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Did we learn anything from the Gavitt Games?

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Going beyond the 4-4 tie, how does the Big Ten stack up nationally?

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at DePaul
Rutgers: Possibly not a millstone about the neck of the conference?
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

With Minnesota’s home victory over St. John’s tonight, the Big Ten and Big East officially drew their second consecutive iteration of the Gavitt Games at 4-4. Here’s the full scoreboard (with the away team listed on top):

#3 Villanova 79 Providence 67
#15 Purdue 76 Ohio State 72
Maryland 76 Rutgers 66
Georgetown 75 DePaul 59
#9 wisconsin 67 Seton Hall 91
#22 Creighton 79 Iowa 83
Northwestern 68 St. John's 86
Butler 70 Minnesota 92

Some things of note:

  • The average margin of victory in the series was just 5.5 points. Especially given late-game fouling, that’s ridiculously good.
  • The home team won just 4 games—two from each conference.
  • The higher-rated Kenpom team, on the other hand, won 7 of the 8 games (only wisconsin lost).
  • In the games the Big East won, the winner’s Kenpom rating was 23.5. The losing Big Ten team’s was 37.
  • In the games the Big Ten won, the winner’s Kenpom rating was 75.25. The losing Big East team’s was 100.25.

I think those last two bullet points are the most important ones to consider. Do we really conclude, based on the losses of Purdue (to #3 Villanova by a point), wisconsin (to #22 Creighton on the road), Northwestern (at Butler on a last-second shot), or Iowa (at home to Seton Hall), that the Big Ten all that bad?

No, of course not. Of those wins, only Creighton’s is considered an upset in any sense of the word, and the badgers were only 2-point favorites at the Jays despite being ranked 13 places higher.

In fact, coupled with Michigan’s win over my Golden Eagles in the 2K Classic (a drubbing marred by "enforcement" of the "special emphasis" rules which I’m sure will totally be enforced when we start Big Ten play and the Gard- and Izzo-endorsed muggings continue), the Big Ten looks pretty damn good. Underdogs Purdue and Northwestern acquitted themselves quite nicely (the latter on the road), a Maryland team which had looked wholly uninspiring pulling off a last-second stunner at Georgetown, and even Rutgers was competent!

All of this, of course, necessitates mention that of course it’s too early to make far-reaching statements on the Big Ten’s (or the Big East’s) place amid the conferences—Sagarin, for what it’s worth, has the Big East 3rd and the Big Ten 4th nationally, with the Big East about 2 central mean points higher, a not-insubstantial margin.

Come tournament time, no doubt we’ll see about half of both conferences represented in the NCAA Tournament; while Villanova still looks to be the team to beat from between the two and Creighton will likely flex its muscle against the Huskers in a few weeks, the middle tier of the Big Ten showed that, pound for pound, it might just match up at least as favorably with perennial contenders from the Big East.

In a year where OTE called it a four-team race among Purdue, Indiana, Michigan State, and wisconsin for the league title, this week confirmed that the Big Ten might be even deeper than we give it credit for.