With Tuesday night's win over Indiana, the Iowa Hawkeyes have put themselves in position to grab a top four seed in the Big Ten tournament. The top four spots have added importance in the 14-team Big Ten, as those four teams receive two byes and won't play until Friday.
Of course, not all top four seeds are created equal. The fourth seed carries with it a more difficult first game, likely against a team with the same record, followed by a possible second-round meeting with Wisconsin. In a perfect world, we'd prefer to never play Wisconsin again. That means the three seed, safely ensconced on the other side of the bracket, is the best landing place.
Here is the relevant section of the Big Ten standings after Tuesday night, with each team's remaining schedule:
|Ohio State||10-6||@PSU, Wisc|
|Michigan State||10-6||Pur, @Ind|
Wisconsin will lock up the top seed with one more win, which has to be expected at this point. Maryland has sealed the second seed (unless the Terps leapfrog Wisconsin); only Purdue can catch Maryland, and the Terps hold the tiebreaker.
The fight is in the middle of the pack, where Purdue, Iowa, OSU and MSU are all playing for two spots. So how can Iowa get into the top four? How can the Hawkeyes jump to the 3 line? And who should you be supporting this week in the Big Ten?
THE RACE FOR NUMBER THREE
Step 1: Beat Northwestern
First things first, Iowa needs to beat Northwestern Saturday or this all becomes academic. If Iowa beats Northwestern, it has an 87% chance of getting a top four seed. That number drops to 19% with a loss. Northwestern is still a threat -- just ask Michigan after Tuesday night -- and have the ability to make Iowa grind out points in the manner that typically causes the Hawkeyes problems at both ends of the court, but home court advantage should help.
Step 2: Michigan State over Purdue
7 p.m. Wednesday, BTN
Kenpom: Michigan State 77%
Sparty hosts OMHR Wednesday night with plenty on the line. A loss to the Boilermakers would leave Sparty with less than a one-in-five chance of a top four seed. They have not played each other this year.
A Michigan State win leaves open the most scenarios for Iowa to get a three seed. Should Purdue win, every scenario that would get Iowa the three involves Ohio State beating Wisconsin in the finale, hardly an impossibility but also not exactly the sort of odds we like. With a Michigan State win, though, Iowa has some real options.
Step 3: Indiana over Michigan State
11 a.m. Saturday, ESPN
Kenpom: Michigan State 51%
This game will be played while Iowa's facing Northwestern, so you'll have to root from afar. But if Sparty can dispatch with the trains earlier in the week, they'll have the inside track for the third seed. The only thing standing in the way: A trip to Assembly Hall against a team that's sort of on the bubble after Tuesday. Will Indiana's desperation pull them through, or do Tom Crean's future replacement's youngsters fold under the pressure?
If MSU wins both of these games, they win the three seed no matter what else happens.
Step 4: Illinois over Purdue
3:30 p.m. Saturday, BTN
Kenpom: Purdue 67%
If everything has fallen into place, the last piece is an Illinois win at Purdue. Much like Indiana, Illinois will likely be playing for its postseason life. Unlike that game, the opponent is doing the same. Purdue is precisely the kind of team Illinois hates: Big inside with consistent-ish scoring from the perimeter. But weird stuff happens in March.
If all four things happen, Iowa is the third seed in the Big Ten tournament. No problem, right? But what happens if it all falls apart? Let's work backwards.
If Purdue beats Illinois: Ohio State over Wisconsin
3:30 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Kenpom: Wisconsin 54%
This is where tiebreakers get weird. If MSU beats Purdue, Iowa beats Northwestern and Indiana beats Sparty, Iowa can still beat out Purdue if Ohio State gets past Wisconsin in the regular season's last big Big Ten game. Bucky, OMHR and Iowa would all be tied at 12-6, and Iowa's 2-1 overall record against the other two would get them past Purdue. Without an OSU win, Purdue's head-to-head win over Iowa trumps. In other words, even if Purdue wins Saturday, all is not lost.
If Michigan State beats Indiana: Move to THE WAR FOR FOUR
It's over. MSU gets the three seed.
If Purdue beats Michigan State: Illinois over Purdue AND Ohio State over Wisconsin
Iowa's only chance of getting the three seed in this scenario is the same as if Purdue beats Illinois: Make the three through five seeds a three-way standoff and lean on those Ohio State wins. Two Purdue wins this week are the end of the discussion, and the tiebreaker goes to Purdue in a simple tie. Lure OSU into the mix, though, and suddenly Iowa is looking at a semifinal with Maryland.
If Northwestern beats Iowa: Move to THE WAR FOR FOUR
There's no scenario for the three seed without a win in the finale. So win the finale.
THE WAR FOR FOUR
Step 1: Beat Northwestern
Again, Iowa's odds of getting into a double bye rely heavily on beating the Wildcats. While there are scenarios for the Hawkeyes to get a four seed even with a loss, they're fairly remote. A win makes it fairly easy.
Step 2: Ohio State beats Penn State
5 p.m. Wednesday, BTN
Kenpom: Ohio State 71%
Ohio State is Iowa's best friend this week, because the Hawkeyes' season sweep of OSU makes it highly unlikely that the Buckeyes can pass Iowa outright and gives the Hawkeyes a huge trump card in a multiple-team tie finish. An Ohio State loss to Penn State would make the odds of such a finish much more remote; Iowa's odds of a top four finish would drop by almost 20 percent. On the other hand, if Ohio State wins and Iowa beats Northwestern, there is only one scenario in which Iowa would not get a top four seed. So Go Buck--
Step 3: Purdue beats Michigan State
This is going to make things difficult Wednesday. On the one hand, a Michigan State win improves Iowa's odds of a three seed. On the other hand, a Purdue win over Michigan State (presuming that OSU has already beaten PSU and Iowa will beat Northwestern) guarantees Iowa a top four spot. That's because a Purdue win would give Iowa a (presumed) one-game lead over everyone else. It would put Purdue almost completely out of striking distance (a Boiler loss to Illinois and OSU win over Wisconsin would still give Iowa the three seed), but it's still better than playing with a risk of falling into a Thursday game.
If Michigan State beats Purdue: Indiana over Michigan State OR Illinois over Purdue OR Ohio State over Wisconsin
The scenario for Iowa to lose a top four spot with the first two steps in place is a four-step process. Sparty would have to follow the Purdue win with a victory at Indiana, Purdue would have to defeat Illinois and Wisconsin would have to beat Ohio State. That would leave Iowa in a three-way tie with Purdue and Michigan State at 12-6 in the conference, a tie it would lose due to its previous losses to both teams. If any of those do not happen, Iowa gets into the top four. Two Purdue losses or a MSU split would leave them a game behind Iowa. An Ohio State weekly sweep would make it a four-way tie at 12-6, improve Iowa's tiebreaker to 2-2 and kick Purdue into the five seed. The needle would have to be threaded by everyone, not impossible but not probable (Kenpom odds of all four games going against Iowa: 14%).
If Penn State beats Ohio State: Purdue beats Michigan State
Even if the Nittany Lions spring an upset on OSU, Iowa can lock a top four spot with a Purdue win over Michigan State (again, presuming a win over Northwestern later in the week). Iowa would have no chance of a three seed, but would finish ahead of both MSU and OSU, and would likely face the Spartans Friday.
If Penn State beats Ohio State and Michigan State beats Purdue: Indiana over Michigan State OR Illinois over Purdue
Iowa simply can't get into a three-way tie with MSU and Purdue. A loss by either in the final weekend would preclude that from happening and send Iowa into a top four spot.
If Northwestern beats Iowa: All hell breaks loose
Iowa still has some routes to a four seed even in the event of a Saturday loss. The easiest route: Penn State beats Ohio State and both Purdue and Indiana beat Michigan State, moving Purdue into the three spot and eliminating any tie with Michigan State or Ohio State. The same principal would apply if Penn State wins, Michigan State sweeps the week, and Purdue loses twice, so long as Ohio State beats Wisconsin to force a three-way tie at 11-7.
Should Ohio State win Wednesday night, Iowa's favorite team could well be hated rival Wisconsin. Any scenario that would get the Hawkeyes a bye to Friday with a loss to Northwestern would require a Wisconsin win over Ohio State Sunday. From there, most scenarios involve an Indiana win over Michigan State and/or an Illinois win over Purdue, but no single win or loss would eliminate Iowa (in fact, the Purdue-Michigan State result would be largely irrelevant).