Basketball Thoughts... About Wisconsin?
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When it was announced the Big Ten football would begin on October 23rd I made myself a list of posts I had lined up for the fall which needed to be written immediately. I thought I would have several months to work through them all but suddenly there's a season in a month and I had press conferences to attend and a preview to write and a dozen other things.
I worked my way through most of the list. I was behind on a few LLUOI posts, and I still hadn't written the yearly interceptions post, and I turned the big "changes Lovie made to his defenses over four seasons" post into the first newsletter. I still have the checklist and there are now only two posts I never got to. One is a Part II to the "So, How We Doin'" series. For the first part of that two-parter I looked at the transfers in 2020 and how they didn't match up with the transfers of 2019 - this set of transfers ranked well below that set of transfers. The second part was going to be a look at the 2021 football recruiting class so far (and how my Tom Cruise ratings for that class are the lowest since the Bill Cubit class). I never wrote the second part (but I should).
(Quick note: I don't think anyone found the easter egg there. Since the topic was a look back at my Tom Cruise ratings, for the post title I went back to that same Risky Business scene: Rebecca DeMornay walks into the room and says "So, how we doin'?" and Tom Cruise responds with the now-famous "Looks Like University Of Illinois". I was hoping at least one person would figure out why I named the post So, How We Doin'. Oh well - I'll keep hiding the easter eggs.)
The second post on my list that I never got to (and this is a weird one): Wisconsin's basketball schedule last year. It always bothered me that no one really talked about how they avoided certain Big Ten pitfalls, so I wanted to let the world know. I think I just described 35% of the posts I've ever written.
So this is that post. The AP poll came out yesterday, and we were #8. But #8 was still #3 in the Big Ten. It's so nice to be offended by that again.
The two teams in front of us: Iowa (ranked 5th) and Wisconsin (7th). I'm OK with both being ahead of us. Iowa has Garza plus everyone back (including Bohannon). Wisconsin has all five starters back. We did lose Andres Feliz and Alan Griffin (plus Kipper). It's not much, but it's more than those other two.
And besides, I like a little motivation. I much prefer being 8th in the preseason poll to being 4th (where some writers have us). I hope that Brad Underwood is going out of his way to make everyone feel like they're being disrespected.
I will say, though, that Wisconsin being 7th bothers me just a little bit. They're ranked there because they tied with Michigan State and Maryland for the Big Ten title while we finished one game back. They started 6-6 in the conference and then won their final eight to grab a share.
I mean, good for them, but I'd like to peek at those schedules again. Let's just compare the Wisconsin and Illinois Big Ten schedules last season.
To do this I'm going to put the teams in order from 1-14. And that's hard to do when multiple teams tie for the same spot. But there are also overall records we can factor in. Maryland was 24-7 (14-6) while Wisconsin was 21-10 (14-6). I think we can "rank" Maryland above Wisconsin since Wisconsin lost to St. Mary's, Richmond, New Mexico, and NC State in the non-conference.
And I'm not really ranking here - I'm just trying to put the Big Ten in order so we can compare two schedules. I'm explaining too much. Here's the Big Ten last year:
1. Maryland 24-7 (14-6)
2. Michigan State 22-9 (14-6)
3. Wisconsin 21-10 (14-6)
4. Illinois 21-10 (13-7)
5. Ohio State 21-10 (11-9)
6. Penn State 21-10 (11-9)
7. Iowa 20-11 (11-9)
8. Rutgers 20-11 (11-9)
9. Michigan 19-12 (10-10)
10. Indiana 20-12 (9-11)
11. Purdue 16-15 (9-11)
12. Minnesota 15-16 (8-12)
13. Northwestern 8-23 (3-17)
14. Nebraska 7-25 (2-18)
The only difficulty there is taking the four teams that tied for 5th in the conference (Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa, and Rutgers) and splitting them up 5-6-7-8. Both Ohio State and Penn State won 21 games, so I put them 5-6 in that order, and then I put Iowa 7th and Rutgers 8th because I think Iowa was better than Rutgers.
OK, so with that established, we can just go with the raw numbers when comparing the 20 games Illinois played in the Big Ten with the 20 games that Wisconsin played in the Big Ten.
Home and Away Opponents
There's so many ways to break this down. And every single way says "man, Wisconsin had the easiest stroll through the toughest Big Ten".
+ At the end of the season we were battling for a Big Ten title. Our loss at Ohio State that final week meant that we finished 13-7 while Maryland, MSU, and Wisconsin all finished 14-6. So how did our schedule against those teams compare to Wisconsin?
We played a home and away with Maryland, a home and away with Michigan State, and an away game at Wisconsin. Wisconsin played Maryland at home, Illinois at home, and MSU both home and away.
Good Lord I should just stop right here. In this little unbalanced round robin we had to go at Maryland, at MSU, and at Wisconsin while Wisconsin only had to travel once (at MSU) and only played four games in that round robin to our five. In fact, since MSU and Maryland played at both locations, here's how unbalanced the round robin was among the four contenders at the end of the season:
Michigan State: home and away with Maryland, home and away with Illinois, home and away with Wisconsin
Maryland: home and away with MSU, home and away with Illinois, away at Wisconsin
Illinois: home and away with MSU, home and away with Maryland, away at Wisconsin
Wisconsin: home and away with MSU, home for Maryland, home for Illinois
I mean if I'm Wisconsin I'm giving the trophy back at this point.
+ The other big thing when trying to find wins, obviously, is to skip all the tough road destinations. You have to play 10 road games, so you're only skipping three arenas, but here's those skips:
Wisconsin: Maryland (1), Illinois (4), Northwestern (13)
Illinois: Indiana (10), Minnesota (12), Nebraska (14)
Yes, Illinois had to travel to 1 through 9 (you know, besides Illinois) and only skipped 10, 12, and 14. Wisconsin's second toughest road game was Penn State. They absolutely SKATED through the Big Ten.
+ The home skips are a little more even. Illinois didn't play Wisconsin, Ohio State, or Penn State at home. Wisconsin didn't play Penn State, Iowa, or Michigan at home. Every one of those other teams finished either 11-9 or 10-10 in the conference.
But overall, yeah, what I thought was true was true. Wisconsin skated their way to 14-6. They were 6-6 in the Big Ten after a loss to Minnesota on February 5th and then they played only one ranked team in those final eight games (Michigan, who was #19 at the time but later fell out of the rankings).
Why spend all this time writing this? NO IDEA. I just feel like the world needs to know that Wisconsin got a gift last year and that's why the banner is in Madison and not Champaign. Yeah, they have 5-starters back so yeah, put them #7 and us #8 if you want, but please know that this schedule gift was a very real thing. Skipping road games at Illinois and Maryland while Illinois, Maryland, and Michigan State all played a full round-robin = the reason Wisconsin grabbed a share.
And yet another reason I can't wait for this season.