Saturday was a rough day for bubble teams everywhere and that included the two Big Ten teams fighting for their NCAA Tournament life. Despite shooting 47% from the field, Ohio State never really stood a chance to take down Michigan State in East Lansing. Michigan had a much better chance to take down an Iowa team that had been struggling for weeks, but the Wolverines had their least efficient game offensively this year and missed out on a golden opportunity to punch their ticket to The Dance.
In our resident Bracketology, Michigan currently sits as one of the first four out of the field. Ohio State is in the second four out. Over at Bracket Matrix, Michigan is in the same first four out slot - they're included in 50 of the 84 brackets compiled - while Ohio State doesn't receive any mention.
The weekend's events put the Wolverines in the Big Ten Tournament as the 8 seed where they'll face off against the Northwestern Wildcats, who has won their last three games. A loss there might be a death blow for Michigan. The Wildcats current RPI sits at 108, which would be the Wolverines' first "bad loss" of the season. It would also mean that Michigan had lost five of their last six heading into Selection Sunday, which I would assume sticks out like a sore thumb to the committee.
If they advance, Michigan will have the pleasure of taking on top-seeded Indiana. A win there would seem to make the Wolverines a lock to make the field. That will be a bear of a game to win, though. No one is playing better right now than the Hoosiers and in the only meeting between the two, Indiana ran the Wolverines out of their own building.
Ohio State will be the 7 seed next weekend. They'll open against the 10 seed, Penn State. That's obviously a must-win for the Buckeyes. Ohio State had no problem taking down the Nittany Lions in their only match-up this year, winning the game 66-46 at home. That doesn't mean the young Buckeyes can overlook Penn State, however. While it's not entirely the same group, Pat Chambers' squad won two games in the BTT last year as the 13 seed, including one over fifth-seeded Iowa.
Assuming they take care of the Nittany Lions, Ohio State will take on the Michigan State Spartans for the third time in their past five games. There's absolutely no way around it: the Buckeyes have to win that game. It's a daunting task to beat a team that's recently blown them out twice and is a program that always seems to be at its best during this particular time of year. But crazier things have happened. As great of a win as that would be, the Buckeyes work may not be done there. They may need to make an appearance in the BTT championship game to truly feel safe.
As is the case every March, teams on the bubble will need to actively root against other teams on the bubble. During conference championship week, that bandwagon fandom extends to teams that are already locked in to the NCAA Tournament given their resumes. It's important for those teams to keep the automatic bids away from lesser teams that wouldn't have a chance to make the bracket unless they win their conference tournament.
A good example is what just happened during the Missouri Valley tournament this weekend. Wichita State is still on the bubble, but they were the only team from the MVC that had a chance at being an at-large qualifier. They lost in the semifinals and allowed Northern Iowa to steal a bid from a bubble team. Michigan and Ohio State's chances of making the field will be better off if teams like Saint Mary's, Valparaiso, San Diego State, Monmouth, and Arkansas Little-Rock win their respective conference tournaments.
While this weekend didn't provide great results for Buckeye and Wolverine fans, the good news is that this week allows both teams to control their own destinies.