Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Big Ten Basketball Rooting Guide

It's not often that Michigan is competing for a Big Ten basketball title.  It's last title came all the way back in 1986, which is kinda a long time.  In fact, President Reagan was still in office the last time the Maize and Blue raised a Big Ten regular season banner for its basketball program.  Despite this, Michigan is right in the thick of things after upsetting arch-rival Ohio State  in Crisler Arena.  So, the obvious question should be, what does Michigan have to do to win the title this year and break the streak?

The first thing is win.  Michigan has three conference games left before the Big Ten Tournament (I bolded what should be the toughest game):

  • Purdue @ Michigan - Feb. 25 - 6PM
  • Michigan @ Illinois - Mar. 1 - 7PM
  • Michigan @ Penn State - Mar. 4 - 1PM

However, because of their current position in the Big Ten standings, Michigan will need more to win the title than just winning its remaining games.  These are the Big Ten standings as of February 22nd:
  1. Michigan State - 11-3
  2. Ohio State - 11-4
  3. Michigan - 11-4
  4. Wisconsin - 9-5
  5. Indiana - 8-7
Realistically, Wisconsin and Indiana are already out of the running for the Big Ten championship.  Wisconsin could still have an outside shot if they defeat Ohio State on Saturday, but it's pretty unlikely anybody else is going to drop far enough to get them back into the race, especially because there are only 3-4 games left for each team.  Indiana is also pretty much eliminated (just one win by MSU, OSU, or Michigan removes them from the race).

So, where does that leave Michigan?  This will be a three team race for the title, MSU, OSU, and Michigan.  However, as you can see above, Michigan does not face MSU or OSU in its final three regular season games.  This basically means that Michigan needs some help.  Since there is no tie-breaker for the regular season championship, Michigan will be guaranteed to finish at least 2nd or higher if they win their remaining three games.

Let's assume they win their final three games, which isn't that far of a stretch.  Michigan has already defeated all three of its remaining opponents (Purdue, Illinois, Penn State) by an average of 9.67 points.  Granted, the majority of those games were at home and the majority of these games will be on the road, but Michigan should be favored by a decent margin in all of its remaining games.  So, assuming Michigan wins these three games, they will need at least one loss from MSU to get a share of the title.  Basically, fans should be rooting against Michigan State in its remaining games (if you weren't already).  Here's their schedule:

  • MSU @ Minnesota - Feb. 22 - 8:30PM
  • Nebraska @ MSU - Feb. 25 - 8PM
  • MSU @ Indiana - Feb. 28 - 7PM
  • OSU @ MSU - Mar. 4 - 4PM

I've highlighted the games that should be the hardest for MSU to win in its remaining schedule.  Indiana is 6-1 at home in Big Ten play, which includes wins over OSU and Michigan.  Along with this, they beat #1 Kentucky during non-conference play at home.  MSU has been playing a lot better than Indiana as of late, but this should be a tough game for the Spartans and there's a good chance they drop one here.

However, the most important remaining game for the Spartans is their season-finale against the Buckeyes in East Lansing.  MSU has already defeated OSU once in what should have been a close game, but ended up finishing heavily in the Spartans favor.  I anticipate the Spartans will win this game, but there's no counting out Ohio State, even on the road against a quality team like Michigan State.  Both teams have a lot of talent and anything could happen, but that's not the important thing about this game.

The important aspect of the MSU vs. OSU game is that somebody has to lose.  Most Michigan fans would love hearing either team will lose regardless of the scenario, but if the Spartans win, as I'm guessing they will, that should at least allow Michigan a solo 2nd place Big Ten finish, but if the Buckeyes win, that would likely give Michigan at least a share of the Big Ten title.  So, while we're talking about the Buckeyes, let's take a look at their schedule:

  • Wisconsin @ OSU - Feb. 26 - 4PM
  • OSU @ Northwestern - Feb. 29 - 8:30PM
  • OSU @ MSU - Mar. 4 - 4PM

If you take a quick glance at Michigan and MSU's schedules in comparison to the Buckeyes, it's pretty obvious they have the toughest remaining route to a Big Ten title, despite having a guaranteed shot at the title by winning out.  Their schedule includes not only two of the top four teams in the Big Ten in their final three games, but they also travel to face a Northwestern team that's grasping for any quality wins. The Wildcats have already beaten MSU at home and it took overtime for Michigan to come out on top.  This could certainly be a trap game for the Buckeyes.

There's a lot of scenarios one could play out with these 9 games, but I think there's a great chance Michigan finishes 2nd or better in the Big Ten this season.  Tist may seem obvious to many, but the key here is the OSU vs. MSU game.  As I said earlier, somebody has to lose.  If MSU loses that should make give Michigan at least a split championship and if OSU loses, Michigan can drop at least one of their final three and still finish second.  Basically, I just don't see a realistic scenario where Michigan finishes 3rd in the Big Ten regular season.

I'd say the most likely scenario right now is that MSU wins its first outright championship since 2009.  The next logical finish would be a three-way tie for the championship (not sure how many people would be satisfied with this).  Finally, a two-way tie for the championship between Michigan State and Michigan (not sure if people would like this either).  

Rooting against MSU and OSU is probably normal for most Michigan fans, but it's even more importance right now.  Winning the Big Ten championship outright is currently out of the Wolverines' control.  There's certainly a great chance from what you can see above of getting at least a share, but we'll have to see from the results of the games above (primarily the Ohio State vs. Michigan State game).  Fans should be excited for what should be a wild finish to an even crazier year for the Big Ten conference.


Photo Credit: Rush The Court

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