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BT Powerhouse's NCAA Tournament Bracketology: Big Ten 2/17

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The Big Ten may be on the verge of eight NCAA seeds, but it's going to a bumpy ride for the conference if eight teams is the current goal.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like yesterday the Big Ten was on the verge of only getting five teams into the NCAA Tournament. Now just a few weeks later and the conference could get eight teams into the big dance, with numerous Bracketologists already pinning eight teams as currently in. Will that be the number of teams the conference gets into the big dance? Well in all honestly, most likely not...but it is possible.

We all know teams like Wisconsin, Ohio State, Maryland and Indiana are either locks or near locks. The question is how will the remaining teams pan out. On one hand you have a Michigan State team that loses games when it seems like they're about to be a lock, only to win impressively when they're about to fall onto the bubble. Then you have an Iowa program that looked solid and ready to take advantage of an easier schedule, only to inexplicably drop back to back games against non-Tournament teams. Don't sleep on programs like Illinois and Purdue, both trending upward as of late, but possibly in position to regress. And last of all, Minnesota is still hanging around doing just enough to technically stay alive.

When all is said and done there are three teams currently in that could fade down the stretch and it wouldn't be a surprise. With the unexpectedness of the Big Ten and the difficulty to win on the road, I think it's hard to say that all three teams will take care of business. While I believe the conference will ultimately overachieve and sneak in a seventh team, I feel like eight teams is still going to be a tough sell and the Big Ten will come up just a bit short on reaching eight teams.

Anyways, on to the Bracketology overview.

Illinois

Record Conference Record RPI SOS KenPom Vs. RPI Top 100 Upcoming Week
17-9 7-6 42 64 54 6-8 Michigan State

Like Purdue, the Illini are one of the two Big Ten teams recently surging into bubble consideration. The combination of some inconsistent play, injuries and suspensions led many to believe Illinois was dead in the water, only for the program to string together a nice three game win streak topped off with a road victory over Michigan State. The Illini already had home wins over Maryland and Purdue and suddenly they looked like a good bet for a tournament bid. This idea lived for another day earlier in the week when they knocked off Michigan, but the Illini would then go on to lose by 19 on the road to Wisconsin. Losing to Wisconsin isn't exactly a deathblow, the problem is the Illini now have a major game against Michigan State this week. While they beat the Spartans on the road, if Illinois can't win here it puts the Illini in a tough spot. At 17-10 (7-7) they'll be a relatively forgettable bubble team that will need some work to get into the tournament. That's where the schedule becomes the enemy, with the two opportunities for a quality win (Iowa, Purdue) both coming on the road. If Illinois loses to State they'll most likely need to take both home games (Northwestern, Nebraska) and win one of those road games, while not suffering any bad losses in the Big Ten Tournament. It's possible, but seems problematic for a team that hasn't always been consistent and the main reason why I think Illinois is the tourney team most likely to fade throughout the remainder of the season.

Prediction: First Four

Indiana

Record Conference Record RPI SOS KenPom Vs. RPI Top 100 Upcoming Week
18-8 8-5 29 20 41 9-8 Purdue, at Rutgers

The Hoosiers split last week, dropping a two point game at Maryland and blowing out Minnesota. Ignore the saucy fans on Twitter calling for Tom Crean's head, the Maryland loss wasn't a bad loss. While Indiana could have benefited from the win, the team's record (overall and in conference), RPI, SOS and nine wins over the top 100 put them in great shape. If the Hoosiers knock off Purdue and Rutgers to reach 20 wins this week they'll essentially lock up their NCAA bid by the end of the week. Even if the Hoosiers can only split the week, they're still on the fast track to a NCAA bid. The only question is how far they can trend upwards seed wise if they continue to win.

Prediction: In

Iowa

Record Conference Record RPI SOS KenPom Vs. RPI Top 100 Upcoming Week
15-10 6-6 55 13 38 6-9 Rutgers, at Nebraska

Ugh. So Iowa drops enough games to put themselves potentially in rough shape. Then they easily beat Maryland and Michigan and all seems okay. So what do they do when facing inferior opponents in Minnesota and Northwestern? Lose both games obviously! Now Iowa's 15-10 record and so-so RPI puts them back firmly on the bubble. Yes they're a NCAA Tournament team, for now, but that road trip to Nebraska is essentially a must win now for the Hakweyes as they really can't afford to suffer many more losses down the stretch. Yeah, the schedule stays easy, with Illinois the only tough game after this week, but sitting at 10 losses it means Iowa needs to play nearly perfect down the stretch because their resume won't look great if they enter Selection Sunday with 12 or 13 losses and a slew of poor losses. There's been some questioning among the fan base on if they've peaked under Fran as the team has been consistent on only being slightly above average and it looks like Iowa is once again in the same exact position this year, but for now the Hawkeyes need to bounce back in a hurry or they could find themselves in trouble. When all is said and done Iowa is looking more and more like they'll once again be in the first four this year.

Prediction:In

Maryland

Record Conference Record RPI SOS KenPom Vs. RPI Top 100 Upcoming Week
21-5 9-4 11 34 39 10-5 Nebraska

It's hard to predict what Maryland will do and last week was no different. Beating Indiana at home was a nice win for Mark Turgeon and company, but the team followed it up with barely sneaking out a win at Penn State. Consistency issues aside, Maryland is still tied for second in the Big Ten (with Purdue) and already has 21 wins so the Terps will now finally make it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Turgeon. This week Maryland hosts Nebraska, a team that has lost every road Big Ten game by double digits. So naturally it'd make perfect sense for Maryland to lose this game. Maryland has a rough game against Wisconsin next week, but with Michigan, Nebraska and Rutgers closing out the season, the Terps could easily finish with 25+ wins this season. The only question left for Maryland is where they'll be seeded and if they can make a run in the tournament.

Prediction: In

Michigan State

Record Conference Record RPI SOS KenPom Vs. RPI Top 100 Upcoming Week
17-8 8-4 36 35 23 5-6 at Michigan, at Illinois

Whenever the Spartans seem to be nearing lock status, they lose. When they're about to fade to the bubble, they win. That happened once again last week, knocking off Northwestern and then beating Ohio State in a huge win for the Spartans. This week it gets a bit tougher with road trips to Michigan and Illinois, but both of those games are winnable affairs for the Spartans. Michigan State has been up and down all year and that could once again continue this week, but for all of the teams issues, Tom Izzo seems to consistently just find a way to get it done so it's hard to bet against the man.

Prediction: In

Minnesota

Record Conference Record RPI SOS KenPom Vs. RPI Top 100 Upcoming Week
16-10 5-8 78 84 48 4-9 Northwestern, at Wisconsin

The Gophers early season string of tough losses will ultimately kill their tournament hopes, but they're still mathematically alive. Beating Iowa was a nice start to the week, but the Gophers couldn't keep pace with a hot Indiana team and basically stayed put after splitting the week. At 16-10 they're still firmly out of the tournament, but if the Gophers can knock off Northwestern and upset Wisconsin on the road they'll re-enter the conversation. If not? Well at least the NIT seems a bit more certain now.

Prediction: Out

Ohio State

Record Conference Record RPI SOS KenPom Vs. RPI Top 100 Upcoming Week
19-7 8-5 35 86 14 6-7 at Michigan

The unfortunate thing about the loss at Michigan State is that it was most likely the last difficult remaining game for the Buckeyes until their regular season finale against Wisconsin. With Michigan, Nebraska, Purdue and Penn State coming up, the Buckeyes have a legitimate chance to win out heading into senior day against the Badgers. If Ohio State closes out the season strongly, they could be a possible four or five seed. With the Big Ten being unpredictable, Ohio State could still drop some of these games and end up with a mid-seed but with Thad Matta and D'Angelo Russell the Buckeyes are definitely a lock and a team no one else is going to want to draw come March.

Prediction: In

Purdue

Record Conference Record RPI SOS KenPom Vs. RPI Top 100 Upcoming Week
17-9 9-4 64 80 49 8-6 at Indiana

The Boilermakers opened up sizable leads against Rutgers and Nebraska before letting both teams claw their way back in. Purdue would go on to close out both games, improving to 17-9 and 9-4 in the conference. If you had told anyone that Purdue would be tied for second in the Big Ten after 13 games, few people would have believed you. The program also has eight wins versus the top 100 and wins against Indiana, Ohio State, Iowa, BYU and Missouri. If they could have avoided those pesky losses to Gardner-Webb and North Florida they'd be a lock, but those two losses will be huge thorns for the Boilers. Luckily for Purdue they have two more winnable home games (Rutgers, Illinois) and will likely need one road win (three remaining) and/or one Big Ten Tournament win. That puts Purdue in good position this week if they want to get back into the Tournament as they'll travel to Bloomington to face the Hoosiers. Win this week and Purdue will likely be a tournament team if they can take care of business down the stretch. Lose on Thursday? Well that wouldn't be a bad loss and Purdue still will have several opportunities to pick up that last quality victory they need to likely get into the big dance. That premise should keep pressure down as Purdue doesn't need to win this week, but the realization that a road upset over dreaded rival Indiana could make their tournament resume has to be enticing for Purdue.

Prediction: First four out

Wisconsin

Record Conference Record RPI SOS KenPom Vs. RPI Top 100 Upcoming Week
23-2 11-1 6 37 4 13-1 at Penn State, Minnesota

Wisconsin easily took care of business once again this week, dismantling Nebraska and Illinois. With Penn State and Minnesota up this week Wisconsin should add another pair of wins once again this week. Fair or not, Wisconsin's loss to Rutgers is going to loom large when it comes to landing a one seed and will likely keep them out unless another team or two drops a game or two. The Badgers need to keep winning if they want a top seed and will also likely need to win the Big Ten Tournament. While it may be a tough road for a one seed, the Badgers have more or less locked up the conference title as they're the only Big Ten team seemingly capable of not getting randomly upset on any given night.

Prediction: In

Note: For the RPI and SOS numbers I used ESPN's Daily RPI listings (I like their team charts) from Monday night.