Dare To Compare

Mar 10, 2021

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Let's call this one Part II. Yesterday we discussed Illinois vs. Michigan when it comes to the Big Ten title. Today, let's look forward. Illinois is up to #3 in the polls while Michigan fell to #4. Is that how the Committee might see it? And if not, what would need to happen for that to become the case on Selection Sunday?

And is it all that important? Do we care if Illinois is the 3rd #1 seed and Michigan is 4th versus the other way around? Maybe not, but with region-less Tournament which will utilize "snake" seeding, it could make a difference. A few quick paragraphs on that and then we'll get to the team sheets.

As you might have seen, with no regions this year, there's no need for the Committee to have "protected seeds" who are placed as close as possible to campus. Every game is in Indiana, so teams will be seeded straight down the line. The #4 team gets the last 1-seed, the #5 team is then paired across from them as the top 2-seed, the #6 team is paired with the #3 1-seed, and so on.

But there's also a stipulation - and this is the thing I missed in my first article about this last month - where they'll try to not put teams from the same conference in the same region. Meaning, if Michigan is the 3rd one-seed and, say, Iowa is the #6 team (the "second" two-seed), they wouldn't pair them in one region. They'd move Iowa to a 2-seed across from Gonzaga or Baylor so that it's not theoretically two Big Ten teams fighting it out in the Elite Eight.

So in that sense, with the way things set up right now, it's possible that #3 vs. #4 overall is important. I'll use the top-8 teams in the current Bracket Matrix to make my point. Those current standings:

1 Gonzaga
1 Baylor
1 Michigan
1 Illinois
2 Alabama
2 Iowa
2 Ohio State
2 Houston

In that scenario, with two Big Ten teams on the 2-line, Houston would likely jump up to the second 2-seed and Iowa and Ohio State would slide down one spot each. So the 1-seed/2-seed pairings (with their overall "seed") would be:

1 Gonzaga - 7 Ohio State
2 Baylor - 6 Iowa
3 Michigan - 8 Houston
4 Illinois - 5 Alabama

So yes, there's a slight advantage to sliding up to 3rd overall in that, if those are the top eight teams in order, the 4-spot has to face the 5th-best team and the 3-spot might get the 8th-best team. There's probably not much difference between Houston and Alabama, but still, might be important.

(Now, you might see Ohio State lose their fifth straight and they fall to a 3-seed or 4-seed while Arkansas wins the SEC Tournament and slides up to the #6 overall team. So there's nothing that guarantees the #3 1-seed will be better than the #4 1-seed. Still, it's worth thinking about.)

Let's turn to the team sheets. How does Illinois compare to Michigan right now? Here's the Illinois team sheet:

And here's the Michigan team sheet:

First off, let's just start with the big numbers. Record by quad:

Quad-1: 9-5
Quad-2: 5-1
Quad-3: 4-0
Quad-4: 2-0

Quad-1: 7-2
Quad-2: 6-1
Quad-3: 4-0
Quad-4: 2-0

Pretty simple comparison there. Both are 4-0 and 2-0 in the bottom two quads, and both have a near-loss down there (Illinois beat Ohio by 3; Michigan beat Oakland in overtime). So we can just look at Quad 1 and Quad 2. The combined records there: Illinois is 14-6, Michigan is 13-3. Illinois played four more Q1/Q2 games and lost three more. Would Michigan have had more Quad 1 games had they not gone on the two-week Covid pause? Yes, but only one. They missed out on a game at Penn State which would have been a Quad 1. Their other two canceled games - home for Indiana and at Northwestern - would both have been Quad 2.

My point there: canceled games or no canceled games, Illinois would have gone into the BTT with more Quad 1 wins. But also three more Q1/Q2 losses. So let's dig deeper.

Top half of Quad 1: Illinois 5-3, Michigan 5-1
Bottom half of Quad 1: Illinois 4-2, Michigan 2-1

This is where it gets interesting to me. An Illinois loss to #2 Baylor is basically a game that doesn't exist in the committee's eyes (if you lose). Win and it's massive, lose and, well, you simply scheduled the #2 team, good for you. As Tyler says on the podcast we recorded last night (the one I promise to edit and publish after I'm finished typing here), the Committee basically says "who did you beat and where?". So with those numbers - 5-3/5-1, 4-2/2-1 - I feel like Illinois might have a slight edge when the Committee sits down to debate who is the #3 overall seed and who is the #4 overall seed? Michigan only had one Q1 game they lost, and it was bottom half. So even with equal games, and even assuming Michigan would have won those games, Illinois had more Q1 wins.

It gets more interesting when you look at the individual wins. Let's just list best five wins.

at 3 Michigan
6 Iowa
at 9 Ohio State
at 26 Wisconsin
at 40 Penn State

6 Iowa
at 9 Ohio State
at 20 Purdue
at 26 Wisconsin
at 34 Maryland

Clearly advantage Illinois, I think. Mostly because, uh, we beat this team from the state of Michigan at their place by 23 without our best player. Both teams beat Iowa at home and won at Ohio State and at Wisconsin. So if we slash through those, it's Illinois winning at Michigan and at Penn State vs. Michigan winning at Purdue and at Maryland. Clearly advantage Illinois there (and quite convenient that the difference is a head-to-head matchup).

Now let's go losses. Illinois lost to Baylor on a neutral court, Ohio State at home, and Rutgers on the road. Michigan lost to Illinois at home. That may look bad (3 losses to 1), but if this Committee is like previous Committees, it's not that big of a knock. For your wins they look from Quad 1 down and for your losses they look from Quad 4 up. Some losses don't ding you very much, especially in Quad 1.

In the bottom half of Quad 1, there's a similar story. It's one of those math problems where you slash through things on the opposite side of the "=". Both teams lost at Michigan State and both teams won at home vs. Wisconsin and on the road at Indiana. That eliminates all of Michigan's bottom-half wins. What does that leave? Illinois beating 20 Purdue at home, beating 60 Duke on the road, and losing at 44 Missouri. Again, advantage Illinois. I think I might be ready to say that we're the #3 right now?

Quad 2: We're 5-1, they're 6-1. Our bad loss was at home to #34 Maryland; their bad loss was on the road at #79 Minnesota (both are identical in the Committee's eyes given that they're both four places away from being a Quad 1 loss). And when you consider that Michigan did beat Maryland at home and Illinois did beat Minnesota on the road, there's more we can cancel out. Anything else? Both teams count home against Penn State and at Nebraska as Quad 2 wins, so let's cancel those out.

What does that leave? Illinois won at 89 Northwestern and home against 61 Indiana; Michigan State beat 37 Rutgers, 63 Toledo, and 65 Michigan State at home. Advantage Michigan, although you don't get much of a boost beating teams in the 60's at home (both are low-end Quad-2 wins).

So here's how I see the Committee looking at this. Illinois played 14 Quad 1 games, Michigan played 9. Michigan did get one Quad 1 game canceled, but still, they would have played 10 to Illinois' 14. Why did Illinois play so many more? Non-conference scheduling (plus Michigan's easier Big Ten schedule). Here's the three hardest non-conference games each team scheduled:

2 Baylor - neutral court
at 44 Missouri
at 60 Duke

63 Toledo
103 UCF
132 Bowling Green

That feels like the kind of thing where the committee takes the Baylor-neutral and Missouri-road losses and tosses them out. Michigan didn't schedule any games like that, so you can't penalize Illinois for adding them. Especially Baylor.

So yeah, I can't see any way we're not the #3 right now. Playing five more Quad 1 games gave Illinois more losses, but that's usually something the Committee ignores. 9 Quad-1 wins to 7 Quad-1 wins, a better "best win", a better "worst loss", 9-3 on the road vs. 6-2, and, you know, beat Michigan by 23 in the one matchup (at Michigan). Yeah, we're absolutely the #3 right now.

Can that change? Certainly. Say we lose to Indiana on Friday (losing to #61 on a neutral court would give us another Quad 2 loss) and Michigan beats Maryland, Purdue, and Iowa for three more Quad-1 wins. Well, then Illinois is 9-5 in Quad-1 while Michigan is 10-2. They'd accelerate far beyond us.

This is also why I don't think we have the 1-seed locked up. We're well ahead of Iowa right now. Here's the top-5 wins for both:

at 3 Michigan
6 Iowa
at 9 Ohio State
at 26 Wisconsin
at 40 Penn State

at 9 Ohio State
at 26 Wisconsin
at 34 Maryland
at 38 Rutgers
20 Purdue

Toss out both teams winning at Ohio State and at Wisconsin and you have Illinois' two best wins (at 3 Michigan, 6 Iowa), vs. Iowa's two best wins (at 34 Maryland, at 38 Rutgers). But what if Iowa beats Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan to win the Big Ten Tournament? Then I'm pretty sure they'd get the 1-seed and we'd get bumped down to 2. We could get to 10 Quad-1 wins if we beat Rutgers on Friday (but not Indiana - they'd be Quad 2), and Iowa would grab three more Quad 1 wins to get to 10 as well. And they'd have just beaten us and Michigan.

So yeah, there's a ton to play for here. If, say, Indiana were to win the Big Ten Tournament (lol), they'd add FOUR Quad-1 wins in four days. Basically, unless Illinois or Michigan win the BTT, someone is going to jump 1-2 seed lines by winning it. Right now I think we're clearly the #3 1-seed, but we could fall to the 2-seed line if we're not careful.

Let's keep it rolling.


IlliniJedi on March 10, 2021 @ 05:28 PM

I was arguing this point with Mike DeCourcy a couple nights ago. We've won more road games than Michigan has played. I think we are clearly #3 overall and will likely stay there even after we've won the BTT because Gonzaga will be no. 1 and Baylor has the head to head victory.

lucasmeducas on March 11, 2021 @ 05:15 AM

It will be interesting to see if the committee weighs road wins the same way this year. Even if they don't, I think we would need to win the B1G Ten Tournament to get the 3rd 1 seed. 6 losses is still a lot more than 3. Make it 6 to 4 and it's a bit easier to overcome especially if it's another loss to us :)

wesd2005 on March 11, 2021 @ 12:31 PM

I'm not worried about falling of the 1 line. In a Brad Evans interview yesterday he said we are a lock for a #1 even with a loss to Indiana or Rutgers.

I feel like everyone overestimates how much conference tourney wins factor into the decisions of the committee. I'd love to be able to look into it more, but I think the committee has a history of disregarding conference tourney results. I know there are examples in either direction, but it seems like the committee isn't going to change their mind on the fly as they deliberate later in the week.

Douglascountyillinifan on March 11, 2021 @ 01:51 PM

I looked at the NCAA page discussing the tourney https://www.ncaa.com/news/basketball-men/article/2021-01-15/how-field-68-teams-picked-march-madness, and it looks to me like it would be tough to go through all of the scenarios and machinations after the B1G tournament final, so i wonder how much tournament results really do factor in?

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