Big Ten Bracketology Breakdown: January 22 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on January 23rd, 2015

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi released his latest Bracketology update on Thursday, tabbing six Big Ten teams in his projected field of 68. Lunardi had projected the Big Ten to snag eight spots back in November – but it’s no secret that the conference has underperformed against fairly lofty preseason expectations. Lunardi is usually spot-on with his predictions, nailing 67 of the 68 teams last season and correctly naming all 68 in 2013. Let’s take a deeper look at each of his relevant projections.

Wisconsin – No. 2 (East)

The Badgers have been pegged as a No. 2 seed for Lunardi’s last three editions of Bracketology, but they occupied the No. 1 seed in the East as late as January 5. That drop can be 100 percent attributed to the Badgers’ ugly loss to Rutgers, even without star Frank Kaminsky. While Kaminsky is now back in the lineup, point guard Traevon Jackson will be out for much of the remainder of the regular season. But in their first two games without him, Bronson Koenig has admirably filled in and alleviated some of Wisconsin’s worries at the point guard position with solid performances in easy wins over Nebraska and Iowa. The Badgers will face only four more teams ranked in KenPom’s top 50 in their last 12 games, so it appears that they’re essentially a lock for a No. 2 seed or better.

The Badgers struggled in their one game without Frank Kaminsky, but they've been dominant so far in the Big Ten. (Getty)

The Badgers struggled in their one game without Frank Kaminsky, but they’ve been dominant so far in the Big Ten. (Getty)

Maryland – No. 2 (South)

The Terrapins have been excellent in their first year in the Big Ten despite a blowout loss at Indiana on Thursday night. Lunardi had Maryland pegged as the No. 3 seed in the Midwest just over a week ago, but a dominant win over Michigan State in College Park earned them a bump up the ladder. While Lunardi didn’t tab the Terps as an NCAA Tournament team back in November, multiple players have stepped up for Mark Turgeon’s squad – Dez Wells has established himself as one of the conference’s premier defenders; freshman Melo Trimble has exceeded all expectations; and Jake Layman has cut back on his three-point attempts and instead established a solid inside and mid-range game. The Terps’ Big Ten championship dreams took a substantial hit in last night’s road loss, but they’re still a good pick for a top-three seed in any regional.

Indiana – No. 8 (Midwest)

The Hoosiers first entered Lunardi’s projections back on January 15 as a No. 9 seed following home victories over Ohio State and Penn State. Since then, they have won a tough away game at Illinois and thoroughly dominated Maryland last night at home. They’re bound to move up in Lunardi’s bracket if they can complete the season sweep of Ohio State on Sunday in a game that KenPom gives them a 22 percent chance to win. The Hoosiers have clearly recovered from a heavily publicized and troubling offseason as well as an early-season loss to Eastern Washington. Freshman James Blackmon has been fantastic and they’re now thriving under Yogi Ferrell’s leadership.

Michigan State – No. 8 (East)

The 13-6 Spartans have five “good” losses to teams ranked among the top-16 of KenPom’s rankings – but they’ve got one atrocious loss, a home defeat to 8-10 Texas Southern. Michigan State obviously isn’t the same team from last year – just look at its roster. Their two best wins are a 20-point drubbing of Indiana in East Lansing and a comeback victory over Iowa in Iowa City. While those wins are certainly decent, they’re not all that compelling in the grand scheme of the college basketball landscape. Sparty’s remaining Big Ten schedule isn’t particularly soft or tough, but they’ll have to prove themselves against other middle-of-the-pack Big Ten teams in order to keep their hands on a Tournament bid.

Iowa – No. 8 (South)

Nobody can quite get a handle on the Hawkeyes this season – for a majority of the 2014-15 campaign, they’ve been a good first half team with serious second half deficiencies. When it looked like they had kicked those problems to the curb, they endured an 82-50 lashing at the hands of Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin machine. They’ll get another shot at the Badgers on January 31, and even a close loss would serve them well. KenPom has projected Iowa to finish at 20-11 (11-7 Big Ten), a mark that would certainly get them back into the NCAA Tournament. Aaron White needs to stop disappearing in big games – he’s scored in single-figures in their losses to Northern Iowa, Michigan State and Wisconsin – and the Hawkeyes have to also kick their recent defensive woes. Those defensive lapses are reminiscent of last season’s epic collapse, but their remaining schedule is significantly softer as well.

Ohio State – No. 9 (West)

The Buckeyes can thank D’Angelo Russell for their success thus far – and they’d better do it soon, because he won’t be around Columbus much longer. The freshman already has some NBA-ready offensive skills, but his supporting cast has been mediocre – Shannon Scott still turns the ball over way too much and the Ohio State big men have been outrebounded in all of their losses. If teams can figure out how to stop Russell (they won’t), then Ohio State shouldn’t be worried about cracking the Tournament field. But even if Russell’s play regresses in the team’s final 11 games, the Buckeyes could still stay afloat so long as Marc Loving keeps up his hot shooting from the perimeter (50.7 percent from three), and Amir Williams’ offensive game in the post continues to be decent.

Illinois – Next Four Out

Lunardi pegged the Illini as an NCAA Tournament team back in November, but he didn’t see them getting hit with the tidal wave of injuries that they’ve recently endured. Losing star Rayvonte Rice has hurt a team that was already struggling even while he was healthy. Since he’s been on the bench, they’ve gone 2-3. They’ve also endured tough non-conference losses to Miami (FL) and Oregon, as well as a 14-point drubbing at the hands of Villanova. In Big Ten play, Illinois has already dropped four conference games and KenPom has projected John Groce’s team to finish at 9-9. February will be very telling for Illinois, when they’ll face Michigan State twice as well as Wisconsin and Iowa once each. If they can split those games while beating Rutgers, Michigan and Northwestern, they’ll have a shot – but let’s not count on it.

Eric Clark (30 Posts)

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