The Maryland men's basketball team has three games remaining in its regular season: this Saturday at Purdue, next Thursday against Illinois and next Sunday at Indiana. The best thing the Terrapins could do is win out and ultimately take the Big Ten's regular season championship with a little help (i.e., Iowa losing a game), but the most important thing Maryland could do is secure a top-four seed and double bye in the league tournament.
If Maryland wins two of its last three games – in any combination – the Terps are almost guaranteed a top-four seed. But there's one potential wrench that could, in such a scenario, leave them starting in Indianapolis on Thursday instead of Friday in a couple of weekends.
Here's how the Big Ten looks on Wednesday morning:
|Big Ten men's basketball standings, as of Feb. 24|
If the Terps go 2-1 down the stretch, they'll finish 13-5 in league play. That automatically puts Maryland ahead of nine of the league's 14 teams. The only team currently outside the top four that could equal Maryland's conference record is Wisconsin, and that's assuming the Badgers win each of their final four games, starting Wednesday night at Iowa. The Badgers then face Michigan, Minnesota and Purdue, so it's very unlikely they won't lose another game, and the Terps are basically set.
Let's say the Wisconsin wins out, and Maryland goes 2-1. Then what?
(If you don't like being confused, stop reading here, but let's sort through it.)
Based on the Big Ten's tiebreakers, Maryland is almost but not totally guaranteed to finish ahead of Wisconsin with a 2-1 finish, although probably not Michigan State.
The Terps and Badgers split their head-to-head series this year, and the next tiebreaker after that is the teams' record against the No. 1 finisher in the league. If that's Indiana and Maryland loses to the Hoosiers on March 5 while Wisconsin wins out, that would leave Maryland at 0-1 against Indiana, while Wisconsin is 1-1. The Badgers would jump Maryland, leaving the Terps at the mercy of Michigan State, who'd quite possibly also catch them.
If the Terps end 2-1 and beat Indiana in their lone matchup, they automatically beat Wisconsin on this tiebreaker. And if Iowa winds up as the first-place team, Maryland can't lose that tiebreaker, either, but could be even with Wisconsin if the Badgers beat Iowa.
Next up is overall win percentage of Division I opponents, and Wisconsin has a really strong strength of schedule.
So, basically, here's the story: If Maryland goes 2-1, the Terps are almost certain to get a Big Ten double bye. But if the "1" in "2-1" comes via a loss to Indiana, and Wisconsin happens to win out, Maryland could be in trouble.
(Even this scenario also requires Michigan State to gain a game on Maryland and jump the Terps based on the two teams' head-to-head tiebreaker. The Spartans still face Penn State, Rutgers and Ohio State.)
If you want Maryland to have the best chance to win the league, root for the Badgers against Iowa on Wednesday.
If you want Maryland to have the clearest path possible to a double bye, root for the Hawkeyes, because another Wisconsin loss makes a double bye fairly close to a done deal.
It will take an unfortunate sequence of events for Maryland to miss a double bye. It is not impossible.