Simply put, this year’s Big Ten season has been insane. From top to bottom, the entire season has been filled with unpredictable results and inconsistent play. It’s left things in a unique position heading into the last week of the regular season.
And to help breakdown what to expect, the BTPowerhouse staff got together to have a roundtable discussion. They answered some of the biggest questions remaining on the conference race, NCAA Tournament seeding, and the league’s Final Four chances.
Here’s that discussion.
2/27 BTP Roundtable Discussion:
1. The last few weeks have been wild, to say the least, and it’s left things incredibly tight in the Big Ten title race in the final week of the regular season. So, who ends up grabbing the title this season?
Thomas Beindit: Well, let’s start with the obvious. Purdue comes into this week with a one-game lead over Wisconsin and a two-game lead over Maryland, Michigan State, and Minnesota. Everybody else has already been eliminated from the title race. Considering that there’s only one week of the regular season left, we need to view this as Purdue’s title to lose.
The interesting thing about this race is that all five of those teams have a tricky slate of games this week. To start, Maryland and Michigan State matchup on Saturday and Wisconsin and Minnesota play one another in Madison on Sunday. And Maryland, Michigan State, and Purdue also all get road games outside of those matchups as well. In other words, there’s still quite a bit of potential for some craziness in the final weeks.
However, with that said, I still have to go with Purdue here. The Boilermakers get Indiana at home on Tuesday and a road game against a struggling Northwestern on Saturday. Purdue hasn’t been good on the road this season, but it’s hard to see the Boilermakers losing both of those games. And with one win, Purdue clinches at least a share of the title and eliminates Maryland, Michigan State, and Minnesota from the title race.
Ryan Blevins: The craziest part about the Big Ten title race is the importance of the final games for all of the contenders. Purdue, Wisconsin and Maryland all play games against teams who will be trying to win their final game and get to that 20 win mark to make an NCAA tournament case. I don’t trust any of those teams to go 2-0, and since Purdue already has a one game advantage, I’ll take the Boilermakers.
Bryan Steedman: It basically has to be Purdue. Heading into the last week and the Boilermakers are 12-4 and own the tiebreaker over Wisconsin (11-5), Maryland (10-6) and Michigan State (10-6). Also, they only need to win once this week to guarantee they’ll win the conference so unless Purdue finishes the season on a three game losing streak (unlikely) they should wrap this up this week.
Harrison Rahajason: That’s a tough one. Based on Purdue, Wisconsin and Maryland’s schedules, it could go to any of them. Purdue finishes off with Indiana and Northwestern. They should be favored to win both, but who knows. These have been some crazy weeks. I’m going to go with Purdue to hang on, though.
Jon Richardson: Maryland is in the middle of a rough stretch and has the most ground to make up. Wisconsin has done everything they can to blow what looked like an easy lock. With the current lead, Purdue comes away with the title. Their roster is simply too good from top to bottom.
Robert Bondy: This seems like a no-brainer right now. Purdue is the team to beat in this league and I don’t see anyone taking it from them. Purdue holds a 1-game lead with two games to go and Wisconsin and Maryland have both stunk down the stretch. Mix Wisconsin and Maryland’s terrible finishes with Purdue’s winnable games this week — vs. Indiana and at Northwestern — and you have your answer. Give it to Purdue. At least a share if not the outright championship.
Nate Head: A tie between Purdue and Wisconsin. The Badgers are reeling right now, as I haven’t seen the potent swing offense this out of sync in the last four or five seasons. But, I think the senior leadership will help get the train back on its tracks to win out against Iowa and Minnesota. Meanwhile, Purdue will falter in at least one of its remaining games against Indiana and Northwestern and open the door for Greg Gard’s team to steal a share of the championship.
Connor Sindberg: I think Purdue and Wisconsin will both win out. With Purdue owning the head to head victory, Purdue will be the Big Ten champion. I do think Purdue at Northwestern will be a difficult task. Especially because it could be the sealer for Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament bid.
Eddie Herz: Since Wisconsin can’t even buy a win right now, it has to be Purdue. Even if Wisconsin somehow gets back on track and wins out, Purdue will still take the regular season title. The Boilermakers are up one game on the Badgers with only two games left. Though no team can be trusted, Purdue should be able to beat Indiana at home and Northwestern on the road.
Mike Randle: Feel strongly it is Purdue. They will not stumble at home against rival Indiana, and their inside game travels well on the road. Northwestern will fight hard in that Big Ten finale, but the Wildcats will not have an answer for Swanigan. Once they collapse, the Boilermakers three-point shooting will bring them the Big Ten crown in Evanston.
Bryce Bennett: I think Purdue is going to pound IU on Tuesday to clinch at least a share. I think this will end up being enough for an outright title because I don’t feel confident in Wisconsin’s ability to even homes games anymore. The Badgers have to play two of the hottest teams in the conference right now in Iowa and Minnesota to finish the season. I expect them to drop at least one more.
2. At this point, everybody wants to know how many teams will make it. So, how many Big Ten teams make the NCAA Tournament?
Beindit: Maybe this is predictable, but I’m going with seven teams right now. At this point, Maryland, Minnesota, Purdue, and Wisconsin are all sure-fire locks. Even if they lose out, they’re going to make the NCAA Tournament. Additionally, Michigan and Northwestern are in nice shape to make it as well. It would take some weird things to keep those two out. And Michigan State’s win over Wisconsin will also likely be enough to get the Spartans into the field. Perhaps Illinois or Ohio State can make some sort of push in the next two weeks, but personally, I don’t see either of those teams making the field on Selection Sunday.
Pazzalia: Seven. All the usual suspects from this year, minus Indiana. Too little too late from the Hoosiers. With that said, I’d love to see a wild-card team come out of nowhere and win the Big Ten Tournament. IE: Illinois, Iowa….Rutgers? Just kidding.
Blevins: All season I have had the responsibility of writing our NCAA Tournament bracketology post. The numbers have fluctuated all season but the notion has been the same all season, somebody has to play in this thing. There are four locks in my opinion right now, Wisconsin, Purdue, Maryland and Michigan. Despite trying to choke things away I think Northwestern gets in with just one more win. That means beat either Michigan or Purdue (easier said than done) or just win one game in the Big Ten tournament. If they can’t do that they won’t be in. Minnesota will likely get in, leaving Michigan State, who will need to get to 20 or 21 wins to make it. I’m saying six but seven is the most possible.
Steedman: As of right now it looks like seven. You have the obvious teams (Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan State) and then you have two teams that, as of now, are in (Michigan and Northwestern). Michigan, especially after knocking off Purdue, should be in. Then again, losing to Northwestern and Nebraska and a bad showing in the conference tourney could derail that. Not that that will happen, though. As for Northwestern, I think they should be in because I think they’ll find a way to pick up a win down the stretch. But if that Indiana game is any indication, their final stretch should be entertaining to say the least.
Harrison Rahajason: 7?? Let’s say that, in the current standings, everyone from Purdue to Michigan makes it. Their resumes are all very worthy of bids. Northwestern’s a lock, and if Michigan beats the Wildcats on the road, they’ll be even lock-ier than they already are. So, yeah. Let’s say 7.
Richardson: 7 make it in. Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Minnesota and Northwestern are locks. Michigan’s win over Purdue took them out of the bubble. Michigan State is the only team on the fringe, but being a marquee team gives them the benefit of the doubt. With their recent play, I say they get in.
Robert Bondy: After this weekend I like 7 from the Big Ten. Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland and Minnesota are locks to get in. The seeding is all that matters for those four teams. Then I think Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern are all comfortably in as of now. I think all three of those teams could benefit from at least one more win next week or in the Big Ten Tournament, but of all those teams Northwestern needs it the most. Michigan State could also use another win but their tough non-conference schedule helps them out quite a bit. And Michigan looks solid after picking up wins over Wisconsin and Purdue over the past few weeks.
Head: Lucky number...six. I think Purdue, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maryland and Michigan should start getting fitted for dancing shoes. That leaves Michigan State and Northwestern on the cusp for the sixth spot, to which I give the Spartans a slight edge.
Sindberg: I think 7 sneak in, which is hard to believe considering how weak the conference is this year. Purdue, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maryland are locks. Michigan, Michigan St and Northwestern with some work left to do. I’m starting to worry about Northwestern. About two weeks ago it seemed like Northwestern was a lock, but they aren't doing themselves any favors after recent losses to Illinois and Indiana.
Eddie Herz: I find it pretty unbelievable that so many Big Ten teams are at least on the bubble with how bad the conference has been this season. Nevertheless, 7 teams will crack the field of 68. Purdue, Wisconsin, and Maryland are 110 percent in right now and have been for a few weeks.
Minnesota has recently become just as much of a lock as the three previously mentioned teams. The Golden Gophers actually have the highest RPI (16) in the conference and have won seven straight. They could sneak in with a better seed than Wisconsin if they stay hot.
Michigan, Michigan State, and Northwestern all have top 50 RPIs and decent enough resumes to make the tournament with anything from a seven to a 10 seed.
Mike Randle: They are a lock for seven teams. They only chance of an eighth is Indiana, but they would have to win at Purdue and at Ohio State to even have a chance. Ohio State still lingers, but just doesn’t have the resume. Illinois snuck into this week’s “Next Four Out” on Fox Bracketology, but that will not happen.
Bryce Bennett: I think seven make it to the tournament. The only teams with work to do remain Michigan State and Northwestern. If both of those teams win at least one this week and one in the Big Ten Tournament, they are a lock. An interesting team to watch for an eighth spot is Illinois. The Illini could end up 19-12 and 9-9 in the conference with a Top 50 RPI and a solid SOS number. Given how weak the bubble is this year, how is that not a tournament team?
3. Michigan, Michigan State, and Northwestern. Rank them on how comfortable you think they are for NCAA Tournament bids.
Beindit: Right now, I would go Michigan, Northwestern, and then Michigan State. I think the wins over Purdue and Wisconsin have elevated the Wolverines past the Wildcats. And fair or not, recent play is valued by the Committee. As far as Michigan State goes, that loss to Northeastern is going to weigh the Spartans down in comparison to the other two teams here.
Blevins: I said it above, I think Michigan is a lock, more so than Northwestern or Minnesota. They are peaking at the right time and people covet what they have seen more recently. Next I would rank Northwestern, who currently has 20 wins but looks like they are on the fast track to back into the tournament. They need to win one game, just one, but they play Michigan and Purdue, not easy. Lastly, Michigan State got a resume win against Wisconsin, who also looks to be backing into the tournament. They also have 18 wins and their best win is against a team who is in decline.
Steedman: Michigan State, Michigan, Northwestern (in that order). Michigan State is getting hot at the right time (now 10-6 in the conference) and had a strong non-conference SOS and resume (Northeastern loss aside). Knocking off Wisconsin should be enough to get Izzo’s program into the big dance.
As for the other school in Michigan, the Wolverines need a win over the next three games and they should be fine in my opinion. It’s not that they need a win, it’s more that losing to Northwestern, Nebraska and a mid-level Big Ten team in the conference tournament would look really bad. As for Northwestern, they’re collapsing hard right now and really need a win. With games against Michigan and Purdue, that won’t come easily, and would likely force them to win a tournament game to feel better about Selection Sunday. I think they’ll find a way in, but if any of these teams miss the NCAA Tournament it’s going to be the Wildcats. Luckily for Northwestern fans they found a way to snag that win at Wisconsin this month.
Rahajason: Northwestern, Michigan State, Michigan. NW is a 10/10, lock. MSU is a 8.5. Michigan is an 8. They’ll all make it.
Richardson: Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State. All three should pick up at least one win in the Big Ten tourney, and all three will make the NCAA Tournament.
Bondy: Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern. I think all three are in good shape but all could use at least one more win to truly lock up spots. Northwestern has been falling lately and if they lose both games this next week and lose their first game in the BTT then they’ll be sweating it out on Selection Sunday.
Head: Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern--in that order. I see the two Michigan teams finishing the regular season with a sense of momentum that will help them pick up at least one win in the Big Ten tournament, respectively. As for the Wildcats, I predict a slippery end of the season that may leave them on the outside looking in.
Herz: Michigan, Northwestern, Michigan State. I’d be surprised if any of them don’t make it but they each could definitely use another win or two before the Big Ten Tournament.
For a while, Northwestern was on top here but since they’ve lost two straight to Illinois and Indiana, Michigan jumped them. Michigan has looked great lately and they just handled Purdue at home. With 10 losses early in February, Michigan State was on the outside looking in. But they have won four out of five since and should sneak into the tournament because the selection committee will continue to give the benefit of the doubt to power five schools.
Randle: Michigan State, Michigan, Northwestern. Michigan State’s win against Wisconsin puts them in great shape. They played a killer schedule early and didn’t have Miles Bridges for seven games. The committee always takes that into account. Michigan beat Purdue and Wisconsin this month, they look great for a bid. Northwestern gives me the most concern, but I still feel very strongly about their March resume.
Bennett: Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern. I think Michigan is a lock after a great February. Michigan State and Northwestern probably need one more regular season win and a BTT win. Of those two, Northwestern has the toughest remaining schedule (vs. Michigan and vs. Purdue).
4. The Big Ten is having a down year, but is there any chance the conference surprises this postseason? Can anyone make the Final Four?
Beindit: Well, let’s get something out of the way before we dive into this question: No Big Ten team is going to be a popular Final Four pick this year. Regardless of whether you think that’s fair or not, it’s just the truth. When the NCAA Tournament begins, the general perception is going to be that the Big Ten will be eliminated from the field before the final weekend. So, in reality, this question is more about who can beat the odds and make the Final Four.
The clear favorite here is Purdue. The league has other quality teams, but no other Big Ten team has the combination of athleticism, experience, and talent that Purdue currently possesses.
However, my sleeper is Michigan. Not only because Michigan is red hot right now, but because the Wolverines have the best unit in the conference. Michigan’s offense is unbelievably efficient and will be a massive matchup problem for any opponent. Upsets are usually caused by bad matchups and outside of Purdue, nobody poses more matchup issues in the Big Ten than Michigan.
Blevins: Purdue is the easy pick to go the furthest, but they are also the most inconsistent. As much as they are a Final Four candidate, they are one bad Caleb Swanigan performance and an Isaac Haas high foul game away from being upset. If the stage is not too big, Maryland is a dark horse to go deep, despite their short bench. Their young players are going to be good for a long time.
Pazzalia: I don’t know if I have my Big Ten blinders on, but I love the Gophers team this year. Mason and Coffey can get buckets on command, plus a slew of shooters, bangers, and role players. Plus, they have a Pitino coaching, that name always has success when they get into tournaments. Also, the Boilers seem like they have the proper recipe.
Steedman: I don’t see anyone from the conference getting to the Final Four, but that’s mainly because I’m a pessimistic Purdue fan. Sure, Wisconsin has the talent that they could get there if things go their way, but I don’t see the Badgers being strong enough to call for them to get that far.
Purdue, when playing to their potential, is definitely a Final Four capable team. But the Purdue team that showed up on the road against Nebraska and Iowa, or the Purdue team this past week (Penn State, Michigan) is a team that could get sent home before the end of the first weekend. And with Purdue currently trending as a 4 or 5 seed, they could land a 1 seed in the Sweet 16. Of course they could likely knock off a good number of the 1 seeds in the field, but a poor shooting night from their backcourt could cost them a game at any round this March.
Rahajason: Sure! Yeah, Purdue. They’re just flat out good. But if I’m going to pick dark horses, Minnesota and Northwestern. They’ve been having surprising seasons, and why wouldn’t they continue to surprise??
Richardson: Michigan State has seemed to finally have found their footing and Izzo generally has his teams prepared for the big dance. While I don’t see a Final Four, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Spartans have a run similar to their impressive 2015 performance.
Bondy: Purdue is the easy choice but if Swanigan struggles in a game then they could easily get upset early on … just like last year. A surprise team to watch out for is Minnesota. They have solid inside and outside play between their bigs and guards. Jordan Murphy is playing great lately and you know Nate Mason is going to get his. I don’t see them as a Final Four team but certainly a team that could sneak their way into the Sweet 16.
Head: Wisconsin. The Badgers are postseason warriors, led by senior starters Bronson Koening, Nigel Hayes and Zak Showalter. When the Big Dance begins, throw this abysmal finish to the season out of the window. These guys are special when it comes to tournament play and simply have a knack for pulling out gritty tournament wins.
Sindberg: Purdue has the talent and size to make a run. It really depends on the regional draw/matchups for them. Wisconsin hasn’t played well against the elite competition they’ve faced this season. The Badgers gotten handled by North Carolina, Creighton (when healthy) and Purdue. The Badgers don’t have the shooting and consistency to make it past the Sweet 16. But with Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig who’ve played in two Final Fours, they’ll still be a tough out. Michigan State and Michigan are my sleepers pull off upsets and make it to the second weekend, but no further than that.
Herz: Since the Big Ten tends to disappoint in March even when the conference is having a great year, I’m going to go with no. A Big Ten team won’t make the final four but there could be a couple teams from the Big Ten that make the sweet 16.
Personally, I think Wisconsin will get bounced in either the round of 64 or 32. While I could easily see Purdue and Maryland easily making the Sweet 16, the team I’m most confident in right now is Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are rolling right now and if they’re able to win in Wisconsin to close out the regular season, they’re also my dark horse to win the Big Ten Tournament. Minnesota will last the longest in March. Then again, who knows, maybe Tom Izzo will work his March magic again…
Randle: Purdue is the Rodney Dangerfield of this tournament, no respect. They have a National Player of the Year contender in Swanigan, great three point shooting, and depth off the bench. Teams with strong inside games tend to avoid early round NCAA tournament upsets which is why last year’s Boilermakers meltdown to Arkansas-Little Rock will so shocking. They have what many top teams (Kansas, Villanova) do not have. They have a legit shot at making Phoenix.
Bennett: I don’t think anyone from the conference can reach the Final Four, but I do think there could be some surprises. There could be a situation in which many Big Ten teams pull off second round upsets to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. A team I am very intrigued about in March is the Golden Gophers. They have a lot of the things you check off for a potential run in March: guard play, shooting (three players are around 40% from three), rebounding and great rim protection.