The Big Ten’s Strong Opening Statement Sets the Conference Up for Future Success

    Through Sunday night, the Big Ten is 45-6 this season with 12 of its 14 teams ranked in the top 50 on kenpom.com and eight teams among the top 35

    November 19, 2018

    Through Sunday night, the Big Ten is 45-6 this season with 12 of its 14 teams ranked in the top 50 on kenpom.com and eight teams among the top 35 vote-getters in last week’s AP Top 25 poll.

    That poll was released before the start of the Gavitt Tipoff Games, which saw the Big Ten win the series five games to three, including Michigan’s 73-46 win at No. 8 Villanova, Indiana’s 96-73 win against No. 24 Marquette, and Wisconsin and Ohio State both winning by nine on the road against Xavier and Creighton, respectively.

    Most college basketball teams have played between three and five games, so it’s incredibly early in the season, but it’s not too early to project how the Big Ten’s first two weeks have set up the conference to earn more than the four NCAA tournament bids it received in March.

    The Big Ten can set its sights on putting seven to nine teams in the 2019 NCAA tournament – a productive range that the Big 12, SEC and ACC fell in last season.

    Big Ten play starts on Nov. 30, and every team will play two conference games between the last day of November and Dec. 5 in the first year of the Big Ten’s 20-game conference schedule. As it currently stands, Rutgers is the only Big Ten team that could give its conference brethren a “bad loss,” while 12 of the teams are potential “quality wins” for the rest of the conference.

    Illinois is somewhere in between, ranked No. 76 on kenpom.com as of Sunday night.

    If the conference can maintain a similar trajectory through the rest of non-conference play, it means that Big Ten teams will almost exclusively have chances to add good wins to their resumes, while Rutgers projects to be the only potential landmine.

    School Record kenpom.com Ranking*
    Michigan 5-0 No. 7
    Michigan State 3-1 No. 12
    Purdue 4-1 No. 13
    Wisconsin 3-0 No. 14
    Indiana 3-1 No. 18
    Nebraska 3-0 No. 29
    Ohio State 4-0 No. 30
    Iowa 4-0 No. 33
    Penn State 2-1 No. 35
    Maryland 5-0 No. 36
    Minnesota 3-0 No. 45
    Northwestern 3-0 No. 46
    Illinois 1-1 No. 76
    Rutgers 2-1 No. 136

    *Through Sunday, November 18

    We can use the Big 12 last season as an example. The 10-team conference finished with eight teams ranked in the top 50 on kenpom.com. The site ranked Oklahoma State as the ninth-best team in the Big 12 and the Cowboys went 21-15, while Iowa State (13-18, No. 103 in kenpom.com) was the only team that could’ve potentially weighed down another Big 12 team’s resume with a loss.

    The Big 12 put seven teams in the NCAA tournament, including three that were .500 or worse in conference play. That suggests that there could be Big Ten teams this season that finish within a game of .500 in conference play but still make the tournament if they have a handful of impressive wins.

    The conference already has a few of those wins in the first two weeks of the season, including one apiece from unranked Indiana and Illinois.

    The Big Ten is currently 3-2 against the AP Top 25 with the two losses coming against higher-ranked opponents in two-possession games on a neutral court:

    • No. 1 Kansas def. No. 10 Michigan State 92-87
    • No. 18 Michigan def. No. 8 Villanova 73-46
    • Indiana def. No. 24 Marquette 96-73
    • Iowa def. No. 13 Oregon 77-69
    • No. 16 Virginia Tech def. No. 23 Purdue 89-83

    There are more than a few “quality wins” remaining for the Big Ten during non-conference play, especially in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. A series win against the ACC, combined with the Big Ten’s win in the Gavitt Tipoff Games, would signal an incredibly productive fall for a conference that is coming off what could fairly be described as a down season.

    Here are some of the upcoming significant non-conference opportunities the Big Ten has this season:

    • Nov. 19: Illinois vs. No. 3 Gonzaga
    • Nov. 22: Michigan State vs. No. 20 UCLA
    • Nov. 26: Nebraska at No. 19 Clemson
    • Nov. 27: Indiana at No. 1 Duke
    • Nov. 27: Penn State vs. No. 16 Virginia Tech
    • Nov. 28: Maryland vs. No. 4 Virginia
    • Nov. 28: Michigan vs. No. 7 North Carolina
    • Nov. 28: Purdue at No. 14 Florida State
    • Dec. 8: Wisconsin at No. 24 Marquette
    • Dec. 22: Ohio State vs. No. 20 UCLA

    Through mid-November, Michigan and Michigan State might represent the conference’s only hopes of producing a potential national championship contender, but the Big Ten’s strength this season might come in the form of its depth – 10 to 12 teams that can reasonably hope to make the NCAA tournament at this point in the season.

    If the Big Ten has a significant increase in its number of NCAA tournament teams from last season, the conference’s success in November will be a big reason why.

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