How Will The Buckeyes Finish?

Though the Buckeyes have just five conference games left, where they will finish in the league is still a mystery. Let's try to solve it.

When Ohio State fell 59-56 at Michigan State over the weekend, the Buckeyes fell out of second place in the Big Ten standings, but they have five games left to get back in to a favorable position.

The Buckeyes sit at 8-5 in league play with games remaining at Michigan, against Nebraska and Purdue, at Penn State and home against Wisconsin. While the Badgers have not officially won the league, Wisconsin sits at 11-1 and two and a half games up on Maryland and Purdue with just six left to play. Essentially everyone else is contending for second.

So what will it take for Ohio State to get there? While the Terrapins and Boilermakers are tied for second at 9-4, Michigan State is also ahead of the Buckeyes and a half-game back on second place at 8-4. Indiana is also 8-5 while Illinois (7-6) and Iowa (6-6) remain fringe contenders for a top four finish.

While second place is still likely the Buckeyes goal, finishing in the top four would be the more important accomplishment as it would assure Ohio State of an automatic bye into the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.

So far this season, Ohio State has been good about defeating the teams it should as none of their seven losses on the season could be deemed bad losses (with the possible exception of a home loss to a now-struggling Iowa). That’s why it seems safe to assume that the Buckeyes will win at Michigan (13-12, 6-7) next Sunday, against Nebraska (13-12, 5-8) Feb. 26 and at Penn State (15-11, 3-10) March 4.

That leaves two home games up for grabs, Purdue (17-9, 9-4) March 1 and Wisconsin (23-2, 11-1) to close the season March 8. I’m predicting the Buckeyes split those games, likely defeating a Purdue team that they lost to by just two on the road without Marc Loving. I’m not ruling out that Ohio State could beat a Wisconsin team that could be satiated after already winning the conference outright, but for now let’s assume the Buckeyes drop that game.

So we’re assuming that Ohio State finishes 12-6 in the conference. Where will that put them in the final standings? For the answer to that we have to look at the other contenders.

Maryland: 9-4

  • Remaining schedule: vs. Nebraska Feb. 19, vs. Wisconsin Feb. 24, vs. Michigan Feb. 28, at Rutgers March 3 and at Nebraska March 8.

Maryland has not lost any of its six conference games at home, but has gone just 3-4 on the road. I think they keep that home winning streak going for one more game, beating Nebraska later this week. They’ll fall to Wisconsin to snap their conference home win streak before getting back on track with a win against Michigan. While Maryland has been mediocre on the road, Rutgers is far from mediocre, so that’s a win in my book.

That means it will come down to the final game of Maryland’s season, at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers have disappointed this year, but still have talent with Terran Pettaway and Shavon Shields. Also, Nebraska is 5-2 at home against Big Ten opponents with their two losses coming by a total of 15 points. Still, I’m taking Maryland in close one. If I’m wrong on that one, the league will get real chaotic.

Terrapins projected finish: 13-5

Purdue: 9-4

  • Remaining schedule: at Indiana Feb. 19, vs. Rutgers Feb. 26, at Ohio State March 1, at Michigan State March 4 and vs. Illinois March 7.

Considering they entered conference play with five losses, including ones to Gardner-Webb and North Florida, the fact that Purdue is tied for second this late in the season is as a surprise. Considering the Boilermakers have one of the hardest schedules of the contenders left, they will be hard pressed to stay there.

Though this week’s game against Indiana is on the road, the Boilermakers have a major size advantage over the Hoosiers and I expect them to win that game. Home against Rutgers is practically a bye, so expect Purdue to come to Columbus on March 1 at 11-4 in league play. That’s when things will start to fall apart for the Boilermakers. As I already said, I think Purdue losses in Columbus and I think they fall just three days later in their second consecutive road game with Michigan State holding home court. They bounce back with a season-ending home win over Illinois.

Boilermakers projected finish: 12-6

Michigan State: 8-4

  • Remaining schedule: at Michigan Feb. 17, at Illinois Feb. 22, vs. Minnesota Feb. 26, at Wisconsin March 1, vs. Purdue March 4 and at Indiana March 7.

Man, never count out a Tom Izzo team. I’ve counted Michigan State out too many times in the past to see them close the season strong, so I expect their experienced team to do that again this year. The Spartans have consecutive road games coming up at Michigan and at Illinois, but I think they win both of those.

Minnesota at home looks like a win, but I doubt the Spartans can get it done in Madison. I’ve already said I’ll take the Spartans over the Boilermakers, but I think the Hoosiers get a win at home in the final MSU game of the season.

Spartans projected finish: 12-6

Indiana: 8-5

  • Remaining schedule: vs. Purdue Feb. 19, at Rutgers Feb. 22, at Northwestern Feb. 25, vs. Iowa March 3, vs. Michigan State March 7.

While the Hoosiers remain tied with Ohio State, but their grasp on that spot seems tenuous. I have them losing to Purdue and Michigan State to drop out of things going forward.

Hoosier projected finish: 11-7

OK, so what does this all mean? My projections (which should be taken with an entire silo of salt) have Maryland in second and Ohio State, Michigan State and Purdue tied for third in the conference at 12-6 (unless the Buckeyes get a win over Wisconsin). That means we go to the tiebreaker.

In this scenario teams are separated by their record against the other teams tied for the same position. That would put Michigan State on top with a 2-0 record against the Buckeyes and Boilermakers. So that leaves the four seed to either OSU or Purdue.

The Buckeyes and Boilermakers would both be 1-2 against the teams tied in this scenario, so the next tiebreaker must do the deciding. That would be record against the top team in the standings and both squads would be 0-1 against Wisconsin. Moving down in the standings, Ohio State would have the edge thanks to a 24-point win over Maryland, giving the Buckeyes the very important fourth seed.

Obviously, this is all a big what if, but it does follow how I think the league will shake out. Usually the chaos has a way of working itself out, but with so few games left there is little time for that. Ohio State is very much alive for a top four seed in the conference tournament, but to avoid relying on tiebreakers, they’d be best served to win out.

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