There will be a lot on the line this week at the Big Ten Tournament.
For some teams who are locks for the NCAA Tournament, these final games are an opportunity to improve seeding. Others sit square on the bubble. Meanwhile, the bottom-feeders will try to put together miracle runs to earn the Big Ten’s automatic bid.
Here is what each of the Big Ten’s 14 teams is playing for at the United Center.
The Badgers are still in the running for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The January loss to Rutgers and a home loss to Duke, which is also competing for a No. 1 seed, could bite them.
But winning three games this weekend and a Big Ten Tournament title, particularly if they beat Maryland in the title game, would help the Badgers’ case. Losing before the Big Ten championship would almost certainly knock Wisconsin out of the race.
The Terrapins are another group fighting for seeding.
Right now the consensus is that Maryland is a No. 3 seed for the Big Ten Tournament. If the Terrapins take home the trophy in Chicago, I would not be surprised if they move up to a No. 2 seed, as long as a few other things break their way. Those things would include a team like Kansas or Arizona losing in its respective conference tournament.
At this point, it would shocking if Michigan State misses the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans don’t have any marquee wins and have bad losses to Texas Southern and Nebraska, but a good road record and wins against Iowa and Ohio State will be enough.
However, without a marquee win Michigan State could be stuck in a tough spot for seeding. Right now the Spartans are looking at something in the No. 7 to No. 9 seed range.
If the quarterfinals play out as expected, Michigan State will face Maryland in the semifinals with a chance to make a statement.
It’s not often that you see a No. 4 seed in the Big Ten fighting for its life come championship week. The Boilermakers won 12 games in the Big Ten, but non-conference losses to North Florida, Gardner-Webb, Vanderbilt and Kansas State really hurt their résumé. They suffered another bad loss in February to Minnesota.
That would be okay if Purdue had great wins, but it doesn’t. Its best wins away from home are against BYU and Indiana, also bubble teams. Its best overall win is Iowa at home.
That is why getting a top-four seed is crucial for Purdue. Barring a second-round upset, the Boilermakers will not be in danger of another bad loss when they play in the quarterfinals. That’s why they should be hoping Iowa defeats the winner of Wednesday’s game between Nebraska and Penn State.
Not only would beating Iowa be more important than beating Nebraska or Penn State, but losing to Iowa is not the type of result that could knock the Boilermakers out of the field.
Despite getting just a single-bye, Iowa is the safest team in the Big Ten after Wisconsin and Maryland. The Hawkeyes have two bad losses to Northwestern and Minnesota, and they also dropped close games to Syracuse and Purdue.
But what stands out more on Iowa’s résumé is a home win against Maryland, a victory at North Carolina, and a season sweep of Ohio State. Getting upset by Nebraska or Penn State in the second round could knock the Hawkeyes down to a double-digit seed, but even that probably wouldn’t be enough to send them to Dayton.
Meanwhile, if Iowa plays Purdue in the quarterfinals, where the Hawkeyes would likely be favored despite being the lower seed, and wins, that could set up a huge semifinal matchup with Wisconsin. Getting another big-time win away from home could get Iowa a top-five seed.
Ohio State’s situation is similar to Michigan State’s. The Buckeyes are probably in, but it’s close.
They have a huge home win against Maryland, but that’s it. The Buckeyes’ next best wins are against Indiana and Purdue. Their best road win is against Minnesota.
Ohio State will face either Rutgers or Minnesota. If the Buckeyes win that game, they will make the NCAA Tournament, even if it means they are headed to Dayton.
If Ohio State loses there, there will be some sweating on Selection Sunday.
Indiana really needs to beat Northwestern in Thursday’s second round.
The Hoosiers have nice wins against Butler, Maryland and SMU, but also lost to Northwestern in their lone regular season meeting, as well as Eastern Washington. Additionally, Purdue swept Indiana, which could come into play if those teams are competing for one of the final at-large bids.
As long as Indiana beats Northwestern, even if it loses to Maryland in the quarterfinals, Dayton is the worst-case scenario for the Hoosiers.
Illinois’ bubble is close to bursting. The Illini have very good wins against Maryland, Baylor and Michigan State. But they also have bad losses to Nebraska, Minnesota and Michigan.
A 5-10 record away from home isn’t helping Illinois’ case either.
The Illini need to beat Michigan tomorrow to have a fighting chance. If Illinois wins that game and then beat Wisconsin to reach the semifinals, it should make the Big Dance. If the Illini lose that game to the top-seeded Badgers, they will be left rooting for other bubble teams to lose, too.
This is when we get out of bubble/seeding territory. Michigan has to win the Big Ten Tournament to go dancing.
The Wolverines are definitely good enough to go to the CBI, but John Belein said his team would decline a bid to that lesser tournament. However, they would accept an NIT bid.
Right now, Michigan is on the NIT bubble as a No. 7 seed, according to Big Apple Buckets bracketology. The Wolverines are in danger of falling out of that field because is No. 1 seeds in mid-major conference tournaments they earn automatic bids to the NIT.
Also, a loss to Illinois in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament would drop Michigan to 15-16 this season. Although there is no longer a rule that sub-.500 teams are ineligible for the NIT, the tournament has never invited a team with such a record.
So Michigan must beat Illinois to have a fighting chance at postseason play.
Northwestern is in position for a CBI appearance should it choose to accept a bid. Even with a loss to Indiana on Thursday, the Wildcats would be 15-17 with two top-60 victories.
Northwestern’s NIT chances are likely finished after it dropped two of its final three regular season games. Maybe a run to the conference title game could change that
And of course we know the Wildcats would need to win the conference tournament to make the NCAAs.
The defending NIT champions are set up for another NIT appearance barring a miraculous, five-day run that gives them the Big Ten Tournament crown.
Minnesota is a No. 5 seed in Big Apple Buckets NIT Bracketology. An opening round loss to Rutgers would put the Golden Gophers in danger of not even reaching the second-rate tournament, but that defeat would not completely knock them out of contention.
The good news for the Golden Gophers is they have a realistic road to the semifinals.
They open against Rutgers, which hasn’t won in two months. Then they would face a mediocre Ohio State team that they took to overtime in their lone regular season meeting. Then Minnesota would face Michigan State, which they beat on the road two weeks ago, in the quarterfinals.
Crazier things have happened.
Even with a 13-17 record entering the Big Ten Tournament, Nebraska has a chance for a CBI bid. This will be the 8th year of the CBI. Only once has a team with 13 wins played in the event.
That team was Cincinnati in 2008, the tournament’s first year, which entered Selection Sunday with a 13-18 record. Since 2010, no team with fewer than 14 wins played in the tournament.
That’s a sign that Nebraska needs to beat Penn State in the first round to get a bid.
Penn State’s only postseason hope is the CBI, unless the Nittany Lions win five games in five days and earn the Big Ten’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Nittany Lions are guaranteed a .500 record, even if they lose in their first tournament game to Nebraska. They swept Minnesota and have a win over George Washington, but that’s it.
Penn State would accept a CBI bid if one is offered, coach Pat Chambers said last week.
Win the Big Ten Tournament and go dancing, or go home and wait for next fall.