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Which Big Ten basketball team benefited most from the league's unbalanced schedule?

The Buckeyes received one of the more favorable league draws.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten's regular season slate was already unbalanced before Maryland and Rutgers joined the conference prior to the 2014-15 season. After all, it's impossible to play a true round robin league schedule of 18 games with 12 schools. But the inclusion of Maryland and Rutgers meant each Big Ten team would now play five teams twice and eight teams once. That set-up creates a lot of variance.

I crunched the numbers to see how the unbalanced schedule played out for the 2015-16 season. But first, a primer on the giant table to follow.

First column: where the team finished in conference play.

Second column: where the team finished among the 14 Big Ten teams in Ken Pomeroy's (KenPom) efficiency rankings.

Third column: where the team finished among the 351 Division I teams in KenPom's rankings.

Fourth column: where the team finished among the 14 Big Ten teams when averaging out each team's conference slate to determine the strength of a team's Big Ten schedule. (1=hardest schedule, 14=easiest schedule).


Big Ten Finish

Big Ten KPom Ranking

National KPom Ranking

KPom SOS

Indiana

1

3

15

13

Michigan State

2

1

5

14

Maryland

3

5

25

1

Purdue

4

2

14

5

Iowa

5

4

23

4

Wisconsin

6

6

33

3

Ohio State

7

9

80

10

Michigan

8

7

58

8

Northwestern

9

8

78

12

Penn State

10

12

146

2

Nebraska

11

10

98

9

Illinois

12

11

132

11

Minnesota

13

13

223

7

Rutgers

14

14

291

6

The Buckeyes took care of business against their relatively undemanding schedule

As the table indicates, the Buckeyes’ Big Ten schedule was the fifth-easiest in the league; playing Rutgers and Illinois twice will do that. On the other hand, Ohio State did what it was supposed to do, going 7-0 against teams that finished below it in the Big Ten's KenPom standings, and even went 3-0 against KenPom's No. 7 (Michigan) and No. 8 (Northwestern) squads.

On the flip side, Ohio State was 1-8 vs. the top six Big Ten teams in the KenPom rankings.

Indiana and Michigan State were two really good teams that were assisted by easy league schedules

Michigan State and its cumulative opponents’ ranking of 11.16 was by far the lowest in the Big Ten, with Indiana (12.19) coming in second. The Spartans played Rutgers and Penn State twice, and only had to face Indiana and Maryland once, with both contests coming in the friendly confines of the Breslin Center.

As for the Hoosiers, they drew Minnesota, Nebraska, and Illinois twice, and also had the benefit of playing their lone matchups with Maryland and Purdue in Bloomington.

And while it’s appropriate to point out the lucky flaws in both Michigan State and Indiana’s league slates, the fortuity of each program should not cloud the fact that both teams enjoyed very good seasons, which was reflected by their place in the KenPom rankings and their respective accomplishments: Indiana won the regular season Big Ten championship and advanced to the Sweet 16, while Michigan State won a record fifth Big Ten Tournament.

Wisconsin overachieved

The Badgers shook off the surprise mid-December resignation of Bo Ryan and a 1-4 start in Big Ten play to finish 12-6 in the Big Ten and advance to a third consecutive Sweet 16.

Wisconsin's accomplishment is even more impressive when considering its league slate, which was the third-hardest in the Big Ten. That schedule included home and away tilts with Indiana, Michigan State, Maryland, and Purdue -- four of the five teams to finish ahead of the Badgers in the regular season standings. Wisconsin also played its lone game vs. fifth-place Iowa in Iowa City.

Top to bottom, the Big Ten was not as strong as it was in 2014-15

The cumulative KenPom total of the 14 Big Ten teams in 2015-16 was 9.793. In 2014-15 that total was 10.345. Using the final 2015-16 KenPom's rankings, this season's average Big Ten team (.695 efficiency; 2014-15 was .739) was akin to a slightly better version of this season's 14-18 (6-12 Big Ten) Nebraska outfit, which reflects just how much much the awfulness of Minnesota and Rutgers dented the entire conference's reputation and bogged down the Big Ten's overall efficiency.