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Monday, March 1, 2010
Purdue loss brings chaos to Big Ten lead

By Eamonn Brennan

Purdue's ugly loss to Michigan State Sunday afternoon in West Lafayette, Ind. didn't just seal the nation's consensus of a Robbie Hummel-less Boilermaker squad -- i.e. that they're not a No. 1 seed without him -- it also made the top of the Big Ten standings a confusing, jumbled-up mess. Especially when you look at them on Monday morning. Can someone grab me another cup of coffee?

Here's the skinny: Ohio State's win over Michigan Saturday gave the Buckeyes a half-game lead in the Big Ten at 13-4. Ohio State has one game to play, a matchup with Illinois at the Value City Arena on Tuesday night. Michigan State's win over Purdue put the Spartans and the Boilermakers at 12-4 -- Purdue's chance to win the conference outright largely came down to yesterday's game -- with two games to play each. Michigan State hosts Penn State and Michigan in East Lansing, two very winnable games. Purdue will host Indiana and go to Penn State.

Assuming all three teams win their last games, that gives a three-way tie at the top of the Big Ten with records 13-4. That would give us a three-way tie for the Big Ten regular season title. Exciting, right?

Ah, but what of the conference tournament? It comes down to the Big Ten's multi-team tiebreak rule, which is almost as confusing as the standings themselves. To wit:

MULTIPLE-TEAM TIE

1. Results of head-to-head competition during the regular season.

A. When comparing records against a single team or a group of teams, the higher winning percentage shall prevail, even if the number of games played against the team or group are unequal (i.e., 2-0 is better than 3-1); in the case of tied percentages vs. the team or group of 1.000 or .000 the following shall apply: 2-0 is better than 1-0; 0-1 is better than 0-2.
B. After the top team among the tied teams is determined, the second team is ranked by its record among the original tied teams, not the head-to-head record vs. the remaining team(s).

2. If the remaining teams are still tied, then each tied team's record shall be compared to the team occupying the highest position in the final regular-season standings, continuing down through the standings until one team gains an advantage.

A. When arriving at another pair of tied teams while comparing records, use each team's record against the collective tied teams as a group (prior to their own tie-breaking procedures), rather than the performance against the individual tied teams.
B. When comparing records against a single team or a group of teams, the higher winning percentage shall prevail, even if the number of games played against the team or group are unequal (i.e., 2-0 is better than 3-1); in the case of tied percentages vs. the team or group of 1.000 or .000 the following shall apply: 2-0 is better than 1-0; 0-1 is better than 0-2.

3. Won-loss percentage of all Division I opponents.

4. Coin toss conducted by the Commissioner or designee.

Anyone get that? Yeah, me neither. Except for the coin toss part. That makes sense.

Let's give it a shot, though: Michigan State and Purdue split their season series at 1-1. Ohio State and Purdue likewise split at 1-1. And Michigan State and Ohio State only played once, a seven-point win for the Buckeyes in East Lansing. If I'm doing this right, that gives Ohio State a 2-1 record against the tied teams, while Purdue is 1-1 and Michigan State is 1-2.

So, assuming I'm interpreting this correctly -- I have a call in to the Big Ten's office, and I'll add their confirmation when they call me back -- that would put Ohio State on the No. 1 line in the Big Ten tournament, with Purdue on the No. 2 and Michigan State at the No. 3. All three teams would get a first round bye and play the winners of the No. 8 vs. No. 9, No. 7 vs. No. 10, and No. 6 vs. No. 11 games, respectively. Since the Big Ten still has a while to shake out, it's hard to say who has the advantage.

The bottom line is this: Purdue's chance to win the Big Ten outright is, barring collapses by both OSU and Sparty, likely over in 2010. The best the Boilers -- alongside Ohio State and Michigan State -- can do is kiss their sister. It's yet another effect of losing Robbie Hummel, one that pales in comparison to the apparently lost Final Four chances, but one that will sting Purdue fans all the same.