Can the Big Ten Realize Its Potential of 10 Teams in the NCAA Tournament?

    The Big Ten has long been a rankings darling this season with nine teams that have been ranked in the AP Top 25 poll, six teams ranked in the top 30 of

    February 3, 2019

    The Big Ten has long been a rankings darling this season with nine teams that have been ranked in the AP Top 25 poll, six teams ranked in the top 30 of the NET as of Sunday, and the conference holding the top spot on kenpom.com as the strongest of college basketball’s 32 conferences.

    On New Year’s Day, it appeared that 10 teams from the Big Ten could reasonably make the NCAA Tournament. Maybe it wasn’t the likely outcome, but it was a reasonable one.

    The conference could still have more than 70 percent of its membership make the NCAA Tournament but the margin for error is smaller today than it was when conference play resumed in early January.

    Wins like Indiana’s slump-breaking, overtime victory at No. 6 Michigan State Saturday night will go a long way as the Hoosiers, as well as some of their Big Ten brethren like Ohio State and Nebraska, try to stay on the right side of the bubble.

    Here’s a quick summary of each Big Ten team’s overall and conference records, how they’ve fared in the last month since Big Ten play resumed and Stadium’s latest NCAA Tournament projections from Monday, January 28.

    School Record Conference Record Record on January 1, 2019 Record Since Stadium’s Latest NCAA Tournament Projection (Jan. 28)
    Michigan State 18-4 9-2 11-2 7-2 No. 1 seed
    Michigan 20-2 9-2 13-0 7-2 No. 1 seed
    Purdue 15-6 8-2 8-5 7-1 No. 4 seed
    Wisconsin 16-6 8-3 10-3 6-3 No. 6 seed
    Maryland 17-6 8-4 10-3 7-3 No. 5 seed
    Minnesota 16-5 6-4 11-2 5-3 No. 8 seed
    Iowa 17-5 6-5 11-2 6-3 No. 7 seed
    Ohio State 14-7 4-6 12-1 2-6 No. 9 seed
    Rutgers 11-10 4-7 7-5 4-5 N/A
    Indiana 13-9 4-7 11-2 2-7 No. 11 seed
    Northwestern 12-9 3-7 9-4 3-5 N/A
    Nebraska 13-9 3-8 11-2 2-7 No. 8 seed
    Illinois 7-15 3-8 4-9 3-6 N/A
    Penn State 7-14 0-10 7-6 0-8 N/A

     

    Ten teams from the Big Ten made Stadium’s last NCAA Tournament bracket projection and that’s the consensus among professional and amateur bracketologists, according to the site bracketmatrix.com.

    [RELATED: Stadium’s Latest NCAA Tournament Projections]

    The recent play of Nebraska, Ohio State and Indiana has resulted in the three schools, each of whom was ranked in the AP Top 25 poll on December 31, 2018, falling out of the AP poll, sinking in the conference standings and trending closer to the bubble.

    Each of these schools has just two wins this calendar year and two of their combined six wins in 2019 came against each other.

    School Record Non-Conference Record Big Ten Record Longest Losing Streak NET Ranking
    Ohio State 14-7 10-1 4-6 5 games No. 35
    Indiana 13-9 9-2 4-7 7 games No. 44
    Nebraska 13-9 10-1 3-8 5 games (active) No. 33

    If the early returns in 2019 from the Buckeyes, Hoosiers and Huskers are reflective of where the schools ultimately finish in the conference standings – in the bottom half of the standings, multiple games below .500 in Big Ten play – then the conference might be looking at a best-case scenario of eight teams in the NCAA Tournament, not 10.

    For the record, that would still be a productive haul for the conference after having only four teams qualify for the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

    Assuming the top seven teams in the conference standings – Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Minnesota and Iowa – keep their heads above water for the next month and a half, the key for the Big Ten getting 10 teams in the NCAA Tournament is Ohio State, Indiana and Nebraska reaching at least the nine-win mark in conference play.

    Last season, Texas and Oklahoma earned at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament despite 8-10 records in Big 12 play, as did Syracuse in the ACC. With the Big Ten’s new 20-game conference schedule, a 9-11 conference record is likely the baseline performance needed prior to the Big Ten Tournament for at-large consideration.

    If we set nine conference wins as the tentative baseline for at-large candidacy, here’s the “magic number,” meaning how many regular season wins some of the middle-of-the-pack Big Ten teams currently projected to make the NCAA Tournament need just to sneak into the field.

    School “Magic Number”
    Minnesota 3
    Iowa 3
    Ohio State 5
    Indiana 5
    Nebraska 6

     

    Nebraska is in the toughest position of the three schools because of its conference record, the season-ending knee injury suffered by the team’s second-leading scorer/rebounder Isaac Copeland, as well as the Huskers’ challenging remaining schedule.

    Finding six wins in their nine remaining regular season games could be a challenge.

    Date Opponent Percent Chance of Victory From KenPom.com
    Feb. 6 Maryland 59%
    Feb. 9 at Purdue 22%
    Feb. 13 Minnesota 75%
    Feb. 16 Northwestern 77%
    Feb. 19 at Penn State 58%
    Feb. 23 Purdue 45%
    Feb. 28 at Michigan 19%
    March 5 at Michigan State 14%
    March 10 Iowa 61%

     

    Indiana has one more conference win than Nebraska and it will play six of its final nine games at home. But the Hoosiers also have their own injury concerns, most notably Juwan Morgan’s shoulder injury he suffered in the first half of the team’s win at Michigan State Saturday.

    Date Opponent Percent Chance of Victory From KenPom.com
    Feb. 7 Iowa 53%
    Feb. 10 Ohio State 57%
    Feb. 16 at Minnesota 44%
    Feb. 19 Purdue 37%
    Feb. 22 at Iowa 29%
    Feb. 26 Wisconsin 40%
    March 2 Michigan State 26%
    March 7 at Illinois 53%
    March 10 Rutgers 79%

     

    Ohio State is still without sophomore forward Kyle Young, who suffered a stress fracture and hasn’t played since January 18 against Maryland, so all three of these teams with fairly thin margins for error have been bitten by the injury bug.

    But the Buckeyes have the best conference record of the three schools we’ve highlighted, which could keep them afloat as they prepare for upcoming road trips to Indiana, Michigan State, Maryland, Purdue and Northwestern.

    Date Opponent Percent Chance of Victory From KenPom.com
    Feb. 7 Penn State 78%
    Feb. 10 at Indiana 43%
    Feb. 14 Illinois 80%
    Feb. 17 at Michigan State 13%
    Feb. 20 Northwestern 75%
    Feb. 23 at Maryland 32%
    Feb. 26 Iowa 59%
    March 2 at Purdue 21%
    March 6 at Northwestern 52%
    March 10 Wisconsin 46%

     

    The key for the Big Ten realizing its potential of sending 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament is Ohio State, Indiana and Nebraska overcoming their respective injury issues to finish two games below .500 in conference play or better. Then it might only take a win or two in the Big Ten Tournament to seal their fate of participating in March Madness.

    As Indiana showed Saturday, there’s no shortage of good wins available in the Big Ten, however unlikely they might appear at tipoff. Few, if any bubble teams, will be able to match Indiana’s road win at Michigan State, combined with a productive non-conference resume that features wins over Louisville and Marquette.

    Successful non-conference resumes, plus the general top-to-bottom strength of the Big Ten in advanced metrics, keeps the conference’s hopes of 10 NCAA Tournament teams alive – for now.

    MORE: Duke Dominates, NC State’s Historically Bad Day and More From Saturday

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