The Christmas season means a lot of different things to a lot of people. For many, it means time spent with family or at a religious gathering. Others may recall their favorite Christmas movie or worry about what to buy someone for a gift.
For college basketball, it means a break in the action.
While there are some notable games this weekend and teams across the nation will be in action on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, things slow down considerably. For much of this month, many teams are looking at a game or two a week. Quite a slowdown from what they saw in November and will see when we hit March.
This slowdown also provides us with a great opportunity to check in on the league and where things are sitting heading into the restart of conference play. And that’s even more true with regard to team’s postseason hopes. With non-conference play nearing its conclusion, this is a great time to check in on everybody.
As such, let’s take a look at how the Big Ten is stacking up for the postseason.
1. Clear NCAA Tournament teams, barring something shocking.
- Michigan State;
There isn’t a ton to discuss with regard to these teams right now. Michigan is undefeated, Michigan State and Wisconsin are 9-2 with a handful of really impressive wins, and Indiana is 10-2 with five wins against top 50 opponents. The first three are all in the top 12 on KenPom and Indiana is 22nd overall. All are projected to finish with solid Big Ten records.
Indiana may be a bit of a surprising inclusion here, but the Hoosiers have put together a really impressive resume. Even if Indiana goes .500 in its remaining Big Ten games, that’s still going to leave the Hoosiers with 20 wins. That alone would probably get Indiana into the field. And considering how Indiana has been playing lately and how well the team plays at home, even going 9-9 in the team’s remaining Big Ten games would be shocking alone.
2. Likely NCAA Tournament teams.
- Nebraska; and
- Ohio State.
These three teams are in a relatively similar position as the four above, but haven’t quite done enough to bump up. While there isn’t a substantial divide between Indiana and these three, it is enough to give a little pause. Simply put, it wouldn’t take something shocking to keep these three out. Surprising? Yes, but not absolutely shocking.
Let me begin here by noting that Nebraska is tremendously close to moving to the category above. The Huskers are 9-2 overall and have beaten five top 100 teams so far. However, the Clemson win is looking less impressive than it did a few weeks ago and Nebraska still hasn’t beaten a top 35 team on KenPom. The point here is that Nebraska still needs to do a bit more because I feel comfortable bumping them up a notch.
Iowa and Ohio State are in a bit of a different situation. Iowa is only projected to finish 20-11 overall and the Buckeyes haven’t been particularly impressive as of late. These two have shown enough to feel good about them making the NCAAs, but things are about to get far more difficult. There will be quite a few swing games ahead for both teams.
3. Bubble teams.
- Minnesota; and
The Big Ten currently projects to have three bubble teams moving down the stretch. And each has gone through incredibly diverse circumstances to date. Maryland has played an incredibly soft schedule, Minnesota has gone 9-2 despite an underwhelming advanced stats profile, and Purdue has struggled to close out big games.
Without a doubt, the pressure will be on these three going forward. Minnesota probably has the strongest resume of the three so far, but the Gophers are only 57th on KenPom. With a stacked Big Ten, that’s not an encouraging sign. And Maryland and Purdue haven’t compiled the wins they need to get in a great place heading into the restart of conference play. The best win so far between the two was probably Purdue’s win over . . . Maryland.
At this point, I actually feel the most confident in Purdue getting the job done. The Boilermakers are only 7-5, but the team has the win over Maryland and a few sneaky good mid-major wins. And Purdue has been incredible at home over the last few years. If some of the young players improve, Purdue should be able to get enough wins to get in.
4. NIT teams and outside contenders.
- Northwestern; and
- Penn State.
The Big Ten’s two wild cards this year are Northwestern and Penn State. Both have shown some promising signs and both have missed the mark as well. Without something surprising happening in the coming weeks, these two look like NIT contenders. It would take something significant for either to end up in the NCAA Tournament.
For Northwestern, it’s been a mixed bag. The Wildcats are 8-3, but haven’t beaten anyone in the top 75 on KenPom. The Wildcats also couldn’t close against Indiana and Michigan and blew a game against Fresno State last month. None of those losses are bad in a vacuum, but they could be enough to keep Northwestern out of the Tournament at season’s end.
And Penn State has had similar issues. The Nittany Lions had two bad losses in November and lost in the final minutes against Maryland and Indiana earlier this month. Penn State’s advanced profile is still good, but one has to wonder if they’re going to be good enough to close out tight games in Big Ten play. And with those two bad losses, it’s going to have to happen pretty regularly for Penn State to have any shot at the NCAAs or a good NIT seed.
5. The rest.
- Illinois; and
Neither of these teams have a chance of doing anything in the postseason, barring a run in the Big Ten Tournament. The two are a combined 9-12 so far this season.