Bubble Watch: A New Hope
When last we left our heroes, they were a few steps away from the dance, but with several games in which those steps could be taken. Sure enough, Saturday's game was a small step in the right direction, as a boring old win turned out to be slightly better for Purdue's hopes than I'd expected. Of course, at this point in the season, it isn't all about what you've done; in fact, even for stodgy RPI, the results of other games can have more of an impact than the result of the game you've just played. Sometimes it's easier just to note unexpected results and move on to the brief analysis, so let's do that.
What the ...?
Apparently Northwestern didn't take kindly to my jesting at their expense, as they promptly turned around and dealt Iowa its second straight conference loss, 66-61 in OT at Evanston, thus doubling their conference win total. Home teams have won nearly 70% of Big Tenteen conference games, the highest percentage (subscription required) in DI play. No, I've no idea why that's happening this season. (Last year, they were 62 of 108, 22nd in DI. The year before, 69 of 108, 10th. Could just be random.) Anyway, those losses knock Iowa down to the edge of the second division, both currently and in projected results. That does take some of the luster off Purdue's January win over the Hawkeyes, but it also moves Purdue closer to the top of the conference.
Current Status: Very Close
Lunardi: #2 in First Four Out, up 3 spots.
dratings: #2 in Last Four Out, down 1 spot.
kenpom: 49th (up 5). A combination of favorable results plus a win slightly larger than expected at home.
RPI: 64th (up 6). Conference RPI drops one spot to 18th. Last 12 stays at 8-4 as the Minnesota win drops off. The final 12 regular-season games start with the Iowa win, which is a nice setup: Purdue should be 8-4 or better when they leave for Chicago.
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- Indiana thumped Minnesota in Bloomington and jumped a few spots across the board. They're not an RPI top-25 team, but they do have 3 wins in that group, so I think they'd still count in the Significant Win column should the Boilers pull off the road win Thursday.
- kenpom puts the Good Guys two points closer to Izzo's group, but still gives Purdue less than a 1-in-4 chance to win that game. It makes sense: the only team with a better Defensive Efficiency in conference play than Purdue (98.1) is MSU (96.1). If that game were in Mackey, I think it'd be close to a tossup.
- Illinois lost big in Madison, but then, who doesn't? (Besides Purdue.) The game for Boiler fans to watch will be next Wednesday's game between the Illini and Hawkeyes in Iowa City. If McCaffery can't stop their slide, that could turn out to be a costly game for Purdue, even though they obviously have no control over it. Illinois is one of the Last Four In; it's best for Purdue if they stay there so that a win will definitely vault the Boilers ahead of them. (Iowa's a projected #9 seed. If they lose more than just the IU game on 3/3, they could conceivably start to drift toward the bubble. Losing to Illinois at home won't do much, but their other games are against the Bad Four.)
Toe the line: 11-7
Iowa drops out of the four-way tie, but that doesn't change Purdue's position, because the Boilers already placed ahead of them in the tiebreaker. The 11-14 game seems more like Nebraska vs. Rutgers now.
Illinois' stock is rising, but not enough to offset a home loss in the finale, should it happen. Better to finish with a win over a rising team.
Road win at Indiana: 12-6
No change here: Purdue gets the #4 seed and plays #5 Michigan State or haha-not-MSU Friday.
Road win at Ohio State: 12-6
No change. Purdue is #2 and plays #7 MSU or Indiana, or #10 Minnesota if the Gophers pull off the upset on Thursday.
Road win at Michigan State: 12-6
No change: Purdue gets the #4 and plays #5 Indiana or haha-not-IU Friday.
Road magic: 13-5 or better
Purdue has a 14.6% chance to win two or three of their remaining away games. Yes, I'm saying there's a chance. (Most likely is that they lose in Columbus but beat Indiana and MSU.) They'd be well off the bubble in that scenario, especially if they make it to Saturday in Chicago. (I think most of the seedings are determined prior to Sunday's games; they could move a little by winning Saturday as well, but now we're way ahead of ourselves.)
Oh, what the heck. They've got a 0.8% chance to win out. 14-4, 22-9 going into Big Tenteen tournament play, finishing 11-1 in their last 12. That might be worthy of an 8 seed in the Dance ... they'd be an absolute lock, and that would take most of the tarnish off December, but it wouldn't completely remove it. Also, there are 992 alternate universes where that doesn't happen. We're probably in one.
The best 10-8 scenario now has Purdue at #7 thanks to Iowa. That would give them #10 Minnesota on Thursday, which doesn't help much, but at least would give them a shot at padding the W column before facing the #2 seed Friday. Let's not think about this.