It is hard to believe that the Big Ten Tournament is nine days away, but when media markets demand that you play at the World’s Most Overrated Arena you have to go. Even if it is a week early you have to go.
This is also the final year of the 18-game Big Ten schedule. The regular season title feels a little strange this year with the three best teams playing each other only once, but that is a sacrifice we make for Rutgers. Tonight Michigan State can clinch at least a share of the title with a home win over Illinois. They are heavily favored, and will likely win the outright title on Sunday at Wisconsin. Because of that, much of the Big Ten Tournament race is already settled.
The Double Byes
1 Seed – This is now Michigan State’s to lose. They clinch it with either two more wins or a win and an Ohio State loss. The Buckeyes would have the tiebreaker over them directly, but Purdue would not. In the event of a three-way tie between Michigan State, Ohio State, and Purdue the Buckeye would be No. 1 by virtue of going 2-0 against MSU and Purdue. MSU would then be the 2 and Purdue would be the 3 by going 0-2 vs. both.
2 Seed – This is very likely down to Purdue and Ohio State at 13-3. Both are tied right now, but Ohio State holds the tiebreaker. Should both teams win their last two games Purdue could not get the 1 seed and would only get the 2 seed if Michigan State lost both of its remaining games against Illinois and Wisconsin.
3 Seed – This seems to be Purdue’s most likely landing spot, as we could only rise to the two with at least one more Ohio State loss (at home against Rutgers or at Indiana). Purdue, Ohio State, and Michigan State have all already clinched a double bye and no worse than the three seed. For Purdue, that means rematches with both Ohio State and Michigan State in the last two games if everything holds. Even if Purdue can’t get a share of the Big Ten regular season title, winning the league tournament with wins over those two would probably make us a lock as a 2 seed and maybe even opens the back door for a 1 seed depending on what else happens around the country. Enough teams keep losing that it is possible. Purdue would then be 29-5, have wins over MSU and OSU (avenging close losses) and at least 8 tier 1 wins (possibly 9 if Indiana can get in the top 75).
4 Seed – The last double bye is down to Michigan and Nebraska. Both are at 11-5 in the league, and Nebraska has the tiebreaker with their 20-point win over Michigan in Lincoln. That also happens to be Nebraska’s only Tier 1 victory. Nebraska closes with two home games against Indiana and Penn State too. Would they get left out of the NCAAs with a 13-5 regular season Big Ten record?
The single byes
5 Seed – Michigan is here right now and it is two games ahead of Penn State and Indiana. If they win at Penn State tomorrow night they clinch no worse than the 5 seed.
6 Seed – This is a seed to watch as Purdue, as the 3 seed, would play the winner of the 6/11-14 Thursday game. As of right now that would be… Indiana based on their 74-70 win over Penn State. Both teams are 9-7, but Indiana owns the tiebreaker. The Hoosiers have the tougher finishing slate by going to Nebraska tonight and hosting Ohio State on Friday.
7 Seed – On tiebreakers Penn State falls in here. They are 9-7, but can go no lower than the 8 seed. Their finishing slate is not easy by hosting Michigan and going to Nebraska, but if they were to win both, then the 7/10 game in the tournament, they might be on the cusp of an at large bid. Their 2-0 record against Ohio State and split with Maryland gives them the tiebreaker over Maryland should both finish 9-9. Penn State closes at home against Michigan and at Nebraska and likely needs both to reach the NCAA Tournament. That could push them ahead of Indiana if the Hoosiers lose a game this week.
8 Seed – This is Maryland’s spot. They have only one game left, and it is a tough home game against Michigan on Saturday. Even with a loss they can’t drop below the 8. With a win they would be 9-9 and would need both Indiana and Penn State to lose each of their last two games. They would lose a 3-way tiebreaker with both or a two-way with either, so they are locked in.
9 Seed – Wisconsin is sitting here right now at 6-10 and cannot go as high as the 9, but they already have a win over fellow 6-10 team Northwestern with a rematch on Thursday. Their overtime win last night means they avoid a Wednesday game. They have also won 3 of 4 and maybe, just maybe have some momentum. That they should do is tank the Northwestern game and go all out on Sunday vs. Michigan State.
10 Seed – This is where Northwestern is right now, and the only positive they have is that at 6-10 they won’t play on Wednesday. The season has been a disaster for them, backed up by the collapse vs. Michigan State that may end up costing Purdue a Big Ten title. Thanks a lot, guys.
Locked Into Wednesday
11-14 Seeds – We already know that Illinois, Minnesota, Rutgers, and Iowa will be in the two Wednesday games. If Illinois loses to Michigan State tonight as expected the all four teams will be an identical 3-13. The team that appears destined for the 14 is Minnesota, who has lost 9 in a row. Among all these teams the “best” win (if you could call it that) is Minnesota winning at Penn State. Otherwise it is Rutgers taking Michigan State to overtime in East Lansing.
None of these team will win the tournament and any of them would be lucky to make it to Friday’s quarterfinals.