Big Ten Bracketology
Despite Nebraska head football coach Bo Pelini's meltdown after an uninspiring practice and the retirement ceremony for Tom Osborne, we turn our attention briefly to this weekend's Big Ten basketball tournament. It provides Nebraska about it's only chance at postseason play. Despite the strength of Big Ten basketball this year, a number of teams need a strong showing in order to make it to the big dance.
Five schools have a 12-6 or better record in the Big Ten and a sufficiently high RPI such that they would be invited to the NCAA tournament without a single win in the Big Ten tournament. They are: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin.
Out, Barring a Miracle
Nebraska, Northwestern, and Penn State are all 5-13 or worse in the Big Ten. Their only shot at playing in the NCAA tournament would be to win four straight games and claim the tournament championship. Purdue has an overall record of 15-16, despite a decent 8-10 conference record. Three wins this week would pull them to 11-10 in conference and 18-16 overall, but probably still wouldn't pull their RPI high enough to make them a tournament team. Chances are, they'd have to be tournament champs to see make it to the big dance.
On the Bubble
The three schools that remain all probably need to have some success this weekend to make it to the NCAA's. Iowa has the best conference record of the three at 9-9. However they are 0-6 against ranked teams and just 2-8 on the road. Their RPI is a lowly 72, well outside the territory for an at-large bid. At minimum, they probably need to beat both Northwestern and Michigan State to get an invitiation. That still might not be enough. Minnesota (20-11) has an impressively high RPI ranking of 24. Often, the top forty to fifty top RPI teams get in the tournament. But it will be hard for the selection committee to overlook their 8-10 conference record. Three wins this week would lock it up, but that would mean they'd have to beat Illinois, Indiana, and either Michigan or Wisconsin. What happens with two or fewer Big Ten tourney wins would be dicey. Illinois (21-11) finds themselves in a similar spot at 8-10 with an RPI at 40. The game against Minnesota seems like a must-win. And then two more wins against those tournament teams seem necessary.
So there's plenty on the line for conference teams this week. If the top four or five seeds dominate though, it may keep the Big Ten as a five-bid league.