With Big Ten play officially starting earlier this week, fans are likely looking forward to an action packed weekend filled with competitive games from top to bottom. They will certainly get their chance with exciting matchups like Illinois at Ohio State and Minnesota at Maryland. However, for today's Morning Power Bar, I want to look at the impact of this weekend on the Big Ten's potential NCAA chances.
Of course, before we delve into the topic, it's important to note that it's still January. At lot of this has to do with projecting and based on what we know right now. Within 2 or 3 weeks, the layout of the Big Ten and potential NCAA Tournament bids could look substantially different. As so, it's important to take this with a grain of salt.
Currently, according to ESPN's Joe Lunardi, the Big Ten is projected to have 6 teams make the NCAA Tournament. Here is what he is currently projecting:
B1G Bracketology NCAA Teams By Seed Per @ESPNLunardi: #1. WIS #3. MARY #7. Iowa #8. OSU #10. IU #10. MSU First Out: MINN Next Out: ILL, PSU— Thomas Beindit (@tbeindit) January 1, 2015
Again, we don't know quite how accurate these projections will end up being, but if you do buy into what Lunardi is selling, the Big Ten is looking at 2 teams that are near locks (Maryland and Wisconsin), 2 teams with pretty solid odds of getting in (Iowa and Ohio State) and 5 teams that are either slighting in or slightly out (Illinois, Indiana, MSU, Minnesota, PSU). For today's post, I want to take a brief look at the Big Ten's projected "bubble" teams and see how this weekend might play into things.
Lunardi's Big Ten Bubble Teams
The Fighting Illini are coming off an overtime loss to Michigan on the road earlier this week and though fans are likely hoping for a turnaround, this weekend might not be the best antidote. Illinois gets Ohio State on the road in a game that KenPom only gives them 22% odds to win. On paper, this appears to be a game where Illinois has "nothing to lose." Obviously, Illinois has more than a fighting chance in this game, but this would certainly not be a bad loss. In all likelihood, the only way this weekend matters for Illinois' at-large NCAA chances is if they win.
The Hoosiers opened Big Ten play with a road win over Nebraska. Although Indiana does not technically play this weekend, I am just going to throw in Indiana's road game against Michigan State anyway. Similar to Illinois' game against Ohio State, this has the feeling of a game where Indiana is playing with house money. The vast majority of the public will be picking against the Hoosiers, but if they win it would be a big resume addition. If the Hoosiers do manage to pull off the road upset, they will likely move off the bubble for at least the immediate future.
The Spartans opened Big Ten play with a double overtime loss to Maryland. For a team desperately looking for its first marquee victory of the season, it was a disappointing loss. Plus, the only player that made a big impact offensively yet again was Travis Trice. On Monday, they will get Indiana at home. It's too early to call any game a "must win," but this game is going to be huge for Michigan State. The Spartans need to beat a quality team and depending on how things play out with Illinois, Michigan, and Penn State, this might be Michigan State's last chance at a marquee win at home until the team faces Ohio State on February 14th. The Spartans will have shots at solid to good wins between now and then and plenty of quality teams on the road, but a loss here could put a lot of pressure on the team's last stretch of conference play. Michigan State might have the most riding of any of the "bubble" teams this weekend.
The Gophers had a disappointing loss to open Big Ten play on the road against Purdue. Now, Minnesota will look to rebound on the road against a really good Maryland team. Depending on your opinion of the Gophers, they are either playing with nothing to lose this weekend or have a legit shot at scoring a road win. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. In fact, Minnesota has better odds to win this weekend than either Illinois or Indiana, but still only have a 29% chance to win according to KenPom. Essentially, this would be an upset, but less of an upset than the other games. As such, Minnesota is still probably playing with house money, but a little bit less of it than Illinois or Indiana.
The Nittany Lions suffered their first loss in over a month on New Year's Eve against Wisconsin. Now, they will turn around and face an underwhelming Rutgers team at home. This is an absolute must win game if the Nittany Lions are going to make the NCAA Tournament. The Nittany Lions got off to a hot start this season, but there are still a lot of questions about this team considering that most of their wins were against bad teams. Penn State may be able to upset some of the top Big Ten teams, but they need to take care of business in this one.
It's largely a mixed weekend for the "bubble" teams, but an important one that could shape the rest of the conference slate, especially if teams like Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota can pull off upsets.