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Examining the upcoming schedule for the Big Ten Tournament’s fourth double-bye

Can Iowa challenge for fourth in the conference? And power rankings!

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

We’re 55% of the way through the Big Ten schedule and currently have a troika of schools tied atop the conference standings at 9-2: Michigan State, Michigan, and Purdue. Behind them sit Wisconsin and Maryland at 8-3 and 8-4 respectively. The Iowa Hawkeyes and Minnesota Golden Gophers are the only other two teams in the conference over .500 at 6-5.

If the standings hold, it would all but assure Iowa’s place in the NCAA tournament. Given preseason expectations, it would be a successful season. Could the Hawkeyes make a run and get the desired double bye in the Big Ten Tournament? It’s a tall task, considering they have three teams to get through in addition to the two-game deficit they currently have to Wisconsin, but it is possible.

Iowa Hawkeyes (6-5)

Conference SOS (KenPom): +19.00 (2)

Next 5 games: at Indiana, vs Northwestern, at Rutgers, vs Maryland, vs Indiana

The Michigan win wasn’t necessarily a requirement to make this a successful Hawkeye season and it doesn’t stamp it as such even with the win. It did, however, give Iowa margin for error over the next 5 games for the tournament resume. KenPom marks this stretch as the weakest Iowa has faced since the non-conference season (two A games, two B games, one not classified).

Note: KenPom defines these tiers as: “A represents a top 50 opponent adjusting for the location of the game, and Tier B is the same concept for a top 100 opponent.”

For Iowa to be a player in the double-bye race, anything less than a clean sweep probably keeps them out of it considering they’ve already lost the tiebreaker to Minnesota and the Maryland game will be the only time they face the Terrapins. Still, Iowa has no bad losses so the main concern is not leaving this stretch with any of those. (sup Chris Collins)

Minnesota (6-5)

Conference SOS: +16.21 (12)

Next 5 games: vs Wisconsin, at Michigan State, at Nebraska, vs Indiana, vs Michigan

After an early January win at Wisconsin (the Badgers had just 14 first half points!), Lil Ricky’s crew has added home wins against the dregs of the conference (Rutgers, Penn State, Illinois) and Iowa. Cool! They also lost at Illinois by a hilariously large margin. Perhaps no team is as enigmatic as these Goofers.

With Wisconsin and Nebraska looking to avenge earlier losses to Minny and the Michigan schools on the docket, it’s gonna be a slog (Indiana is the only B game). Looking even further into their schedule, their two easiest opponents are both road games (Rutgers and Northwestern). It’s tough to see Minnesota jumping into the double-bye but they still seem like a tournament team barring total collapse.

Maryland (8-4)

Conference SOS: +17.14 (10)

Next 4 games: at Nebraska, vs Purdue, at Michigan, at Iowa

Maryland is the only team in the conference with 12 games played and it currently represents an extra loss in the race for the double bye. While their schedule to date hasn’t been as soft as Minnesota’s, it is still in the bottom half of the conference and takes a step up in the coming weeks.

The game against Iowa looms large and a win at Carver would likely prevent Iowa from hopping them for the seed. Since they already split with Wisconsin, it would come down to some weird tiebreaker if the two end up with the same conference record to finish the season. Thanks Delany!

Wisconsin (8-3)

Conference SOS: +15.73 (13)

Next 5 games: at Minnesota, at Michigan, vs Michigan State, vs Illinois, at Northwestern

This is all probably a moot point because Wisconsin has reasserted themselves into the top four of the conference against everyone’s wishes except for Barry Alvarez’s. But! Two losses to Michigan and Michigan State (15% chance) coupled with an Iowa sweep (11%) means that there is, in fact, a chance (1.6%!) these teams find themselves tied at 11-5 with four games to go.

But please don’t take out a second mortgage on your house so you can make that bet.

Dark horses!

The assumptions detailed above basically lock the Spartans, Wolverines, and Boilermakers into the top 4 but there’s a chance one of those falls out. At present, Michigan looks like the most likely of those three with some serious deficiencies (lack of shooting, interior depth) on the roster and a conference record built on the weakest slate of opponents (+14.64). Tonight’s game over Rutgers is the easiest remaining on the schedule but they still have two games against both Maryland and Michigan State in the last 6 games. Their defense should keep them in every game, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see their stock drop in February and March.

On the flipside, Indiana has had the toughest conference schedule (+19.09) and just got done with a stretch of 6 road games in 8 games throughout much of January. Juwan Morgan looks to be in good shape and ready for the stretch run. A four-game deficit is no doubt difficult bordering on impossible to make up in just 9 games but they play Wisconsin just once and two games against Iowa offers a chance to jump the Hawkeyes. Weirder things have happened, though!

Power Rankings

14) Penn State Nittany Lions; 8-14 (1-10) (LT: 14)

13) Northwestern Wildcats; 12-10 (3-8) (LT: 12)

12) Illinois Fighting Illini; 7-15 (3-8) (LT: 11)

11) Nebraska Cornhuskers; 13-9 (3-8) (LT: 6)

10) Indiana Hoosiers; 13-9 (4-7) (LT: 8)

9) Rutgers Scarlet Knights; 11-10 (4-7) (LT: 13)

8) Ohio State Buckeyes; 14-7 (4-6) (LT: 7)

7) Minnesota Golden Gophers; 16-6 (6-5) (LT: 10)

6) Maryland Terrapins; 17-6 (8-4) (LT: 3)

5) Iowa Hawkeyes; 17-5 (6-5) (LT: 5)

4) Wisconsin Badgers; 16-6 (8-3) (LT: 9)

3) Michigan Wolverines; 20-2 (9-2) (LT: 1)

2) Michigan State Spartans; 18-4 (9-2) (LT: 2)

1) Purdue Boilermakers; 16-6 (9-2) (LT: 4)