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Updating The Big Ten’s Bracket Hopes

How many teams can the Big Ten land in the Big Dance?

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

A few weeks ago, I posted a breakdown on where the Big Ten sat for the postseason. Now, with more games in the rear-view mirror, it seemed like a good time to reassess where the league stands for the postseason.

So, let’s break things down.

-Tier 1 - NCAA Locks.

Nothing’s changed here since last time and it doesn’t need much explanation. All five of these teams are presently ranked in the top 25 and well on pace to having great seeds in March. It would take monumental collapses for any of these teams to even end up on the bubble on Selection Sunday, to the extent that’s even still possible.

-Tier 2 - Highly Likely

  • Indiana
  • Iowa

There hasn’t been a ton of movement for these two since my last list either. Both teams went 1-2 since I wrote my last article, with each losing at least one tough game. Indiana blew an opportunity against Northwestern on Tuesday while Iowa fell to Penn State on Monday night. The losses prevented these two from moving up a tier. Still, both rank in the top 25 in the NET and are well on pace to making to the Tourney.

-Tier 3 - Bubble Teams

  • Michigan
  • Rutgers

This is the first tier where we had some genuine movement. Michigan remains squarely on the bubble, but Rutgers helped itself immensely since my last piece, knocking off Michigan State on Saturday and Ohio State on Wednesday night. The two wins pushed the Scarlet Knights to 14-9 overall and 8-5 in Big Ten play. Michigan also did some good, grabbing wins against Nebraska at home and Penn State on the road this month.

With that said, neither of these teams are in great position right now. They have viable paths in front of them, but it’s going to take some good bounces. Michigan looks to be better positioned right now, sitting about 40 spots higher than Rutgers in the NET. However, both remain outside the top 50, which isn’t exactly a great sign.

For Michigan, here’s what it has left, with KenPom odds noted:

  • 2/10 - Purdue (32%)
  • 2/12 - Ohio State (53%)
  • 2/17 - at Iowa (29%)
  • 2/20 - at Wisconsin (33%)
  • 2/23 - Rutgers (73%)
  • 2/27 - Illinois (44%)
  • 3/1 - Michigan State (56%)
  • 3/3 - Iowa (52%)
  • 3/6 - at Ohio State (30%)

Nine games in 24 days is an overwhelming sight, especially when you consider eight (!!!) of Michigan’s opponents rank 26th or better on KenPom. However, there are also plenty of opportunities, especially if Michigan plays well at home. The Wolverines get six home games, including two against teams (Iowa and Rutgers) that have been vulnerable on the road. If you win even four of those six home games, you’ll enter Indy with a shot at the NCAAs. And if you happen to steal a game on the road, even better.

Rutgers also still has a shot. Here’s what remains for the Scarlet Knights, with KenPom odds noted:

  • 2/12 - at Wisconsin (23%)
  • 2/16 - Illinois (32%)
  • 2/20 - at Purdue (9%)
  • 2/23 - at Michigan (27%)
  • 2/26 - Wisconsin (44%)
  • 3/2 - at Indiana (25%)
  • 3/6 - Penn State (62%)

That’s not an easy slate, but it’s also not impossible either. Rutgers gets three home games (where it’s played exceptionally well in conference play) and two road games (Michigan and Indiana) that don’t look too overwhelming. Sweep those five games and you’re looking at 19-11 heading into the Big Ten Tournament, which would probably be enough to get in.

Michigan and Rutgers have viable paths to the postseason. In fact, either could move above “First Four” territory if they get hot and knock off some teams at home. However, it’s going to take some great play down the stretch to get there. This is very much wait and see.

-Tier 4 - Work To Do.

  • Northwestern
  • Penn State

It feels weird seriously discussing the NCAA hopes of two teams right around .500 (or worse) on February 10th. However, these two have done enough in recent weeks to keep their faint hopes alive, at least for a few more days. Let’s be clear, these teams would need borderline miracles to make it past the finish line. Yet, they’re included here because the possibility is just viable enough to warrant inclusion.

The more likely to make it is Northwestern. The team presently ranks 66th in the NET and has plenty of upward mobility with games against teams like Illinois and Purdue awaiting. Northwestern would likely need to go 5-3 or better down the stretch to have a chance, which is a tall (though not impossible) task.

Penn State’s odds are even slimmer, but the win over Iowa on Monday kept some hope alive. The Nittany Lions would need a near perfect finish to the regular season and likely a win or two in the Big Ten Tournament to get there. The good news is the team only has one really challenging road game (at Illinois) left on the slate, at least according to the projections. However, any loss moving forward would be decisive.

-Tier 5 - Nope.

  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska

It’s disappointing to see Maryland and Minnesota join the Huskers here with a month of the season remaining. However, it’s just reality. The Terps went 0-3 since my last article and the Gophers were an even worse 0-5, including a loss to Nebraska on Wednesday.