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NIT Bubble Watch: Which Big Ten Teams Could Land in the 2017 NIT?

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Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and Ohio State are all in the running for a NIT invitation this March.

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Minnesota Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Barring any unforeseen snubbing, the Big Ten can anticipate having at least seven participants in the NCAA Tournament. There are also quite a few Big Ten teams not on the NCAA Tournament bubble that have a shot at getting invited to the NIT, such as Indiana and Ohio State.

Unless Iowa and Illinois’ recent success is convincing enough to the NCAA Tournament committee, the two teams will also receive NIT invitations. They could, however, possibly reenter the mix if they make a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament, though they’d likely have to make it to the Finals to feel comfortable heading into Selection Sunday.

Let’s take a look at the NIT bubble.

Illinois Fighting Illini

If the Illini don’t make a dark horse run in the Big Ten Tournament, they will have the opportunity to compete as one of the top seeds in the NIT. Illinois is as hot as any team in the Big Ten right now, winning four of their last five games to close out the season. Their recent surge led to them entering the bubble picture for the NCAA Tournament, but a loss to Rutgers in the regular season finale was a crucial setback for John Groce’s team.

Malcolm Hill led Illinois to an 18-win campaign by contributing an average of 17.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. The senior guard particularly caught fire during Illinois’ recent hot streak. Hill scored an average of 19.2 points per game in the Illini’s final five games and shot 42.8 percent from the floor.

Hill and company can expect a number one seed in the NIT, assuming they don’t get invited to March Madness.

Illinois plays Michigan in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday.

Iowa Hawkeyes

Similar to Illinois, Iowa began to rack up conference wins during the final two weeks of the regular season.

The Hawkeyes finished the 2016-’17 regular season on a four-game win streak and will play Indiana in the second round of the BTT. If Iowa advances, it will play a Wisconsin team that picked up a moral-boosting victory over Minnesota to conclude the regular season.

Iowa without a doubt closed the regular season with a bang. Its four game win streak included back-to-back road victories over Maryland and Wisconsin.

If the Hawkeyes end up deciding to compete in the NIT, they will have a decent shot at landing either a one or two seed.

Indiana Hoosiers

Though the Hoosiers were ranked third in the AP Top 25 on November 21, the 2016-’17 season quickly collapsed for Tom Crean’s team.

It’s nothing short of devastating that Indiana finished 17-14 overall, after receiving two votes to be ranked first in the NCAA early in the season. The Hoosiers have been out of the NCAA Tournament discussion for a while now.

After a 96-90 road loss to Iowa in February, Indiana’s chances at even earning a bid to the NIT were in jeopardy. The loss left the Hoosiers barely hovering above .500, at 15-13 overall.

Nevertheless, Indiana won two of its final three games of the regular season. The “warm” streak keeps the Hoosiers in the thick of the NIT discussion. The two victories were actually very impressive as well. The first was a 63-62 win over Northwestern at Assembly Hall, followed by a 96-92 win at Ohio State. Indiana finally showed some life after losing seven of eight conference games.

Since the Hoosiers struggles increased as the season went on, don’t expect Indiana to get a top seed in the NIT. Indiana will most likely receive either a four or five seed in the NIT if they earn an invite. There’s always the possibility Indiana could be left out, though, if they drop their first game in the Big Ten Tournament.

Ohio State Buckeyes

The Buckeyes finished the regular season with an identical record to Indiana, 17-14 (7-11).

Ohio State actually looked like an above average team recently for a change when it dominated a struggling Wisconsin team at home 83-73. Since the convincing win over the Badgers, the Buckeyes squeaked by Penn State 71-70 and closed with a loss to Indiana by four points.

Though it didn’t translate into many key wins, Jae’Sean Tate had an extremely impressive season for Ohio State. The junior guard averaged 14.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Tate collected five double-doubles in the 2016-’17 season and only scored below 10 points in three games.

Other than not having as high of expectations this season, the Buckeyes practically have an identical resume to the Hoosiers (well, after the first few weeks anyway). Since Indiana holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Ohio State, the Buckeyes could be at a disadvantage and there is a real possibility they could miss the NIT altogether. Matta’s squad will likely need to win a game or two in Washington, D.C. to make a legitimate case for a postseason bid.