Reviewing the Big Ten’s Bubble Teams Before IndyPosted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on March 12th, 2014
The Big Ten Tournament commences on Thursday and teams are either hoping to improve their seeding, resume, or win it outright. But these conference tournaments are always of most consequence to the bubble teams. It’s their final chance to rack up a quality win or two in order to impress the selection committee and see their name announced on Selection Sunday. Four Big Ten teams are on the bubble to varying degrees: Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, and Illinois. The Cornhuskers and Gophers are squarely on it, while the Hoosiers and Illini are longshots at this point. According to bracketmatrix.com, the consensus view has Nebraska in the tourney as an #11 seed while most have Minnesota in their “first four out.” The table below displays the current profile for all four teams.
Here’s what lies ahead for each of these teams heading into Indianapolis:
Indiana and Illinois. As it turns out, the two longshots face each other in the first round in the #8/#9 match-up on Thursday afternoon. So while one team will be automatically eliminated from bubble talk in its first game, the other will move on to face Michigan on Friday. Beating Michigan will be a tall task, as the outright Big Ten champs have won five straight — the last two of which were against Indiana and Illinois — and at 15-3 have been the hands-down best team in the league. That said, Michigan won a close game against the Hoosiers last Saturday and went to overtime against last-place Purdue a few weeks back, so they are not infallible. The Wolverines are #10 in the RPI and have an SOS of #9, so a win over Michigan here would be a significant boost to either team’s RPI and could advance that team on to the bubble.
Minnesota. In their final game of the season, the Gophers earned a much-needed win against Penn State on its home floor. They will be facing those same Nittany Lions again in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday evening. To keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive, Minnesota will need to, at a minimum, beat Penn State for the third time this season (never an easy task). Pass that test, and they’ll get to meet Wisconsin on Friday. The Badgers were one of the hottest teams in conference play prior to a loss in their final conference game at Nebraska, but it should be noted that Minnesota split the series with them during the regular season. Depending on what other teams around the country do this weekend, another win over Wisconsin may be just enough to put the Gophers on the right side of the bubble. That would be a second win over a team that ranks #6 in the RPI and has an SOS of #2, boosting Minnesota’s already-competitive top 50 RPI rating.
Nebraska. Unless there is a slew of unexpected teams that win their conference tournaments this weekend, it’s difficult to envision the Cornhuskers on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday. Nebraska finished fourth in one of the top basketball leagues in America and has an RPI in the top 50. They will play the winner of Ohio State vs. Purdue on Friday night, and assuming the Buckeyes advance to the quarterfinals, a Nebraska loss would not hurt their resume substantially as Ohio State is #24 in the RPI and has an SOS of #16. If Nebraska managed to beat Ohio State, it would certainly lock them into the field by adding another quality win and getting them to the 20-win threshold.