With Big Ten regular season play now over, all eyes will turn to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament. Always exciting, the conference tourney allows the top teams to try to improve their case for a better NCAA Tournament seeding, while teams on the bubble will try to make their final case for selection. There are upsets, and buzzer beaters and big performances. But for Michigan, it is important to keep this week’s tournament in perspective.
Michigan has been fantastic this Big Ten season. They won the league without it even coming down to the wire and beat every team in the conference. And they will be rewarded for their impressive resume, with a high seed, in a week on Selection Sunday. In all likely-hood, Michigan will be a 2 or 3 seed. Right now, CBS’s Jerry Palm has them as the lowest 2 seed, while ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Wolverines a a 3. Those both seem reasonable.
And while the Big Ten Tourney will be hyped as a chance to move up, in reality that is unlikely. The selection committee looks at a team’s entire resume: their non-conference strength of schedule and results, their conference play, their marquee wins and ugly losses, and all of the composite statistics like RPI. So really, how Michigan plays in the tiny sample size of the Big Ten tournament is not that important. It may seem like these games mean more, thanks to recency bias, but the one loss that will come as a result of getting knocked out of the tournament (unless they win it all) is equal to any other loss they’ve had all year. At the same time, beating Illinois or Indiana again on Friday won’t be any bigger than the previous times they beat them this year.
Even if Michigan is able to win the Big Ten Tournament, that wouldn’t necessarily push them up to the top seed line. They would still need teams that are considered to be above them now to perform poorly, and even then, as I mentioned, how much can one loss really drop a team?
So if Michigan’s results at the Big Ten Tournament likely won’t affect their seeding, will it affect them at all heading into the NCAA Tournament? Some might argue that a strong showing in Indianapolis would give the Wolverines momentum, but that is a tricky claim to make. Game to game momentum in sports has very little evidence behind it in general. For Michigan, there really isn’t any case for momentum’s existence. Michigan’s two previous losses this season (at Iowa, Wisconsin) have both come after big, double-digit victories. Their only other conference loss was at a middle of the pack Indiana team, after Michigan had won ten straight games, including three in a row against top ten teams. If that’s not enough, Michigan only won a single game, against lowly Penn State, last year at the Big Ten Tournament before getting blown out by Wisconsin. What came next was five straight wins in the NCAA Tournament and a trip to the title game. Big Ten Tournament failure sure didn’t seem to bother them then.
Now, I’m not saying not to enjoy this year’s Big Ten Tournament: quite the opposite, in fact. Michigan fans should revel in the tournament, as it should be a lot of fun, but while also keeping the big picture in respect to how the outcome affects Michigan’s NCAA Tournament prospects in perspective.
Sure, Michigan could win the Big Ten Tournament, after all they are the top seed. But odds are they will lose, and that’s ok.
You can follow Alex Dale on Twitter @alexdaleCFB