessimistic projection, with the Big Ten expected to get just 4 bids on average. The problem for the Big Ten is that its bubble teams will have very few good chances to pick up quality wins (as the committee defines them) but will have plenty of opportunities to suffer not-so-good losses. This is because Michigan St. and Purdue (the only sure opportunities for top-flight wins) are projected to be very hard to beat while plenty of the conference's projected also-rans—all the way down to Rutgers—seems capable of accumulating some scalps. Here's the current forecast for where Big Ten teams will end up in the RPI:

Screenshot-2017-12-26-16.24.24

Lest you've forgotten, here are the new quadrants for quality wins:

Quadrant 1: 1-30 home, 1-50 neutral, 1-75 road
Quadrant 2: 31-75 home, 51-100 neutral, 76-135 road

Since we're talking about the Big Ten, we won't concern ourselves much with Quadrants 3 or 4, except to note that road losses at Rutgers, Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, and possibly even Wisconsin will likely qualify as Quadrant 3 losses. I predict that the league's bubble teams will be weighed down by at least a few of these.

Two other notes about the Quadrants. First, the only sure chance for Quadrant 1 wins at home will be against Purdue or Michigan St. I doubt there will be many of those. Second, even road wins against teams like Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Illinois will probably be only Quadrant 2 wins.

All of this is to say that the Big Ten is going to be a tough league for a mediocre team to amass a surefire NCAA resume, and also a tough league for a top-notch team to amass a 1-seed's resume.

With that in mind, let's look at what each team needs to do to achieve any hopes and dreams it might still harbor. To do this, I'll be using the T-Rank Teamcast tool.

Big Dreams

Team: Michigan St.
Goal: 1-seed
Needs to play like: The best team in the country
Comment: Michigan State has a very easy Big Ten schedule. For example, they play Purdue just once, at home. But this is actually bad for them, because it will be hard for them to have a great resume. This is why T-Ranketology currently pegs them as a likely 3-seed even though they are the No. 2 team in the T-Rank ratings and have played fine in the non-con. At the link above, I've set them as the No. 1 rated team, and put in conference tourney wins against Northwestern, Michigan, and Purdue—and this projected 31-3 record still gets them just to the top 2-seed:
Screenshot-2017-12-26-16.47.27
Realistically, 31-3 would likely get MSU a one-seed. But they have little margin for error.

Team: Purdue
Goal: 1-seed
Needs to play like: The best team in the country
Comment: The story is much the same for Purdue, except that they have a more difficult Big Ten schedule and therefore a somewhat better chance of putting together a 1-seed's resume. Putting them at the No. 1 team and beating Minnesota, Maryland, and Michigan State in the Big Ten tourney gets it done despite a lesser record of 29-5:
Screenshot-2017-12-26-16.58.08

Bubble Teams

There being only two "locks," every other team in the conference is currently a bubble team at best. Here I'll look at what level they have to play to get into the Round of 64 (past the play-in games) in the Teamcast projection.

Teams: Maryland and Michigan
Goal: Round of 64
Needs to play like: the teams we thought they were: Maryland, Michigan
Comment: Maryland is currently pegged at No. 26 in T-Rank, and Michigan is at No. 29. Both teams are projected to go 10-8 in conference play, and this projects to get them into the tourney as 10-seeds. Live up to their current billing, and they'll be dancing. Much less, and they'll be out.

Team: Minnesota
Goal: Round of 64
Needs to play like: a top-25 team
Comment: Minnesota has been disappointing, but they still seem like the team most likely to put it back together and join Purdue and Michigan State in the top tier of the league. They've been stung a bit because both of their big non-con wins (at Providence, vs. Alabama) host lost some luster as those teams have gone on to play much worse than expected. But the win at Providence is likely to remain a Quadrant 1 win, and Alabama will be at least Quadrant 2. Minnesota also gets both Purdue and MSU at home, as well as a weird neutral court game versus Ohio State that could be another Quadrant 1 win. Most people thought Minnesota was a top 25 team a month ago, and if they play like one they should have a bid wrapped up going into MSG.

Team: Ohio St.
Goal: Round of 64
Needs to play like: a top-15 team
Comment: In 2016, Ohio State went 11-7 in the Big Ten, won a game in the Big Ten Tournament, and ... was not even on the the bubble. History could repeat itself this year, as Ohio St. unfortunately blew two games against decent opponents in its holiday tourney, and enters conference play with a good analytical profile (No. 32 in T-Rank) but not much of a tourney resume. To feel safely in the Dance heading into MSG, OSU would have to play like a top-15 team and amass a 13-5 conference record. Even then, they'd possibly only have one Quadrant 1 win:
Screenshot-2017-12-26-17.11.10
In other words, it's gonna take some doing.

Team: Penn State
Goal: In the dance by hook or by crook
Needs to play like: a top-10 team
Comment: Penn State has it even rougher than Ohio State in the schedule department. They could easily go 11-7 in conference and have no good wins. Even if they play like a top-10 team the rest of the way, they project to be 1-4 in Quadrant 1 games:
Screenshot-2017-12-26-17.23.00
This is because PSU gets Purdue and Michigan State just once each, and both are on the road. Tough sledding.

Team: Northwestern
Goal: Just get in
Needs to play like: No. 17 team
Comment: Northwestern was No. 19 in the preseason AP poll. If they are who we thought they were, they've still got a chance because they have plenty of opportunities for good wins. This is why I'm keeping them on the bubble for now—there's slight reason to believe they may be better than they've looked.

The Dreamers

The rest of the conference will likely be looking for an autobid in MSG. Generally speaking, these teams would have to play like a top-15 team the rest of the way, getting 11 or 12 Big Ten wins, to feel good going into MSG. Anything's possible!

Team: Illinois
Goal: Just get in
Needs to play like: a top-15 team

Team: Wisconsin
Goal: Just get in
Needs to play like: No. 14 team

Team: Rutgers
Goal: Just get in
Needs to play like: No. 15 team

Team: Iowa
Goal: Just get in
Needs to play like: No. 14 team

Team: Indiana
Goal: Just get in
Needs to play like: No. 13 team

Team: Nebraska
Goal: Just get in
Needs to play like: No. 12 team