Fourteen teams make up the Big Ten, and 12 of them are currently inside KenPom’s top 40.
If that doesn’t help illustrate the ridiculous kind of season the Big Ten is experiencing, then maybe this will: road teams are 6-34 in the conference through games played Jan. 15. Of those six home losses, last-place Northwestern is responsible for two of them.
What we’re currently looking at is a league with 12 teams all relatively close in strength, and only home-court advantage is enough to separate them on most nights. That’s how impossible the Big Ten is right now.
The team that wins the regular season crown will likely have more losses than usual. The last time a team won the Big Ten with five losses was in 2012 when Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State all tied at the top at 13-5, and before then it hadn’t happened since 2002. But the league is now playing 20 games rather than 18, which was an increase from 16 in 2008. With two more games and an extra road trip, it would be surprising to not see that five-loss mark reached again and potentially exceeded.
According to the Bracket Matrix, there are 11 Big Ten teams dancing right now, with Minnesota sitting right on the outside looking in. This is as of the morning of Jan. 16, the day after the Gophers knocked off Penn State at home, which could give them a bump up into the field as the Matrix adjusts. That’s right: a 14-team league has 12 teams with real shots at March Madness.
When the Big East sent 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament in 2011, it was a huge deal. That was more than 68 percent of the league, and no conference had ever sent so many of its teams to the Big Dance before. But this year, we might see the Big Ten match or even beat that mark, and with two fewer teams in the league, too.
Per usual, people will probably lob questions about whether or not the Big Ten will see the results in March to match its competitiveness in the regular season. Unless you count Maryland’s 2002 title while a member of the ACC, which you shouldn’t, the Big Ten hasn’t won a men’s basketball national championship since Tom Izzo and Michigan State won it all in 2000. With how wide open this season is in college basketball, there’s no reason to believe a Big Ten team couldn’t do it this year. But there have been campaigns in the past where the Big Ten had one or two super dominant teams that looked like title contenders, yet the final game didn’t go their way, so who knows?
It doesn’t matter, though. What is happening in the Big Ten this year is unbelievable whether every team flames out in the NCAA Tournament or not, and undoubtedly some of them will. I can’t think of a time when a league was so lopsided for the home team, and other than the 2011 Big East, I can’t think of a time when this much of one conference was alive for the Big Dance this late in a season.
The Big Ten has been one of, if not the deepest league in the nation for the last handful of seasons, with only the Big 12 having a legitimate argument to compete for that crown. When you tune in on any given night, you can expect to see quality teams battling hard in close games. The home will probably win, and the scoreline will probably be in the 50s or 60s, but after the final horn sounds, you’ll be blown away at how incredibly deep, competitively, talented and entertaining this conference is right now.
Don’t let one of the wildest conference seasons in recent memory escape your attention. If you love basketball, do me a favor: watch the Big Ten this year. You won’t regret it.