Byes are important. The best way to not be eliminated from a tournament is to not have to play games in it, and the Maryland men's basketball team has had an inside track on getting two byes in this month's Big Ten Tournament. The top four teams in the conference each get to skip the first two days of the tournament in Indianapolis, and that's a big deal. It means an extra practice day, less fatigue and a statistically better chance of winning the whole thing.
Yet, Maryland's lost three games out of four, throwing the Terps' positioning for a double bye into some danger. A more exhaustive look at the league's standings, however, shows that Maryland's still probably OK, at least if one thing happens on Tuesday.
Andrew Vailliencourt tweeted a mostly helpful how-to guide on figuring out Big Ten scenarios heading into the last week of the season. It visualizes good things for Maryland:
I actually think this table isn't quite right, but it's right if you make the assumption that Maryland beats Illinois at home on Thursday night. That will probably happen, and if it does, a Hawkeyes loss to the Big Ten-leading Hoosiers would, as the table seems to also assume, mean Maryland automatically finishes ahead of Iowa.
Iowa (which has quietly lost four of five games) faces Indiana on Tuesday night. If the Hoosiers win that game and Maryland doesn't flop against the Illini, Maryland automatically double-byes into the conference tournament's quarterfinal round.
How does this happen? It's complicated, but actually simple. Here's the top of the Big Ten on Tuesday morning:
If Maryland does beat Illinois, an Iowa loss on Tuesday automatically puts the Terps ahead of the Hawkeyes, because the Terps have a head-to-head tiebreaker between the two teams. In this same scenario, a Maryland win on Thursday guarantees the Terps will finish ahead of Ohio State, which then could only match Maryland's six losses in the league and would lose on a head-to-head tiebreaker. (Maryland swept the Buckeyes in their season series.)
If Iowa beats Indiana, it's likelier than not that Maryland needs to beat Indiana in Bloomington next weekend to keep a double bye. The Terps beating Illinois would be potentially irrelevant in this case, because the Hawkeyes could still pass Maryland by winning their final game at Michigan, and Wisconsin and Michigan State would each have straightforward paths to finish ahead of Maryland.
(On another hand, it's reasonable to want Indiana to lose to Iowa, because then the Terps could win out and theoretically tie the Hoosiers for a Big Ten regular season title next weekend. Two things, though: First, Maryland is probably going to lose that game anyway, and second, regular season titles are as hollow as nesting dolls.)
Anyway, if Indiana beats Iowa and Maryland doesn't lose out, the Terps are safe. The Hoosiers and Hawkeyes tip at 9 p.m. Maryland time on ESPN, and it's going to be something worth Terps fans' watching.