Big Ten conference play is finally here! There are a couple monster matchups this afternoon: Maryland @ Michigan State and Iowa @ Ohio State. I expect both home teams to win, however both games will have moderate bracketology impacts. The Gophers start their Big Ten schedule tomorrow at Purdue. Despite the Boilermakers shaky performance lately (three straight losses), I expect a tough test from them. The Gophers will very likely need to reach their season average of 83 points in order to secure a victory. Purdue is averaging 76 points per game, and Minnesota has allowed that many in two straight games against mid-major opponents. Here are the Gophers keys to victory:
Interior Defense - Purdue is not an outside shooting team, averaging just 34% from beyond the arc this season. Walker and Eliason will need to avoid foul trouble in the first half.
Ball control - this is an area Minnesota typically dominates, ranking 5th in the nation in Steal/TO ratio at 0.91. Conversely, Purdue is 205th at 0.46. If the Gophers can maintain a positive TO margin, the game should be quite managable.
Defensive Rebounding - Purdue is currently 2nd in the Big Ten in Offensive boards, while Minnesota is 2nd to last in Defensive rebounds. Purdue misses an average of 31 shots per game, I'm going to say the Gophers need to get at least 23 of those rebounds to be successful tomorrow night.
One note about my newest bracket - as we get closer to the end of the season, I'm going to try to tweak my regression rankings less and less. Up to now, I've been moving teams as much as 4-5 seed lines based on quailty wins, bad losses, and other factors. Starting today, I'll move a team no more than ten slots (2.5 seed lines) away from their regression rank. This adjustment limit will likely shrink some, reaching 5 or 6 by the end of the season.
Finally, regarding projected automatic bids, I will continue to use best RPI for a few more weeks, until we get several games into the conference schedule. Once we reach mid-February or so, I will actually try to more accurately project auto-bids based on likely conference tournament seed and matchups.
1's: Kentucky, Virginia, Duke, Wisconsin
2's: Gonzaga, Villanova, Arizona, Old Dominion
3's: Kansas, West Virginia, Saint John's, Utah
4's: Colorado State, VCU, Wichita State, Northern Iowa
5's: Iowa State, Baylor, George Washington, Washington
6's: LSU, Seton Hall, Maryland, Dayton
7's: Louisville, San Diego State, Georgia, Texas
8's: North Carolina, Arkansas, Georgetown, Providence
9's: Penn State, Butler, UNLV, Stanford
10's: Oklahoma State, Buffalo, Ohio State, Green Bay
11's: Davidson, Notre Dame, BYU, Oklahoma
12's: Minnesota, North Carolina State, Xavier, TCU, Cincinnati, Wofford
13's: Temple, Incarnate Word, Georgia State, Harvard
14's: Eastern Washington, High Point, Stony Brook, Lafayette
15's: Saint Francis (PA), Long Beach State, Murray State, Iona
16's: Texas Southern, North Carolina Central, Northeastern, South Dakota State, Florida Gulf Coast, New Mexico State
FFO: Georgia Tech, Miami (FL), SMU, Illinois
NFO: Boise State, Loyola-Chicago, Alabama, Michigan State