The Big Ten is having a noticeably down year, and along with that comes controversy as to which teams will and won’t make March Madness – which, surprisingly, is just a few short weeks away. With each team playing about seven or eight games more before the Big Ten tournament, things are becoming clearer down the stretch. Here’s where each team lies as March creeps closer.
Wisconsin (20-3, 9-1; RPI: 17, SOS: 92). It wouldn’t be pretty, but the Badgers could feasibly lose their last eight, finish 9-9 in conference and 20-11 overall, and sneak into March as a lowly 10- or 11-seed. We all know that won’t happen, though, as Wisconsin has Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota all to play. They should be favorites in every game up until (maybe) a potential face-off against Purdue in the Big Ten Tourney – otherwise, until March Madness itself. There are still things this team needs to work on, but it would be hard to envision any scenario in which they don’t make the tournament.
Should Be In
Purdue (19-5, 8-3; RPI: 22, SOS: 43). Purdue has struggled not against the best teams in the Big Ten, but some of the more mediocre ones, with losses at Iowa, at Nebraska, and home against Minnesota. Still, they’ve put together an impressive résumé, and are currently 5-3 against RPI Top 50 teams. In addition, they have one of the best talents in the NCAA in center Caleb Swanigan. The Boilermakers’ hardest test will be their regular season closer at Northwestern, but they handled the Wildcats the last time out. It’s been a good year for Matt Painter’s squad, and this is a team that could make waves in the tournament.
Maryland (20-4, 8-3; RPI: 21, SOS: 63). The Terps need to figure out what’s going on, and quick, as the team should be in midseason form. After starting 20-2, Maryland has dropped their last two to Purdue (eh) and Penn State (yikes). Critics complained they were untested, and that complain seems legitimate – the best team Maryland has played all season is Purdue (RPI: 22), and they’ve beaten approximately zero impressive teams – their best wins on the season are at Minnesota, vs. Oklahoma State, and vs. Kansas State. Abysmal losses to Pitt and Nebraska don’t help. The Terps will have a chance to prove themselves in back-to-back games at Northwestern and at Wisconsin, but if those are both losses, don’t expect a high seeding.
Work Left To Do
Northwestern (18-6, 7-4; RPI: 31, SOS: 119). Now, nothing about Northwestern’s résumé is outwardly impressive. An ugly loss to Illinois on Tuesday night certainly doesn’t help. But comparatively, seeing as the Wildcats have never made the tournament, this has been a great season overall for them. Illinois is certainly their worst loss of the season, and they have a lot to figure out in the next seven or so games. But they boast eight RPI Top 100 wins, including Dayton and Wake Forest, both Top 50. Again, nothing is that impressive about a win over Wake Forest (RPI: 28), but the ‘Cats have played well on the road; they’ve also played hard games really close. They still have Wisconsin, Maryland and Purdue on the schedule, so they’ll have opportunities to add some impressive wins. The team could be in jeopardy if it drops all three, but win at least one and it would be surprising not to see Northwestern make their first ever March Madness.
Minnesota (16-7, 4-6; RPI: 23, SOS: 8). The 4-6 conference record is the biggest problem for Minnesota right now. The five-game slide that took up the majority of January is a huge blotch on an otherwise pretty good season, and it featured losses to Ohio State and Penn State. Still, the Golden Gophers have three RPI Top 50 wins, including at Purdue and at Northwestern. They also only have two big challenges left, with games at Maryland and at Wisconsin. If they win out besides those two, they finish conference play 10-8, and will have a good case for making it to March. Minnesota can’t afford more than two – maybe three – in conference losses, but they corrected things against Illinois and have Iowa, Rutgers, Indiana and Michigan coming up – all are winnable games. It’s make it or break it time for the North, but don’t underestimate this gritty team.
On The Bubble
Michigan State (14-10, 6-5; RPI: 47, SOS: 21). It’s hard to argue that Michigan State didn’t have the hardest non-conference schedule of any big team. Sparty took on Arizona, Baylor, Duke, Kentucky, and Wichita State – and promptly went 1-4 in those games. It was a really tough start for a younger Izzo group, but they seemed to redeem themselves in conference – before getting absolutely throttled at Michigan on Tuesday night. Of course, losses to Penn State, Ohio State and Indiana also don’t look awesome. The Spartans have beaten Minnesota (twice) and Northwestern. Much like the rest of the Big Ten, they simply haven’t been able to beat the best teams they’ve played – they just have happened to play more of those teams. If Sparty can take down one or two of the top three in the standings (Wisconsin, Maryland, Purdue), they have a good case for making it to March. Don’t expect them seeded higher than #8, though, and with that loss to Michigan, things are looking increasingly difficult for Izzo and Company.
Indiana (15-9, 5-6; RPI: 74, SOS: 55). The biggest thing working in the Hoosiers favor is that they boast two RPI Top 5 wins against Kansas and North Carolina. It’d be extremely hard to argue against a team that has both of those, except Indiana has lost nearly every other RPI Top 50 game they’ve played, and additionally have losses to Nebraska, Michigan and Fort Wayne (RPI: 148). Outside of a tight win against Michigan State, the best Big Ten win Indiana has thus far is at home against Illinois. Indiana can afford to lose probably two – maybe three – of its last seven games, but if they lose in the first round of the Big Ten tourney, things are looking really questionable. It’s hard to mess up two wins that good, but Tom Crean’s team has battled injuries all season, and unless something changes quick, it’s hard to see them peaking above a #10 seed or so.
Michigan (15-9, 5-6; RPI: 79, SOS: 51). Michigan barely has a case for making the tournament, and essentially needs to win out to have a chance of making it. They’re 1-6 against the RPI Top 50, and that one win isn’t even in conference (SMU, RPI: 25). The Wolverines have dropped games to the dregs of the Big Ten, including Iowa, Illinois and Ohio State. They’ve failed to beat the good teams as well, with losses to Wisconsin and Maryland. Tuesday night was a confidence boost, and it’s clear that the Wolverines do some things very well – Moe Wagner and Derrick Walton Jr. are bright spots, and Duncan Robinson has had his moments as well. Michigan can pick up some good wins if they win out against Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin, but even then, they probably need a good performance in the Big Ten tourney to make it.
No Way In (as of right now)
Iowa (14-10, 6-5; RPI: 94, SOS: 59).
Penn State (13-12, 5-7; RPI: 86, SOS: 26).
Ohio State (14-10, 4-7; RPI: 63, SOS: 28).
Nebraska (10-13, 4-7; RPI: 77, SOS: 1).
Illinois (14-11, 4-8; RPI: 70, SOS: 7).
Rutgers (13-11, 2-9; RPI: 121, SOS: 127).