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3/6 Big Ten Basketball Mailbag: NCAA Tournament Bubble Breakdown, Committee Bias, Big Ten Poll Rankings

The weekly BTPowerhouse Big Ten mailbag.

Mike Granse-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 3/6 Big Ten Powerhouse Mailbag

Question #1 & #2

It's that magical time of the year where bracketology posts and madness is in the air.  I got a good deal of questions on which teams will make this year's NCAA Tournament, so it made logical sense to just group these together and take a few minutes to respond to them as a whole.  I touched on the projections in our latest podcast, but things are obviously always a moving target, so let's jump into this.

A few weeks ago, in my mailbag, I posted this for how I broke down the Big Ten's NCAA Tournament chances:

Since then, a lot has obviously changed.  At the top, Maryland and Wisconsin have strengthened their resumes even more, but Iowa and Ohio State have also moved into the "lock" category.  After this, Michigan State has also moved up into the very likely category.  You can make an argument they should be in the lock group, but considering that they could still potentially face Rutgers, which would be an awful loss, I'm not putting the Spartans in as a lock.  Still, at this point, I think it's pretty safe to say that at least 5 teams from the Big Ten will be in the NCAA Tournament and barring a miracle run in the Big Ten Tournament, it will max out at eight teams.

After this is where things get interesting.  Indiana has been sliding the last few weeks and many feel like their game against Michigan State this weekend is a "must win."  For me, I think Indiana needs at least one more win whether it happens in Bloomington or Chicago to feel good about Selection Sunday.  If they lose out, I think they would still have a shot, but they would be right on the bubble.  Just take a look at their resume.

2014-15 Indiana NCAA Resume:
  • 19-11 overall record
  • 9-8 Big Ten record
  • #53 RPI
  • 2-4 against #1-25 RPI
  • 2-3 against #26-50 RPI
  • 4-3 against #50-100 RPI
  • 5-1 against #101-200 RPI
  • 6-0 against #200+ RPI
There is no getting around the fact that Indiana's road loss to Northwestern last week was a bad one.  The biggest reason is that it gives Indiana its true bad loss of the season, at least according to the RPI.  If they had won that game, you're looking at a pretty solid NCAA resume.  Michigan State is currently at #29 in RPI, so I don't think losing to them even at home would do too much damage, but it puts a ton of pressure on that game in Chicago, where Indiana could be facing an underwhelming team like Michigan or Minnesota and risk a neutral court loss to a team above #80 in the RPI.  Considering this, I think Indiana has to go at least 1-1 to feel any confidence about Selection Sunday and really need two wins to feel good at all.

After Indiana, you have Purdue and Illinois.  As of now, I do believe that the Boilermakers will make the Big Dance, but they're in a pretty similar situation with Indiana with one key distinction.  Purdue gets Illinois at home this weekend similar to how Indiana gets MSU at home, but due to Purdue's impressive Big Ten record this season, they may not have to face a team like Michigan or Minnesota in their first Big Ten Tournament game.  In fact, Purdue has the chance to get a double-bye this weekend if Iowa and Ohio State lose and Purdue wins.  This may be unlikely, but if it does happen, they would likely have a matchup awaiting with a team like Ohio State which would not be a bad loss and would be a good win if Purdue can pull if off.  Unlike Indiana, I think Purdue must get at least one win to be in consideration, but if they do and things fall right, that might be all they need to make the NCAA Tournament due to their advantageous Big Ten Tournament projection.

The final team in consideration is Illinois.  This may be disappointing for Illini fans, but Illinois has a good hunk of work to do to be realistically in the tournament.  Many have them projected just out of the field, but Illinois has a pretty similar resume to Indiana.  Take a look at their resume.

2014-15 Illinois NCAA Resume:
  • 19-11 overall record
  • 9-8 Big Ten record
  • #58 RPI
  • 2-2 against #1-25 RPI
  • 1-4 against #26-50 RPI
  • 2-4 against #50-100 RPI
  • 9-1 against #101-200 RPI
  • 5-0 against #200+ RPI

That's an incredibly similar resume to Indiana.  However, there is one difference and that is the upcoming schedule.  The Illini get Purdue on the road, likely Michigan in the 2nd Round of the Big Ten Tournament, then a potential matchup with Wisconsin if they do beat their opponent in their first game.  Unlike Indiana who has a solid shot at a quality win at home to close the regular season, Illinois has to go on the road against another team desperately fighting for a big win.  Then, if the Illini drop their game to Purdue, they get a potential bad loss to Michigan and an incredibly tough Wisconsin team fighting for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.  That's a rough draw and is the reason why I do not believe the Illini will make it.

With all that said, here is how my updated breakdown sits.

2015 Big Ten NCAA Tournament Contenders:

  • Locks: Iowa, Maryland, Ohio State, Wisconsin
  • Very Likely: Michigan State
  • Probable: Indiana, Purdue
  • Bubble: Illinois
  • Fringe: None
It will be a wild few last days of the regular season and the Big Ten Tournament, but when everything shakes out, I think you will see seven Big Ten teams get a bid.

Question #3

Interesting question and you hear this thrown out a lot.  Essentially, the concept is that if two teams are similarly situation, the committee will give the edge to the "bigger" program and the more "proven" name over another school with a similar resume.  The theory is that bigger names will produce better ratings and more hyped games, which will earn the NCAA more money.

However, I don't buy this theory at all.  We have seen in just about every season that at least one major program is left out of the NCAA Tournament or another tournament when they are on the bubble.  We saw it with Kentucky a few years back, we saw it with Indiana with the NIT bubble last year, and we may see it with UConn this year.

There is a lot wrong with college sports, but one part that I believe is functioning well is the NCAA postseason committee.  They may not choose the "best" teams, but I do believe they choose the "most deserving" teams each season, which is their primary task.  Perhaps there is some subconscious bias in the room, but with so many different parties involved, I would think a lot of the likelihood of that would be reduced.

Question #4

To be honest, I put very little faith in the rankings.  I know a lot of people love looking at them, so I will try to reference them when necessary, but I have been a KenPom guy for quite awhile.  Those numbers aren't perfect, but I think they're a lot more reasonable and less reactionary than rankings.

Having said that, if I had an AP ballot, I would have Wisconsin, Maryland, Iowa, and Ohio State in my Top 25.  There are certainly cases for Indiana, Michigan State, and Purdue as quality teams, but I do not believe those three are among the best 25 teams in the country.