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2021 NCAA Tournament: Where the Big Ten Stands on February 23

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Purdue joins the “lock” crowd this week.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Nebraska
“Who overachieved in the Big Ten yet again?”
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

We’re getting closer and closer to the NCAAs and we have some teams in the conference that are no locks for March, and some teams screaming towards the Bubble. If you count Penn State’s computer numbers there are still 12 teams alive, but Penn State is well under .500 and would need to win their last five games just to get to .500 before the Big Ten Tournament. A couple other schools are sliding towards “out” status.

Here is where everyone stands this week:

Definitely Out (but can play spoiler)

Nebraska - 5-15, 1-12 – NET: 147, KenPom: 117 – The Cornhuskers continue their grueling combat tour tonight by hosting Penn State in a game that looks increasingly unnecessary. To get to their original 20 games they need seven more and they do have five scheduled. One of the two not scheduled is their game against Purdue and it seems unlikely it will be made up now. They are at Iowa on March 4 and at Northwestern on March 7, but Purdue hosts Indiana March 6th. Having already won in State College Nebraska can end Penn State’s fleeting hopes tonight, and on Saturday they can deal a mortal blow to Minnesota.

Northwestern - 5-14, 3-13 - NET: 98, KenPom: 74 – The losing streak has reached 13 for the Wildcats, with the closest being a double overtime loss to Indiana where they twice blew a 6-point lead with less than 2 minutes to go. They are in a spoiler’s role now with a game at Minnesota on Thursday and a home game against Maryland next week. They have a potential make up game with Michigan too.

All But Dead

Penn State - 7-12, 4-11 – NET: 41, KenPom: 34 – The computer numbers are good enough, but Penn State is just not going to get enough wins to get in. With five games left they need all five just to get to .500 overall before Indy. One of those games will be against Michigan if a spot can be found. They also have Minnesota and Maryland as spoiler role games. They’ll miss the tourney because of overtime losses to Seton Hall and Indiana, plus a home loss to Nebraska. Also, they will finish under .500 in the Big Ten, and no team with a losing conference record deserves an at large bid. Period.

They Have a Pulse!

Michigan State – 11-9, 5-9 – NET: 81, KenPom: 65 – A Saturday loss at Indiana would have been the final blow, but the Spartans got off the mat and found a way to win. The computer numbers suck. but with games left against Illinois, Ohio State, and two against Michigan they at least have the opportunity to improve them. Let’s put it this way: They need about five wins to feel safe and if they get them, they will come against some of the best teams in the country, so that would boost them significantly. They can also get a good win at Maryland. They have to play six times between tonight at home against Illinois and March 7 at home against Michigan. It’s a very long shot, but Sparty has a chance.

Right On The Bubble

Minnesota – 13-10, 6-10 – NET: 60, KenPom: 48 – The inability to win away from the Barn will be the Gophers’ undoing. They are 13-2 at home, but a dismal 0-8 on the road. They haven’t even played a neutral site game. They have home games left against Northwestern and Rutgers and road games at Nebraska and Penn State. They probably need to go at least 3-1 in those games, and is a 1-9 road record with your only win at Nebraska really that good?

Indiana – 12-10, 7-8 – NET: 52, KenPom: 33 – The Hoosiers are the team that won’t die. They are a dreadful 6-5 at home with five losses in conference play, including to lowly Northwestern, but kept things alive by beating fellow Bubble team Minnesota. They keep doing just barely enough. The sweep of Iowa was good. Escaping Northwestern in Evanston was big. Beating Minnesota at home last week was critical. They have one postponed game to make up with Michigan in addition to a second game in Bloomington already scheduled against the Wolverines. If they play both Michigan games four of their final five will be on the road (unless the second Michigan game becomes a DH). I have no idea what to expect from them. They have overtime losses to Illinois, Florida State, and Wisconsin so they are always close, but they also lost at home to Northwestern. Winning at Rutgers tomorrow seems essential for them.

Trending Safe

Rutgers – 12-9, 8-9 – NET: 31, KenPom: 28 – The Scarlet Knights are very close to securing their first NCAA bid in 30 years and Steve Pikiell has done an incredible job with them. They have lost two in a row to slip to 8-9 in league play, but as long as they beat Indiana and Nebraska they will secure their bid. Even then, they have a backup game at Minnesota to close the year on March 6.

Maryland – 13-10, 8-9 – NET: 30, KenPom: 31 – The Big Ten accomplished its mission with making them play a DH against Nebraska. The Terrapins are now comfortably over .500 and within striking distance of securing the conference yet another TV share. Maryland has now won four in a row and likely only needs to win at Northwestern and at home against Penn State to get in. They also host Michigan State on Sunday. Like Rutgers, they are likely more than safe with two more wins. As long as they stay in the top 30 that helps Purdue as well, as that means our home victory over them is a fourth tier 1 victory.

NCAA Locks

Purdue – 15-8, 10-6 – NET: 27, KenPom: 17 – I can now say this with certainty: Purdue will play in the 2021 Men’s Basketball NCAA Tournament (sixth straight bid). Since it is now unlikely the game with Nebraska will be made up there is really not another chance for a bad loss. Even if we lose the next four games (three regular season and B1G tourney opener) our computer numbers are strong enough to keep us in the field. We’re now playing for a seed. BracketMatrix currently has a 6 seed, which I am completely fine with. I would even prefer it unless we could rise all the way to a 3 because it means avoiding a No. 1 seed as long as possible. It is also a good spot to sit and take advantage of some bracket chaos (say a second round 7 over 2 upset) and any 1 seed going down before a regional final. How did Purdue reach the Elite 8 in 2000? As a 6 seed.

Wisconsin – 16-8, 10-7 – NET: 20, KenPom: 14 – The Badgers also join the lock pack this week after getting their 10th league win at Northwestern. They have a very tough finishing swing by hosting Illinois, then going to Purdue and Iowa, but they are also playing for that 4-6 seed range. They are the 3.6 roentgen of Big Ten teams this year.

Iowa – 17-6, 11-5 – NET: 5, KenPom: 4 – After some midseason struggles Iowa has regained its form and ripped off four straight. Now they are playing to get a 2 seed, and it is very possible the Big Ten could receive four of the top 8 seeds in the NCAAs. For Purdue, a pair of Hawkeye losses or an Ohio State loss opens the door for a Big Ten Tournament double bye, something Purdue has had in every COMPLETED Big Ten Tournament since 2015. They have to go to Michigan and Iowa this week before hosting Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Ohio State – 18-5, 12-5 – NET: 7, KenPom: 7 – The Buckeyes are now battling Illinois for a second 1 seed out of the Big Ten, but if Baylor falls a few times it is possible the Big Ten gets three 1 seeds. The regular season finale when Illinois comes to Columbus could be a 1 seed elimination game. The Buckeyes also have to go to Michigan State and host Iowa, so Purdue winning out and Ohio State dropping a game is very possible. We may have caught them at the perfect times with E.J. Liddell out in game 1 and C. J. Walker in game 2, but a sweep is a sweep.

Illinois – 16-5, 12-3 – NET: 4, KenPom: 5 – Can the Illini chase down Michigan? Illinois has five games left, and two are against Michigan and Ohio State. They are also at Michigan State tonight and have to go to Wisconsin. The Wolverines currently sit 8 games short of their 20 and only have 5 scheduled. I don’t really see a spot where they can get even one more in, either, unless they played a doubleheader at Indiana this weekend. Should the Wolverines drop two and the Illini win out how do you decide the regular season champ? Imagine now if Purdue had not faltered late at Maryland and Minnesota and was sitting with 4 conference losses, a favorable schedule, and the chance Michigan could drop three and Illinois one. Illinois is also playing for a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs and probably gets it if it wins four of these last five.

Michigan – 16-1, 11-1 – NET: 3, KenPom: 3 – So what does the Big Ten do with the Wolverines? Everyone else in the league is probably going to end up playing at least 18 games, but right now they are at 17 scheduled. They just got a huge win at Ohio State, but still have tough games with Iowa and Illinois, plus two against Michigan State. Does the league make them play every other day like they did with Nebraska or play protection and rest a likely No. 1 seed to the tournament? If Michigan were to go 15-2 they would be a worthy 1 seed, but what if they are 15-2 and Illinois (currently scheduled to get to 20) is 16-4 with a win over the Wolverines?

May COVID never hit again so we have to ask these questions.