Big Ten Tournament primer part 1: Weekend preview

On a slow Friday as I wait for the baseball team to begin its series with Texas State (Gametracker available at 7:30) and the women's team to begin its contest with Indiana, I figured I would take a look at some tiebreaker procedures and figure out some early matchups for the Big Ten Tournament next week. This also gives me a chance to do a final update of our non-conference opponents as some teams are already done before championship week begins. This isn't really a power rankings, but with the growing Big Ten bubble it should give us a general idea what teams need to do both this weekend and next week. I have ranked the teams in order of most likely to make the tournament to least likely. Right now, I would put the cutoff between Wisconsin and Michigan, with the Badgers barely making it in.

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 God, I love March. It's proof God really does love me.

Michigan State (25-5, 14-3) - The Spartans have clinched the number 1 seed and will face the 8/9 winner on Friday at noon. As to who those 8/9 teams will be, it is very up in the air. Depending on what happens this weekend there could be a tie between 5th and 9th place among five teams with 9-9 records. That would cause the conference to stay up late at night figuring out the very complex tiebreaking scenarios in that case. The five-way tie will occur if Northwestern beats Ohio State, Michigan beats Minnesota, and Wisconsin loses to Indiana. What is critical in that scenario is that whoever is deemed the best (or 5th place team) receives a bye to Friday, while everyone else must play on Thursday.

Purdue (22-8, 11-6) - By now we know that Matt Painter is pissed. The loss to Northwestern prevented us from locking up the #2 seed in the Big Ten tournament (thanks to Illinois' loss last night). Our history in the event is dismal (4-11 all-time record, tied with Northwestern for worst. The women have won 7 of the 14 played), and a loss combined with a Penn State win over Iowa this weekend would drop us to the #4 seed since we went a combined 1-3 against Penn State and Illinois. That would mean a 2:30 game Friday afternoon against likely Wisconsin, a team that will be very motivated to play us after losing four straight tough games. The Badgers have the inside track to the five seed by playing Indiana at home this weekend, though a Minnesota victory would give the Gophers the tiebreaker and make the Badgers play on Thursday. The same is true if Ohio State beats Northwestern.

Penn State (21-9, 10-7) - Can we please end this pointless debate and put Penn State into the NCAA Tournament. Some are saying they still need to beat Iowa, but that is crap. They went 4-2 against the top three teams in the conference and will be the #2 seed if they beat Iowa and Purdue loses to Michigan State. Unlike Purdue, Illinois, and Michigan State they haven't clinched a first round bye yet, but a victory over Iowa gives them no worse than a #3 seed. A loss to Iowa would be bad, as they could fall quickly in seeding if Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Minnesota all win. The Nittany Lions were 1-4 against that group.

Illinois (23-8, 11-7) - Illinois is done and they know they won't have to play until next Friday. This may be good as they have lost two straight and need to regroup. If Purdue and Penn State lose they will be the #2 seed. If both win they will be the #4 seed. If one wins and the other loses they will be the #3. The ability to sit back and watch what unfolds around them could be a big benefit.

Minnesota (21-8, 9-8) - This is where the bubble officially begins in my mind, but I still think the Gophers are pretty safe. A win over Michigan this weekend will give them a sweep of the Wolverines and lock them into the field. At 10-8 it would also give them a first round bye as the #5 seed as long as Ohio State loses (the Buckeyes own the tiebreaker) or Wisconsin also wins to create a three way tie. After the way we played in Minneapolis I would much rather face the Gophers in the 4/5 game if put there.

Ohio State (19-9, 9-8) - This is where things get a little muddled. Should the Buckeyes lose at home to Northwestern they will fall behind the Wildcats for seeding purposes. They would also get dangerously close to being out of the field and would need to grab a game or two in Indy. Their non-conference wins over Miami and Notre Dame have lost some serious luster. The only way they can get a bye as the 5 seed is to win and have Wisconsin lose. They would win a tiebreaker with Minnesota, but not a three way with Minnesota and Wisconsin or with Wisconsin alone. A loss means they could fall as low as 8th, but they did sweep Michigan.

Wisconsin (18-11, 9-8) - Of the bubble teams, the Badgers have the most clear-cut weekend. Win over lowly Indiana and they can finish no lower than 6th, which would give them an instant rematch with the Hoosiers on Thursday. Lose, and their bubble hopes are damaged plus they would likely be thrown in a difficult game with another 9-9 team. They can get the 5 seed and a first round bye, but only in a direct tie with Ohio State. They would lose a direct tie with Minnesota at 10-8 and would be second in a three-way.

Michigan (18-12, 8-9) - Michigan has to win in the Barn to keep its at large hopes alive. I have a pet peeve about awarding at large bids to teams with losing conference records. I don't think it should be allowed regardless of RPI or strength of schedule. Yes, this would have screwed in 1999 and cost us a sweet 16 appearance, but it still stand by it. A loss locks Michigan into the 8/9 game against any number of opponents. A win and the right tiebreaking procedure might get them as high as fifth, but it is unlikely. It would take a four or five way tie for fifth caused by an unlikely Indiana win over Wisconsin for that to happen.

Northwestern (17-11, 8-9) - Northwestern is barely alive in the at large discussion, but they are getting plenty of help around the country. It is essential for them to beat Ohio State. They too could receive their first ever first round bye in a four- or five-way tie scenario, but it is unlikely. Regardless of where they land seeding-wise, they must win at least one game in Indianapolis. If they beat Ohio State and make it to Saturday I would put them in the field.

Iowa (14-16, 4-13) - Iowa could be a spoiler in Indy. They know they are going to be a #10 seed. They are capable of winning a game or two, and should they beat Penn State this weekend 2 wins would give them just enough to reach postseason consideration in one of the other tournaments. The automatic bid is the only way they are going to the Dance, but they have done that before. The craziest scenario has them stealing the auto-bid and damaging the hopes of at least two teams along the way.

Indiana (6-23, 1-16) - Indiana has known for weeks it is going to be the #11 seed and playing 5pm on Thursday. They won't win the tournament, but a win in the first round game over whomever gets the #6 seed would seriously damage a bubble resume. Though they won't go to the tournament themselves, they can sure play a role in who stays home if they win that first game.

Non-Conference opponents update:

Detroit (7-23, 2-16 Horizon) RPI: 279 - The Titans are done for the season, finishing on a seven game losing streak after losing their Horizon Conference Tournament opener at Cleveland State. Like Valpo and Loyola, they didn't even make it to Indianapolis for the conference tournament proper, losing in a first round campus site game.

Eastern Michigan (7-23, 5-10 MAC) RPI 328 - The Eagles go into the MAC tournament playing their best basketball of the season. The regular season finale is Saturday at Ball State, but Eastern Michigan has won three in a row. In a battle of suck, they swept a season series with Central Michigan.

Loyola-Chicago (14-18, 6-12 Horizon) RPI 211- The Ramblers lost their opening round Horizon league Tournament game at Wisconsin-Milwaukee to end the season. They were actually pretty good for a mid-major out of conference, and they do have a win over Butler.

Coppin State (12-18, 9-7 MEAC) RPI 230 - The Eagles are in the upper half of the MEAC, but that doesn't mean much. Morgan State is the class of the league and the Eagles just lost by 6 to them last night. The conference tournament winner is likely headed to the play-in game.

Boston College (20-10, 8-7 ACC) RPI 52 - Boston College just dropped a tough game to North Carolina State, but they are still in decent shape for the tournament. They face last place Georgia Tech on Saturday and a win probably makes them a lock for the NCAA's. They have fantastic wins over Duke and at North Carolina.

Oklahoma (26-4, 12-3 Big 12) RPI 4 - Oklahoma stumbled lately thanks to Blake Griffin's injury, but losing at Missouri is far from a bad loss. I'll take any region that gives us a potential rematch because I want another shot at them.

Duke (25-5, 11-4 ACC) RPI 2 - If Duke beats North Carolina on Sunday they could be the second of three regular season conference champions we have faced. Davidson and Oklahoma (if they win the Big 12) would be the third. Something just seems off about them though and they could be ripe for another early exit.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff (12-17, 11-7 SWAC) RPI 257 - The Golden Lions will be the #4 seed heading into the SWAC tourney as they have done well in conference play. They went 0-5, however, against the league's three best teams.

Ball State (13-15, 7-8 MAC) RPI 248 - If the Cardinals can win their regular season finale tomorrow and a game or two in the MAC Tournament they might sneak into the CBI or the new fourth postseason tournament. They have five losses on the year of four points or less, so this is a team that may improve greatly next season.

Indiana State (11-20, 7-11 Missouri Valley) RPI 199 - Don't look now, but here come the Trees. That's a good thing too, as their RPI is improving dramatically and they are one of the few plus-200 non conference teams we played. The Trees won 6 of their last 7 regular season games and knocked off defending champ Drake last night in Arch Madness. As I write this, they are tied with #1 seed Northern Iowa at halftime of their quarterfinal. ISU already won in overtime at UNI, and a victory today would put them two steps from an improbable automatic bid.

Davidson (25-6, 18-2 SoCon) RPI 68 - If a big conference team with a losing league record gets in this is a team that may get screwed. For them it is simple: they had better win the conference tournament or next week will be a long week. The quest begins tomorrow against Appalachian State or Georgia Southern.

IPFW (13-16, 8-10 Summit) RPI 224 - The Mastodons open the Summit league Tournament on Sunday as the #6 seed against Oakland. North Dakota State and Oral Roberts are the heavy favorites, but the ‘Dons did beat Oral Roberts at home a few weeks ago. IPFW was 0-2 against Oakland, but has won three in a row overall.

Valparaiso (9-22, 5-13 Horizon) RPI 255 - The Crusaders are done after a 68-56 loss to open Horizon League Tournament play. This conference did not help us at all, as we were 3-0 against three of the four teams that didn't even make it to the great tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse tonight.

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