It’s been a wild run for the Big Ten so far this season. The league looked pretty good in the preseason projections, fell flat on its face out of the gates, but has gradually improved since then. We’re now roughly a month into conference play and it’s time to start taking a serious look at the Big Ten’s position for March Madness.
So, let’s break things down.
-Tier 1 - NCAA Locks.
The inclusion here is pretty self-explanatory. All three have stellar resumes, are nationally ranked, and are already starting to cross that critical 20-win mark. Even with serious upheaval or injuries, these teams should make the cut. The only real question now is where they’ll be seeded, which is a subject for another day.
-Tier 2 - Highly Likely.
- Michigan State
Like the three teams in the first category, these two enter mid-February with strong resumes. Northwestern is probably in the best shape after knocking off Illinois and Nebraska over the last few months, but Michigan State isn’t far behind with a 14-9 overall record and a manageable closing slate. TRank currently has both above 80 percent odds of making the NCAA cut and it’s hard to disagree. Even a few more wins and they could bump into the top category.
-Tier 3 - Bubble Teams.
This is where we get the most interesting tier. After going 1-3 over its last four games, Nebraska fell out of the “likely” category to here. The Huskers still have decent odds, but need to take care of some business over the next three weeks against a manageable slate. Nebraska is favored in each of the team’s next four games. However, none of them look like locks, especially considering Michigan and Penn State just pulled off upset wins.
Another key aspect for the Huskers will be the team’s road games. Nebraska has been horrid away from home this season and need to add a win or two down the stretch. Fortunately, Nebraska gets road games against underwhelming Indiana, Ohio State, and Michigan squads.
-Tier 4 - Major Work To Do.
- Ohio State
In most years, I’ve labeled this category “work to do” because there was a realistic possibility these teams could make a serious push for the NCAA Tournament. However, that’s not really the case here. Neither of these teams have a realistic pathway to making the field, so we needed to add “major” to the title. However, we’ve seen crazy things in the past and these two have some possibility of making the field, so they deserve their own tier.
According to TRank, these teams are both below one percent odds of earning a bid. However, those odds are largely contingent on future projections, so that’s probably overstated a tad. These teams certainly need to play better to have a shot, they just don’t deserve to drop to the category below just yet.
Minnesota definitely has the better odds of the two and a decent path moving forward. The key will be how the Gophers play on the road. Minnesota has five road games remaining, with three against teams outside the top 45 on KenPom. Those are difficult games, but certainly not unwinnable if the Gophers play well. Win at least two of them and the team has a chance to make a March push.
-Tier 5 - Nope.
- Penn State
None of these three have any realistic hope of earning an at-large bid. Michigan is currently under .500 overall, Iowa and Rutgers are well under .500 in conference play, and Indiana, Maryland, and Penn State have some rough losses to try to overcome. These teams should be focused on building momentum for the Big Ten Tournament. That’s really their only hope.