Handicapping The Big Ten Basketball Race

How bad was the nonconference season for Big Ten men's basketball teams? Only one team is ranked in the RPI top 25 and just three are in the top 50. Ouch. The conference race begins tonight as Wisconsin hosts Indiana. OSU, led by rags-to-riches story Nick Dials, visits Illinois Wednesday. Click this free link to go inside the numbers.

The Big Ten men's basketball season kicks off tonight as defending champion Wisconsin hosts Indiana at the Kohl Center. OSU opens conference play Wednesday night at Illinois.

With the help of our friend Jerry Palm at collegerpi.com (one of the best sites in the country), we will look at where things stand for the Big Ten's 11 teams as they embark on Big Ten play. We rank them in order by RPI (through games of Jan. 5).

Obviously, it does not look good for the conference to only have one team in the RPI top 25 and three in the top 50, although we know things will change. As nonconference play wound down, the Big Ten's conference RPI was fourth behind the ACC, SEC and Big East.

Here we go:


* Record -- 9-2.

* RPI ranking/Strength Of Schedule ranking -- 11 RPI/18 SOS.

* Good Wins -- Rutgers (20), Penn (57), Detroit (60).

* Good Losses -- Maryland (24), Alabama (12).

* Bad Losses -- None.

* Comment -- Bo Ryan‘s program reminds of where Jim O‘Brien had Ohio State about three years ago -- a consistent winner and a tough out every time.


* Record -- 9-2.

* RPI/SOS -- 28 RPI/55 SOS.

* Good Wins -- N.C. State (56), UCLA (42).

* Good Losses -- Vanderbilt (23).

* Bad Losses -- Boston U. (119).

* Comment -- Tommy Amaker‘s team has laid the ground work for an NCAA Tournament bid, which would be the school‘s first since 1998 due to probation (and Brian Ellerbee).


* Record -- 9-2.

* RPI/SOS -- 29 RPI/61 SOS.

* Good Wins -- Temple (49), Memphis (37), Missouri (59).

* Good Losses -- North Carolina (6), Providence (2).

* Bad Losses -- None.

* Comment -- The Fighting Illini have not missed a beat as Bruce Weber has taken over for Bill Self. The UNC loss was by 7 points, while the Illini actually had a big lead on Providence before falling apart and losing by 19. OSU better be ready.

Michigan State

* Record -- 5-6.

* RPI/SOS -- 54 RPI/5 SOS (what, not No. 1?).

* Good Wins -- Penn (57).

* Good Losses -- Where do we start?: Kansas (15), Duke (16), Kentucky (9), UCLA (42), Syracuse (38).

* Bad Losses -- None.

* Comment -- For the record, Davidson (2-7), Temple (4-5), St. Joseph‘s (11-0) and Providence (8-1) are the only teams to play harder schedules than MSU. We think Tom Izzo may have a good team underneath there somewhere. But hopefully he hasn‘t killed them with this NBA-style schedule. Obviously, MSU needs to make a up a ton of ground in the Big Ten to get to the NCAA.


* Record -- 7-4.

* RPI -- 76 RPI/94 SOS.

* Good Wins -- None.

* Good Losses -- Utah (35), Virginia (32), Nebraska (34), Texas Tech (7).

* Bad Losses -- None.

* Comment -- Minnesota‘s best win was Oral Roberts (97) and the Gophers have six other wins over teams ranked 220th or higher. As always, you can‘t spell Minnesota without NIT.


* Record -- 7-3.

* RPI/SOS -- 77 RPI/144 SOS.

* Good Wins -- Louisville (3).

* Good Losses -- Texas Tech (7), Missouri (59).

* Bad Losses -- Northern Iowa (175).

* Comment -- Nothing too bad, nothing too good about this body of work. Big question is whether Steve Alford can get the NCAA monkey off his back. The Hawkeyes have been once in the last four years.


* Record -- 6-5.

* RPI/SOS -- 78 RPI/45 SOS.

* Good Wins -- None.

* Good Losses -- Vanderbilt (23), Wake Forest (4), Missouri (59), Kentucky (9), Temple (49).

* Bad Losses -- None.

* Comment -- Three of the five losses have been by double digits, including a 33-point L at Wake Forest and a 39-point shiner at the hands of rival Kentucky. Those outcomes, both nationally televised, as well as a home loss to Temple haven‘t exactly made Mike Davis the most popular guy in Bloomington. IU‘s 18-year run of NCAA appearances (and, naturally, Davis' job) could be in jeopardy.


* Record -- 10-3.

* RPI/SOS -- 83 RPI/198 SOS.

* Good Wins -- Seton Hall (18), Duke (16), Clemson (51).

* Good Losses -- None.

* Bad Losses -- SMU (114), Colorado State (98).

* Comment -- You‘d think a team that won three games at the Great Alaska Shootout and also beat Clemson in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge would be ranked higher than 83rd in RPI. But seven of the wins are against teams ranked 190th or higher. Still, an 8-8 Big Ten mark puts Gene Keady back in the Big Dance.

Ohio State

* Record -- 8-5.

* RPI/SOS -- 94 RPI/102 SOS.

* Good Wins -- Villanova (48).

* Good Losses -- Georgia Tech (19), Seton Hall (18), Texas Tech (7).

* Bad Losses -- San Francisco (104).

* Comment -- Six of the wins are against teams ranked 190th or higher. Four of the losses here have been by double digits. There is nothing here to indicate this team is NCAA worthy. Even the win over a depleted Villanova team is tainted, so the Buckeyes had better get to work in the Big Ten (10-6 still might do it).

Penn State

* Record -- 6-5.

* RPI/SOS -- 117 RPI/101 SOS.

* Good Wins -- None.

* Good Losses -- Pittsburgh (33), Rutgers (20), Temple (49).

* Bad Losses -- New Mexico (132).

* Comment -- Ed DeChellis scheduled wisely with only minimal tests. Four of the wins are against teams ranked 257th or higher and Arkansas State (129) is the highest ranked team PSU has beaten.


* Record -- 5-6.

* RPI/SOS -- 196 RPI/215 SOS.

* Good Wins -- None.

* Good Losses -- Florida State (43), Rutgers (20).

* Bad Losses -- Illinois-Chicago (197), Mississippi Valley State (187).

* Comment -- Bill Carmody‘s team is short on numbers and, apparently, talent. Four of the wins were against teams ranked 251st or higher, but the buzzer beater home win over Arizona State (118) was at least a nice moment.

Summing Up

I bring up RPI from time to time, but I am smart enough to know it is not the end all be all when it comes to ranking teams. I consider it a handy barometer, however.

I generally consider good wins to be against any team ranked in the top 60. Good losses are likewise. Bad losses are usually to any team ranked 100th or higher.

Wisconsin, Illinois and Purdue each have three good wins, although Purdue's slate is balanced with two bad losses. Michigan State has certainly been battle tested, while Michigan is positioned nicely going into Big Ten play. If MSU can go 10-6 in Big Ten play, it will get every consideration (call it the "Georgia exception") from the committee.

My middle group would be Iowa, Indiana, Ohio State and Minnesota, all of whom must make up some serious ground in the conference portion of the schedule.

Penn State and Northwestern will almost certainly finish 10th and 11th or 11th and 10th, respectively.

Tournament berths may still be at stake when the Big Ten convenes in Indianapolis for the Big Ten tournament (March 11-14). The key seeds to keep in mind for that event are the top three and the top five. The top three seeds all have the advantage of playing quarterfinal games against teams that had to win a day earlier to advance to the quarters. Seeds four and five also avoid opening round play, but they face a dangerous opponent -- each other -- in what is usually the best of the quarterfinal games.

My feeling is the race could again come down to Wisconsin and Illinois. They meet Jan. 24 in Madison and Feb. 18 in Champaign. Let the games begin!

Buckeye Sports Top Stories