The Rest Of The Way


Robert
Jan 14, 2020
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15 Comments

We're ranked (ranked!). We're in second place all alone in the Big Ten. Our freshman center was just named Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the sixth time. Things are going well in Illini land. So let's talk about it. Including, you know, some bad stuff.

Let's start with the bad stuff. It's not really bad stuff, but... let's just talk about it.

We're over-ranked at the moment. We just are. I love breaking the streak of 61 months without appearing in the polls, but we're probably not the 24th-best team in the country. We all know that, right? We still lost to Missouri and Miami and needed a rim-backboard-rim-rim-in free throw from Trent Frazier to avoid losing to Nicholls State. We're much improved - I just don't think we're the 24th-best team in the country. Which is fine.

I get why we're ranked. It's hard not to rank us when you transitive-property your way through the Big Ten. You're filling out your poll and you want to keep Michigan in the rankings even though they're 11-5 now (I mean, they're the only team to beat number one Gonzaga) but Illinois is 12-5 and beat Michigan so Illinois has to be ranked. You're thinking about ranking Purdue after they knocked off Michigan State but how can you when Purdue lost to Illinois by 26? Rutgers showed a lot beating Penn State and Seton Hall and the NERDstats love them but Rutgers just lost to Illinois. Wisconsin knocked off Ohio State on the road - that's huge. Then again, Wisconsin just lost at home to Illinois. And which team is all alone in second place in the Big Ten? Illinois.

That's why we're ranked. We're hard to ignore. BUT, I don't think we're the 24th-best team in the country. There's a gap there, which means there's a correction coming. Which is fine! It won't be fun, but it will be fine.

What gap? Well, this morning's Bracket Matrix (they take 75 different brackets and combine them on one spreadsheet - bookmark it) has us as the last nine seed. The average seed in the brackets where we appear? 9.10. Comparing that to the rest of the seedings handed to the rest of the teams by all of the bracketologists, we're 36th. 75 people looked at all of the teams and compared all of the resumes and when they do that, we have the 36th-best resume. Which is great! It's just not 24th.

That's what I mean when I say there's probably a correction coming. My target before the season was a 10 seed. Just enough to not be sweating on Selection Sunday. Safely in and maybe secretly hoping for the 7-10 line instead of the 8-9 line. That's where we're at right now after 17 games.

But 14 games remain plus the Big Ten Tournament. And we're going to lose a lot of those Big Ten games. And so is everyone else. So let's maybe set some targets.

First off, let's talk about the strength of the Big Ten. I thought this would be a step-back year for the Big Ten. In the preview I wrote about how 11 of the 15 players from the All Big Ten teams last year either graduated or declared for the draft. That just hasn't been the case. In the current NET rankings (the thing that replaced the RPI for the committee), here's the Big Ten:

12. Michigan State
16. Ohio State
17. Maryland
25. Wisconsin
29. Michigan
30. Rutgers
31. Iowa
32. Illinois
34. Purdue
35. Penn State
40. Indiana
41. Minnesota
138. Northwestern
157. Nebraska

Compare that to other conferences such as, say, the mighty ACC:

3. Duke
14. Louisville
15. Florida State
38. Virginia Tech
55. NC State
73. Virginia
74. Pittsburgh
82. Miami
85. Syracuse
86. Georgia Tech
88. Notre Dame
93. Clemson
105. Wake Forest
116. North Carolina (!!)
151. Boston College

12 Big Ten teams in the top-41, four ACC teams in the top-41.

And it's not just the ACC. The fifth best team in the SEC is 53rd. The fifth best team in the Big 12 is 51st. Besides the Big Ten and the top-heavy Big 12, maybe only the Big East is also having a "good" year? The point: there are probably going to be lots of bids available.

Which means that my "after these three non-conference losses I'm not sure 11-9 in the Big Ten gets us in without Big Ten Tournament help" after the Missouri game is probably wrong. With the strength of the Big Ten, 19-12 (11-9) is almost certainly in even with a first-round BTT loss, and 18-13 (10-10) probably is as well. And, depending on the wins and losses, 17-14 (9-11) might have a chance? I mean, KenPom's current projections for the Big Ten have Michigan State winning at 14-6, Maryland second at 12-8, and then four teams at 11-9 (including Illinois), five teams at 10-10, and Penn State at 9-11. That's 12 Big Ten teams with a chance at the Tournament.

So if we set that 11-9 as our goal (that probably gets us that 8-9-10 seed), what do we need to do the rest of the way? Let's do that grouping thing. We're 4-2, we need to get to 11-9, so we need to go 7-7 in these final 14 games. What's the path to get there?

We'll totally win: home for Nebraska and home for Northwestern. They're the two programs getting taken to the woodshed this year. 12 Big Ten teams in the top-41 of the NET and then Northwestern and 138 and Nebraska at 157.

We'll totally lose: at Ohio State and at Michigan. I'd consider at Iowa or maybe even at Purdue, but I'm not sure Iowa can keep this up and we beat Purdue by 26. So for the most likely losses, I'm going road games at Ohio State and Michigan.

So we start off at 2-2 in our quest for 7-7 in these 14 games. If we somehow lose to Northwestern at home, we're somehow beating Ohio State on the road. Let's find another set of four games.

Pretty sure we'll win, but you never know: home against Minnesota, home against Indiana

Pretty sure we'll lose, but you never know: at Iowa, at Purdue

OK, now we're at 4-4 so we need three wins and three losses. I don't think I can do another set of two but I do think I can pair two more games.

Even though it's a road game, we'll likely win: at Northwestern

Even though it's a home game, we'll likely lose: Michigan State

I'm feeling pretty good about this so far. My confidence in beating Minnesota at home ("this one might be closer than everyone thinks") matches my confidence on the road at Purdue ("this one might be closer than everyone thinks"). So take the 10 games above and I have a good feeling that we'll be 5-5. Beat Michigan State at home and we're probably losing to Northwestern on the road.

That means we're down to the four games that define the season:

  • Maryland in Champaign
  • Rutgers in Piscataway
  • Penn State in State College
  • Iowa in Champaign

Win all four? 13-7 and probably looking at a 6-seed.

Lose all four? 9-11 and probably needing several BTT wins to get to the good side of the bubble.

2-2? 11-9 and playing those BTT games to slide up or down the 8-9-10 seed lines.

It's not as clean as that, of course. Beating Ohio State in Columbus goes a lot further with the committee than just holding serve at home against Minnesota. Not all 11-9's are created equal. But as a general rule, that's how I see it. Those four games are the key.

We should just go ahead and win them all.

Comments

chuddery on January 14 @ 01:42 PM CST

We still lost to Missouri and Miami and needed a rim-backboard-rim-rim-in free throw from Trent Frazier to avoid losing to Nicholls State.

This has nothing to do with whether we're the 24th best team in the country or not, and everything to do with whether our still relatively young team is consistent. And this shows that they're not.

skibdaddy on January 14 @ 01:57 PM CST

Forget 11-9... I just want to get to 5-2 right now, then 6-2... maybe we can pull off the rest and get to 18-2 in conference... These guys are starting to learn how to win and it's not out of the question (although very unlikely)

jdl on January 14 @ 03:41 PM CST

Using the bracket matrix to figure out where we "should be" seems pretty roundabout. Maybe just look at a similar compilation that arrives at roughly the same conclusion?

https://www.masseyratings.com/cb/compare.htm

Smack dab in a grouping of 5 B1G teams, I like that.

I don't think we have much of a chance at 17-14 and 18-13 would be pretty shaky, too (adding in another loss in the BTT). We're going to get dinged on our non-con SOS which is abysmal and we didn't beat anyone there. And we need another road win or two to add to the one in Madison. Remember it's "who you beat and where you beat them".

jdl on January 14 @ 03:42 PM CST

Oh, my edit did work even though there was an error....OK.

Southernillini on January 14 @ 04:11 PM CST

Five. That is the number of big10 road wins this year (non northwestern-Nebraska division).

I dont know how we beat Purdue on the road...or penn state. Or rutgers. Maybe sneak away with 1 of those. Hold serve at home and I think that is enough.

Giovantischixstripz on January 14 @ 05:07 PM CST

I think it is more accurate to say "We do not have the 24th best resume" at this point. Our resume to date is what the bracket matrix, NET rating, KENPOM, are all trying to measure in different ways, and all have us between 29-36.

But I do not think it is out of the question that, looking forward, we might be around the 24th best team in the country. Maybe it is just a stretch of good luck, but perhaps this young team has started to turn a corner during this 3 game winning streak. Maybe this version of Alan Griffin is a difference maker that lifts the roster from a 10-10 big ten roster to 12-8, in which case we'll probably finish top 4 in the conference, and around 24th in NCAA seeding.

Groundhogday on January 15 @ 12:59 PM CST

I suspect we'll have a few more patches this season where the team struggles. Poor outside shooting and the lack of a viable 4 will do that. I'll be satisfied if this team makes the tournament.

Giovantischixstripz on January 15 @ 04:03 PM CST

Making the tournament will reach my bare minimum of satisfaction. To really feel good I want to dream of overachieving.

illini_dave34 on January 14 @ 08:45 PM CST

i like the way you look at it!

mmyers74 on January 14 @ 10:49 PM CST

Ha! Minus one small quote, these are some contrarian/nitpicking comments. ;)

I think you're right, all the way, on why we are ranked. The rankings are VERY reactionary. If you're 7th, and 6 and 5 lose, and you don't, you're 5th. (Never mind that 5 had 3 more wins and beat you once.). It's just so "relative" and "recent".
But like you, I'm good with the over-reach. Ironically, the correction is 3-5 games away, Bc of the schedule, so unless we lay an egg on Saturday, we get 2 weeks in a row. Pretty sweet, considering.

I also find your method, logical... and the Net ratings is going to force the committee to "mathematically" snub at least 1 B1G to avoid a seriously B1G heavy field. Sheesh, imagine the (actual possible) scenario of the 11th seed winning the BTT. :).

We will have to play well to go 7-7. Better than we have, overall.

But dang man. At least we are here. It's fun to sit in #2...

PS: Wisco just beat Maryland.

Serve-holders.

Walkon on January 15 @ 10:44 AM CST

A nice user friendly breakdown - based on NET rankings:

https://bracketologists.com/team/illinois-fighting-illini

We are 4/4 in Q1/Q2 games with 11 such games left. Based on last year’s precedent and the strength of the Big Ten this year I think 9 Q1/Q2 wins is the magic number for safety and 8 probably gets us at least a play-in game. (I’ve revised that from 10 and 9 from when I looked at this before conference play)

RAltholz on January 16 @ 11:55 AM CST

Love your writing and am a devoted reader . . . and we're all wired differently. For me right now, I'm just smiling and am very happy about the guys on the floor and how, individually and collectively, they are getting better. I'm all about process . . . and I appreciate, love and revel in the process that I'm seeing - though as we all know from our individual life experiences and observations, improvement is never a straight line. There are inevitable hiccups. Stand back some and enjoy the process. As we also know, the imperative is to hire good people who are good at what they do, encourage them and support them in all ways possible. As I see things, that's what is happening - and not just in men's basketball.

thegoah on January 18 @ 10:20 AM CST

Not sure I really disagree with anything here except one aspect of this conversation is missing.

We are where we are now. And it seems like we can only get better, no?

Defense doesn’t get lucky. Our defense is superb. We are winning with defense. Not with unsustainable shooting. At some point we’re gonna hit, like, maybe...I dunno...3...maybe even FOUR 3-pointers in a game? And win by 20?

That’s what gives me hope as much as anything. Our defense has been solid, and is much less likely to take a night off than the offense. So I feel like we’re not playing over our heads...unless some B1G coach figures out a chink in our defensive armor, we should be solid.

Which doesn’t mean you win at Rutgers necessarily. Or that you beat Sparty at home. But it gives you a chance.

And for a long, long time...I think “a chance” is something all of us would have killed for.

thegoah on January 19 @ 10:26 AM CST

Well, this comment didn’t age well during the northwestern game.

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