What Are the Chances That Penn State Earns a Double Bye in the Big Ten Tournament?

By Dan Smith on March 3, 2020 at 9:30 am
Penn State Forward Lamar Steven
Matthew O'Haren- USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks ago, it appeared that the Big Ten regular season title would come down to Maryland and Penn State. While the Terrapins have held steady atop the conference standings, the Nittany Lions have tumbled, dropping three of their last four games as they struggled to deal with the illness of Myreon Jones.

Jones' return at Iowa Saturday is a great sign for Penn State's chances of rebounding down the stretch, but they have put themselves into a tougher position to get the coveted double bye at this year's Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.

We will get into the seeding scenarios later this week once the dust has settled, because frankly there are too many moving parts at the moment. But after the four Big Ten games on Sunday, we now have a clear picture of what Penn State needs to do to get to the double bye.

Here are the Big Ten standings as of this morning.

Rk Big Ten Standings Conference Overall Remaining Schedule
1 Maryland 13-5 23-6 @Rutgers Tue / Michigan Sun
T-2 Michigan State 12-6 20-9 @Penn State Tue / Ohio State Sun
T-2 Wisconsin 12-6 19-10 Northwestern Wed / @Indiana Sat
T-2 Illinois 12-6 20-9 @Ohio State Thu / Iowa Sun
T-5 Penn State 11-7 21-8 Michigan State Tue / @Northwestern Sat
T-5 Iowa 11-7 20-9 Purdue Tue / @Illinois Sun
7 Ohio State 10-8 20-9 Illinois Thu / @Michigan State Sun
T-8 Michigan 9-9 18-11 Nebraska Thu / @Maryland Sun
T-8 Rutgers 9-9 18-11 Maryland Tue / @Purdue Sat
T-10 Indiana 8-10 18-11 Minnesota Wed / Wisconsin Sat
T-10 Purdue 8-10 15-14 @Iowa Tue / Rutgers Sat
12 Minnesota 7-11 13-15 @Indiana Wed / Nebraska Sun
T-13 Nebraska 2-16 7-22 @Michigan Thu / @Minnesota Sun
T-13 Northwestern 2-16 7-21 @Wisconsin Wed / Penn State Sat

The Nittany Lions are tied for fifth; they need to be in the top four to get the double bye.

Seven teams have been totally eliminated from a chance at the top four and the double bye: Michigan, Rutgers, Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Northwestern. That leaves the top seven teams in the conference competing for the top four spots.

The first head-to-head tiebreaker is the head-to-head record. They lose that head-to-head tiebreaker to Wisconsin and Illinois, which puts Penn State in a tough position. Any win by either of those two teams in their final two games, or any loss by Penn State, means that they are ahead of Penn State in the final regular season standings.

The good news is that the Nittany Lions almost completely control their own destiny. If Penn State wins out, they are nearly assured a double bye. A win over Michigan State gives them the season sweep and the tiebreaker. On top of that, Iowa loses the tiebreaker to Penn State. Since they split the season series, the next tiebreaker is each team's record against the conference champion, which should end up being Maryland. And Iowa split with Maryland while Penn State beat Maryland in their only matchup.

The only way that winning out would not work would be if Maryland, Illinois, and Michigan State split their final two games (with Penn State obviously beating Michigan State), while Wisconsin and Iowa win out. In that scenario, Wisconsin and Maryland tie, and Wisconsin wins the tiebreaker due to their 56-54 win over the Terrapins on Jan. 14. This allows Iowa to jump Penn State because they split their season series with Wisconsin, and Penn State lost their only matchup to the Badgers. To tell you how unlikely this is, you can check Twitter user SpartanDan's annual Big Ten seeding scenario spreadsheet (opens Google Sheet). There are 48 scenarios out of 16,384 that would place Penn State as the 5 seed with two wins.

This is all a very complicated way of saying that Penn State needs to win its final two games to get a double bye, and even then they need just a little bit of help.