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Big Ten Thursday Lunch Club Memo - Mission Impossible: 5 Bids - Rogue Conference

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, get (at least) five Big Ten teams into the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten Thursday Lunch Club Memo

To - Big Ten Thursday Lunch Club members

Re - Mission Impossible: 5 Bids - Rogue Conference

The 2019 season is almost here. Real games begin on Friday with the Utah Utes kicking off their inaugural season against the Vermont Catamounts. While we obviously celebrate the start of new programs at Utah & St. Bonaventure, this post/series will be focusing on something college lacrosse fans are a bit more familiar with, namely Big Ten dominance. So, I’d like to welcome you all to the Big Ten Thursday Lunch Cub, a weekly post focused on the six teams in the Big Ten and their chase to accomplish the impossible, getting (at least) five members into the 2019 NCAA Tournament. This is obviously a difficult task, but I believe the GAWD conference is up to it in 2019.

Now the last time one conference got five teams into the NCAA Tournament was in 2015. (The ACC sent six teams to the dance in 2014, the one, and only year, the conference had the NCAA required six teams to be considered a real conference. I still can’t believe we as a society let this conference get away with having a rematch an “ACC Showcase” game between North Carolina & Virginia, the 5th & 6th place regular season teams in the ACC, respectively, while the other four teams participated in the ACC Tournament. But I digress.) In 2015, you had a Virginia squad that went 0-4 in the ACC, lost in the ACC Showcase to Penn 12-6, and yet the Cavs still made the tournament that season, giving the ACC five tournament teams.

The Cavaliers probably wouldn’t have made it to the big show that season were it not for the fact that the ACC obliterated non-conference teams in 2015. Indeed, in 2015 Syracuse went undefeated in the regular season versus non-conference opponents and UVA beat every non-ACC team on its regular season schedule but for Penn. Moreover, both Duke & Notre Dame’s only non-conference regular season loss in 2015 was to Denver, while UNC’s only non-ACC regular season slip-up was to Maryland. Letting in everyone in the ACC, despite the fact UVA didn’t win a conference game in 2015 wasn’t an unreasonable move by the NCAA Tournament committee, as the ACC dominated non-conference opponents during the regular season that year.

The thing that 2015 demonstrated was that a power conference like the ACC could maximize its chances at receiving at-large bids by sweeping or nearly sweeping all their out of conference games and having no bad losses. Obviously things like Denver a team ranked in the top 10 losing in their conference tournament and then stealing a bid from the at-large pool does happen from time to time, so this is not a full-proof policy. But the fact remains that the best way to get the most teams from one conference into the NCAA Tournament is by playing in a conference where you and all your co-members beat/nearly beat every non-conference opponent, with zero slip-ups versus below .500 teams.

The Big Ten almost got five teams into the NCAA Tournament in 2017, as Maryland got the AQ, while Ohio State, Penn State, & Johns Hopkins all got at-large bids. Much like the ACC in 2015, the Big Ten teams that made the tournament in 2017, for the most part, did very well versus non-conference teams that season. Indeed, in 2017 Penn State went undefeated outside of the B1G during the regular season, Maryland’s only non-B1G regular season losses were to Notre Dame & Villanova, and Ohio State’s sole non-conference defeat in 2017 was to Notre Dame. Hopkins was probably the weakest of the Big Ten teams that made the NCAA Tournament in 2017, going 8-7 with three non-conference losses during the regular season. Nevertheless, JHU was ranked in the top ten in the polls, had wins over Loyola, Virginia, & North Carolina, did well in conference play, & had the 7th best RPI at the conclusion of the regular season, so they weren’t really sweating on Selection Sunday.

Rutgers also had a great regular season in 2017. Outside of a loss to Delaware (we’ll get to that in a moment) the Scarlet Knights won every non-conference game on their schedule that year. However, their only marquee win in 2017 was to Ohio State late in the regular season, additionally, RU failed to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament that season as well. More disappointingly, despite having reached #1 in the polls after starting the year 8-0, Rutgers was not invited to the dance in 2017. As Patrick Stevens noted in his Bracketology post after Selection Sunday that year:

On a side note, this means almost everything that could have possibly gone against Rutgers — Denver losing in the Big East tournament, Army leapfrogging the Scarlet Knights despite a head-to-head loss to Brian Brecht’s bunch, Duke holding serve against Boston University — happened in the final four days of the season. It wasn’t the last team out, but Rutgers was the unluckiest of the tournament contenders.

If one of the things Stevens noted above didn’t happen, Rutgers might have made it into the NCAA Tournament in 2017. However, I contend that the loss to Delaware during the regular season, probably did more to push Rutgers out of the conversation for last team into the tournament that year than anything else.

Losing to a team that finished below .500, especially one that didn’t even make their conference tournament, is something that immediately jumps out when the NCAA Tournament committee is sorting through at-large resumes. It’s like applying for a position and you don’t have one of the key qualifications on the job posting; it doesn’t doom your chances, but all other things being equal, you’re definitely behind everyone else in the same pool who does meet that specific qualification. Even if Rutgers did beat Delaware in 2017, RU might not have made the dance, as many bad things happened for the Scarlet Knights all at the same time at the end of the 2017 regular season. Nevertheless, you can’t have Ls versus below .500 teams on your resume and expect the NCAA Tournament Committee to give you the benefit the doubt, especially when you don’t even make your own conference tournament.

So if the Big Ten is going to get (at least) five teams into the NCAA Tournament, it’ll have to have a similar season to 2017. That means sweeping all/nearly every non-B1G team and no bad losses. I would argue that the conference wasn’t that far off in 2018. Yes only Maryland & Johns Hopkins made the NCAA Tournament, but I would argue that if Rutgers & Ohio State didn’t have bad regular season losses to teams that finished below .500 (Army for Rutgers and Marquette & Towson for Ohio State) or Penn State had finished off either Villanova, Cornell, or Robert Morris when they were leading in the 4th quarter early in the 2018 season, you’d probably have seen at least three, and maybe even four Big Teams in last year’s dance.

If the Big Ten had a year in 2018 like they did in 2017 they certainly get four or five teams into the tournament, as the ACC had a relatively pedestrian non-conference regular season last year. Indeed, Syracuse went 3-4 out of conference last year, North Carolina had three non-ACC losses including a loss to a Hofstra team that finished below .500, & other than Notre Dame’s win versus Denver, the Fighting Irish’s only other major non-conference win in 2018 was to Ohio State. Only Duke had a great non-conference record in 2018, having won every non-ACC regular season game last season outside of their slip-up versus Penn at Philly last February. The opportunity for the Big Ten to get a second or even third at-large bid last season was there, it was just that no team in the conference besides Maryland & Johns Hopkins really stood out last year like in 2017.

One could argue that the conference is better equipped to accomplish the task of five bids this year than it was two years ago, as Michigan appears to be ready to make the leap from a start-up program in its infancy, to a possible Big Ten Tournament qualifier. Additionally, every team in the conference has a schedule that will provide plenty of opportunities versus highly ranked non-conference teams to pad the at-large resume in case they don’t make the Big Ten Tournament. Indeed, Rutgers’ addition of Loyola was a huge upgrade to their regular season non-conference schedule. The Scarlet Knights could help their chances at an at-large bid immensely with a win over Loyola.

If the Big Ten has a repeat of 2017, wherein every team has a flawless or near flawless non-conference record and no bad losses, we may very well see a quintet of Big Ten teams making the 2019 NCAA Tournament, which would be a wonderful thing to witness. At least it would be for us Big Ten Thursday Lunch Club members.

The season begins for four Big Ten teams this weekend. It should be a great year. I’ll see you out there.

Very truly yours,


Big Ten Board

In the future these posts will focus more on the games, players, and what’s actually going on this regular season, instead of the long-form memo you had to endure above. Directly below is the Big Ten Thursday Lunch Club Board for January 31, 2019. Links in the 2019 Overall Record column will take you to that team’s official 2019 schedule page, while links in the 2018 Overall Record column will take you to Chris’ 2018 Year in Review post for that particular team. Additionally, please find our Big Ten Crossecast Conference Preview at the bottom of this post.

Big Ten Thursday Lunch Club Board For January 31, 2019

Team 2019 Overall Record 2018 Overall Record First Game
Team 2019 Overall Record 2018 Overall Record First Game
Johns Hopkins 0-0 12-5 Feb 9: Away vs. Towson
Maryland 0-0 14-4 Feb 2: Home vs. Bucknell
Michigan 0-0 8-6 Feb 9: Away vs. Cleveland St.
Ohio State 0-0 8-7 Feb 2: Home vs. Cleveland St.
Penn State 0-0 8-6 Feb 2: Home vs. Villanova
Rutgers 0-0 9-6 Feb 2: Home vs. Lafayette

2019 College Crossecast Big Ten Conference Preview

If you haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, please find our 2019 College Crossecast Big Ten Conference Preview directly below. You can listen to this episode and all of our Crossecast episodes on Podomatic or by subscribing on iTunes or Google Play. If you like what you hear today, please give us a review online on iTunes or Google Play, as that helps our metrics and lets us know how to improve the shows. Thank you for listening to the pod and supporting the site.