ESPN’s resident “Bracketologist”, Joe Lunardi, released his most recent NCAA Tournament bracket. Guess what folks? Wisconsin is “securely on the bubble” (irony intended). My question is: Do they deserve to be?
Wisconsin basketball’s horrible conference record
Even if they win today at Minnesota, the Badgers will finish two games below .500 with a 9-11 record. Does a team that finishes 11th in a conference of 14 deserve to make the tournament?
Unfortunately, this is a question that really can only be answered after the Madness is complete and we can evaluate the Big Ten’s performance.
But by many of the analytical metrics, the numbers say yes.
According to Sports-Reference.com, the Big Ten ranks second in the country in both the SRS (Simple Rating System) and SOS (Strength of Schedule). These numbers show the obvious strength of the Big Ten this season.
The Big Ten’s non-conference record was 100-35 for a winning percentage of 74.1%.
At some point in the season, 11 out of the 14 schools have been ranked in the AP Top 25, even Ohio State. This might not be the most accurate way to judge because the league’s best team all season, Purdue, was not ranked in the preseason poll or the first week.
Pollsters soon realized the error in their ways however and Purdue leaped from 24th to 5th in weeks 2 to 3.
What’s the difference between the different Quads?
This time of year one of the most repeated team records you’ll hear is “They have an 8-7 record with Quad 1 teams”. What the heck is Quad 1? While I’m sure many of my readers know this stuff like the back of their hand, this stuff might be a little murky to some.
It’s one of the metrics the selection committee uses in determining team performance. They can change during the season and location is one of the factors in calculation.
Quadrant 1 can be home games against the top 30 teams in the RPI, neutral-site games against the top 50, or away games versus the top 75.
This is why rooting for the opposition that Wisconsin has already played (except Michigan or Minnesota) makes “statistical sense”, because each win they register strengthens Wisconsin’s rating.
The Badgers’ Quad 1 record is 6-7, their Quad 2 is 5-5, 0-1 in Quad 3 (the early season OT loss to Wake Forest), and a perfect 5-0 in Quad 4.
By comparison, Kansas has the best Quad 1 record in the country at 15-6. Purdue, naturally, has the best Quad 1 in the Big Ten, sitting at 9-4.
The Big Ten historical trends in the NCAA Tournament
In 2019, the Big Ten sent eight teams into the Big Dance. 2020 was canceled because of COVID-19. When the tournament resumed in 2021, the Big Ten was there in force with nine teams. Last season was a replica of 2021, as another nine teams represented the Big Ten.
The record number of teams from the same conference to make the NCAA tournament is 11, set by the Big East in 2011. The champion that year was UConn. If you send 11 teams to the tourney, one of the better win!
Looking at Joe Lunardi’s bracket, as it currently stands, the Big Ten has 10 teams in line for a ticket to the dance. However, both Wisconsin and Penn State are listed in the “last four in” category.
In beautiful irony, Michigan is listed in the “first four out” slot. I’m sure their fans will cry foul if Wisconsin makes it, being ranked below them in the conference.
If one of your Michigan friends starts to do this, just kindly point out to them their 3-10 record in Quad 1 and their loss to Central Michigan, at home. And then politely laugh in their face.
Maybe Wisconsin basketball isn’t as bad as it seems
For everybody who loves the Badgers, this season has been one of dissatisfaction. Late-game collapses have many pounding their head in frustration. I can personally attest to being grumpy the day after the overtime loss to Michigan.
But in looking out at the entire landscape of college basketball, it seems that a plethora of other teams are suffering the same. Michigan State lost a 13-point lead with 1:34 remaining and fell in OT to Iowa last weekend. This was with the Spartans hitting 11-13 from 3-point range and 28-32 from the foul line.
Iowa State gave up a 23-point halftime lead and lost in overtime to Texas Tech.
These games give a little perspective to Wisconsin’s struggles throughout the season. As frustrating as our losses have been, others have shared in our pain.
What happens if Wisconsin basketball doesn’t get selected
I’m looking at this scenario as if the Badgers have beaten Minnesota today, win a game in the Big Ten tourney but lose on Day 2, and do not get an at-large bid.
Should Wisconsin be upset?
I think they have every right to be disappointed, but the only people they have to be upset with would be themselves, all of themselves. It isn’t solely a coaching issue, it isn’t solely any single-player issue.
Having said all of this, hopefully, Badger fans will not have to experience any of that disappointment. A win at Minnesota today would give Wisconsin basketball a 17-13 record (unfortunately, the Gophers are so bad that even playing them on the road is a Quad 4 game).
Win a game or two in the Big Ten tourney and they stand a very legitimate shot at going to the Big Dance.
Sure, I would be very disappointed if they didn’t make the cut on selection Sunday next week. But I wouldn’t be mad.