Big Ten Postseason Watch: 02.08.14 EditionPosted by Jonathan Batuello on February 8th, 2014
Conference play has hit the midway point. The top of the Big Ten is already a two team contest contained to the state of Michigan, but the middle of the conference is as muddled as ever with 10th place a mere game and a half back of fourth. With that in mind we examine where the conference’s teams are at in terms of postseason play. All teams currently have a shot of playing somewhere after the conference tournament concludes and RTC’s Daniel Evans currently lists six Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament (as does ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, who adds Indiana in his first four out). The teams will be put into tiers depending on where they currently stand, and we will give you a look at what’s coming up in terms of importance along with the KenPom rankings and RPI according to ESPN. Feel free to tell us how wrong we are in the comments and through social media or how your team’s fortunes will change in the final five weeks of the season.
Fighting for a No. 1 seed
- Michigan State (KenPom #12, RPI #10): The injuries to Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson have put the Spartans in a bind inside, but it also has let other players develop their games. Payne’s return comes at the perfect time for the team as it makes the final push for a Big Ten championship and a top seed in March. This team can’t afford to lose many more if it hopes to take a top spot, but with everyone back, even a No. 2 or 3 seed would work just fine for a healthy squad that can contend for the national title.
- Michigan (KenPom #14, RPI #15): This team is far from dead after the injury to Mitch McGary. The development of freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. has been instrumental to the Wolverines becoming stronger in conference play. The potential for John Beilein’s team to grab a No. 1 seed could be decided this week with two massive tests at Iowa and at Ohio State. Win both and it looks reasonable; lose either and it will be battling for a top four protected seed.
Playing for a top four protected seed
- Iowa (KenPom #11, RPI #35): The Hawkeyes are realistically out of the Big Ten title race, but Iowa can still come away with a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. This week presents the massive Michigan game that it desperately needs to win or see its projected line continue to drop. True national title contenders win those games at home and then avoid the letdown against a pesky Penn State team. Do both and a top four seed looks good going into the final month of the season.
- Ohio State (KenPom #16, RPI #17): The Big Ten struggles appear to be behind the Buckeyes after a couple of big wins last week. This week doesn’t get any easier, though, with Michigan coming to Columbus for the rivalry game. Win that and Thad Matta’s trademark defense could start to make believers of everyone again.
- Wisconsin (KenPom #17, RPI #11): It didn’t take Wisconsin long to go from undefeated to five losses, but its offense this season may actually be better suited to NCAA Tournament play than the physical and slow Big Ten. This weekend’s huge contest with Michigan State in Madison is huge for the Badgers. Bo Ryan’s team needs to make the suddenly vulnerable Kohl Center a force again to keeps itself in line for a protected seed.
- Minnesota (KenPom #41, RPI #41): Wednesday’s loss to Purdue was certainly bad, but the good news is that Andre Hollins is back for the Golden Gophers. This team will gladly take that after a recent slide in his absence, especially with a bubble match-up at home against Indiana on Saturday. The winner of that one takes the inside track to what could be the sixth and final NCAA bid from the conference.
- Indiana (KenPom #54, RPI #71): This team just seems to stuck in the same spot. The Hoosiers lose a game that hurts their resume and then they win one over a good team to boost it back up. Saturday’s game against Minnesota can’t be overstated, especially with Penn State coming to Bloomington this week as well. The Hoosiers need both wins to go from the bad side of the bubble to the good one.
Going for .500 and NIT
- Purdue (KenPom #102, RPI #103): The ugly win against Minnesota was huge in keeping its NIT chances positive. It may seem silly to think that about a team that sits at 14-9, but look at its remaining schedule: at Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan State, at Nebraska, Michigan, at Iowa, at Wisconsin, Northwestern. It’s likely only going to be favored in that Northwestern game the rest of the way, so the win was vital to staying above .500 for the season.
- Illinois (KenPom #84, RPI #73): Two straight seasons with a fast start in non-conference play, and two straight seasons with a dismal Big Ten campaign. Illinois went from looking like surefire NCAA Tournament team to now needing to find any wins possible. This week presents two winnable but tough tests at Penn State and at Nebraska. The Fighting Illini likely need at least one of them.
- Nebraska (KenPom #80, RPI #72): If the Cornhuskers could learn to win on the road, they’d likely be on the bubble. Their 10-1 home record proves that they have the talent but they need to translate it to other arenas. Sitting at one game above .500, the match-up at Northwestern would be a good place to start figuring it out.
- Penn State (KenPom #83, RPI #94): This team’s dark horse potential has been put back on track with a recent winning streak before losing to Michigan State. Now it has a week with two challenging but winnable games upcoming in Illinois and Indiana. If Penn State somehow takes both, all of a sudden the Nittany Lions could crash the top half of the conference.
- Northwestern (KenPom #110, RPI #87): A month ago Northwestern was left for dead. Now Chris Collins’ team is a game above .500 with a game coming this weekend at home against Nebraska. This one could be telling because it follows a three-game stretch at Michigan State, vs. Minnesota, and at Ohio State. Win at home against the Cornhuskers and that NIT bid becomes much more plausible.