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2/9 Bracketology: Big Ten Has Seven Teams in the Running for the NCAA Tournament

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Wisconsin Badgers are still alive, Ohio State is likely done and we have a three team race shaping up for the top of the Big Ten.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

As February is fully under way we take another look at some Big Ten Bracketology, with the current postseason race looking decisively more clear across the conference.

Team Record Conf. Rec. RPI SOS KenPom vs. 1-50 51-100 101-200 201+ This Week
Iowa 19-4 10-1 8 12 2 6-4 2-0 5-0 6-0 at IU, MINN
Maryland 21-3 10-2 4 31 9 2-2 7-1 6-0 6-0 BSU, WISC
Indiana 19-5 9-2 55 134 24 1-1 4-3 5-1 9-0 Iowa
Michigan State 20-4 7-4 16 64 4 5-2 3-1 6-1 6-0 at PUR, IND
Purdue 19-5 7-4 22 72 15 2-3 5-1 6-1 6-0 MSU, at UM
Michigan 17-7 7-4 54 58 47 2-5 2-2 4-0 8-0 at MINN, PUR
Wisconsin 14-9 6-4 65 16 51 3-3 4-2 4-3 3-1 NEB, at MD
Ohio State 14-10 6-5 87 51 79 1-4 1-4 5-2 7-0 NU, at RU
Nebraska 13-11 5-6 163 124 93 1-5 0-3 3-2 9-1 at UW, PSU
Northwestern 16-8 4-7 108 125 87 0-5 1-3 5-0 10-0 at OSU, ILL
Penn State 12-12 3-8 99 56 136 0-6 1-4 7-2 4-0 at NEB
Illinois 11-13 3-8 140 67 132 1-6 2-5 2-2 6-0 at NU
Minnesota 6-17 0-11 242 76 198 0-3 1-7 2-7 3-0 UM, at Iowa
Rutgers 6-18 0-11 251 59 283 0-7 0-6 0-4 5-1 OSU

Seven Man Race

With everything starting to settle somewhat, the Big Ten's postseason picture is starting to become clear as we start to get a pretty good idea of what to expect heading down the final stretch of the season. The middle of the pack, once congested, is starting to look less muddied and the end result is there are likely seven teams in contention for a bid to the NCAA Tournament, with at least six teams from the conference likely to make it to the big dance. The biggest setback this week was for the Buckeyes, who may have finally taken a knock out punch last week after losing to Wisconsin. As for the Badgers, they're still on the outside looking in but it appears they've emerged as the last possible team to sneak into the race.

As for the rest of the Big Ten? Well, better luck next season. Northwestern's fall from grace was expected, especially with a dismal out of conference schedule doing no favors for the Wildcats. Even at 16-8 the Wildcats aren't even a consideration for the NCAA Tournament, though a NIT appearance will likely be a realistic possibility as long as they don't crash and burn. There are a few other conference teams that will need to do some work down the stretch if they want to land in the NIT, with Nebraska and Penn State not exactly sitting pretty right now. They both managed a sizable upset in conference play but will still likely need a few more wins if they want to have any sort of postseason this spring.

Ohio State Likely Done

In the Buckeyes only game last week the Buckeyes fell to Wisconsin by 11 in what should essentially be a knockout punch for Thad Matta's squad. Ohio State now has ten losses on the year, including a number of bad losses to teams like Texas-Arlington, Memphis and Louisiana Tech. Of course now having a loss against Wisconsin, another fringe bubble team from the same conference, doesn't help things much either. Then you have the wins, or lack thereof, with only two wins against teams in the top 100 and one of those being a lowly win at home over a Penn State team with a RPI of 99. Through 24 games the only marquee win is a neutral site upset over Kentucky and the Wildcats have looked decisively more human this year, with that win holding less and less value with every additional Kentucky loss.

So the Buckeyes have bad losses, a so-so record, poor RPI and only one quality win. That's a lot going against the team and the reality is Ohio State would likely need to essentially win out (or almost win out) if they want to be taken serious again. This week features two must win games against Northwestern and Rutgers, with neither game set to help the team but both being disastrous losses if they were to occur. You can argue that winning their three remaining winnable games (Northwestern, at Rutgers, at Nebraska) and landing two or three upsets between Michigan, Michigan State (twice) and Iowa could put Ohio State in position to maybe rattle off a pair of wins in the Big Ten Tournament and reemerge on the bubble, but that's a pretty big if. With Michigan falling off this past week Ohio State would likely need to win their next four games and then still probably need a pair of upsets to close the regular season, followed by a strong showing in Indianapolis to find a way to reach the tournament.

Wisconsin Still Hanging Around

The Badgers looked dead back in January, but the team is still hanging around in the postseason hunt, with ESPN's Joe Lunardi actually listing Wisconsin as the fourth team in his first four out category (behind Vanderbilt, Cincinnati and Clemson). The next two weeks should help us figure out if Wisconsin is a legit bubble team or if they're just hanging around because of a somewhat manageable schedule. If you look at what the Badgers have done since conference play started, you'll see the team could have definitely won against Purdue, Indiana and Maryland, losing four conference games early by a combined 15 points. That being said, the schedule opened up with a home friendly slate and now Wisconsin will have to win games away from Madison, with road trips coming up against Maryland, Michigan State, Iowa and Purdue.

These next two weeks are big because they feature one must win (tomorrow's home game against Nebraska) and two road trips to Maryland and Michigan State. If the Badgers want to remain in the thick of things they'll need to go at least 2-1 over the next three games, with three wins being much more beneficial if Wisconsin wants to make things easier down the final stretch of the season. The reality is while Wisconsin has emerged as a bubble team once again, an impressive accomplishment by Greg Gard, the path to the NCAA Tournament will be a difficult one and will require some notable road upsets to close the season. A lot of that has to do with a very rough start at the beginning of the season, with losses against Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Western Illinois and Marquette all looking really bad right now. Mix that with a loss to another bubble team in Georgetown and the Badgers did themselves no favors, especially dropping far too many winnable Big Ten games in January.

However, Wisconsin has wins against Michigan State, VCU, Syracuse, Indiana and Temple, so there's still hope. It's just going to be a tough test to get there. If Gard can guide the Badgers to the postseason it'd be hard to imagine a situation where Barry Alvarez isn't forced to retain the interim head coach.

Michigan Falls Back to Earth

I wasn't big on Michigan recently as some of you may have noticed (well, I wasn't that big on them heading into the season either but I saw them as a postseason team anyway). A lot of Wolverine fans came out of the woodwork when the team knocked off Maryland, followed up by a four game winning streak after a road loss to Iowa. The team was 17-5 (4-2) and a lot of people were high on the program, especially with their next two tests coming at home against a beatable Indiana team and Michigan State. That being said, it didn't change the fact that Michigan had lost five times to good teams by double digits or the fact that they didn't look impressive getting past Minnesota, Rutgers or Penn State.

So what happened? Two more double digit losses to Indiana and Michigan State, losing by 13 and 16 respectively. Luckily for the Wolverines, those final scores were only 13 and 16 point defeats, as the final scores made both games look considerably closer and more competitive than they actually were. The reality is Michigan was embarrassed in back-to-back games at home in absolute laughers, now giving Michigan a whopping seven double digit losses to the better teams they've went up against. Ignoring Penn State, who comes in at 99th as of Monday's RPI rankings, Michigan has two wins against teams ranked higher, an impressive three point upset over Maryland and a neutral site win over Texas back in November. Outside of that Michigan has little else on the resume besides owning no "bad" losses. And by bad losses I mean they haven't lost to a team like Western Illinois or Wake Forest, though all of their seven losses have been pretty rough.

This week Michigan should be able to get things running a bit better as they travel to Minnesota tomorrow in what is a game they should win. That being said, though, the Gophers have gone back and forth between being laughably bad and somewhat competent, while also playing Michigan tough in Ann Arbor. Michigan really needs a win tomorrow, especially as the weekend's game against Purdue could be another loss when everything is said and done. Michigan doesn't have a major blunder on their resume, but their losses are mounting and if the team gets upset by the Gophers that could possibly create a tailspin, especially with Purdue, Ohio State and Maryland following. The ending to the season isn't much easier, either, with a road trip to Wisconsin and home showdown against Iowa. The Wolverines do have three winnable games (Minnesota, Ohio State and Northwestern) and getting to 20 or 21 wins, which is highly likely, will get them into the tournament.

That being said, the team isn't out of the woods just yet. Considering all of the double digit losses and only a few quality wins, if Michigan hits a setback over the last month of the season they could fall onto the wrong side of the bubble. Or they could pick up a nice upset or two and end up trending up towards a much cozier seeding in the NCAA Tournament. Right now the average projected spot for Michigan is around a #9 seed, but there's still plenty of room for the Wolverines to bounce around. Either way, Michigan needs a win tomorrow and really needs to land another upset to settle things once and for all.

Indiana at a Crossroads

Heading into last week the Hoosiers were pretty similar to Michigan and made themselves look really good by beating down the Wolverines in Ann Arbor. While the Hoosiers had lost to Wake Forest and UNLV early in the year, that was one bad trip out west early and seemed to be out of the way heading into February. Of course the Hoosiers naturally followed up their hot streak with a baffling loss to Penn State, their third bad loss of the season. That makes things interesting because while Indiana has been decisively better since their trip to Maui and are currently 19-5, they've only played two top 50 teams, going 1-1 against Notre Dame and Duke. Past that Notre Dame win the next two biggest wins are Michigan and Wisconsin, meaning Indiana's resume is a touch thin even if the record, conference record and everything else seems good at first glance. A lot of that has to do with a SOS still lagging behind at 134th in the nation, mainly due to a soft start that was partially caused by the early loss to Wake Forest in Maui leading to a weaker draw in the early season tournament.

It makes thing interesting because Indiana has only one game this week, followed by three next week. With their only game this week being a Thursday home game against Iowa, the Hoosiers could drop a second game in a row this week. Then next week the Hoosiers will have two difficult tasks against Michigan State and Purdue, potentially putting them in position to fall to 20-8 heading into their last game of the month at Illinois. Of course if Indiana hits 20 or so wins you'd have to think they're a postseason program, but there March slate is relatively rough with games against Iowa and Maryland to close the season. So while Indiana has been sitting pretty, they do have a bit of a minefield to navigate the rest of the way out, though I imagine they'll find enough wins to get to the postseason without much of a problem. That being said, Indiana fans clamoring for a potential Big Ten regular season title will likely find that hope fade, even though they're currently sitting at 9-2 in conference play.

Per the Bracket Matrix it seems like most projections have Indiana penned anywhere from seventh to ninth, with some outliers trending up (fifth) and a few putting them down as low as 11th. Tom Crean will have a difficult close to the season, but unless the team falls apart down the stretch they should be fine. I do think Indiana will come back down a little bit  during the final stretch, though, with the Hoosiers likely set to find themselves with a 8 or 9 seed in March and set for a very difficult opening weekend this postseason.

Iowa, Maryland or Michigan State?

One of the more entertaining questions is who will emerge as the top Big Ten team, both in the conference race, as well as the highest seed in the NCAA Tournament. Right now that's likely a three team race between Iowa, Maryland and Michigan State, with the Hawkeyes averaging a 1 seed (per Bracket Matrix) while Maryland and Michigan State both are sitting with 3 seeds per their average across a wide variety of Bracketologists.

The Big Ten has gone back and forth this year, with Michigan State going from top dog to also ran and now back to one of the top dogs once again. The Spartans seemed decisively human a month ago, but blowing out Michigan and knocking off Maryland has helped the team quite a bit. Now Michigan has four top 25 wins and if not for a loss to Nebraska and a so-so loss at Wisconsin (both losses by a combined two points), the Spartans would be sitting pretty. The team so far has beaten Maryland, Kansas, Florida, Louisville and Providence, but their two losses to Iowa put them at a disadvantage for both the conference race and trying to reach a top seed. That being said, though, the Spartans have a rough week coming up with a road trip to Purdue and a home showdown with Indiana, followed by a revenge game against Wisconsin next week. If Michigan State wins these three games coming up, following by winnable games against Ohio State (twice), Penn State and Rutgers to close out the season, the Spartans could very well end up towards the top of the Big Ten, but it'll need some help down the stretch, especially from Iowa. As for a top seed? That'd likely require a lot of help and a Big Ten Tournament title, as their last four games are unimpressive so Michigan State will likely be a bit under the radar to close the regular season.

Maryland is also in consideration for a top seed, though the fact that they've only beaten two top 50 teams through 24 games is a bit of a problem. They did, however, knock off Iowa, though losses to North Carolina and Michigan State could prove problematic. The interesting thing for the Terrapins is their soft schedule doesn't really become that much more difficult. While it's hard to say home games against Wisconsin and Michigan are "easy," neither will do much from a national perspective. The reality is the only two games Maryland has remaining to prove themselves for a top seed will be road trips to Purdue and Indiana, with the rest of the schedule being games Maryland cannot afford to lose if they want be the top Big Ten team in 2016. Unfortunately for Maryland, the team lost their only game against Michigan State and while they beat Iowa at home, they only face the Hawkeyes once and won't have another chance for a major win against Iowa.

At 19-4 (10-1), Iowa is both the current frontrunner for the Big Ten and projected as a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. That makes sense with six wins against the top 50 and every loss being winnable games against strong opposition (losing to Maryland, Dayton, Iowa State and Notre Dame, all by six points or less). Iowa's wins are impressive, their RPI/SOS is strong, their record is great and the team doesn't have a single bad loss as of right now. Iowa still has a few tests remaining, mainly two games against Indiana, a home match against Wisconsin and road trip to Michigan, but if they play at the same level these are all winnable games. The only unfortunate aspect is that Iowa will likely need to take care of business in pretty much all of these games if they want to end up with a 1 seed, especially since none of these losses would be impressive all things considered. The end result is Iowa is likely in the best position to win the Big Ten, but they'll need to be on point if they want to keep in line for a top seed in March.