With the Big Ten having a down year it’s been a talking point that the conference may only get four teams into the NCAA Tournament. With Maryland, Minnesota and Northwestern all struggling this season, that narrative seemed even more likely heading towards March. That being said, it looks like two unexpected Big Ten programs are making a late push for a potential bid.
Today we’ll take a look at those two teams.
Key Wins: Michigan
Key Losses: UCF, at St. John’s, at Penn State
at Illinois (18th)
Penn State (25th)
The Case For Nebraska
As of right now the main points for Nebraska being in the tournament deal with simply looking at their record on paper and the conference they play in. The Big Ten may be having a down year, but if Nebraska finishes in the top four of the conference with 13 or 14 wins, possibly having 22-23 total wins, that would seem unlikely to leave them out of the field. Of course that would be mainly because their win quantity and conference affiliation, not because they have a resume worthy of being included.
The Big Ten expanded their conference schedule to 18 games in 2008 and there has never been a season where a team with 12 wins was excluded from the field. Nebraska should reach and surpass that mark by Tuesday.
The Case Against Nebraska
Where are the quality wins?
Nebraska’s best win was a 20 point victory over Michigan and while that was a key win, their second best win came against Maryland at home. Their only other top 100 win was another home game against Boston College, which is currently 82nd in the RPI. That’s not exactly a resume worthy of consideration most years.
It also doesn’t help that the Cornhuskers have losses to UCF, St. John’s and Penn State. All three of those teams have RPIs in the 62-74 range, so they’re not absolutely horrible losses on paper, but they all could cause issues. Losing to St. John’s by 23 was easily the low point of the season for Nebraska and it’s only looking a touch better on paper because St. John’s RPI has seen a nice boost after upsets over Duke and Villanova. As for that Penn State loss, well that could prove tricky if both teams are vying for one of the last tournament spots.
Nebraska’s overall SOS is barely in the top 100, their non-conference SOS is 255th in the nation and even if they take care of business down the stretch they’ll likely have only one top 50 victory.
Those closes losses to Kansas (72-73) and Ohio State (59-64) could come back to bite Nebraska next month.
What Nebraska Needs to Do
First they need to win out over the next three games. Both Illinois and Indiana would be bad losses that the Cornhuskers can’t afford. Even losing to Penn State in the season finale could be a deathblow, especially if Penn State improves their resume (and if they don’t, well then it’d be another problematic loss for the Huskers). If Nebraska wins the next three games they’ll be 23-8 and 14-4 in the conference. It’ll be a weird sight to see the committee exclude a Big Ten team with that record.
Even if they hit that mark, they may need to add another win in the Big Ten Tournament, especially if they don’t draw a marquee opponent. Nebraska has little room for error and needs to add as many wins as they can if they want to sneak their way into the field of 68.
Key Wins: Ohio State (2x), Nebraska
Key Losses: at Maryland, Rider, at Northwestern, at Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota
at Purdue (18th)
at Nebraska (25th)
The Case For Penn State
A few days ago Penn State really didn’t have the resume to be included here. Even now they honestly don’t. What Penn State has is two wins over Ohio State, with their last win being an impressive rout that turned plenty of heads. Outside of those two wins over the Buckeyes there’s a resume not even in the conversation for the bubble, but there is a reason to include Penn State and it deals with their remaining schedule.
Up next for Penn State this weekend? Purdue. Followed by Michigan and Nebraska next week.
Purdue’s offense has been stagnant as of late and considering their resume, knocking off the Boilermakers would kickstart Penn State’s bubble bid and put them right in the mix of things. With the chance to add another marquee win in their home finale against Michigan, the Nittany Lions could go from completely out of the picture and right into the field if they win their next two games. Even more so if they knock off Nebraska in the season finale, which would likely be a key blow for Nebraska’s own NCAA odds.
The Case Against Penn State
The Big Ten is in a down year and 9-6 isn’t exactly a pretty conference mark, especially when your SOS is 110 and your non-conference SOS is a lowly 249th in the nation. Outside of two wins against Ohio State, their best wins have came against Nebraska, Maryland and Montana. Oh, and they’ve lost against four teams out of the top 100 in conference play.
The bad losses are unfortunate, especially when you look and see that Penn State’s largest defeat was by 11 points. The Nittany Lions have lost all but one game by single digits, including to Michigan State by 8, North Carolina State by 7, Maryland by 6 and Rider by 1. Simply winning a few of those close games would have added a quality victory or two, while also taking care of some of their key losses. Instead they have a resume with plenty of black marks.
What Penn State Needs to Do
While Penn State is still on the outside looking in, their schedule gives them an opportunity. All three teams remaining this season would be key wins for the Nittany Lions and if they can continue their four game win streak they will definitely have a strong shot at sneaking into the NCAA Tournament.
However, if they drop Sunday’s game to the Boilermakers, it means Penn State would need to win their next two and likely make a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament if they want to have any legitimate shot at the NCAA Tournament.