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2/6 Big Ten Basketball Mailbag: Big Ten NCAA Tournament Chances

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The weekly BTPowerhouse Big Ten mailbag.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Each week, BTP will be taking questions from readers on the hottest topics in the Big Ten and college basketball overall both on and off the court.  You can ask questions by using the hashtag #AskBTP or tweeting at @BTPowerhouse or @tbeindit.  The best questions will be selected on Wednesday night and our staff will respond in the coming days.

The 2/6 Big Ten Powerhouse Mailbag

Question #1

Well, to put things bluntly there, no.  No, I just don't see any realistic way that Northwestern can make it or really, even get into serious consideration for an NCAA Tournament bid this year.  They are 10-12 overall and 1-8 in the Big Ten.  Even if they ran the table the rest of the way, they would fail to get to 20 wins without winning at least a game in the Big Ten Tournament.  It's unfortunate to be negative here, but sometimes a team just digs too big of a hole.

However, I do want to spin this answer into talking a little about one other issue.  I wanted to take a second to talk about lower seeds winning the Big Ten Tournament to get a bid.  In all likelihood, this will be the scenario that Northwestern is in when they head to downtown Chicago in March for the conference tournament.  One change that is starting to get publicity, but is not all too well known yet is that with the additions of Maryland and Rutgers, but there will be another day of Big Ten play featuring games between the #11 and #14 seeds and the #12 and #13 seeds.  This means that if you are a bottom four conference team, you have to win another game to win the tournament.

On it's face, it doesn't look like that big of a difference as the teams featured in this games will all generally be major underdogs even if they move on to the next round, but it's actually pretty significant.  If you figure that the 1st Round of the Big Ten Tournament will largely be composed of "pick 'em" games, you're taking a big hit to your odds of moving on simply by only having 50% or so odds in the first game.  Also, it means more playing time and more wear and tear on a team hoping to make a big run.  This certainly won't be a discussion that many fans of lower seeded teams want to have, but it could be something to watch in the coming years.

Question #2

There are a lot of interesting games that should be going on this weekend, but Illinois' trip to East Lansing could be one that isn't getting the attention it deserves.  These are two teams that are battling to get into the NCAA Tournament and are both trying to get solid positioning for the Big Ten Tournament as well.  This could be an important game.

Right now, KenPom has Michigan State with an 81% chance to win.  The Spartans are 10-2 at home this year and their only Big Ten loss at home came against a good Maryland team in double overtime.  It's a tough place to play and though Illinois won there last year, Michigan State absolutely deserves to be the favorite in this one.

Having said that, I do think there is a possibility for the Illini to go into the Breslin Center and snag a win.  First, there are still major questions about whether Aaron Cosby and Rayvonte Rice will play.  They were recently suspended and it's unknown whether they will play this weekend.  If they do, the Illini instantly become a much better team.  It would also likely free up at least one player on the wing to make plays.  It seems likely that Branden Dawson will be on Malcolm Hill and if so, he is going to have a major challenge to score against Dawson's defense.

Outside of potentially getting Cosby and Rice back, I think a lot comes down to hoping MSU has an off shooting day - the Spartans are #6 in Big Ten 3PT shooting - and hoping Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn can get hot.  Just take a look at some of Hill's numbers recently:

Malcolm Hill's Last 8 Games:

  • Scored at least 10 points in every game
  • At least 30 minutes in every game
  • 18-41 (.439) from 3PT range
  • Offensive rating of at least 100 in 5 of 8 games (all wins)
  • When Hill's offensive rating was below 100, Illinois lost all 3 games

It should be a great game and huge for both teams.  I still like Michigan State in this game, but Illinois definitely has enough firepower to keep up.

Question #3

An interesting question and something that has been getting the Big Ten a lot of attention recently.  According to just about every expert out there, the Big Ten is sitting somewhere from 6 to 7 bids.  Before this, about everybody was settled on 6 teams, but with Purdue's win over Ohio State, people are starting to project 7 teams from the Big Ten.

For me, I think the Big Ten ultimately ends up with 7 teams.  As of now, this is how I group the Big Ten teams trying to make the NCAA Tournament:

2015 Big Ten NCAA Tournament Contenders:

  • Locks: Maryland, Wisconsin
  • Very Likely: Indiana, Ohio State
  • Probable: Iowa, Michigan State
  • Bubble: Illinois, Purdue
  • Fringe: Michigan, Nebraska

I don't think anything is too far out of line here with any of the major projects.  Maryland and Wisconsin are essentially clinched in already, especially the Badgers, who already have 20 wins this season.  Indiana and Ohio State are definitely not locks, but I think they are trending up and assuming they can be solid at home and avoid any terrible upsets, they should be in strong position.  Iowa and Michigan State are in some rocky waters, but lately, they are both scoring some decent wins and I think with their upcoming schedules, they should be able to get in without sweating too much on Selection Sunday.

The interesting part are the final four teams I listed above.  Illinois and Purdue get varying responses depending on who you talk to right now.  The Illini don't really have any bad losses - outside of potentially Nebraska - but they have scored some solid wins and could be really dangerous if they get back to full strength.  Purdue has been playing great, but have two really bad non-conference losses.  My bet is that you are going to see one of these teams get in.  Purdue is the popular pick here and it makes sense here, which is what gets me to 7 teams.

The final two teams of Michigan and Nebraska are in "Hail Mary" type situations right now.  Neither is "locked out" based on regular season results, but it's going to be tough.  I'll talk about Michigan more in the question below.

Question #4

As I said above, I currently have Michigan in the "fringe" category right now.  Last weekend, I thought they might be angling into the discussion, but after losing to MSU in overtime and being blown out against Iowa at home, I think you have to realistically start discussing "too little, too late" with this Michigan team.  They have been working hard to overcome illness and injuries, but at some point, the resume is going to be the resume.  Let's take a look broadly at Michigan's resume right now using the CBS RPI.

2014-15 Michigan NCAA Resume:

  • 13-9 overall record
  • 6-5 Big Ten record
  • RPI: #82
  • 0-3 against #1-25 RPI
  • 0-4 against #26-50 RPI
  • 5-1 against #51-100 RPI
  • 5-2 against #101-200 RPI
  • 2-0 against 200+ RPI

Simply put, that is not an NCAA Tournament resume.  In fact, it's probably not even all that close.  Michigan doesn't have any "terrible" losses, but they have 2 that would definitely fall under the "bad" category.  On top of that, the Wolverines have 5 "solid" wins, but they are 0-7 against the "good" to "great" teams they have played this year.  Their best win according to the RPI is over a #56 Oregon team.  For those who have watched the Ducks, they aren't exactly a great team.  Decent?  Sure, but a long way from great.

Overall, Michigan looks like a strong contender for the NIT, but at this point, I think they have just let too many wins escape and failed to close out on wins against teams like Eastern Michigan and NJIT.  Even at this point, if they win out, they will only be 20-9 in the regular season.  If they did that, they would definitely get a big, but at that point, we're talking about what, a #10 seed?  The room for error is incredibly thin right now and Michigan seems to be on the wrong end of that equation.