As the Big Ten Tournament enters it's last day and we approach Selection Sunday later in the evening, it's time for the season's last Bracketology post before we start actually digging into matchups (and potential later round matchups) instead of simply discussing hypotheticals and what-ifs.
Locks: Wisconsin, Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa, Purdue
While all six of these teams have their bids locked up, there's still a bit of pressure on the Badgers to perform well with the nation watching Sunday afternoon. The Badgers have been pushing for a number one seed this year and the biggest thing standing in there way was the early Big Ten loss to bottom dwelling Rutgers. Most pundits had the Badgers out of the #1 spot but with Virginia dropping out early of the ACC Tournament it once again opens the door for Wisconsin to possibly sneak in. The teams have nearly identical resumes besides Virginia having two more Top 25 (RPI) wins and their worst loss coming against Louisville, a bit of an improvement over Rutgers. The reality is the fate of Wisconsin earning a one seed if they win today will come down to if the committee puts more value on the conference tournaments than the regular season, as Virginia has the better overall resume, but was a bit underwhelming in March.
As for their opponent, Michigan State once again seems to be getting hot as the tournament nears. A lot of people see them anywhere from sixth to ninth in the field and an upset over Wisconsin could bump them up a few spots. They won't necessarily need the win, but it would definitely improve the Spartans confidence as they head into the tournament. If Michigan State can knock off Maryland and Wisconsin on back to back days it's pretty easy to see the potential damage they can bring to the table. The team they edged, Maryland, had a strong close to the season and the only question is if they'll earn a three or four seed. With a lot of the teams behind them losing early enough in their respective conference tourneys, Maryland should be a solid bet for a three spot but could have guaranteed that fate if they had not blown a lead against Michigan State.
The three remaining teams will be interesting to watch. Ohio State has been up and done but when D'Angelo Russell is on they can play much better than where they'll likely be seeded. There's a good chance Ohio State ends up somewhere between eighth and tenth and that means the Buckeyes could draw one of the top two seeds later in the weekend, which would have solid potential for a massive upset in the first weekend of the tournament. Iowa was looking for a similar spot but one has to wonder how the committee will approach the Penn State loss. Still, the Hawkeyes will likely draw a similar seed even though they're going to impose less fear from a top seed if they move on to the weekend next week.
As for the Boilermakers, the last team to firmly secure their bid this weekend, the comeback against Penn State was huge and alleviated any potential of remaining on the bubble. Coming into Friday they were set to avoid Dayton and advancing to the semifinals before losing to Wisconsin won't change that. Right now the only question is if Purdue can sneak up a spot or two to ninth or tenth in the field, with a 11 spot still possible, but either way the Boilermakers are in. While Purdue fell to Wisconsin by 20 yesterday, the Boilermakers played competitive for 30 minutes and even had the lead at the break. If the Boilers can find a way to play to their potential for an entire 40 minutes they'll be a difficult out, just ask Kansas last time Purdue made it to the NCAA Tournament.
Welp. A lot of people had Indiana in if they could avoid a loss to Northwestern. They did that, then almost upset Maryland and yet it has done little to change the idea that they're one of the last teams in, with some well known analysts straight up listing them as the last team in the field. To breakdown Indiana's resume real quick:
Pros: Wins over SMU, Butler, Ohio State and Maryland. 20 wins. 21st SOS. So-so RPI (55th). A LOT of bubble teams lost early in their conference tournaments. Relatively weak bubble. Worst loss is to Northwestern.
Cons: 13 losses, 9-9 record in the Big Ten. 4-9 versus the top 50. No good wins since the end of January. 5-9 record to close the season. That loss to Northwestern back on the 25th.
The reality is pretty straight forward, Indiana has enough to get them in the tournament. They also have enough to justify leaving them out of the field, especially when you realize that most of their pros stem from early season success and it's been a rough month and a half. At the same time, though, the Hoosiers competed with Maryland and looked like a viable NCAA Tournament team. Luckily for the Hoosiers UCLA couldn't advance to the Pac-12 title while a laundry list of bubble teams scrubbed out early in their conference tournaments. Even better was Rhode Island losing on Saturday, dropping the potential of them stealing a bid. However, the x-factor in all of this may be...
Connecticut. The Hoosiers are probably one of the last teams in right now and the Huskies aren't an at-large candidate. They are, however, playing SMU in the American Athletic Conference title game in Hartford in a game that would give them a bid if they win. It's interesting that the defending champion has to play their way in, but the Huskies will have essentially home court advantage and a NCAA bid on the line. If they win it means a bubble team just lost their bid as SMU is a lock and that means a Husky win could squeeze out the Hoosiers. Personally I think Indiana should be in, most likely heading to Dayton, but if the Huskies steal a bid then the fate of Indiana is essentially a coin toss. Looks like a lot of Indiana fans will be watch the AAC title game instead of the Big Ten game today. Of course it doesn't help that Wyoming, likely not a tournament team, ended up winning the Mountain West Saturday evening.
NIT Bubble: Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Penn State
Well first thing's first, the Illini may have missed the NCAA Tournament but they are definitely a lock for the NIT. They may not net a one seed though, especially with some teams like UCLA, Texas A&M and Tulsa likely heading here. And of course if Indiana misses the NCAA Tournament they'd earn a higher seed than the Illini, though one has to wonder if the Hoosiers would potentially decline a bid considering some of the turmoil surrounding the program. It doesn't happen often but it has in the past. Regardless, Indiana believes they should be a NCAA Tournament team and very likely could be playing in Dayton in a couple days.
Past Illinois it becomes a bit more interesting. Minnesota at one point was flirting with the NIT bubble, but likely did enough to get themselves a bid once again this year. Not only did the Gophers win this last year, but when the team is playing to their potential they are a NCAA Tournament caliber team and one that would be a good fit here. Inconsistency and close games plagued the Gophers all season but there's little doubt that they should be included in the NIT's field of 32 teams. A bigger question is if Michigan or Penn State could be featured here. Michigan's losing record, several extremely poor losses and rough season would make it seem like they're a longshot, but a lot of their problems have stemmed from injuries and they'd be a big name program likely to draw up some interest. Of course the NIT has shied away from teams of the sort in the past, even declining to include Indiana last season when the Hoosiers had a better resume across the board.
The last team in the mix is Penn State, who was likely a long shot until a nice two game win streak in Chicago. The Lions were also one atrocious half away from a Big Ten Tournament semifinals appearance, but the wheels fell off the bus late versus Purdue and now they remain as a tossup. At 18-16 and only one win versus a top 50 team (Iowa this week), there's a whole lot of reasons to leave them out. But considering all of the close losses versus NCAA Tournament teams, one has to wonder if they've earned a bid? I still have to believe they're a CBI team though, as the NIT usually does leave out a few of these teams. Even more so when you realize the NIT still has to hand out it's own automatic bids (winning the regular season title and not winning the conference title equals a bid).
The NIT Selection Show will be on ESPNU at 8:30 PM ET, if you're interested.
CBI Bubble: Northwestern, Penn State, Michigan
I'm going to be brief on the CBI for one main reason. The lesser postseason event is essentially the third tournament, behind the NIT and above the CIT, and is essentially a "pay to play" postseason. Unlike the CIT, which only includes mid-majors, the CBI will include major conference teams regardless of if they have a winning record or not. The draw usually only includes a handful of major teams at most and the Big Ten has sent only two teams in the tournament's history (started in 2008) with Purdue playing in 2013 and Penn State in 2014. There's some questions on if the tournament is worth the hassle, especially as it's even less marquee than the NIT, and some teams (coughIndianacough) have avoided the tournament in the past.
With that being said, it's unlikely if a team like Minnesota or Michigan gets snubbed from the NIT that they'll take a bid. Of course if Penn State, who may have played their way into a NIT bid, is offered they could participate. The same can be said for Northwestern as they continue their NCAA Tournament drought. The reality is the wishy washy nature of how teams view this tournament means it's hard to predict because there are definitely teams that will deny a bid if they have a chance to play here.
|Michigan State||NCAA Tournament||#6|
|Ohio State||NCAA Tournament||#9|
|Indiana||NCAA Tournament if SMU wins, NIT if UCONN wins||#11 (play-in) or #1 (NIT)|
|Penn State||CBI (if they accept bid)||-|
|Michigan||None (unless they accept CBI bid)||n/a|
|Northwestern||CBI (if they accept bid)||-|