Iowa (19-4) and Indiana (19-5) enter Thursday’s matchup (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) with nearly identical records and within one game of each other in the Big Ten standings. Associated Press poll voters have recognized that not all 19-game winners are equal: Iowa ranks fourth in this week’s AP poll and Indiana is unranked. What do the metrics say about their records now and coming down the stretch of the Big Ten regular season?
Looking back at different paths to 19 wins
ESPN’s strength of record (SOR) is a new metric designed to measure the difficulty of achieving each team’s record, given its schedule. It is a résumé rating that accounts only for whom each team played, where it played and whether it won or lost, to determine the most impressive records in the nation.
There’s nothing groundbreaking about the fact that not all records are created equal, but by evaluating the difficulty of each game, strength of record goes beyond a team’s win total to assess its entire body of work.
Anyone following the Big Ten would not be surprised to see that Iowa and Indiana are separated by 29 spots in strength of record. The Hawkeyes have played a tougher overall schedule (47th versus 100th, according to ESPN's Basketball Power Index) and have more quality wins than the Hoosiers heading into Thursday night.
Among their six wins against teams in the BPI top 50, the Hawkeyes have swept their series against Michigan State (eighth in BPI) and Purdue (15th in BPI). Further, all four of their losses came on the road in games in which an average NCAA tournament team would not be favored.
Indiana, on the other hand, does not have a win against a team in the top 20 of BPI and has three losses in which an average NCAA tournament team would have greater than a 67 percent chance to win (at Penn State, versus UNLV and versus Wake Forest).
Part of Indiana’s résumé-building problem has been opportunity. The average BPI rank of Indiana’s 11 conference opponents so far is 111 (out of 351 Division I teams), the lowest of any team in a Power 5 conference or the Big East (for Iowa, the rank is 70.6).
That means the Hoosiers have their toughest tests ahead.
Looking ahead to the rest of the Big Ten regular season
Indiana will have plenty of opportunities to boost its résumé in the coming weeks. According to BPI, a forward-looking power rating, Indiana is projected to play the second-toughest remaining schedule in the Big Ten and 10th-most difficult schedule in the country. That schedule includes five games against BPI top-15 opponents (Iowa twice, Michigan State, Purdue and Maryland), two of which are away from Bloomington, Indiana.
With their difficult schedule and projected team strength, the Hoosiers are the BPI underdog in three of their remaining seven games, including their matchups with Iowa tonight (45 percent chance to win) and in Iowa City, Iowa, on March 1 (19 percent chance to win), resulting in an average projection of about 3.5 more conference wins.
In contrast, Iowa has already played its three toughest conference games and will play what is projected as the sixth-ranked remaining schedule in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes are the BPI favorite in each of their remaining scheduled games and have a 16.7 percent chance to win out.
Thursday’s matchup between Iowa and Indiana features two of the most efficient offenses in the Big Ten and two of the top players in the conference in Jarrod Uthoff and Yogi Ferrell. If Indiana knocks off Iowa in Assembly Hall, it will be tied with Maryland and Iowa atop the Big Ten standings with the marquee win it needs to legitimize its record.
Strength of record is a backward-looking résumé rating that measures how difficult it is to achieve a team’s record, given its schedule. BPI is more of a forward-looking power rating that accounts for how team won/lost its games by utilizing pace-adjusted scoring margin and more. In other words, SOR measures “most deserving” and BPI is more of a measure of the “best” or “strongest” teams.