With just one game left to play for most of the conference, the middle of the Big Ten standings are as murky as ever. Six teams are separated by a mere two games and Wisconsin (18-11, 9-8) finds itself smack dab in the middle of the tar patch.
As of Friday, March 6th, the Badgers sit in a three-way tie for fifth-place in the Big Ten standings alongside Minnesota and Ohio State. After a last-second win over Illinois Thursday night Penn State is one game up on this threesome at 10-7, while Northwestern and Michigan are just one game back at 8-9 each.
Big Ten Standings (as of 3/6)
4. Penn State 10-7 (at Iowa on Saturday)
5. Minnesota 9-8 (vs. Minnesota on Saturday)
Wisconsin 9-8 (vs. Indiana on Sunday)
Ohio State 9-8 (vs. Northwestern on Sunday)
8. Northwestern 8-9 (at Ohio State on Sunday)
Michigan 8-9 (at Minnesota on Saturday)
While many are focused on what Wisconsin’s NCAA chances are at this point, a more immediate concern is where Bucky will be positioned for the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis March 12-15. The way the tournament is structured, seeds 6 through 11 play Thursday in the opening round of the tournament while the top 5 teams according to the final regular season standings receive a bye and begin play on Friday.
In seven seasons under Bo Ryan, the Badgers have never played on Thursday of the Big Ten tournament. If this year’s squad has designs on getting that first round bye in Indianapolis they have some work to do. Let’s consider the tie-breakers and scenarios.
In the event of a two-way tie in the standings, the first tie-break is head-to-head results. Thus, Wisconsin holds the head-to-head advantage over Penn State (2-0), Ohio State (1-0) and Michigan (2-0) but split with Northwestern (1-1) and would lose a tie with Minnesota (0-2).
Should the regular season end with a multiple-team tie (a near certainty at this point) things get even stickier. The first tie-breaker in a multiple team tie is winning percentage vs. the other tied teams, even if the number of games played against the group is unequal. For example, 3-0 is better than 4-1, but 3-0 is not better than 2-0). Full list of tie-breakers here.
Still with me?
Boil away everything else and this is what Wisconsin needs to do to earn a bye. First and foremost the Badgers need to take care of their own business and beat Indiana on Sunday. In addition, Wisconsin needs either Penn State (at Iowa) or Minnesota (at home vs. Michigan) to lose on Saturday. Let’s break down why:
If Wisconsin wins and Penn State loses…
Wisconsin is the 5th seed. In this case (assuming MIN and OSU win), a four-way tie would be created with MIN, OSU, PSU and UW at 10-8. In that scenario, Wisconsin earns the 5 seed based on record vs. the other three teams it would be tied with. Minnesota (4-2 vs. that threesome), earns the 4 seed and Wisconsin (3-2 vs. the other three) would be the 5 seed. Ohio State would fall to 6th (2-2 record) and Penn State would be 7th (1-4).
If Wisconsin wins and Minnesota loses…
Wisconsin is the 5th seed. In this scenario (assuming PSU and OSU win), Penn State earns the 4 seed based on an 11-7 record. Wisconsin (10-8) would win the breaker vs. Ohio State (10-8) based on beating them head-to-head on Valentine’s Day at the Kohl Center. The Buckeyes would earn the 6 seed and Minnesota (9-9) would fall out of the picture.
If Wisconsin wins and both Minnesota and Penn State win…
Wisconsin would earn either the 6 or 7 seed (assuming Ohio State wins) depending on how Purdue does at Michigan State this weekend. What? That’s right, the Badgers fortunes could somehow be decided by the Boilers and Spartans.
Stay with me.
Penn State would solidify the 4 seed based on an 11-7 record. The Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio State bottleneck (all 10-8) would be broken by record vs. the group. Minnesota would be 3-1 (2-0 vs. UW and 1-1 vs. OSU), while Wisconsin and Ohio State are both 1-2 (UW went 1-0 vs. OSU and 0-2 vs. MINN – OSU went 1-1 vs. MIN and 0-1 vs. UW). So the secondary tie-break between UW and OSU is NOT head-to-head, it is actually best winning percentage vs. the top team in the final standings (Michigan State). Wisconsin went 0-1 vs. Sparty and Ohio State went 0-2. Winning percentage is the same. So you go to the second-place team in the standings (either Purdue or Illinois). That spot is still to be determined and comes down to Sunday’s PU at MSU tilt. If Michigan State beats Purdue, Illinois claims second place in the Big Ten and Wisconsin earns the 6 seed, because Bucky went 1-1 vs. ILL while Ohio State went 0-2. If the Boilers upset Michigan State, Purdue earns second place and the Badgers grab the No. 7 seed. UW lost twice to Purdue and Ohio State split with the Boilers.
Basically root for the Hawkeyes to beat Penn State or Michigan to knock off the Gophers on Saturday. If either of those happen and Wisconsin can handle the Hoosiers… Bucky starts dancing on Friday in Indianapolis.
Does your head hurt yet? Mine too. That’s why it’s called March Madness.