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2021 NCAA Tournament: Where the Big Ten Stands on January 31

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It certainly looks like Purdue will play in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, but who from the Big Ten will join them?

Michigan v Purdue Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

When I last did this update on January 12th the Big Ten was still in a state of flux. Now, as we reach the end of January, things are sorting out. Michigan, currently on a COVID pause, is the clear favorite with a two game lead on everyone in the loss column. Illinois and Iowa are on a second tier just behind, but need some help to catch the Wolverines as they both play Michigan just once each as is currently scheduled. Purdue has been one of the biggest surprises, while Michigan State has been one of the biggest disappointments. So far we have seen that anyone is capable of beating anyone, except Nebraska, who is simply not playing.

Can the dream of 10 bids still happen? It seems unlikely, but there is a chance.

Dead Team

Nebraska (4-8, 0-5) – NET 168, KenPom 123 – Will Nebraska get to play basketball again? They have not played since January 10th and, as we saw with Michigan State at Rutgers this week, a lot of time off the court is extremely detrimental. They are allegedly at Michigan State on Wednesday, but have a whopping six games to make up. They could have to play 15 games in roughly 33 days. One of the makeups is at Purdue, too. If the Big Ten makes them do that it will be about as brutal of a stretch as you can ask of a team. It is possible they could accommodate them by making them play some back-to-backs with teams they have to play twice. i.e., Purdue playing them in Lincoln on February 20th as scheduled and the makeup game being shifted to Lincoln on the 19th or 21st. This is what smaller conferences are doing. Either way, Nebraska is doomed because that many games in that short of time is overwhelming. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Two game sweep as long as both are played.

Likely Out

Northwestern (5-9, 3-8) – NET 79, KenPom 73 – When Northwestern raced out to a 3-0 start in the league with wins over Michigan State, Indiana, and Ohio State they cracked the top 25 nationally. They have since lost eight straight. With a tough finishing kick I don’t see them making the tournament or even getting over .500, but as we have seen, they can definitely play spoiler. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Win the only matchup, which is in Mackey.

In Deep Trouble

Michigan State (8-6, 2-6) – NET 96, KenPom 62 – The Spartans finally came off their pause and lost by 30 at Rutgers. That’s a strong example of what we could see from Nebraska and Michigan when they start up again. Missing that much practice time when everyone else is playing is just devastating. They are still Michigan State. They have a tremendous coaching and talent advantage to overcome it, but they have a lot of work to do and need to get in 12 games before March 7. After losing to Ohio State today they are in very deep trouble. If the season ended today they would have to play on the Wednesday of the Big Ten Tournament, which is just appalling for Michigan State. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Complete the sweep in Mackey

Work To Do

Penn State (6-7, 3-6) – NET 29, KenPom 36 – Penn State 2021 is Purdue 2020. They are hovering around .500 and have some really good wins, but also some head scratching losses. The computer numbers are ridiculously strong after upsetting Wisconsin yesterday. In fact, they are now a tier 1 win for Purdue even though the game was at Mackey. Can they win enough games to use that computer advantage though? They get a rematch at Wisconsin on Tuesday. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Split is secured, so a win in Happy Valley would be excellent.

Maryland (8-8, 3-7) – NET 43, KenPom 45 – Maryland is a lot like Penn State. They have some very, very good wins at Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota. In fact, they have yet to win a home conference game (they are 0-4), which is really strange. They have the talent though and they are a team where just getting the volume of wins needed will be enough. Tuesday at home against Purdue feels like a make-or-break game for them, but they can still do a lot of damage to other teams’ chances. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: At least a split is secured, so winning in College Park would be huge.

Indiana (9-7, 4-5) – NET 48, KenPom 27 – The Hoosiers are once again at a breaking point. The surprise win at Iowa is giving them a huge boost, but they have been awful at home in losses to Purdue, Northwestern, and Rutgers. They also have games to make up with Michigan and Michigan State due to those teams’ pauses. Getting Iowa and Illinois in Assembly Hall for the next two games is rough. Their closing schedule is absolutely brutal, so this team could fade quickly. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Secure the sweep (again) in Mackey and end their NCAA chances in the process (if they aren’t already ended by then).

Likely In (For Now)

Rutgers (10-6. 6-6) – NET 34, KenPom 28 – Rutgers’ win at Indiana seems to have righted their ship. They blew out Michigan State, and beat Northwestern tonight. Next they host a Minnesota team that can’t win on the road. The computer numbers are fine and they should have no trouble getting to 10 conference wins, which would be enough. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Already lost only game.

Minnesota (11-6, 4-6) – NET 50, KenPom 40 – Minnesota would be wise to win a game away from the Barn. They have been an awful road team, going 0-5 and losing all five in conference by double digits. They are good enough to win 8 or so of their home games, but they will not get in without at least two road wins somewhere. As we saw last night, they go as Marcus Carr goes. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Split secured, but we still have to play in The Barn on the Demon Wood of Xibalba.

NCAA Locks Barring a Collapse

Purdue (12-6, 7-4) – NET 23, KenPom 24 – Barring an absolute collapse or complete COVID disaster Purdue will play in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. We are now officially in “win the games you should like Northwestern, Nebraska, and Indiana at home” and we’re in. The sweep of Ohio State looks absolutely fantastic, and wins over Minnesota, at Michigan State, Penn State, and at Indiana are big plusses. More importantly, we’re already through our roughest stretch of the schedule. With nine games left (assuming the Nebraska game gets made up), I can see Purdue winning at least five. Even three wins makes us a lock.

Ohio State (14-4, 8-4) – NET 13, KenPom 10 – Purdue’s two wins over the Buckeyes look excellent, as Ohio State has won six of its last seven. The only loss? To Purdue in Columbus courtesy of Jaden Ivey. It is entirely possible we will be the reason Ohio State doesn’t win the Big Ten. This is a really good and balanced team, but they will be tested with four games against Michigan, Iowa, and Illinois in their last eight. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Sweep Secured!

Wisconsin (13-5, 7-4) – NET 17, KenPom 10 – The Badgers are still solidly an NCAA team, but the loss at Penn State was damaging to their title hopes. They have been surprisingly mortal at home with losses to Maryland and Ohio State. Indiana also took them to double overtime in Madison, and the Hoosiers are rarely even competitive there. Their closing kick is absolutely brutal with the last six games being Michigan, Iowa, at Northwestern, Illinois, at Purdue, at Iowa. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: It would be great to get the only matchup, which is in Mackey where the Badgers always struggle.

League Title Contenders

Illinois (11-5, 7-3) – NET 5, KenPom 7 – I still think Illinois is the most talented and most complete team in the league. The home losses to Maryland and Ohio State were slightly head scratchers, but they made a big statement by beating Iowa on Friday. This team will be in the mix the rest of the way. The game at Michigan on February 11 will be one of the biggest in the league race. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Already lost only game.

Iowa (12-4, 6-3) – NET 6, KenPom 5 – Iowa is still good, but their last two games have shaken their aura. There is no shame in losing to Illinois by 5 in Champaign. Against Indiana they completely forgot how to basketball for 11 minutes though. They went 11 minutes without a field goal and gave up a 23-3 run to lose the game. You almost have to try to not hit a field goal in 11 minutes when you have Luka Garza on your team. That game just showed that Iowa does not have a Plan B when Big Ten games get tight and the offense is not flowing. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Already lost only game.

The Favorite

Michigan (13-1, 8-1) – NET 3, KenPom 3 – How did Minnesota beat them? Michigan walked into West Lafayette and did what very few teams have done in recent seasons: They flat out kicked Purdue’s ass on Keady Court. Their defense was impressive as they denied Purdue open looks all night and challenged everything in the paint. It was a very impressive win and I think the only thing that cans top them is a prolonged COVID delay that gets them rusty. What Purdue Needs to do vs. them: Already lost only game.