Miller Blog: Unraveling the Big10 Tie-Breaker

WARNING: I am about to get ahead of myself with this offering, but it's not too far fetched, I promise. No, I am not going to predict a third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance for Iowa, but we can talk about it if you'd like. First things first. Let's talk Big Ten Tournament seeding, and its tie breaking procedures and how Iowa can get the important third seed; it's possible.

WARNING: I am about to get ahead of myself with this offering, but it's not too far fetched, I promise.

No, I am not going to predict a third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance for Iowa, but we can talk about it if you'd like.

First things first. Let's talk Big Ten Tournament seeding, and tie breaking procedures.

This topic is beginning to pop up on the message boards, so it might be a good time to spell things out.

First of all, the baseline hypothetical here is that Iowa wins its next two games; at Penn State next Wednesday then home against Illinois on Saturday, March 3rd. Both of those games will be challenging. Iowa is the only team in the Big Ten not currently ranked #1 or #2 in the nation that has more than one league road victory, but even a trip to Penn State won't be easy. Ask Ohio State.

Iowa needs to find a way to get the #3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. It's the best hole to come out of for this year's team, since it can't get the #1 seed. So let's paint the picture in how Iowa can capture that 3rd seed, if its even possible.

OK, we already said they have to win out. If they do that, they would be 10-6 at the end of the regular season. That would mean that Illinois would have at least seven losses, since they are currently tied with Iowa for fourth place at 8-6.

Next up, Michigan State needs to beat Indiana this weekend; the game is in East Lansing.

That's not unlikely. Hey, this hypothetical stuff is pretty simple, right?

If Iowa wins out, no other team can leap frog Iowa in the standings, as MSU also has six losses at the present. The best MSU could do is tie Iowa, if the Hawkeyes win out. Purdue and Michigan already have seven league losses.

Indiana plays Northwestern and Penn State after MSU, likely wins. So let's give them a 10-6 record as well.

Michigan State closes with back to back road games at Michigan and Wisconsin. For this first hypothetical, lets say they stay hot and win out…the least likely of any of the scenarios I have put forth.

So let's start with a three team tiebreaker for the third seed between Iowa, Indiana and Michigan State.

Here are the tie-breaker rules from the Big Ten on Multiple Team ties:

1. Results of head-to-head competition during the regular season.

A. When comparing records against a single team or a group of teams, the higher winning percentage shall prevail, even if the number of games played against the team or group are unequal (i.e., 2-0 is better than 3-1); in the case of tied percentages vs. the team or group of 1.000 or .000 the following shall apply: 2-0 is better than 1-0; 0-1 is better than 0-2.

Jon here; in the event of this three-team tie with MSU beating Indiana on Saturday in the mix, the teams will have split perfectly, with each of them beating the other two on their home court, and each of them losing to the other two on the road. So we have to move on to the next tie-breaker.

B. After the top team among the tied teams is determined, the second team is ranked by its record among the original tied teams, not the head-to-head record vs. the remaining team(s).

Jon: We still haven't separated the wheat from the chafe, so we move on.

2. If the remaining teams are still tied, then each tied team's record shall be compared to the team occupying the highest position in the final regular-season standings, continuing down through the standings until one team gains an advantage.

Jon: If MSU wins out, which they have to do to be in this three-team pool, that means they would have beaten Wisconsin on the road in the season finale. Iowa lost to Ohio State and lost both game to Wisconsin. Indiana also beat Wisconsin once this year.

What that does is eliminate Iowa from contention for the third seed, and basically gives them the 5th seed. That means that there would be a two-team tie-breaker between MSU and Indiana for that third seed. A lot would depend on if Purdue would finish ahead of Michigan in the final standings. If it did, then Indiana would get the third seed, as they would have been 1-1 against Purdue this year, and MSU would be 0-1. If Michigan has the higher final finish than Purdue, then MSU would get the third seed, because we have MSU getting two wins over the Wolverines, and Indiana lost to them in Ann Arbor.

The fourth seed plays the fifth seed.

Does that make sense?

OK, so the other scenario for Iowa is if it ties with Indiana for third place, with MSU beating the Hoosiers but the Spartans falling to either Michigan or Wisconsin down the stretch. That seems the most likely scenario.

If that plays out, there would be the two-team head to head tie-breaking procedure between the Hawkeyes and the Hoosiers. They split there. Then you go to how they did against the teams atop the standings, working you way down until one team gains an advantage.

Unfortuntely, we don't have to go too far down the standings to find that separator; Indiana beat Wisconsin at home, and Iowa lost both games to the Badgers. Indiana would get the 3rd seed.

So as we look at it, the only way that Iowa can get the third seed is if it finishes at 10-6, with Indiana finishing at 9-7 and MSU also having seven wins. There is no way for Iowa to win a tiebreaker against MSU if both teams are 10-6, as that means that MSU would have beaten Michigan for a second time this season, giving them the tie-breaker advantage if it dropped all the way to Michigan; Iowa is 1-0 against Michigan and MSU would be 2-0. 2-0 is better than 1-0.

So root for Michigan State this weekend against Indiana, then root for Michigan and/or Wisconsin against Michigan State the rest of the way, and root for Northwestern or Penn State to beat Indiana.

And yeah, Iowa has to win out.

If Iowa wins out, it's unlikely that it would be the third seed, and its impossible that it could be the 6th seed, another advantageous hole to come out of. So that means 4-5, and that means if you win that Friday game, the Ohio State Buckeyes are waiting for you on Saturday.

And that my friends, is trouble.

With Iowa's win against Purdue, it moved up roughly five spots in the RPI to 78. Penn State is near 200 in the RPI, and Illinois is in the low 30's as things stand now. If Iowa wins out the regular season, its RPI might get to the high 60's. Win the 4/5 game, and it might get to the low to mid 60's.

The way things are looking, Iowa probably has to win its last two games, and win two games in the Big Ten Tournament, with one of those wins coming against Ohio State.

If that happens, I think they will make it to the Big Dance.

If those things, all of those things, don't happen, then it's an N.I.T. appearance for Iowa.

And this season, based on what most of us thought we would see, that's not a bad ending. Especially if Iowa can win its last two games, getting to 10-6, and winning one game in the Big Ten Tournament. If it did that, then lost to Ohio State, that' a record of 19-13 overall. Not too shabby.

Go Sparty, go Wildcats and go Nittany Lions.

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