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3/1 Bracketology - Is There Light at the End of the Tunnel?

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The final week of the regular season came too soon. For some teams, it can’t get here fast enough.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Maryland Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The last time we discussed the NCAA tournament, the selection committee made it very clear they believed the Big Ten was a cesspool of parody which held no merit in their seeding. Turns out they were not far off. It seems clear now, with the final week of the Big Ten regular season upon us, that there is not one of the best 16 teams in the country in this conference (resume wise, not talent wise).

The Big Ten just wrapped up a wild stretch that basically summarizes the whole season. On any given night over the past two weeks, no team has been safe from upset. There now appears to be several teams in the Big Ten who are either trying to back into the tournament, or just choke away their chances at making the big dance all together.

The common theme this week comes from the late Al Davis, “Just win baby!”

Here is a look at where the Big Ten teams may be seeded in the NCAA Tournament:

3/01 Bracketology

Going from bottom to top, this is the first time Illinois has been featured as a bubble team. The Illini are quietly working their way back into contention and are now at the point where winning out and stringing together a run in the conference tournament might get them in. Working against them is the outlook of their conference by the selection committee, who confirmed their hatred for the Big Ten and it’s parody when they failed to include any of the conference’s teams in the top 16.

Illinois has won four of their last five games and sits at 17 wins. Their season has not been far off from that of Michigan States. Although the strength of schedule is not even comparable, Illinois actually had more success in the non-conference than Michigan State. Illinois will likely need more than 20 wins, which means winning out and advancing deep into the Big Ten Tournament. They will also likely need one or two Big Ten teams to collapse because the committee is not taking eight teams.

This weeks rankings send the Michigan State Spartans to Dayton for an opening round play in game. They are one of the fringe teams to make the tournament after getting their 18th win and their best win of the season against Wisconsin last week.

Sending the Spartans to Dayton seems too easy to me. The committee says to Tom Izzo: “Listen, Tom, we want to put you in, but you’ve had a rough season. How about we make you play an extra game and that game will make us a bunch of money?”

Give Michigan State’s resume to any other team and they likely do not get in.

In my opinion, it is going to take at least two more wins, giving Michigan State 20 on the season, for the Spartans to make it to the big dance. In the process, the NCAA could do what they did to Michigan last season and place Michigan State a few hours down the road for a play-in game. The Spartans likely would not mind, since the arena will likely be filled with Michigan State fans.

The Northwestern Wildcats are one of those teams trying to back in. They failed to show up until it was a bit too late last Saturday against Indiana. They also picked a bad time to lose to Indiana, since the Hoosiers have bottomed out and have no chance at making the NCAA Tournament.

After popping off six wins in a row, the Wildcats have lost five of their last seven games. Things are not looking much easier moving forward either. Northwestern, despite playing their final two games at home, are playing a Michigan team who is playing their best basketball of the season on Wednesday and possibly the best team in the conference on Saturday, Purdue.

Northwestern needs to win one game, just one. Beating Michigan, Purdue or winning a game in the Big Ten tournament gets them in. If they lose out, it is tough to put in a team that just lost eight of their final 10 games.

The teams from seven and up are all locks in my opinion. Michigan sealed the deal with a home win against Purdue. For weeks, fans talked about how big of a mismatch this was for Michigan. They did not anticipate a 22 point first half from Moritz Wagner.

Michigan is peaking at the right time and is probably a technical foul call against Minnesota away from winning their last six games in a row. If they can close out the season with an undefeated week, their stock only rises. A 1-1 final week and a win or two in the Big Ten Tournament and they should be in good shape.

Maryland, who seemed to be trying to lose out prior to last night’s win over Rutgers, was once considered one of the best teams in this conference. They have since taken some bad losses to Minnesota, Iowa and Penn State. Maryland is young and their bench is not deep.

The Terps also have far more bad losses than they have good wins. But they have got it done all year and they will get in. What was once a team that looked like they could not slide below a six seed is now in danger of just barely making it in.

The Wisconsin Badgers are fading down the stretch. It has gotten to the point where you question how big a resume win beating them is. Yes they are talented, yes they are just picking a bad time to falter, but Wisconsin was once considered a top ten team in the country. They had won all season. It was not pretty, it was not stylish and it was not by a big margin, but they won.

However, losing four of your final five games is no way to close a season and it is tough to rank them ahead of Minnesota since the Golden Gophers have done what Wisconsin was doing earlier this season: Get the job done.

Overall

It looks like you can safely say between six and seven teams will make this year’s NCAA Tournament from the Big Ten. The most exciting part of this final week is the match ups between teams trying not to make one last resume push.

Wisconsin closes the season at Minnesota, a Golden Gophers team who will be looking to get into the 20-plus win category. Purdue will close out against Northwestern. The Wildcats have in no way looked good recently and will need a win against to Purdue to solidify a tournament case. Finally, Maryland’s final game is against Michigan State, who could be looking for their 20th win of the season.

The final week of the season will be nothing short of exciting.