We're a week away from the Big Ten Tournament, which is a formality for at least seven teams, a chance to solidify an NCAA profile for an eighth, and a chance for a miracle run to the NCAAs for four more. The picture of the event in Chicago is coming into focus, but few things are set in stone as of yet. Here are the scenarios for everyone from bottom to the top:
Penn St. Nittany Lions - Penn State is locked into the 12 seed and will play the No. 5 seed in the second game on Thursday, March 14. No matter what Penn State does against Northwestern or Wisconsin they can't move out of the 12 seed. This could be bad news if Michigan ends up in the 5/12 game, as there is a four-way tie for second where one team is going to have to drop into the 5/12 Thursday game.
Northwestern Wildcats - As things currently stand, Northwestern would be the No. 11 seed. They are tied with Nebraska and Nebraska holds the tiebreaker based on their head-to-head victory. Northwestern can go no higher than the 10, but beating Penn State this week may get that for them.
Nebraska Cornhuskers - As mentioned above, Nebraska can go no higher than the 10. They have to host Minnesota before going to Iowa, however. Both teams are looking to solidify at large profiles and get to 9-9 in the league so they have a lot to play for. If Nebraska loses both and Northwestern beats Penn State the Cornhuskers slip to No. 11.
Purdue Boilermakers - Purdue is in a strange position with OMHR Iowa, but as of right now they would play each other in the 8/9 game to start the Tournament on Thursday. Both are 7-9 in the league and split the season series. The second tiebreaker is record against the team occupying the highest position in the final regular season standings. Right now, that is Indiana. Both are 0-2 vs. IU. The tiebreaker goes down through the standings until one team gains an advantage. Given the four-way tie for second, Purdue only has one victory against those teams (at Wisconsin) while Iowa also only has one, vs. Wisconsin. Since Purdue is 1-0 vs. Wisconsin and Iowa is 1-1, Purdue gets the white jerseys in this game.
Purdue can still finish as high as the No. 6 seed depending on how this week breaks. If Purdue at least beats Minnesota the Boilers would own the tiebreaker in the event they also beat Michigan or if Minnesota loses to Nebraska. You could have an absolutely crazy scenario where Purdue, Illinois, and Minnesota all tie at 9-9 with Iowa going 8-10, giving Iowa the No. 9 and Purdue as high as the No. 6.
What we do know is that Purdue can go no lower than No. 9 and no higher than No. 6. In terms of postseason hopes Purdue is best served getting up to No. 7 at least, getting Northwestern or Nebraska as another win, and avoiding Death by Indiana in the quarterfinals. That would mean at least one week and a probable first round win over Northwestern/Nebraska to get to .500 overall before an easier quarterfinal game.
Iowa Hawkeyes - Iowa is currently the No. 9, but if they hold serve at home this week against Illinois and Nebraska they can get to 9-9 and finish as high as No. 6. They, too, can go no lower than the No. 9. Iowa is playing for an at large berth, and wins this week get them to 10 wins overall and 9-9 in the tough Big Ten. Their RPI sucks, however, and they'd likely need one win at minimum in Chicago, with two being better because one would then come against the top four. The loss earlier to Nebraska is a real killer.
As of right now, Iowa-Purdue round three in the opening 8/9 game looks most likely. Iowa must win both this week to reach 9-9 int he league and have any hope at all of making the NCAAs as an at large. Anything else and it is win the conference Tourney or head to the NIT.
Illinois Fighting Illini - I got into an argument with AJ last week about Illinois not deserving a bid if they don't finish at least .500 in the league. Well, with a win over Iowa on Tuesday they can make my argument moot by reaching 9-9. Illinois is also in the group of "No higher than 6, no lower than 9" with Iowa, Minnesota, and Purdue. Beating Iowa assures Illinois can go no lower than 8, and Illinois split with Minnesota, calling other tiebreakers into play. Both have beaten Indiana, but the tiebreakers get trickier after that because they depend on who finishes second, third, etc.
Minnesota Golden Gophers - Minnesota, at 8-8, is back in good position after beating Indiana and Penn State last week. As long as they beat Nebraska for a second time they reach 9-9 at minimum, but their tiebreakers in the 6-9 range are still fluid. They split with Iowa and Illinois, and only play Purdue once on the final day of the season. Depending on what Purdue does against Michigan, the Boilers could automatically raise their seed by beating the Gophers since they play just once.
Michigan Wolverines - After the mess at 6-9 there is an even bigger mess at the 2-5 spots. No one has assured that they will avoid Thursday entirely. In the four-way tie for second, as Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State are all 11-5. Of those four, Wisconsin is in the best shape since they have beaten Indiana, but Michigan and Ohio State each get another shot. Since both have a loss to IU and Wisconsin does not, the Wisconsin has an edge.
Michigan has struggled the most against this group with losses to Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State, so I think they are currently the unlucky 5-seed. Their fate is even worse considering the troubles they have had with Penn State. That loss hurts even more because it took away them controlling their destiny for at least a piece of the Big Ten title.
Michigan St. Spartans - Sparty was sitting pretty, but after failing to close out wins vs. Indiana and Ohio State and botching the end of yesterday's Michigan game they went 0-3 against a stretch they really could not afford to go 0-3 against. The Wisconsin-Michigan State game in East Lansing very well could be to avoid falling into that 5/12 game. A loss would make MSU 3-4 against the top 5, but still outside looking in depending on what the others do.
Ohio St. Buckeyes - Everyone is hoping that Ohio State can beat Indiana on Tuesday. It prevents IU from locking up the Big Ten and keeps OSU, the MSU-Wisconsin winner, and Michigan (if they beat Purdue) alive for at least a share of the conference. They also make a four-way tie for the title possible. Against the top 5 Ohio State is also 3-4, but they still have a chance to beat Indiana, which greatly helps their cause.
Wisconsin Badgers - Wisconsin and Michigan State have the most at stake when they face each other. If Ohio State beats Indiana the winner of the Badgers-Spartans game can get a piece of the title, while the loser may be relegated to the 5/12 game. Wisconsin's win at Indiana is very valuable. It makes the Badgers 3-2 against the top 5, and a final game against Penn State means Wisconsin should assure a top 4 finish if they can beat Sparty. Wisconsin only had to play Indiana and Michigan once, which helps since they won both.
Indiana Hoosiers - The only team that has it easier than Indiana is Penn State. The Nittany Lions know they are the 12 seed, while Indiana knows it can finish no lower than the No. 4 and it already has a piece of the title. As long as Indiana wins one of its final two games it gets the No. 1 seed and outright conference title. They have the most difficult finishing kick of the top 5, however. If they lose both they will likely share the title with the Wisconsin-Michigan State winner at minimum. They own the tiebreaker over Sparty, but not Bucky. If they tie with Ohio State (who would have to beat them and Illinois) the tiebreaker goes into the "next team down format", and the same is true with Michigan.
If you want true chaos this week you want Indiana to lose both, Michigan to beat Purdue and Indiana, Ohio State to beat Indiana and Illinois, and the Sparty-Bucky winner to win their final game. That sets up a four-way tie for the conference title at 13-5 with the Sparty-Bucky loser in the 5-12 game. Given as wild as this season has been with even Penn State getting a win to decide the title chase I think a four-way tie would only be appropriate. If that happens the four teams tied would break down as follows against each other:
Wisconsin wins the Sparty-Bucky game:
Ohio State: 3-3
So your seeds would then be No. 1 Wisconsin, No 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Michigan or Indiana, No. 4 Indiana or Michigan
Michigan State wins the Sparty-Bucky game:
Michigan St.: 2-4
Ohio State: 3-3
Here, your seeds would be No. 1 Indiana, No. 2 Ohio State or Michigan, No. 3 Ohio State or Michigan, No. 4 Michigan State.
As you can see, it is going to be an exciting week.