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2/22 Bracketology: The Big Ten Bubble Is Heating Up

Three Big Ten teams on the bubble (Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State) all face critical weeks with two more weeks to go before the Big Ten Tournament.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

We're only a couple of weeks away from the Big Ten Tournament, with all teams in the conference only set to play three or four more regular season games. With things starting to heat up it's about to get particularly interesting around the bubble, with every bubble team team this week (Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State) facing a week that could easily make or break their NCAA Tournament odds. Besides the fun in the middle of the conference, the top Big Ten teams have struggled in winnable games and now there's a pretty hectic logjam at the top, with three teams (Indiana, Iowa, Maryland) all vying for the regular season title. Not only are these teams jammed at the top of the Big Ten, but there's going to be a lot of competition for better seeding in both the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament, with a lot of potential scenarios that could play out over the next couple of weeks.

Team Record Conf. Rec. RPI SOS KenPom vs. 1-50 51-100 101-200 201+
Indiana 22-6 12-3 29 90 19 4-3 4-0 5-3 9-0
Iowa 20-6 11-3 13 39 8 5-5 2-0 6-1 7-0
Maryland 23-5 11-4 9 36 20 5-3 4-1 7-0 6-1
Ohio State 18-10 10-5 76 69 62 1-7 1-0 9-3 7-0
Michigan State 22-5 9-5 16 60 3 7-4 2-0 6-1 7-0
Wisconsin 17-10 9-5 45 9 37 4-5 4-1 6-3 3-1
Purdue 21-7 9-6 23 51 16 4-4 3-2 9-1 5-0
Michigan 19-9 9-6 57 63 48 3-8 1-1 5-0 9-0
Nebraska 14-14 6-9 161 105 94 1-8 0-4 4-1 9-1
Northwestern 17-10 5-9 108 115 90 1-7 0-2 6-1 10-0
Penn State 14-13 5-9 101 71 128 2-6 1-4 5-3 6-0
Illinois 12-15 4-10 153 68 127 1-8 2-4 3-3 6-0
Minnesota 7-19 1-13 222 45 171 1-7 0-4 3-8 3-0
Rutgers 6-21 0-14 275 79 294 0-8 0-5 0-7 5-1

Average seed prediction is calculated from the Bracket Matrix, a website that takes the brackets posted by a long list of web sites and creates an average seed while also showing where every school included is projected. All RPI ratings, Bracket Matrix numbers and KenPom ratings are from 2/22.


This Week: at Illinois
Last Week: Nebraska 80-64 W, Purdue 77-73 W
Avg. Seed Prediction: 6 (5.98)

The Hoosiers are still only slotted at around a six seed for the time being, but their 12-3 Big Ten record and a chance for a regular season title put the Hoosiers in great shape to keep moving on up. This week is mainly about avoiding a dreaded upset with only a road trip to Illinois on the schedule, but if Indiana can add another win they'll be in position for both a regular season crown and a strong seed in the NCAA Tournament. Of course that's going to take a strong final week, with a road trip to Iowa and home showdown with Maryland to finish out the season, but beating Purdue this weekend keeps Indiana in line at the top of the conference. The loss to Penn State and getting ran out of the gym by Michigan State were problematic, but the Hoosiers are still sitting pretty if they can get past Iowa and Maryland.

Really, the only knock on the Hoosiers is a mix of their so-so SOS (90th overall, 178 non-conference) and a trio of bad losses, with the Wake Forest and UNLV games looking really bad alongside that Penn State loss.


This Week: Wisconsin, at Ohio State
Last Week: at Penn State 75-79 L
Avg. Seed Prediction: 2 (2.59)

Iowa only played one game last week and it was a massive blunder for the Hawkeyes. Up until this past week Iowa avoided all potential bad losses and looked like they had a realistic possibility for a top seed, but now it's hard to see them even getting the top seed among all the other Big Ten schools when you consider Michigan State's remaining schedule. Even more problematic is the race for the Big Ten, which might end up as a race between the Hawkeyes and the Hoosiers, with Iowa already losing in Bloomington. Of course they do get Indiana at home in March, but Iowa also faces a more difficult schedule with road trips to Columbus and Ann Arbor, as well as hosting a Wisconsin team that desperately needs a big win.

The way things have panned out the idea of Iowa being a top seed seems somewhat slim now, especially with that Penn State loss tarnishing their impressive resume. If they're not careful the rest of the Big Ten slate has plenty of hazards and Iowa could fall to a 3 or 4 seed, but if they can regain steam down the final stretch they still have a realistic chance at both a Big Ten title and a 2 seed. This week Iowa will face a considerably bigger set of tests compared to their last two games, with neither game a gimme. Look to see if Iowa can respond after a deflating loss, especially when you realize they were unimpressive in the Minnesota win prior and also lost to Indiana before the Gopher game.


This Week: at Purdue
Last Week: at Minnesota 63-68 L, Michigan 86-82 W
Avg. Seed Prediction: 3 (3.25)

The Terrapins have struggled recently, but they managed to save face with a win against Michigan, avoiding a three game skid. Either way, the losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota cost the Terps a chance for a top seed and have them on path to probably pick up a three seed in the NCAA Tournament. That being said, if Wisconsin and Michigan fade at all, it would leave Maryland with only a handful of strong wins (Iowa, Purdue, Connecticut) so it's easy to see why some people have viewed Maryland as relatively underwhelming this year. Of course outside of the Minnesota game there's not really any bad losses, so Maryland could easily be a team set for a deep run in the tournament. The only thing is their sporadic performances, including letting bad teams hang around, does kind of lead to Maryland coming off like a team that people will predict to get upset early on in the tournament, fair or not.

Maryland could gain back a lot of credibility if they can close strong on the road this season, with a road trip to West Lafayette this weekend and another to Bloomington to close the regular season. Knocking off Purdue and Indiana on the road would help Maryland look a lot better, ease any doubts heading into the postseason and give Maryland a chance to earn a regular season title. Or they could lose two of their three remaining games and people could continue to write about how this season has been a disappointment, something Mark Turgeon could easily fix with a strong postseason.

Ohio State

This Week: Michigan State, Iowa
Last Week: Michigan 76-66 W, at Nebraska 65-62 (OT) W
Avg. Seed Prediction: n/a

The Buckeyes did what they needed to do to survive, avoiding a massive upset this weekend at Nebraska while adding a solid victory over Michigan on Tuesday. The Wolverine win, while not technically a huge win (Wolverines are 57th in the RPI ratings), holds a bit more weight since Michigan will also likely be on the bubble and Ohio State won the only matchup between the two teams. The problem for the Buckeyes is even with that win and a pretty 10-5 record in conference play, they still have only beaten two top 100 teams (2-7) and have three bad losses to Texas-Arlington, Louisiana Tech and Memphis. But either way, Ohio State is technically alive and did what they needed to do to get through last week.

So now what? Well, the Buckeyes have a "put up or shut up" week this week with home games against Michigan State and Iowa. They don't need to technically win both, especially with a road trip to East Lansing to close the season that would be a huge win (as well as the Big Ten Tournament), but they pretty much need to win one of these games. If they split the pair they'd be 19-11 (11-6) and would likely need an upset of the Spartans and a win or two in the Big Tournament. The reality is it's hard to see Ohio State taking care of business, but if they can get to 19 or 20 regular season wins (11-12 conference wins) and then make a run in Indianapolis and add a couple of wins, there could be a late push for the Buckeyes. That could become even more likely if Michigan or Wisconsin (or both) fade down the stretch. The Bucleyes are a long shot but they're still alive, they just need to finish the season strong against the top teams of the conference.

Michigan State

This Week: at Ohio State, Penn State
Last Week: Wisconsin 69-57 W
Avg. Seed Prediction: 2 (2.45)

The Spartans had a rough January but have since gone 6-1, only losing by a point on the road to Purdue earlier in the month. The recent Michigan State surge has the team on the two line and that seems like a likely landing spot for Tom Izzo's team in March. Unfortunately the five Big Ten losses, including games against Wisconsin and Nebraska, will likely keep the Spartans away from a regular season title and a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, but if they win out and win the Big Ten Tournament that could come back into play. Unfortunately for Michigan State they could be set for a top seed if they hadn't lost three of their five games by a combined three points, even more so as the Spartans boast one of the most impressive set of wins across the country.

While Ohio State could be challenging, the two games against the Buckeyes are games Izzo's squad should win and are the two most difficult remaining regular season games, with Penn State and Rutgers in between. Unless the Spartans get upset somewhere over the final two weeks, it's hard to see Michigan State not winning out and continuing their upward trend.


This Week: at Iowa, Michigan
Last Week: at Michigan State 57-69 L, Illinois 69-60 W
Avg. Seed Prediction: 9 (9.49) (only in 84 of 88 brackets)

A lot of people were high on Wisconsin so last week's fall from grace for the Badgers has left them in a rough spot. Losing to Michigan State on the road won't make or break your season, but the Badgers looked absolutely terrible and it creates plenty of questions for how things will play out down the stretch. Luckily Wisconsin woke up after 30 horrible minutes at home against Illinois, avoiding what would have likely been a knockout punch.

Entering this week the Badgers have two more opportunities for key wins, with a road trip to Iowa and home game against Michigan next up on deck. The Badgers probably would benefit from winning both of these games, especially since the Iowa win is more important and they don't want a loss to another bubble team in Michigan, but they could probably survive if they split the week. The final week adds a winnable game at Minnesota and one final opportunity with a road game at Purdue. There's some debate on if Wisconsin is in or if they still have work to do, but they probably need to add a pair of wins over their final four games and have a respectable showing in the Big Ten Tournament to erase any doubt. As much as some fans want to play off their bad losses as just being early season woes, if the Badgers have 13 losses and five losses to teams outside of the top 100, that could prove extremely problematic for their postseason odds.


This Week: Maryland
Last Week: Northwestern 71-61 W, at Indiana 73-77 L
Avg. Seed Prediction: 5 (5.30)

The Boilermakers are hovering around a 5 or 6 seed and had an interesting week this past week. On one hand, no one's going to fault Purdue for losing in Bloomington by four points. On the other hand, it was a good chance for another big win and Purdue couldn't take advantage of it. This week will have another similar opportunity, with a home game against Maryland set for Saturday. Purdue could still trend up to a 4 or even a 3 seed but they'll need to close out strong. A win against the Terrapins would be one of Matt Painter's best wins this season and it would also set Purdue up for a final week with winnable games against Nebraska and Wisconsin. The Boilermakers are definitely a tournament team, the only question is if they can keep a high seed or if they'll fall back to the middle of the pack and draw something like a 7 or 8 seed if they stumble down the stretch.


This Week: Northwestern, at Wisconsin
Last Week: at Ohio State 66-76 L, at Maryland 82-86 L
Avg. Seed Prediction: 10 (9.85) (only in 82 of 88 brackets)

That Purdue win is looking even more important now after Michigan fell to Ohio State and Maryland this past week. Luckily for the Wolverines they have an extremely winnable game tomorrow against Northwestern, followed by a chance to knock off fellow bubble squad Wisconsin on Sunday. Winning both of these games would get the Wolverines to 20 and put them in decent shape, likely only needing a solid showing in the Big Ten Tournament (win a game, avoid any major upsets to bad teams). Of course if the Wolverines can't win both games this week, that'll put a ton of pressure on them to knock off Iowa in the finale and possibly have to make a deep Big Ten Tournament run.

The Purdue win was huge and Michigan will benefit from it, but losing at Ohio State was a setback and they couldn't capitalize on a winnable road game against Maryland. That means Michigan remains on the bubble and has work to do. Getting into the NCAA Tournament is definitely well within reach, but it does require Michigan to not mess up over the next two weeks. Especially since the team has only three quality wins and has gotten beaten by double digits in eight of their nine losses.

Of the three bubble teams Michigan has the best odds, though, they just need to find a couple more wins to make things a little less questionable heading into Selection Sunday.