So, How We Doin'? January 30, 2023

Jan 30, 2023

I'm using "So, How We Doin'?" a little differently in 2023. Last year I used it as a basketball version of the Stream Of Consciousness, my night-before-the-game rambling I write during football season. That got a bit.. overwrought last year, so I delayed starting it this year until football was finished and then decided to pivot.

I guess I should explain some things if you're new here.

  • I'm Robert. I write most of the words here. Nice to meet you.
  • I'm addicted to writing things within a "series." I put this in the SOC and put that in the LLUOI.
  • LLUOI is "Looks Like University Of Illinois", the line that Tom Cruise says in Risky Business after he finds out he's just not Ivy League material. When I write about recruits (heh, "when"), I write Looks Like University Of Illinois posts.
  • Just before he says that line in the movie, Rebecca De Mornay asks him "So, how we doin'?" Which is why this post is titled "So, How We Doin'?"

Here's that clip in case you've never seen it:

Whenever I explain this, there's always one person who didn't know that "Looks Like University Of Illinois" was an actual line from a movie, two people who knew it was a line from a movie but didn't know it was Tom Cruise, one person who says "so THAT'S why you rate players by Tom Cruises", and seven people who say "I didn't know 'So, How We Doin' was from the same clip." If you're one of those, you're welcome. You now know the reasoning behind the title of this post.

So, uh, how are we doing? Let's see.

First off, it's been a solid month. After the Northwestern loss on January 4th (moving us to 0-3 in the Big Ten), there was very little chance of me writing "it's been a solid month" on January 30th, but winning 6 of the last 7 has moved us there. There's still one more game in January (tomorrow night against Nebraska in Champaign), and it's the classic home trap game sandwiched between a road game at Wisconsin and a road game at Iowa, but as of right now, solid month. Three road wins (at Nebraska, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) are key.

As of this moment, here's where we stand on the NET Team Sheet. This is the sheet that the committee looks at when seeding the teams:

A quick refresher on how it works. First off, the NCAA Committee fully acknowledges the location of a game. Winning on the road is harder than winning at home. They divide your wins into four quadrants, and to have a Quad 1 win, you have to beat:

  • A top-30 team at home
  • A top-50 team on a neutral court
  • A top-75 team on the road

For each Quad on that sheet, you can see the numbers. Quad 2? Home win over 31-75, neutral win over 51-100, road win over 76-135. The general rule: Get a lot of Quad 1 and Quad 2 wins and avoid any Quad 3 and Quad 4 losses. The anchor tied to Iowa's foot this year? A Quad 4 loss at home to #340 Eastern Illinois. It's the single worst loss (#35 losing at home to #340) in college basketball in quite some time.

The other important thing to note: your NET ranking (NET replaced the RPI several years ago) is only really used in the inverse. We are currently #26 in the NET rankings, but that doesn't mean the Committee would seed us as the 26th-best team. That is only used to say that teams that lose to us at home have a Quad 1 loss on their resume. But if we drop to #31 at some point, Wisconsin will have a Quad 2 loss against Illinois in Madison, not a Quad 1 loss.

The other thing that gets lost a bit (and this is partly my fault because I'm one of those guys tweeting the NET team sheet every Monday): When a twin or loss drops from one Quad to another, it's not that big of a deal in the Committee's eyes. If Wisconsin falls two more spots, our two wins over the Badgers in January will move from a Quad 2 win (in Champaign) and a Quad 1 win (in Madison) to a Quad 3 win and a Quad 2 win. But the Committee, were they meeting today, would already be acknowledging that Wisconsin is "barely" a Quad 1 win. And so they'd also acknowledge that if Saturday's win moved to a Quad 2 win, it's "almost" a Quad 1 win.

The numbers matter (we're 4-5 Quad 1, 3-1 Quad 2 as of today), but if Wisconsin drops, it's not like the updated 3-5 Q1, 3-1 Q2 (with Quad 3 moving to 3-0) is devastating for our seed. The Committee goes line by line through the seeds and then debates the teams in groups. If a game is right on the edge between two Quads, it would be discussed as such.

An example: if they were debating, say, #26 Illinois and #25 West Virginia for the last spot on a certain seed line, the plusses for West Virginia would be 12 Quad 1 games so far (with four wins), but the minuses would be that WVU's four Quad 1 wins are #17 TCU at home, #50 Florida on the road, #62 Pitt on the road, and #69 Texas Tech on the road. Illinois' four Quad 1 wins: #5 UCLA neutral, #9 Texas neutral, #29 Ohio State home, and #74 Wisconsin on the road. Those wins over #5 and #9 will hold a ton of weight with the Committee. Not all Quad 1 wins are created equal.

OK, now you have the background for all of the NET Team Sheet discussions over the next five weeks. Let's talk about How We Doin' on our resume at the moment.

The biggest thing I notice is that our bad losses don't look as bad as they once looked. Or maybe I should say that the losses I anticipated would start looking worse and worse aren't looking worse.

Take Northwestern (please). I figured they'd be somewhere around 80 by now with a 3-6 Big Ten record but they're #40 with a 6-3 Big Ten record. Not only is our loss in Evanston a Quad 1 loss, it's an upper-half Quad 1 loss (see how the column is split in two groups?). I'm not saying the Committee ignores upper half red boxes (losses), but each year it feels like they almost do. Everyone's sheet at the end of the year is bleeding in the upper left. They look for resumes with wins mixed in with the red.

So a loss like the Virginia game? Losing to the team that's currently #15 on a neutral court? It's almost like that game didn't happen. The way the Committee has historically looked at such games, you're not "punished" for losing that game. You simply didn't get the boost you would have gotten for winning. TCU losing to #181 Northwestern State in the non-conference? Yes, that will count against them when they're being debated in that room. Illinois losing to #15 Virginia? I think "barely matters" is an appropriate way to say it.

In that sense, we have five losses for the Committee to weigh against other team's losses. And of those five losses, really only Penn State looks bad at the moment. Indiana has crawled all the way back to #20. Missouri is up to #44 now so that's a Quad 1 loss. Northwestern is 40, Maryland is 38. So really, it's a loss to #52 Penn State in Champaign that hurts the resume the most at the moment.

And if you look at the other Big Ten teams around us in the NET rankings, that kind of sets us apart. Rutgers has a home loss to Seton Hall (#57) and a neutral loss to Temple (#116). Ohio State has a road loss at Nebraska (#99) and an inexplicable home loss to Minnesota (#221). Iowa also has a road loss to Nebraska and they added a home loss to Wisconsin (#74) and a that crazy home loss to Eastern Illinois (#340).

Other Big Ten schools have struggled to put up wins away from home. Maryland's only road win is #337 Louisville. Michigan State does have road wins at Wisconsin and Penn State, but their road loss to #184 Notre Dame really stings. Penn State has only one road win, but, uh, I don't want to talk about it.

So that's all good news. We have two great neutral wins over top-10 (in the NET) teams and five losses without any resume-killers. If Wisconsin and Ohio State play well in February, those wins can look even better. Same goes for Michigan State (and maybe even Nebraska).

The bad news: for our "other" wins (besides our two big non-conference wins), the names might be there (home win over Michigan State, home and road wins over Wisconsin), but the NET numbers are not. Just look at our last three home games (after these next two against Nebraska and Minnesota): Rutgers, Northwestern, and Michigan. As of right now, a home win over Rutgers would be bigger (in the Committee's eyes) than our home win over Ohio State. A win in Champaign over Northwestern would hold more weight than our win over Michigan State on January 13th. And Michigan? They're currently 83rd in the NET rankings (EIGHTY THIRD!). If they stay below 75 and we lose to them at home on March 2nd (and if they're still in the 80's), that would be a Quad 3 loss for us, by far our worst loss of the season.

So we might have come into this season saying "gotta beat Michigan State and Michigan at home", but now it's "gotta beat Northwestern and Rutgers at home." Those are the pivotal games. Crazy.

When I re-adjust to all of this ("Rutgers and Northwestern are massive games, Wisconsin and Michigan are not"), I see that these five remaining road games will tell the entire story. Starting with Iowa on Saturday.

Assuming we win these two home games the next two Tuesdays (#99 Nebraska, #221 Minnesota), which isn't a guarantee but goes in the "absolutely should" column, then the Iowa game on Saturday is the difference between going into that Rutgers game on February 11th 18-6 (9-4) and 17-7 (8-5). To me, that's the difference between "this season is 100% back on track" and "oh man I'm not sure I see another road win."

I mean, just look at the NET rankings of our final five road opponents:

  • Iowa (35)
  • Penn State (52)
  • Indiana (20)
  • Ohio State (29)
  • Purdue (3)

Yes, we've won three straight on the road. But those three teams are currently 99, 221, and 74. Now we finish 35-52-20-29-3. Gulp.

Are we up for the challenge? I don't know yet. Let's just beat Nebraska first and then maybe I'll write another SHWD before Iowa.

Win that one and I might start writing SHWD every three days. Because at that point I might drink some "if I can just find Purdue two conference losses before March 5th..." Kool-Aid.


tgb on January 30, 2023 @ 12:35 PM

Hi Robert. I'm 67, so I knew exactly what you meant by " looks like Illinois ". Great line in a great movie.

IlliniJoe81 on January 30, 2023 @ 01:18 PM

Not sure if you are reviewing for typos but I think you have errors in:

"But if we drop to #31 at some point, Michigan State will have a Quad 2 loss against Illinois in Champaign, not a Quad 1 loss." - switch it to Wisconsin in Madison.

"Five losses" when we have six losses.

Overall a solid take. Season is on track but we haven't really banked any awesome wins in the Big Ten and the schedule is looking really tough on the back end. The hope is to bank enough wins to lock up an NCAA bid ASAP and then play for seeding in the home stretch.

Can we get consistent performance? At what level? I think we're playing like a Top 20 team most nights but I'm not seeing elite performance without better 3-point shooting.

Robert on January 30, 2023 @ 03:58 PM

switch it to Wisconsin in Madison

Yep. I was trying to flip it and reverse it to use an Illinois example but in that example we'd have to fall to 76 for it to be Q2 for Michigan State, not 31.

You are correct - for Wisconsin, we're a Quad 1 loss until we fall to 31 or below. I'll edit.

"Five losses" when we have six losses.

Correct again. That one was the fault of a rewrite. I had a part in there about the Virginia loss being somewhat meaningless in the Committee's eyes. Lose to a top-15 team on a neutral court? Win is a huge boost, loss is almost meaningless. So we really only have five losses that the Committee will look at.

But then I took that part out because I thought it might cause more confusion than clarity. I'll go put it back in.

NC_OrangeKrush on January 30, 2023 @ 04:43 PM

Robert, you can leave it all and just cross it out and keep typing.. I want to know all the thoughts that were in the article and taken out reworked.. typos and mistakes be damned.

mrmill on January 31, 2023 @ 12:17 PM

On the bright side, we’ve won huge road games that no one expected over the past two years. Let’s hope we can do the same this year.

HailToTheOrange on January 31, 2023 @ 07:38 PM

Count me as one of the seven

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