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The Only Objective Preview Of The Men’s Big Ten Basketball Tournament

Computers and statistics have nothing on wisdom.

Syndication: Journal-Courier Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Big Ten Tournament bracket was set for the men’s side on Sunday, and what else happened Sunday was that Iowa defeated Ohio State in the women’s tournament. Ohio State was there in the finals by virtue of beating regular season champs Indiana. They’d gone 0-2 against the Hoosiers in the regular season, but real Basketball Knowers understand what that means.

Behold the men’s bracket!

There’s all kinds of ways to look at this. You could break down individual matchups, you could consult KenPom, NET, Sagarin or your own proprietary predictive rating system, you could watch all the film and stack all the numbers you want, or you could just sit there and understand that This Is March and that shit now takes a backseat to Conventional Wisdom accrued by true ball knowers over the ages.

The most important piece of conventional wisdom in conference tournament season is that It’s Hard To Beat A Team Three Times (In One Season).

Everyone knows this to be true. Nobody knows where it came from, and nobody needs to know because it’s a universal truth. If you have swept a team in the regular season, watch out! You COULD win a third game against them, but It’s Hard To Do That.*

*I don’t care that statistically speaking a team with a 2-0 series advantage wins the third game over 72% of the time, or that yesterday teams in such situations went 8-3. I don’t need to look at the results to understand ball.

Let’s look at the Big Ten Tournament through that most illuminating of lenses:

Best Draw: Minnesota

Minnesota’s struggles in the regular season set them up perfectly to not have any difficult games until Friday’s quarterfinal against Indiana. Nebraska swept the Gophers, so it’ll be hard for the Huskers to win their BTT matchup tomorrow. Maryland, who also swept Minnesota, awaits the winner of that game. Minnesota could lose before Friday, but it will be Hard for that to happen.

Best Tactical Choke: Iowa Hawkeyes

Despite getting the 5 seed, Iowa has an insurance policy against one of their potential Thursday opponents, the desperate Wisconsin Badgers. Somehow Wisconsin finds themselves on the tournament bubble thanks in large part to two wins over Iowa. However, if they get past an underachieving Ohio State, they are in for a Hard Mode game as an underdog against a team they swept. Iowa’s losses to Wisconsin seemed puzzling at the time, but there was a method to their madness.

Iowa also has pocket L’s to Nebraska in case the Huskers make it all the way to the finals.

Worst-Aged Win: Illinois Fighting Illini

Illinois would have a virtually clear path to the Big Ten Tournament finals if not for Terrence Shannon Jr. going nuts in the second half against Northwestern to overcome a 17-point halftime deficit. Had the Illini not pulled that one out, they could have potentially faced three teams in a row that swept them. Penn State won both meetings handily and Northwestern would also have had the regular season sweep. It won’t be as hard for Northwestern to prevent the Illini from advancing to face an Indiana team that’s 2-0 against them.

Biggest Variance: Indiana Hoosiers

The Hoosiers are the team to watch with this conventional wisdom. They have no sweeps either way of any possible Friday opponent, but their Saturday opponent will either be Penn State (though this would be Hard for Penn State to do), Northwestern or Illinois. While that matchup would be Hard for Northwestern, it would be Hard for Indiana to beat Illinois.

Indiana’s final opponents could be Michigan or Purdue, which would be Hard for them to win, or Iowa who would have a Hard time defeating the Hoosiers. It really seems that Indiana left their fate up to chance with their regular season results.

Controversial Prediction?

If Rutgers played Ohio State in the semifinals, would it be a Hard game to win? The Big Ten has stated after-the-fact that Rutgers’ would-be game-winner against Ohio State should have counted, and had it counted they’d be 2-0 against the Buckeyes.

All “Officially Hard” Big Ten Tournament Matchups (And When They Would Be):

Illinois: Nebraska (Semifinal), Wisconsin (Final)

Indiana: Illinois (Semifinal), Michigan (Final), Purdue (Final)

Iowa: Rutgers (Semifinal), Indiana (Final)

Maryland: Minnesota (Thursday),

Michigan: Northwestern (Final), Minnesota (Final

Michigan State: Ohio State (Quarterfinal), Nebraska (Final)

Minnesota: None

Nebraska: Minnesota (Wednesday), Iowa (Final)

Northwestern: Indiana (Semifinal), Wisconsin (Final)

Ohio State: None

Penn State: Illinois (Thursday)

Purdue: Ohio State (Semifinal), Michigan State (Semifinal), Penn State (Final), Nebraska (Final)

Rutgers: Penn State (Final), Ohio State? (Semifinal)

Wisconsin: Iowa (Thursday), Penn State (Final), Minnesota (Final)


Minnesota and Ohio State are both in great shape with no Hard games, but Minnesota is in better shape since four teams have Hard games against them while only 2 or 3 have such games against Ohio State.

It’s very interesting to me that no team could possibly face more than two Hard games in a Big Ten Tournament run. It is, however, possible for Minnesota to win it all by having all but one games against them be Hard (Indiana’s game against them on Friday would not be Hard).

The conclusions of this analysis are absolute and any failure of these predictions can be explained away by the variance introduced by single-elimination tournaments.


How hard is it to beat a team three times?

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