The Big Ten has not won a national title since Michigan State in 2000 even as the conference has ascended in recent years to at or near the top of the conference ratings. Purdue is the current #1 team in the polls with an undefeated start while the rest of the conference pecking order is a little unclear this early in the season. Indiana and Wisconsin have had good starts while Ohio State, Rutgers, and Maryland grade as possible threats. Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, and Illinois are also big basketball brands that could make a run even while off to marginal starts to the season.
The Big Ten has 14 teams playing a 20-game conference schedule as there are some big disparities in the draws. Here is a quick look at who may benefit from a favorable Big Ten path to finish higher in the standings than they might otherwise as this deep conference could be a threat to again put a big group of teams in the NCAA Tournament after placing nine in the field last season but getting no one past the Sweet 16 for a second consecutive disappointing March Madness run for the conference.
Purdue is 13-0 and the #1 team in the nation. While most advanced ratings don’t place Purdue as the #1 team in the nation, the Boilers are clearly the top rated team in the conference right now with a decent gap to #2. Purdue has non-conference wins over Duke and Gonzaga, plus wins over Marquette and West Virginia as the Boilermakers are the team to beat. The 2-0 Big Ten start came vs. the two likely worst teams in the Big Ten but measuring the various Big Ten schedules has to start with who has to play Purdue twice, as that will be a major disadvantage.
Favoring Purdue is that after already beating Minnesota and Nebraska in Big Ten games in December, the Boilermakers get to play those teams again in January. The other five teams which Purdue plays twice are: Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Maryland, and Indiana. That is a rather formidable quintet and teams like Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Rutgers could climb in the Big Ten race thanks to only playing the Boilermakers once. Michigan, Northwestern, and Wisconsin are the teams that will play Purdue at home in the only meeting.
Minnesota is a borderline top 200 team nationally right now, as the only Big Ten team outside the top 100. Playing Minnesota twice will be a significant advantage in the Big Ten schedule. The Gophers have already started 0-2 with double-digit losses to Purdue and Michigan, teams that both will play Minnesota again. The other five teams facing Minnesota twice this season are: Wisconsin, Rutgers, Maryland, Illinois, and Nebraska.
Nebraska appears to be the second worst team in the Big Ten, even with a notable win over Iowa in late December. As previously mentioned, Purdue and Minnesota will play Nebraska twice. The other five teams that get to play Nebraska twice in this year’s Big Ten schedule are: Michigan State, Maryland, Penn State, Illinois, and Iowa will also play Nebraska again at the end the season.
Given that the teams currently in the 2-12 positions are minimally separated with a range from #14 Ohio State to #66 Michigan in the current KenPom rankings the schedule disparities vs. Purdue, Minnesota, and Nebraska should be meaningful. The Boilermakers do have a decent draw to maintain the top spot but keep an eye on Wisconsin, Maryland, and Rutgers to have a chance to climb to the top of the standings as well with some breaks in the uneven Big Ten scheduling. Illinois is already 0-2 in Big Ten play but non-conference wins over Texas and UCLA are present as the Illini may be worth a long shot look to climb upward in the coming weeks with favorable current pricing in Big Ten futures and one of the better overall paths in the Big Ten.