What Now?

Jan 27, 2020

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A week ago I sat here and wrote how I was torn. We saw the Miami and Missouri games. We saw the struggle at home with Northwestern. A correction was likely with all these road games coming up. But then again, what if we're good?

Well, turns out we're good. Like, tied for first place in the Big Ten good. We can talk about the NCAA Tournament with confidence good. What do we do with that?

For me, I try to go back through all the things I've written. That informal Twitter poll I put up asking how everyone thought we'd do over this current eight-game stretch. The post where I broke out those "if we win this game, we'll probably lose game, so I'm hoping to go 1-1 in those two games" groups of games. Let's go back through all of that.

We'll start with the post I called The Rest Of The Way. Here's how I broke it out:

Beat Northwestern and Nebraska at home, lose on the road at Michigan and Ohio State.

So 2-2 during those four games. The odds of beating Ohio State on the road are similar to the odds of losing to Nebraska at home. Walk away from those four games at 2-2 and we're on track.

Results so far: 2-0. Granted, Michigan and Ohio State, ranked #5 and #2 at one point this season, have turned out to be... not top-5 teams. With the way the last few weeks have played out (since I wrote that post), I really should have had Iowa in this "yeah, we're not winning that road game" group. Still, 2-0 so far, almost certainly 3-1, and possibly 4-0?

Fairly certain we'll beat Indiana and Minnesota at home, fairly certain we'll lose to Purdue and Iowa on the road.

This was another "2-2 is acceptable in those four games" grouping. If we lose to Indiana at home, we're going to have to beat Iowa on the road to make up for it and stay on track for the NCAA Tournament.

Results so far: 1-0, with the only result being one of the "fairly certain we'll lose" games. If we beat Minnesota in Champaign on Thursday, we'll reach 2-0 in this category as well (with two games to play, one at home). This is really helping me see just how massive these two road wins were this week.

Road game we'll likely win (Northwestern) vs. home game we'll likely lose (MSU)

Haven't played either game yet. The "hope" was for 1-1.

The four games that determine what kind of season we have

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

Again, haven't played any of these games yet, so this exercise is starting to feel premature. Perhaps I should look at it this way:

I was pointing to those four games as determining whether we'd go 9-11 (if we lost all four) and miss the Tournament, go 11-9 (if we went 2-2) to get to the right side of the bubble, or 13-7 and be certainly in and playing for seed (if we won all four). By winning these two games this week, we increase the likelihood of going 3-1 in both of the first two categories. And if that's the case, then a worst-case-scenario in my Four Games at the end (going 0-4 in those games) would mean we'd be 11-9 and maybe looking at a 9-seed or 10-seed.

Or, just look at it this way, since I've completely overcomplicated this. We have seven wins. Pick four games to get to 11 and be certainly in the Tournament and then playing for seeding:

at Northwestern

Win those four, lose every other game (we won't lose every other game), and we're above .500 in the Big Ten for the first time since 2009/10.

Once more for the people in the back.

At this point, with six home games still to play, we're at "win four total games to finish above .500 in the Big Ten for the first time in ten years".

I'm not even sure why I'm thinking this way anymore (bracketing games trying to find the path to the Tournament and then a higher seed). I should be talking about winning the Big Ten.

Maybe the other analysis will help. My little "this 5-2 start has been fun but we might go 1-7 over the next eight games" Twitter poll. At the time, it was likely that we'd only be favored in one of the next eight games (Minnesota in Champaign).

I tweeted that I thought we might go 2-6 in those eight games but that I was hoping for 3-5. Go 3-5 in those games, then finish 4-1, and we'd be an incredible 12-8 in the Big Ten. 3-5 was the dream. (We're already 2-0.)

Someone tweeted at me to say that if this is an NCAA Tournament team they'll go 5-3 in that stretch, and I quote-tweeted it to say "if we go 5-3 in these eight games, we'll probably be a 3-seed". That would mean 5-2 start, 5-3 middle, 4-1 finish, so 14-6 in this crazy Big Ten (which might win the conference?). Well, win on Thursday (in the easiest game of that eight-game stretch) and then we'd need to go 2-3 in these five games to get to 5-3:

at Iowa
Michigan State
at Rutgers
at Penn State

So this seems simple. If we win the next three home games (a massive undertaking with Maryland and Michigan State on the schedule), we could begin to discuss winning the Big Ten and getting that 3-seed. Perhaps even a 2-seed? I'm getting ahead of myself.

Wait, am I? With these two road wins this week, we're not only in first place in the Big Ten, we're in first place with road wins over Wisconsin, Purdue, and Michigan. I think I've figured out how to best illustrate this. Let's talk road wins.

Illinois: 3-2 on the road with wins over Wisconsin, Purdue, and Michigan. Remaining road games (5): Iowa, Rutgers, Penn State, Northwestern, Ohio State.
Michigan State: 2-2 on the road with wins over Northwestern and Minnesota. Remaining road games (6): Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska, Maryland, Penn State.
Maryland: 2-3 on the road with wins over Northwestern and Indiana. Remaining road games (5): Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota, Rutgers.
Iowa: 1-3 on the road with a win over Northwestern. Remaining road games (6): Maryland, Purdue, Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan State, Illinois.
Rutgers: 1-3 on the road with a win over Nebraska. Remaining road games (6): Michigan (neutral), Maryland, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State, Purdue.

(Yes, Michigan moved their "home" game against Rutgers to that Super Saturday thing in Madison Square Garden.)

I think this brings us to where I wanted to be with this post. I think this is the best way to frame it. Iowa already lost at Nebraska and might only get one more road victory (at Minnesota) to finish the conference schedule with two road wins; Illinois already has three road wins with Northwestern still to come. Michigan State lost at Purdue and Indiana and still has to go Wisconsin, Maryland, Penn State, Illinois, and Michigan.

I probably need to stop talking about "here's what we need to do to get to 11-9 and assure ourselves a Tournament spot". I need to focus in on the next two weeks. Even if we only go 1-1 this week (home for Minnesota, at Iowa), because of our road wins so far, the two home games against Maryland and Michigan State become an opportunity to take complete control of the Big Ten race.

Holy crap.


Groundhogday on January 27, 2020 @ 02:07 PM

Or.... "One game at a time." ;)

I enjoyed the discussion, but it is a bit too early still to think through all possible outcomes for the rest of the season. Too many branches in that tree. Suffice to say we are in good shape, and could weather a moderate swoon without falling out of the tournament.

Robert on January 27, 2020 @ 02:58 PM

Never too early.

Never too many branches.

Bear8287 on January 29, 2020 @ 02:32 AM

You’ve got to play them one day at a time. We’re just happy to be here. The team just needs to give it their best shot, and the good Lord willing, things will work out.

jdl on January 27, 2020 @ 04:58 PM

Normally I'd disagree, but in this year's Big Ten it's really the only sane approach to take. I do think with 4 more wins we're a lock to dance. If do well over the next couple of games then focus can move off of that and onto what seed we might get and maybe a conference title.

mmyers74 on January 27, 2020 @ 03:07 PM

I call this portion of the season, either "house money", or "big stack."

If you're a blackjack guy, we'll go with house money. We've taken down a few big wins, doubled down at the right time and hit a few black jacks. Now I'm pulling some money off the table so no matter what happens I've got this to go dancing with. (See what I did there?)

But a better one might be if you're a Texas hold 'em player.

Big stack.

We've taken down a couple of monster hands. Hands in which we weren't favored, and thus, the pots were big. Now we can use that to push around a few of the smaller stacks, close them out while building ours. This would allow us to take a few losses down the stretch and still be in a good position for the final table.

Either way... we got a 50/50 call, on the road, at Michigan, with less than 90 seconds to go in the game... and that ONLY happens when the Refs think you're significantly better than the home team. Do B1G refs suddenly know we are good? Oh man. Wouldn't that be something.

mrmill on January 27, 2020 @ 06:54 PM

I think we’ve been bad so long, everyone has forgotten what winning is like. Enjoy it - one game at a time.

We probably won’t win the B1G, but we might. Sure, we could tank from here, but that’s almost as unlikely as winning the whole thing. Either way, Let’s enjoy it.

illinoisthegolfschool on January 27, 2020 @ 07:51 PM

I appreciate the post, but a lot of this seems like worst case scenario. It’s easy to feel like everything could change for the worse at any moment because “it’s Illinois.” But isn’t it possible that we finally have the right leadership in place starting with Whitman and the staff he hired? I get the sense Underwood, coupled with the addition of Stephen Gentry gives us a coaching advantage on the majority of the big ten. Couple that with the elite talent we are starting to consistently bring in through Coleman and Antigua and we have a home run staff. Now we finally have elite talent and that elite talent is being schemed into position to succeed. A leader and closer in Ayo has emerged and its been a thrill to watch. I personally want to take it one game at a time, because it feels like we could win the big ten or come damn close. With these upcoming home games with the other contenders (Maryland and MSU) I just look forward to having a reason to be irrationally loud again and rock SFC like it never has under that name.

Yes, the margins of succeeding in this league are as close as they’ve ever been, but it finally feels like we have that little extra talent and swag to get us over the top. Let’s enjoy the ride and trust that this team knows it can win every game, and will win a lot of them.

Sweetchuck13 on January 28, 2020 @ 08:28 AM

Holy crap indeed. Looking at everyone's schedules, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that 14-6 is likely at least a share of the B1G title. And we're 7-2 so far, with 6 home games left.

And on that note - it's time to defend our home court. A Big Ten title contender shouldn't lose a home game. That was the case back in the early 2000's, and it needs to start up again. Teams should know walking in that they're almost certainly going to lose in Champaign. These next three home games better be an insane environment - these guys deserve it!

LincolnJT24 on January 28, 2020 @ 11:42 PM

Me after reading this post

LincolnJT24 on January 28, 2020 @ 11:56 PM

The above post is how I feel trying to keep up with all these scenarios or points of view.

Here’s how I am looking at it in a simple way:

10 home games. 10 road games. We’re 4-0 at home right now. Looking at the remaining schedule, I think we can go 8-2 in conference home games. We’re 3-2 on the road right now. Looking at the remaining schedule, I think we can finish 5-5 on the road.

That puts us at 13-7 in conference and 21-10 overall. That’s solidly in the tournament, probably as a 6 or 7 seed, maybe higher with a run in the B1G tournament.

If we do any better then that, 14-6 or even - be still my heart - 15-5, then we’re very possibly the B1G Regular Season Champions and looking at a very favorable first round matchup.

Robert on January 29, 2020 @ 05:22 PM

But isn't it more fun to...

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Eagle on January 29, 2020 @ 10:38 PM

It is Robert. I understand the "it's too early" sentiment, but man, let's enjoy being in this spot and relish all the possibilities. I'm with you. Thanks for the ride as always.

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