Big Ten Bracketology: Nebraska Rising

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

As Minnesota fades from NCAA relevancy, Nebraska is trying to play their way into the NCAA Tournament.

We're getting to the closing stretch of the season now, with only two weeks of Big Ten play remaining. We pretty much know the five teams from the Big Ten that will get into the Tournament, but there are definitely questions about if the conference will send a sixth team. Recently a lot of people believed Minnesota could get that last seed, thanks to a pretty resume, but that's looking considerably less likely as each week passes. However, Nebraska has rose from the bottom of the conference and now looks like it could be a likely contender for an at-large seed, though there's plenty of work left for the Cornhuskers to take care of.

Team Record RPI SOS vs 1-50 vs 51-100 vs 101-200 vs 201+ Projection
Wisconsin 22-5 (9-5) 5 2 9-3 5-1 6-1 2-0 In
Michigan 19-7 (11-3) 13 4 9-5 1-1 5-1 4-0 In
Ohio State 22-6 (9-6) 17 13 5-5 7-0 7-1 4-0 In
Michigan State 22-6 (11-4) 19 20 6-5 3-1 8-0 5-0 In
Iowa 19-7 (8-5) 28 47 4-7 3-0 6-0 6-0 In
Minnesota 17-11 (6-9) 46 6 3-7 2-2 7-2 4-0 Out
Nebraska 16-10 (8-6) 48 27 3-7 3-0 6-3 4-0 Bubble (Out)
Illinois 15-12 (4-10) 85 53 2-8 1-1 6-3 6-0 Out
Indiana 15-11 (5-8) 97 84 2-6 2-1 4-4 7-0 Out
Northwestern 12-16 (5-10) 116 23 2-12 3-2 1-2 6-0 Out
Penn State 13-14 (4-10) 119 61 3-7 2-4 1-3 7-0 Out
Purdue 15-12 (5-9) 121 98 2-8 4-0 5-4 4-0 Out

Currently In

Wisconsin

Record 22-5 (9-5)
RPI 5 (6)
SOS 2 (2)
Non-Conf. RPI 3
Non-Conf. SOS 10
Average RPI WIn 92
Average RPI Loss 57
Vs. 1-50 9-3
Vs. 51-100 5-1
Vs. 101-200 6-1
Vs. 201+ 2-0
Key Wins Michigan State, at Michigan, Florida, Minnesota, Saint Louis, Iowa (2x), Illinois
Key Losses at Indiana, Michigan, at Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State
Upcoming Games Indiana, at Penn State

While Wisconsin isn't likely to win the Big Ten, they still have the best RPI in the conference, as well as the second best SOS in the nation. The Badgers added their ninth win versus a top 50 team this weekend, beating Iowa on the road, and will now get a considerably lighter week as they take on Indiana and Penn State. The schedule is favorable for the Badgers next week as well as they'll face off against Purdue and Nebraska and Bo Ryan should get his Badgers to 26-5 if they can avoid any upsets along the way. With a resume that will include top 10 marks for RPI, SOS, non-conference RPI and non-conference SOS, as well as ten top 50 wins (if Nebraska stays there), one has to wonder if the Badgers could work their way up to a 2 seed if they have a strong showing in the Big Ten Tournament. Their losses to Minnesota, Indiana and Northwestern are definitely potential roadblocks, but it's hard to argue with their overall resume and body of work.

Prediction: In
Projected Tournament Odds: 100%

Michigan

Record
19-7 (11-3)
RPI
13(16)
SOS
4 (4)
Non-Conf. RPI
68
Non-Conf. SOS
76
Average RPI WIn
113
Average RPI Loss
46
Vs. 1-50
9-5
Vs. 51-100
1-1
Vs. 101-200
5-1
Vs. 201+
4-0
Key Wins
Michigan State (2x), at Wisconsin, at Ohio State, Iowa, Florida State, at Minnesota
Key Losses
Charlotte, at Indiana
Upcoming Games
Purdue, Minnesota

Well Michigan definitely put themselves in the driver seat after a win versus Michigan State this weekend. Now if they can take care of business versus Purdue and Minnesota this week (and Illinois/Indiana next week), the Wolverines will win the Big Ten. Their lackluster start to the season will keep them away from a 1 or 2 seed, but a 3 seed seems more or less the likely scenario for the Wolverines as long as they don't suffer some sort of collapse down the stretch. One has to wonder how the team will play during the postseason, but their SOS should help prepare them as they've faced plenty of tests all season. Now that Michigan State is out of the way the Wolverines should be favored until late in the Big Ten Tournament and will look to rack up some wins.

Prediction: In
Projected Tournament Odds: 100%

Ohio State

Record
22-6 (9-6)
RPI
17 (15)
SOS
13 (6)
Non-Conf. RPI
4
Non-Conf. SOS
58
Average RPI WIn
110
Average RPI Loss
45
Vs. 1-50
5-5
Vs. 51-100
7-0
Vs. 101-200
7-1
Vs. 201+
4-0
Key Wins
at Wisconsin, at Iowa, Maryland, Notre Dame, Illinois
Key Losses
Penn State, at Minnesota, at Nebraska
Upcoming Games
at Penn State, at Indiana

Ohio State was high, then low and now high once again. Their schedule was relatively soft this past week, with Minnesota being their most difficult draw, and it allowed Ohio State to coast to two victories. This week isn't much harder as Ohio State will look to avenge their loss to Penn State before traveling to Bloomington this weekend. When all is said and done Ohio State should be 24-6 (11-6) at the end of the week, with a top 15 RPI and a SOS near the top 10. If Ohio State can pick up a home win against Michigan State to wrap up the season and have a strong showing in the Big Ten Tournament, the idea of a 2 or 3 seed shouldn't be out of consideration. For as many issues Ohio State has had with scoring, everything seems to be business as usual for Thad Matta. The offensive issues could be a death blow come the NCAA Tournament, but Ohio State has always played well in the tourney under Matta and his Buckeyes could be getting hot at the perfect time.

Prediction: In
Projected Tournament Odds: 100%

Michigan State

Record
22-6 (11-4)
RPI
19 (18)
SOS
20 (19)
Non-Conf. RPI
14
Non-Conf. SOS
55
Average RPI WIn
122
Average RPI Loss
27
Vs. 1-50
6-5
Vs. 51-100
3-1
Vs. 101-200
8-0
Vs. 201+
5-0
Key Wins
at Iowa, Ohio State, Kentucky, Oklahoma, at Texas, Indiana
Key Losses
Nebraska, North Carolina, at Wisconsin, at Georgetown, Michigan (2x)
Upcoming Games
Illinois

Michigan State dropped another game to Michigan and will need some help if they want to win the Big Ten. By this point I don't think Izzo or the Spartans care as much as they originally did as their season continues to deal with an unfortunate amount of injuries. With Dawson about ready to return the focus will likely shift on getting everyone on the same page for the tournament and if that happens then State will be a force to be reckoned with, regardless of their seeding. This week the Spartans host Illinois and should be able to bounce back after a tough loss. Michigan State has been shooting lights out recently but their defense has been problematic (at best), so I'd imagine that'd be a point of emphasis versus an offensively challenged Illini squad. If Michigan State can land on their feet a strong seeding is still possible.

Prediction: In
Projected Tournament Odds: 100%

Iowa

Record
19-7 (8-5)
RPI
28 (24)
SOS
47 (59)
Non-Conf. RPI
26
Non-Conf. SOS
236
Average RPI WIn
154
Average RPI Loss
10
Vs. 1-50
4-7
Vs. 51-100
3-0
Vs. 101-200
6-0
Vs. 201+
6-0
Key Wins
Michigan, at Ohio State, Minnesota, Xavier
Key Losses
Ohio State
Upcoming Games
at Minnesota, at Indiana, Purdue

In Iowa's only game this week they lost another game to a strong opponent as all seven of the Hawkeyes losses are versus top 50 teams. Now thanks to the Hoosiers and their arena falling apart, Iowa will have a busy week as they face Minnesota, Indiana and Purdue in a rare (for the regular season) three game week. I have Iowa as firmly in the tournament, but doomsday scenario, how do you think the selection committee would view Iowa if they lost all three games this week? Their loss total is slowly inching up and while they only lose to strong opposition, their wins are nice but not amazing as is. Regardless, Iowa should win at least two of these games and should be fine, but as the season drags on Iowa is looking more and more like a double digit seed to me and a team that is going to be one and done when everything pans out (well depending on who they draw, an Iowa team as a 11 or 12 seed that draws a fading 5 or 6 seed could be in good position for the 'upset').

Prediction: In
Projected Tournament Odds: 98%

Bubble

Minnesota

Record
17-11 (6-9)
RPI
46 (33)
SOS
6 (5)
Non-Conf. RPI
43
Non-Conf. SOS
45
Average RPI WIn
138
Average RPI Loss
48
Vs. 1-50
3-7
Vs. 51-100
2-2
Vs. 101-200
7-2
Vs. 201+
4-0
Key Wins
Wisconsin, Ohio State, Florida State, at Richmond, Purdue, Indiana
Key Losses
Arkansas, at Nebraska, Northwestern, at Purdue, Illinois
Upcoming Games
Iowa, at Michigan

It's safe to say that we can pencil Minnesota out of the NCAA Tournament after losing by double digits to Illinois and Ohio State. The Buckeye loss on it's own might have been salvageable, but not with it following the Illinois loss. The Gophers now have 11 losses and are three games under .500 in the conference. Mix that with losses to Arkansas, Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois...well you have a team that is simply not a NCAA Tournament team. Things might not get any better for the Gophers either as they face off against Iowa and Michigan this week, putting Minnesota on path to a likely 17-13 record by the end of the week. The season finale is winnable as it's a home game versus Penn State, but 18-13 won't cut it. The RPI is still decent and they have a nice SOS, but as of now that's more or less it thanks to repeatedly failing to pick up some winnable games down the stretch. That being said, while the NIT seems like a lock entering the week, if the Gophers can pick up two huge upsets this week they'll jump right back into the thick of things.

Prediction: Out
Projected Tournament Odds: 30%

Nebraska

Record
16-10 (8-6)
RPI
48
SOS
27
Non-Conf. RPI
91
Non-Conf. SOS
96
Average RPI WIn
145
Average RPI Loss
49
Vs. 1-50
3-7
Vs. 51-100
3-0
Vs. 101-200
6-3
Vs. 201+
4-0
Key Wins
Ohio State, Minnesota, Indiana. at Michigan State
Key Losses
UAB, at Purdue
Upcoming Games
at Illinois, Northwestern

Minnesota is fading and now it looks like Nebraska is the team that seems to have the best chance at a sixth NCAA seed for the Big Ten. I'm not sold on them right now, but it'd be naive to count them out. Their RPI is decent and they do have a nice enough SOS, but their non-conference resume is definitely lacking (with their best win coming against a Georgia team that is 15-11 and has an RPI of 87th, as well as a devastating loss to UAB). Mix their soft opening this year with only a 3-7 mark versus the top 50 and three loss to teams outside of the top 100 and you have a resume that needs some work.

Of course a five game winning streak and 7-1 mark the last eight games helps out quite a bit, especially with the upset over Michigan State, but there's still something lacking for the Cornhuskers thanks to the sizable hole they're still trying to dig out of. While the win streak is nice, highlighted by the win over State, the other four wins have came against Big Ten bottom dwellers Northwestern, Illinois, Penn State and Purdue. With Illinois and Northwestern on the schedule this week it puts Nebraska into another situation where neither win will really help them but a single loss could knock them out of contention. The same thing will likely be said about their road trip to Bloomington on the 5th, with it also being another vanilla win that is required. The problem here is if Nebraska won their next three games, but lost to Wisconsin, they'd likely need to win a game or two in the Big Ten Tournament to feel good about themselves.

So while Nebraska has quickly been rising, with so many of their wins coming against weaker opposition, Tim Miles basically needs to take care of business the next three outings and then pick up an upset in the finale. Luckily for Nebraska the Wisconsin game is in Lincoln where they're extremely difficult to beat, but it's still an uphill battle. If Nebraska can go 3-1 over the last four, they'll likely need a win or two in the conference tournament depending on who they draw. Of course that could be problematic as Nebraska struggles outside of Lincoln, but then again it's the Big Ten so who knows? If the Cornhuskers win both games this week they'll be inching closer to the "In" section of the bubble but there's still a bit of work they need to take care of first.

Prediction: Out

Projected Tournament Odds: 40%


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