clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

After Iowa's loss at Maryland, the Big Ten title race might be wide open again

The Hawkeyes might still be the Big Ten's frontrunner, but Maryland's win in College Park last night brings additional teams back in play. Let's handicap the field.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

An Iowa win in College Park would've made the Big Ten regular season title the Hawkeyes' to lose. Fran McCaffery's bunch are still the odds-on favorites to take the title thanks to a soft schedule down the stretch, but the Hawks' one loss might have been just enough to open up the Big Ten race again. Let's look at the contenders, remaining schedules, and what each team has to do to give themselves a shot at a regular-season title come early March.

1. Iowa

Big games remaining: at Indiana (Feb. 11), Indiana (Mar. 1), at Michigan (Mar. 5)

Best chance to lose: at Indiana (53% chance of victory, per KenPom)

Trap game: at Ohio State, Feb. 28

KenPom projects: 15-3

Margin for error: 2-3 losses

Why they'll win the B1G: Because there's been nothing to indicate that Iowa is anything but the Big Ten's best team. A quartet of wins over Michigan State and Purdue vaulted Hawkeyes into the pole position to take the title, and a road loss to a top-10 Maryland team in College Park is nothing to shake a stick at. Jarrod Uthoff is a legitimate national player of the year candidate, and Fran McCaffery has the surrounding parts in Peter Jok, Mike Gesell, Nick Baer, and Adam Woodbury to make Iowa the Big Ten's most complete team right now. But the biggest reason they'll take the title? Iowa's already through the meat of their schedule. The Hawkeyes only have two games remaining against a top 25 team -- a home-and-home with Indiana.

Why they won't: Indiana. It's the Hoosiers that will determine exactly how much the conference race opens up to other teams. If Tom Crean's team is able to sweep or at least take one game from the Hawkeyes, it puts a four-to-five loss Big Ten season in play if the Hawkeyes stumble in Ann Arbor, against Wisconsin at home, or in Columbus.

Chance to win it: 50%

2. Indiana

Big games remaining: at Michigan, Iowa, at Michigan State, Purdue, at Iowa, Maryland

Best chance to lose: at Iowa (20% chance of victory, per KenPom)

Trap game: at Penn State, Feb. 7

KenPom projects: 13-5

Margin for error: 2-3 losses

Why they'll win the B1G: Because they still completely control their own destiny in Big Ten play. The Hoosiers have six games left against the top of the conference, and two against the Iowa team with which they're tied atop the conference. Out of this six game set, Indiana needs roughly 3-4 wins (with at least one coming against Iowa) to have a shot at a conference title. Put it this way: If Indiana simply holds serve at home and takes care of Illinois and Penn State on the road, they'd have a decent chance to share the title at 14-4 if Iowa stumbles in Ann Arbor and Columbus. Considering the team Indiana's been at Assembly Hall, the road games are gravy. Winning just one, say on the road in Michigan on Tuesday, could set up the Iowa-Indiana matchups to be a de facto two-leg Big Ten title series.

Why they won't: AIN'T PLAYED NOBODY PAWWWWWWWWWWWWWL. Indiana's been rolling up big numbers on the bottom of the conference to start 2016, and having reservations about the Hoosiers' legitimacy as a conference title contender is still a somewhat justifiable opinion. There's a track record of Tom Crean teams fading down the stretch in February, so there's plenty of reason to doubt that Indiana's blistering pace keeps up as they hit rockier waters. Indiana's season can go in one of two directions -- and one has them closer to the bubble than the Big Ten title race if things go quickly south given the lack of quality non-conference wins.

Chance to win it: 20%

3. Maryland

Big games remaining: Purdue, Michigan, at Purdue, at Indiana

Best chance to lose: at Purdue (36% chance of victory, per KenPom)

Trap game: at Ohio State, Sunday

KenPom projects: 13-5

Margin for error: 1-2 losses

Why they'll win the B1G: Because 14-4 might be enough to win a share of the conference -- and the Terps could get there by beating Purdue and Michigan at home. While Mark Turgeon's team hasn't been firing opponents into the ether at home like, say, Indiana, they're winning close games at the end -- and that's all that's important.

Why they won't: Because winning on the road in the Big Ten isn't ever easy. Maryland has five road tests left on the schedule, including trips to two of the Big Ten's toughest venues -- Mackey Arena & Assembly Hall. Coming off a huge home win over a top five team, the next two games (at Ohio State, at Nebraska) against middle-of-the-conference teams won't be easy either. With Iowa's easy homestretch, the Terps have minimal room to lay an egg any night on the road.

Chance to win it: 15%

4. Michigan

Big games remaining: Indiana, Michigan St., Purdue, at Maryland, at Wisconsin, Iowa

Best chance to lose: at Maryland (21% chance of victory, per KenPom)

Trap game: at Ohio State, Feb. 16

KenPom projects: 11-7

Margin for error: 1-2 losses

Why they'll win the B1G: Home games, including one against Iowa. Outside of Indiana, the Wolverines are the only team with any shot of making a run at conference title with a game against the favorites left on the schedule. It's at home, the last game of the year, and there's a chance that that game could be for a share of the conference title

Why they won't: Caris Levert might not return soon enough. It's not that Michigan can't win big games without LeVert -- Duncan Robinson's emergence has made his absence less grave than it would've been without the D-III transfer and the Wolverines already knocked off Maryland without him at home. Still, the last news on LeVert was that he still wasn't practicing, and it seems unlikely that he would fully healthy to play in two massive home games against Indiana and Michigan State next week. If the Wolverines drop both of those, any shot at a Big Ten title would be hanging by a thread and would likely require running the table the rest of the way. It's also worth noting that KenPom thinks the Wolverines will lose more conference games than any other team on this list, projecting a conference record of 11-7.

Chance to win it: 7%

5. Michigan State

Big games remaining: at Michigan, at Purdue, Indiana

Best chance to lose: at Purdue (40% chance of victory, per KenPom)

Trap game: Wisconsin, Feb. 18

KenPom projects: 12-6

Margin for error: NONE

Why they'll win the B1G: Because this would be the most Tom Izzo thing to do in the world -- and the schedule makes it possible. Sparty pooped their pants to start the Big Ten season, and it was an explicable pooping given the absences of Denzel Valentine and Tum-Tum Nairn. Now seemingly rounding into form after a big weekend win over Maryland, Izzo's team only has one game in the remainder of the season that KenPom projects them to lose -- by three at Purdue in February. State's remaining schedule outside of those three games? Rutgers twice, Ohio State twice, Wisconsin at home, Penn State at home. We're ripe for some peak Izzoing, here.

Why they won't: Iowa ain't losing five games in conference play, and might not even lose four. One loss will effectively leave them on the outside looking in, if they aren't there already.

Chance to win: 5%

6. Purdue

Big games remaining: at Maryland, Michigan St., at Michigan, at Indiana, Maryland

Best chance to lose: at Maryland (33% chance of victory, per KenPom)

Trap game: at Nebraska, Mar. 1

KenPom projects: 12-6

Margin for error: 1 loss

Why they'll win the B1G: Because Purdue's more well-built to win road games than any other Big Ten team -- and that's exactly what they'll have to do to have a shot at a conference title. Purdue's slow-down, inside-out style of play makes it less dependent on outside shooting -- which is generally the first thing to go awry for teams when playing in an unfamiliar environment.

Why they won't: Because three losses to date puts the Boilers well-behind the eight ball. It's very possible that Iowa (or Indiana, I guess) could finish the season with only three losses -- a scenario that would require Matt Painter's team to win out to take a share. With that remaining schedule, well, uh, good luck. The Boilers' margin for error is non-existent.

Chance to win: 3%