There has been a lot of discussion this season about Indiana winning the Big Ten on the back of an easy schedule.
Basically, the thought is that they beat up on the Minnesotas, Rutgers, Illinois, and Nebraskas of the league early, then just simply took care of business on their home floor up until this week’s win at Carver Hawkeye Arena over Iowa to clinch the title outright.
So that got me to thinking. How easy was Indiana’s schedule relative to winners in the other leagues in the country.
The answer? Relatively similar.
Indiana’s strength of schedule in Big Ten play is currently ranked 12th out of 14 teams according to KenPom. What do the winners or leaders in the other leagues currently look like as far as their ranking in conference strength of schedule heading into the final weekend of the regular season?
- Big East: Villanova — 10 out of 10.
- Big 12: Kansas — 8 out of 10.
- Pac-12: Oregon — 9 out of 12.
- ACC: North Carolina — 15 out of 15, Miami — 8 out of 15
- SEC: Kentucky — 7 out of 14, Texas A&M — 11 out of 14.
Realistically, Indiana’s strength of schedule in the Big Ten isn’t all that different from other league winners around the country. What is often forgotten within these rankings is that league strength of schedules tend to artifically be low due to the fact that league leaders can’t actually play themselves. That’s why only one team is in the top-half of its conference strength of schedule ratings, which makes what Kentucky is doing all the more impressive.
One more note on this. Alex Bozich over at Inside the Hall, a prominent Indiana basketball blog, went back and found the conference strength of schedule ranking for Big Ten champions in each of the last 12 years. In seven of those years, the league’s champion had the worst strength of schedule within the conference according to KenPom.
Re: IU’s “weak schedule” in Big Ten, in-conf strength of schedules for outright regular season champs in KenPom era: pic.twitter.com/u7Qe0l1YLv
— Alex Bozich (@insidethehall) March 4, 2016
Basically, the lesson here is this: don’t try to sell what Indiana did this season in the Big Ten short. They may not have been the league’s favorite entering conference play, but it’s now hard to complain about the results from their perspective now.
And because of that terrific season, they get to bring out the ladder and cut down the nets for the regular season crown in the Big Ten when they face Maryland on Sunday (4:30 p.m. ET on CBS / CBSSports.com).
Here’s the rest of what to expect this weekend:
Best game: No. 8 North Carolina at No. 17 Duke (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
This is a huge game not only in terms of this rivalry, but also in terms of the ACC title race. Indeed, this game means a lot more in the big picture for the Tar Heels than it does for the Blue Devils. If North Carolina wins, it clinches a share of the regular season title. If it loses and Miami wins at Virginia Tech, the Tar Heels will be left out in the cold and finish in second. Also, Roy Williams’ group likely wants to finish the season with a third top-25 win on the year in terms of its NCAA Tournament resume. Right now, North Carolina only has two top-25 wins and a third top-50 win to its name compared to five top-50 losses. That’s not the resume of a No. 1 or even a No. 2 seed, so the Heels need to start pilin gup wins now or else they could be left in a tough spot on Selection Sunday. For Duke, this one is about keeping the pace in the ACC for a top-four finish and potentially picking up another quality win.
Second-best game: No. 11 Louisville at No. 4 Virginia (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
This is the final game of the season for Louisville, which means they might come out firing in an attempt to pick up a second-place finish in the ACC. On the other hand, Virginia is still heavily in the mix for a No. 1 seed and could pick up a huge win toward their resume here. By the way, both of these teams still have an outside shot to share the ACC’s regular season crown if both Miami and North Carolina lose, so look for a highly competitive game between two really strong defensive teams.
Third-best game: No. 21 Iowa State vs. No. 1 Kansas (4 p.m. ET, ESPN)
The final Big 12 games for Perry Ellis and Georges Niang, two of the best players in this league for each of the last four years. What a run it’s been for that twosome. This game doesn’t necessarily have a ton on the line, given that Kansas has clinched the Big 12. However, the Jayhawks can probably clinch the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament with a win. More than anything though, this should be a fun game to watch between an uptempo Cyclone team and a Kansas team that is playing at as high a level as anyone.
A pair of SEC games for the league title: Vanderbilt at No. 20 Texas A&M (12 p.m. ET, ESPN)
LSU at No. 22 Kentucky (2 p.m. ET, CBS / CBSSports.com)
These two games will decide the SEC regular season title, and they also feature significant bubble implications. Vanderbilt needs a win to assure itself of an NCAA bid. LSU needs one to even get back on the bubble, and if they win and Texas A&M loses they clinch a share of the regular season crown. If the home teams take care of business, they share the title. This pair of games is arguably more important to the future of the season than any other this weekend.
A Big 12 showdown: No. 10 West Virginia at No. 19 Baylor (2 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Baylor is the only team in the country that has yet to lose to a team outside of the top-25, and this result won’t change that either way. Having said that, the Bears are 4-5 in their last nine games and need a win to help their seed. This win could help the Bears pick up their sixth win against the top-50 teams according to the RPI. On the other side, West Virginia has seven top-50 wins and can assure themselves a winning record against the top-50 with a victory in this one.
An important Pac-12 game: No. 9 Oregon vs. USC (4 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)
The Ducks can clinch an outright Pac-12 title with a win against a floundering USC team right now that has dropped five of its previous seven games. If the Ducks run the table through the Pac-12 Tournament, it wouldn’t be crazy to see them end up with a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday. On the other side, the Trojans are still in good shape to make the Big Dance, but a win here could really boost their profile and potentially knock them up to the No. 6 or so seed line. A big one, and a game that should be fun to watch between two really strong offensive teams.
OTHER GAMES TO NOTE:
- Ohio State plays at No. 2 Michigan State in what might be something of a last stand for the Buckeyes. If they win, they’re firmly in the mix. If they lose, it’ll be tough for them to make up enough ground. (12 p.m. ET, ESPN)
- No. 3 Villanova looks to clinch an outright Big East title with a win over Georgetown in Philadelphia. (12 p.m. ET, Fox)
- No. 6 Oklahoma will try to avoid a road land mine in a game at TCU. The Sooners are still in the mix for a No. 1 seed. (1 p.m. ET, ESPNNews)
- Creighton could still theoretically make enough of a run to reach the Dance if it won a bunch of big games, but it has to start against No. 5 Xavier. (2:30 p.m. ET, Fox)
- Michigan could use another quality win to assure itself a place in the field, and a home win against Iowa could be the best way to do that. (8 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)
- Colorado should be relatively safe, but a road win against Utah would be big. (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
- Seton Hall should also feel safe, but a loss to DePaul is one way to change that. (12 p.m. ET, FSN)
- Ditto for Providence against St. John’s. (12:30 p.m. ET, FS1)
- Butler needs to avoid a home loss to Marquette. (2:30 p.m. ET, FSN)
- It’s critical for Alabama to get a road win against Georgia if they want to cling to their sinking at-large hopes. (4 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
- Texas Tech needs to avoid a road loss to Kansas State. (3 p.m. ET, ESPNNews)
- Both VCU and Dayton could use a quality win to boost their profiles, although both should feel relatively safe. (8 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)
- South Carolina could play itself onto the bubble with a road loss to Arkansas. (5 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
- Wayne Tinkle almost has things turned around at Oregon State, but needs to get a win against UCLA to feel OK about its at-large chances. (6:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)
- Syracuse and Florida State play in what could be an important one for both teams. A win here wouldn’t be quite enough for Florida State, but it would help. (2 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
- Pittsburgh needs to avoid another loss on the road, this time to Georgia Tech, if they want to feel safe heading into the ACC Tournament. (2 p.m. ET, ACC Network)
An AAC finale for SMU: No. 24 SMU at Cincinnati (12 p.m. ET, CBS / CBSSports.com)
SMU is playing for a share of the AAC title in this one, which was their goal this season from the moment the NCAA came down on them with a postseason ban. Expect Nic Moore, Markus Kennedy and Jordan Tolbert to come out firing against a Cincinnati team that is also in a tough position right now. The Bearcats are firmly on the bubble and need a win to force their way off of it. Can they get it against the Mustangs and deny them of their goal? We’ll see.
A Big Ten finale: Wisconsin at No. 15 Purdue (7:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)
The final regular season game of the 2015-16 season comes between two teams that are rolling right now. The Badgers might be hotter than any other team in the country, having won 11 of 12 including some wins over the best teams in the league. The Boilermakers are still trending toward a solid seed line and a win here could help that right along. This will be a nice little game, and you should particularly watch for the Ethan Happ matchup inside with A.J. Hammons. If he can hold his own, the Badgers will have a good shot.
Missouri Valley Conference Championship (2 p.m. ET, CBS / CBSSports.com)
Over the course of the weekend, the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament will take place. The big storyline here is whether or not Wichita State can win the conference tournament and assure itself of a place in the NCAA Tournament. The Shockers have surprisingly only won Arch Madness once during the Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet era, but this one is different due to the situation they are in. This is the one they need, because their resume is lacking in quality wins to send them into the field for sure if they lose. The teams that could give them issues: Evansville, Illinois State, and Northern Iowa, all of whom could play spoiler in a big way.