For the fifth consecutive season Purdue will have its feet up and resting until Friday of the Big Ten Tournament. This is usually the way to win this event. To date there have been 21 Big Ten Tournaments. Of those 22, the No. 1 or No. 2 seed has won the event 15 times. The three seed has won two more (one being Purdue in 2009), and Michigan won as a four seed in 1998. Only three times has a team won four games in four days to take the tournament. Iowa did it in 2001 as a six seed and Michigan has done it the last two years as an eight and five seed.
Those outliers aside, getting a top 4 seed and needing just three games for the title is the best way to win it. Purdue has made two of the last three championship games and reached the semifinals in 2015. While the tournament kicks off on Wednesday in Chicago we’ll still be taking it easy back in West Lafayette. In fact, the way things stand now we would be the 2 seed for the second straight year and not even playing at all until every other team has played at least one game.
Race for the Four Double Byes:
Michigan State 14-3 (clinched double bye)
Purdue 14-3 (clinched double bye)
Purdue and Michigan State are locked into the top 4 and Michigan State can be no worse than the 3 seed because they own tiebreakers over Wisconsin and Maryland. Purdue has the tiebreaker over Wisconsin, but the season split with Maryland means the second tiebreaker (record vs. the highest team in the standings on down) is TBD. Purdue has the current edge there because of its win over Michigan State, but the Spartans could technically still fall behind Michigan.
Michigan can all but lock up the third double bye with a win tonight at home against Nebraska. The real race is for the fourth one, where Wisconsin, Iowa, and Maryland have all dropped games this week in an attempt to lock it up. Next Thursday Iowa goes to Madison for a game that is pretty key for this fourth spot. Maryland finishes with Michigan and Minnesota at home. The tip-in by Bruno Fernando for their win at Iowa last week looks huge. Iowa has the most favorable slate, hosting Rutgers Saturday before going to Wisconsin and Nebraska.
Race to Avoid Wednesday
Ohio State 8-9
Penn State 5-12
The top 6 in the league standings have already clinched good enough records to avoid playing in the dreaded Wednesday games reserved for the bottom four. For the rest, it is not so cut and dry. Ohio State is in the best shape, but they go to Purdue, to Northwestern, and host Wisconsin in the last three. Minnesota is at Northwestern tonight in pretty much a must-win game before hosting Purdue, then going to Maryland. Rutgers has a surprising amount to play for. They will likely not be the 14 seed for the first time ever and they go to Iowa Saturday before hosting Penn State and going to Indiana. If they win all three not only would they avoid Wednesday, they might even get an NIT berth.
Penn State is a team to watch here, as they are playing some really good basketball of late. They have won four of five and they go to Wisconsin and Rutgers before hosting Illinois. On paper Illinois has a favorable run with home games against Northwestern and Indiana before going to Penn State.
Northwestern is all but destined for Wednesday. The Wildcats have lost eight straight, but get three home games in the last four. They host Minnesota, Ohio State, and Purdue with a trip to Illinois.
Michigan State 23-5
All six of these teams are pretty safe on Selection Sunday. They have all reached the magical 20-win plateau except Wisconsin and they will probably get there. As it is, they are 15 in the NET rankings and there really is not enough time for them to fall out.
Ohio State 18-10
Of these four the Buckeyes are probably the safest. They are at 40 in the NET rankings and with two wins in the last three they get to 20 wins even before the B1G Tourney. That is probably more than enough, especially if they become the only team other than Purdue to win in Mackey Arena (again).
Minnesota is at 60 in the NET rankings and Sunday’s loss at Rutgers was crippling. They also need 2-1 in the last three starting tonight at Northwestern. Then they either need to beat Purdue at home or win at Maryland, where no other Big Ten team has won yet.
Nebraska is a zombie team technically still alive because of a computer ranking of 45, but are 2-9 in their last 11. Sure, in a wild scenario winning out at Michigan and Michigan State before beating Iowa at home would get them in, but I don’t see that happening.
Then you have Indiana. The Hoosiers are 14-14 overall, but do not have a single quadrant 3 or 4 loss. The closest is at 101 Rutgers, which is still comfortably on quadrant 2. The double overtime win Tuesday night kept them alive and with wins at home over Michigan State and Rutgers and a win at Illinois, plus their current NET ranking of 55, they are not completely dead. In fact, a Saturday win over Michigan State gives them a sweep, a sixth tier 1 win, and some of the strangest wins in the country. Getting to 17-14 and winning a game or two in Chicago (also likely tier 1 or 2 wins since the entire conference except Rutgers is in the top 100) could see Indiana make it yet.
Of course, selfishly I want them to beat Michigan State because it means a 2-1 Purdue finish guarantees us at least a share of the Big Ten. It is hard to believe a team that is 2-12 since early January is still alive, but they at least have a chance.