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Big Ten basketball's as good as ever, even with a down Ohio State

The Big Ten will still flex its NCAA Tournament muscle even though one of the conference's heavyweights is experiencing a down year.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

In spite of its thrilling/shocking win over Iowa on Sunday, barring a Hoosiers-esque run in the Big Ten Tournament next week in Indianapolis, Ohio State (19-11, 11-6 Big Ten) will probably not be reaching the NCAA Tournament for the eighth consecutive season, a streak that presently ranks as the seventh-longest stretch of Big Dance qualification in Division I hoops. (Kansas tops that list with 26 consecutive NCAA Tournament berths. Dr. Naismith would be so proud.)

At this point, Ohio State's two central shortcomings on its NCAA Tournament resume are well-known: three bad non-conference losses to Texas-Arlington, Louisiana Tech, and Memphis, and the fact that only two of the Buckeyes' 10 Big Ten wins (Michigan, Iowa) have come against teams with winning records in conference play. Michigan isn't even a top 50 RPI team at the moment.

But will a bout of mediocrity from one of its traditional powers prevent the Big Ten from sending its typical quota of teams to the NCAA Tournament? Nope.

Before I explain that blunt answer, here is how the Big Ten has stacked up in the five NCAA Tournaments since March Madness expanded to 68 teams in the 2010-11 season in terms of...

*The number teams to reach the NCAA Tournament.

*The average seed of those tournament teams.

*The number of teams to reach the Sweet 16 and Final Four.

*Per, the average ranking and Pythagorean rating of each tournament team.


NCAA Teams

Average Seed

Teams in Sweet 16

Teams in Final Four

Average KenPom rank

Average Pyth. rating





2 (Mich St., Wisc)







1 (Wisc)







1 (Mich)







1 (Ohio St.)










A few conclusions we can draw over this five-season stretch:

*The 2010-11 Buckeyes possessed a Pythagorean rating of .9663, the highest mark for a Big Ten team in this sample, and were the lone Big Ten team to be ranked No. 1 in KenPom's final rankings.

*The 2011-12 campaign was the strongest showing for the Big Ten, posting the lowest average seed and KenPom ranking, tying for the most number of squads to reach the Sweet 16, and finishing second in average Pythagorean rating.

*With Ohio State and Michigan State, the 2011-12 season had the No. 3 and No. 4 teams in overall Pythagorean rating from the Big Ten teams in this sample. The 2012-13 season contained the No. 5 through No. 8 Pythagorean teams (Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State).

*Not only did the 2014-15 season have the lowest Pythagorean rating of the five-year sample, but the second-best team in Pythagorean rating (Michigan State) ranked as the No. 17 overall Big Ten squad in that category. (Of course, the Spartans made the Final Four as a No. 7 seed). Also, last season Purdue (.7795) and Indiana (.7742) had the two lowest Pythagorean rankings of the 33 individual Big Ten teams to reach the tournament since 2010-11.

Through Sunday's games, five teams Big Ten teams are considered NCAA Tournament locks: Indiana, Michigan State, Maryland, Iowa, and Purdue. A sixth, Wisconsin (19-10, 11-5), is probably off of the bubble following its triumph over Michigan on Sunday, a win that gave the Badgers their 10th victory in their last 11 outings, a strong stretch that is washing away Wisconsin's poor showing in non-conference play. Also, Michigan (20-10, 10-7) is generally considered 'in' at the moment, but would do well to beat Iowa next weekend or win a few games in the Big Ten Tournament.

Here is how the Big Ten is shaping up this season:


NCAA Teams

Average Seed*

Average KenPom rank

Average Pyth. rating






*The average seed was compiled by averaging out each team's respective seed as predicted by the latest mock brackets submitted Sunday night by SB Nation, ESPN, and CBS.

The latest batch of KenPom rankings have Michigan State (.9430 Pythagorean rating) as the No. 1 team in the country and the top team in the conference by a wide margin over No. 14 Iowa (.8968). Indiana (15), Purdue (19), and Maryland (21) are also ranked in KenPom's top 25.

So, with a week remaining in the regular season, the Big Ten -- in spite of Ohio State's forthcoming date with the NIT -- is appearing a bit stronger than it has over the past two seasons, standing to outperform the 2013-14 and 2014-15 campaigns in five of six calculable categories.