Big Ten Tournament Bracketology: Is it better for Northwestern to lose Sunday?

WNUR’s Michael Stern (@MichaelJStern23) looks at all the potential first round matchups for Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.

The Wildcats head into Sunday’s regular season finale against Purdue tied with the Boilermakers for 11th place in the 12-team Big Ten. Tomorrow is the final day of regular season play across the Big Ten, so by the end of the day we will know the Big Ten tournament bracket. Looking at possible brackets after simulating Sunday’s games (thanks to this seeding generator), there are five possible draws for Northwestern. I’ve ranked them from worst to best below, and the possible draws raise an interesting question. If the Wildcats fall to Purdue, will they have an easier draw in the Big Ten Tourney?

5. Worst-case scenario: Ohio State beats Michigan State and Northwestern beats Purdue. This places the Wildcats as the 11 seed with a first-round matchup against Iowa. The Hawkeyes ran Northwestern out of the gym in both of the teams’ regular-season meetings, outscoring the Wildcats by a combined score of 169-117. Northwestern will have an incredibly hard time keeping up with the deep, run-and-gun Hawkeyes. If Northwestern can somehow outlast Iowa, things don’t get any easier. Michigan State, another team Northwestern struggled against, awaits the winner of the Northwestern-Iowa matchup. When healthy, Michigan State’s frontcourt depth (Payne, Dawson, Costello) gives the undersized Wildcat frontline lots of problems. These are the two toughest matchups in the league for Northwestern, and the Wildcats draw them in the tournament after BEATING Purdue Sunday.

4. Michigan State beats Ohio State and Purdue beats Northwestern. This time, Northwestern ends up as the 12 seed, but again runs into Iowa, this time seeded fifth. The difference? Slow-paced Nebraska, seeded fourth in this scenario, played two tight games against the Wildcats this season. If Northwestern upsets Iowa, Nebraska is a better matchup for the Wildcats than Michigan State.

3. Michigan State beats Ohio State and Northwestern beats Purdue. Ohio State is another bad matchup for Northwestern. The Buckeyes manhandled Northwestern last month in Columbus, play tough defense, and love to press. However, Ohio State has been inconsistent this season. Ohio State endured a four-game losing streak early in conference play and lost to Penn State twice. Northwestern is more likely to catch the Buckeyes on an off day then to run with Iowa.

2. Ohio State beats Michigan State, Purdue beats Northwestern, and Nebraska beats Wisconsin. Another Ohio State-Northwestern matchup in the first round, but this bracket is better than the third-ranked bracket because the ‘Cats would face Nebraska, not Michigan State, in the second round.

1. Ohio State beats Michigan State, Purdue beats Northwestern, and Wisconsin beats Nebraska. This is the best-case scenario for the Wildcats. This is the only scenario where Northwestern faces a team other than Iowa and Ohio State in the first round, and as mentioned earlier Nebraska is a pretty good matchup for the Wildcats. Since they face them in the first round, Northwestern can’t face the Cornhuskers in the second round. The next best matchup for Northwestern of the teams they could play is Ohio State, and that’s who the ‘Cats would draw in the second round of this bracket.

So there are the scenarios, and here is the question. Northwestern’s best-case scenario occurs when they lose to Purdue, while their worst-case scenario occurs after they beat the Boilermakers. Are the ‘Cats better off losing Sunday in West Lafayette? Only time will tell.

UPDATE: Northwestern’s win over Purdue locks the Wildcats into the 11th seed. NU fans now turn to scoreboard watching to find out who the Wildcats will face in the Big Ten tournament. If Ohio State beats Michigan State, we have the worst case scenario on our hands. Northwestern will face Iowa in the first round and would face Michigan State in the second round. If Michigan State beats Ohio State, Northwestern will face the Buckeyes in the first round, and the Wildcats’ potential second-round opponent depends on the Nebraska-Wisconsin game. Northwestern beat Wisconsin in Madison, but lost twice to Michigan State, so Northwestern would rather see Wisconsin as the three seed. To recap, in bullet point form:

-Ohio State win= first round vs. Iowa, second round vs. Michigan State
-Michigan State win AND Nebraska win= first round vs. Ohio State, second round vs. Wisconsin
-Michigan State win AND Wisconsin win= first round vs. Ohio State, second round vs. Michigan State

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