The Huskers have three conference games left, and they could win the Big Ten regular season championship. Yep, the team that started the year 0-7 and lost two pivotal conference series at home still has a legitimate title shot.
The Big Ten race has come down to the final weekend in each of the last three seasons. But it’s never been as crazy as this.
No worries, though. We’ll sort it out together. First, the updated league-only standings, and then a few reference points.
|3. Ohio St||14-7||.667|
|7. Michigan State||10-8||.556|
>> Seven teams are in contention for six Big Ten tournament spots — and only one of those squads finishes the year with a series against a bottom 4 team. Michigan State plays at Penn State (3-18 in league play) this week. The rest of the Thursday-through-Saturday lineup: IU-OSU, Ill-Minn and Mich-NU. (So yeah, this tournament selection process is basically real-life musical chairs).
>> The top 4 teams — Indiana, Ohio State, Minnesota and Nebraska — are the only ones with a chance at the regular season title.
>> The Big Ten’s top 2 finishers get first-round byes in next week’s conference tournament in Minneapolis (a HUGE advantage in a double-elimination slugfest that’s crammed into four days).
>> The April series between Minnesota and Michigan State was canceled because of weather. That means those two teams will end the year with three fewer games than everyone else, making this already extremely complicated breakdown of the league race exponentially more complicated.
For those ambitious few who have time to kill, the league’s tiebreaking procedures are here, so you can analyze every possible outcome (If my calculations are correct — and they probably aren’t because my head already hurts — there are 256 different scenarios. So knock yourselves out).
For the rest of us who detest math, probability, equations and basic thinking… Below are four questions (and attempted answers) in regard to Nebraska place in this race.
1. Can the Huskers still win an outright Big Ten regular season title?
Yes. But they need help. First, a sweep of Michigan this week is required. Also, Ohio State must take two of three against Indiana, AND Illinois has to win at least one against Minnesota. … The championship could possibly be shared, too, so long as the Hoosiers don’t sweep the Buckeyes.
2. What about the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament for NU?
Totally possible. If Nebraska wins all three against Michigan, it’s likely the 2-seed — well, unless Ohio State sweeps Indiana, AND Minnesota sweeps Illinois (then the Huskers would be third), OR if IU wins two and the Gophers sweep (then NU falls to the 3-seed). … [Deep breath encouraged here] … It gets even more tricky if Nebraska wins two of three against the Wolverines. Then the Huskers would be in danger of falling into a two-way tie with Indiana or Ohio State (both teams carry a head-to-head tiebreaker over NU). A three-way tie involving Minnesota isn’t ideal for anyone but the Gophers, who are 5-3 so far against the league’s top-half (the likely tiebreaking metric in that scenario). … But if NU wins two, Indiana wins two and Minnesota loses once, Nebraska’s the 2-seed.
3. Is there a way Nebraska doesn’t reach the Big Ten tournament?
Unless Mother Nature interferes so drastically that games start getting canceled this week (which is technically possible in the Midwest). Otherwise, though, it appears NU is in. … If we’re talking simply about securing a bid to the Big Ten tournament, then think about it like this: Nebraska has to finish ahead of just one of the top 7. So say the Huskers get swept by Michigan. Even then, the only way they don’t finish in front of Illinois (NU owns the head-to-head tiebreaker) is if the Illini sweep Minnesota — but that would in turn drop the Gophers’ league winning percentage below NU’s. … Say Ohio State, Illinois and Nebraska all end up in a three-way tie at the bottom. The Buckeyes would get the 5-seed because they beat both Illinois and Nebraska. Then the Huskers get the 6.
4. Uh, say what?? That last answer was long and confusing. Is Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament right now or not?
Put it this way: If the Huskers win a game against Michigan, they guarantee themselves a spot in the league tournament.