After yesterday's results Chicago the resumes of all Big Ten teams are complete. The seeds for the NCAA Tournament are pretty much locked as no one is going to steal the automatic bid from the league. All four teams left are stone cold locks as at large teams, so today and tomorrow is for bragging rights.
The conference has a semi-legit shot of putting eight teams into the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. Purdue and Nebraska could also still receive a CBI bid, giving the league 10 postseason teams. Let's look at everyone's postseason chances and see where they are headed:
Indiana Hoosiers - This is an easy one. At 27-5 overall and as the lone winner of the toughest conference in the country Indiana is a lock for a No. 1 seed. Any chance they had of falling off the one line likely left when Jordan Morgan's putback slid off the rim in Ann Arbor. Regardless of what happens today and tomorrow, Indiana is the No. 1 seed in the Midwest, will play in Indianapolis for the regionals, and when it is playing its best has no valid excuse to lose the National title. I would take them against the field any day and twice on Sunday. Yes, it pains me to say that, but they are easily the most complete team in the country and can only beat themselves.
Ohio St. Buckeyes - The conference's hottest team has reached 24-7 and doesn't have a single "bad loss". All seven losses were to teams that were ranked at the time of the game and all seven teams (Duke, Kansas, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State) are solidly in the field of 68. Ohio State can improve its seed, however. I think a win today likely sews up a two seed for the Buckeyes. It's hard to see Indiana, Gonzaga, or Louisville moving off of the 1 line. Duke's loss last night could drop them, but who knows. A two seed is still not bad.
Michigan St. Spartans - At 25-7 the overall record is solid. The loss at Miami in the non-conference season now looks really good. The loss to UConn is not that great, but it is on the same level as losing to Minnesota to start Big Ten play. Beating Kansas looks really, really good, too. After splitting with Ohio State today's showdown could be for a two seed in the NCAAs. According to the latest Bracketology that would give them three wins over the current two seeds with a chance to beat Indiana a possibility. If Sparty wins today and tomorrow they need to be a two.
Wisconsin Badgers - Bo Ryan has done what he always does: take a group that doesn't look that great on paper and turn them into a nightmarish defensive team that drags you into a 45-40 rockfight against your will. People don't like it, but it gets the one thing that matters statistically: wins. It is strange, because Wisconsin is a horrible matchup for Indiana, who is a horrible matchup for Purdue, who, as we saw earlier, is a horrible matchup for Wisconsin. Have fun figuring that one out. The Badgers just scream 4 seed that will give a 1 seed a nasty time in the Sweet 16.
Michigan Wolverines - Yesterday proved why Michigan cannot be taken seriously as an NCAA Tournament contender. They're a good team with a ton of individual talent. When they are on, they can beat anyone. When they are off, they are a prime candidate for a 14 over 3 or 13 over 4 upset. All Michigan does is jack threes and rely on the drive and kick game from Trey Burke. When it works, it is beautiful. When it doesn't, you lose to Penn State. Michigan is probably in the 3-4 seed range, but that is disappointing after their start. Don't even get me started about their free throw shooting.
Illinois Fighting Illini - This is really the impetus behind this post because of a massive Twitter war that broke out last night. Personally, I don't think that ANY team that finishes below .500 in ANY conference deserves an at large bid. Yes, it is strange mark, but there is enough fodder at the bottom of even great leagues like this year's Big Ten to get to nine wins. It was generally accepted that Purdue, Northwestern, Penn State, and Nebraska were a step behind the other 8 teams this year. Well, every team in the league played that group of four at least six times. That's six of the nine wins you need right there just by not stubbing your toe against "the bottom". I would much rather see a team like a Middle Tennessee State, who played well all season long and stubbed their toe in a three- day tournament, get in as a reward than a 7th or 8th place major conference team that was up and down all year.
You play your league for more than 50% of the season. The non-conference is a great chance to build an overall resume while the league should be where you close the deal. I've always said that in 1999 Purdue did not deserve an at large bid even though they made the Sweet 16 once there. Purdue was 7-9 in the Big Ten and was 4-10 in the last 14 games. It still got in at 19-13 overall. I have no idea how it got in to this day even though they won two games and reached the Sweet 16.
Ultimately though, I know that my position what it is: A pet peeve that does not work in the system we currently have. Illinois' overall resume has wins over the current top two ranked teams and the team that beat both of those. The Indiana win basically saved their asses from falling into a spiral like last year. They're 22-12 and it is an extremely soft bubble The RPI of 37 is more than strong enough. The Illini have to be a lock when you look at their resume as a whole and this is one of the rare cases where a hard and fast "at least .500 in your conference" rule would punish a deserving team. They are in, and the 8/9 game somewhere seems right for them.
Minnesota Golden Gophers - Then you have Minnesota, who started 15-1 and basically said, "Nah, we're good," before taking the next two months off. The only thing even keeping them in the discussion at the moment is the win over Indiana. If they lose that game they are 7-11 in the Big Ten, 19-13 overall, and they would have lost 12 of their last 16 games. Everyone marvels about their nonconference schedule strength, but aside from Duke and Memphis they beat major conference teams that suck like Stanford, USC, and Florida State. Their second best non-conference win, after Memphis, might be Summit League champ South Dakota State.
In that regard, Illinois' profile is far, far better than Minnesota. The Gophers have an RPI of 31, but are only surviving on beating Indiana and Wisconsin in the last two months. They were also awful on the road, going 1-8 in the Big Ten. Even Northwestern won two Big Ten road games. Minnesota had a chance to separate itself and remove all doubt in the last week. Instead, it lost to Nebraska, Purdue, and Illinois. They'll probably get in as a 9 or 10 seed, but they certainly don't deserve it. This is who MTSU needs to leapfrog.
Iowa Hawkeyes - Before the season started I felt that any team that got to the magic marks of 20 wins over and 9-9 in a tough Big Ten would be a lock for the NCAA Tournament. Even then, a win in Chicago would be enough to seal the deal. Well, Iowa is certainly testing that theory. Iowa is 21-2, went 10-10 against the Big Ten, but they may receive the annual Northwestern Horseshoes and Hand Grenades award for coming close so many times without being able to close the deal, costing them a bid. Last night's loss to Michigan State was the latest.
Indiana, Michigan State, at Purdue, at Minnesota, at Wisconsin, at Nebraska, and last night are all games where Iowa had the game well in hand only to blow it in the end. If Iowa wins just one of those we're not having a Bubble discussion about them, just like Northwestern for so many years. If they are in an argument with Illinois and Minnesota you have to compare them all head-to-head. Iowa was 2-1, Minnesota was 1-2, and Illinois was 1-2.
In my mind Iowa is an NCAA team. The 2-7 road record and lack of anything of substance in the non-conference is probably going to cost them, as well as all the close losses. At least the consolation prize is a No. 1 NIT seed?
Purdue Boilermakers - As discussed yesterday, Purdue is likely CBI-bound if it wants to be. It is far from ideal. We'll find out tomorrow.
Nebraska Cornhuskers - With Shavon Shields coming on as a solid freshman I suppose it is possible that Nebraska could join Purdue in the CBI. They showed a lot of improvement over the second half of the season and are only a half hey could be a team that goes to the CBI for developmental purposes as well. It is rare that a 5-13 Big Ten team can be considered an overachiever, but that is Nebraska.
Northwestern Wildcats - At 13-19 with nine straight losses to close the season Northwestern is done. Bill Carmody may be done as well. He brought them within a game of the NCAA Tournament multiple times, but his teams are famous for losing close games that would likely have broken the string. The losses of Jared Swopshire, Drew Crawford, and JerShon Cobb were too much this year. That might be enough to save Carmody and let him run it back, but I don't know.
Penn St. Nittany Lions - They went 10-21 and 2-16 in the Big Ten, but the Nittany Lions were playing better basketball over the last two weeks than a good portion of the conference. Their Big Ten road record of 1-8 was equal to Minnesota's (and they won at Northwestern, unlike Minny). They damn near beat Wisconsin and gave Michigan a game for a good portion of Thursday. This is a team with a lot of promise going into next year, where they also get Tim Frazier back. Nick Colella is the lone senior too, so everyone else is back. Next year's team has some Talor Battle, Jamelle Cornley, and Stanley Pringle potential. Don't be surprised if they make an NCAA run next season.
NCAA Locks: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Illinois.
NCAA Bubble: Minnesota, Iowa
CBI possible: Purdue, Nebraska
Done: Northwestern, Penn State