Big Ten Bubble Watch

With just over three weeks until Selection Sunday, the Big Ten is still hoping to get nine or ten teams into the NCAA Tournament. For most of those teams, they will hear their name on Selection Sunday and everything left to play for will be about seeding. Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin are currently ranked in the top 25 and will almost certainly make the tournament.
That is not the case for Ohio State, Minnesota, Indiana or Nebraska. Most basketball predictions think that eight Big Ten teams will reach the tournament, leaving out two of those teams.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State is currently sitting at 7-8 in Big Ten play and a much more impressive 17-9 overall. Their non-conference schedule only has one good win though, a season opening 64-56 victory at Cincinnati. In Big Ten play, Ohio State has failed to beat  any of the top six teams in the conference. Their best victories are against Nebraska and Indiana. Both were on the road, so those are key wins that the committee will notice, but the Buckeyes need to get a big win during their last five games of the season.
This group has plenty of opportunities for that big win. The Buckeyes travel to Maryland on Saturday before hosting Iowa the following Tuesday. On March 2nd there is another key road trip to Purdue, followed by a trip Northwestern. And the Buckeyes finish off the regular season at home against Wisconsin on Sunday March 10th. Even if Ohio State wins just two of those games, most likely at Northwestern and one of the home games against Iowa or Wisconsin, this team will be 9-11 in conference play and 19-12 overall. That will place them directly on the bubble and have Coach Chris Holtmann and company sweating it out on Selection Sunday.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Minnesota is in a very similar situation as Ohio State. The Golden Gophers are 17-10 overall with a 7-9 record in Big Ten action. They have a slightly better RPI thanks a slightly more difficult schedule that includes wins over Utah, Texas A&M and Washington. However, many are still projecting Minnesota to be in a more precarious position as far as reaching the NCAA Tournament is concerned. Unlike the Buckeyes though, Minnesota has beaten some of the top teams in the Big, including a January 3rd win in Madison.
The rest of the schedule is tricky though and that is what could keep Minnesota on the outside looking in. Their next two games are at Rutgers and Northwestern. Neither of those teams will build Minnesota’s resume, but they are both certainly games that can be lost. It is a lose-lose situation for the Golden Gophers. If they win, everybody would expect it. If they lose, it is a crushing defeat that will stick out on their NCAA Tournament resume. After that Coach Richard Pitino’s team hosts Purdue on March 5th and finishes off the regular season with a trip to Maryland on March 8th. The most likely scenario there is 2-2, leaving Minnesota at 19-12 overall and 9-11 in Big Ten play. If both Minnesota and Ohio State finish with 19-12 overall records, it will be very interesting to see if the committee has to choose one over the other. That could come down to who can win a game or two in the conference tournament.
Indiana Hoosiers
Indiana had a good start to the season. At one point they were 12-2 and 3-0 in Big Ten play. That included victories over Marquette, Butler and Louisville. There are some non-conference wins that they can hang their hat on. However, that seems so long ago. Since then the Hoosiers have lost 11 of their 12 games. Amazingly that one victory came on the road at Michigan State, adding yet another big win to their resume. But of course a 13-13 record is not where IU wants to be right now.
However, this team can still get 18 regular season wins and potentially add some more in the conference tournament and that would put them right on the cusp of the NCAA Tournament. The next three games will be huge, starting with a trip to Iowa on Friday night. Then they host Wisconsin and Michigan State. This is an IU team that just needs wins, but if they can get those wins over teams like the Spartans and Badgers, it will help boost the resume.
Nebraska Cornhuskers
Nebraska’s 95-71 loss at Penn State put a huge damper on their fleeting hopes for a spot in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. Before that loss, the Cornhuskers won two straight games against Minnesota and Northwestern that finally put an end to their seven game losing streak. There was some hope that the victories would spark a late run. That seems to have come to an end with the defeat against Penn State, but the schedule still gives Nebraska plenty of opportunities to get some big wins.
Nebraska hosts Purdue on Saturday and finishes up the season with Michigan and Michigan State on the road and a home date with Iowa. It is extremely unlikely that Nebraska will win all of those games, but if they did they would head to the Big Ten tournament at 19-12. Add a win in the conference tournament and Nebraska would be in the NCAA Tournament. However, that all seems very unlikely.
Iowa Hawkeyes
Iowa is the first of the team’s that already feel safely in the tournament. The Hawkeyes are currently 20-6 and are projected to be somewhere around a six seed. The Hawkeyes still host Indiana and Rutgers and head to Ohio State, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Even if they go 2-3 in their last five, this team should not drop below a 7 or 8 seed. And if all goes well, they could push for a 4 or 5 seed.
Maryland Terrapins
Besides that home loss to Illinois, Maryland has been a very consistent team. There is no shame in losing at Purdue, Michigan State, Wisconsin or Michigan. The Terrapins are sitting around a six-seed right now, but the schedule is favorable. They host Ohio State, Michigan and Minnesota and travel to Penn State in their last four games. If they go 3-1, which seems the most likely scenario, Maryland could move up to the 4-5 seed range.
Michigan Wolverines
With a 24-3 record, Michigan has been one of the best teams in the country this season. Their only losses have come on the road against Wisconsin, Iowa and a shocker against Penn State. The Wolverines are a pretty clear two-seed as things stand, but they have a tough four game stretch to end the regular season. They play Michigan State twice, host Nebraska and head to Maryland. If they can survive that stretch and win the Big Ten, Michigan has a shot at getting a #1 seed.
Michigan State Spartans
The 22-5 Spartans have a chance at a #1 seed too. Other than those two games against Michigan, Michigan State travels to Indiana and hosts Nebraska. With those disappointing losses to Indiana and Illinois behind them, MSU appears ready to make a push for a top seed. That could quickly come to an end though if they lose at Michigan on Sunday.
Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue is currently tied with Michigan and Michigan State with three losses in Big Ten play. While the Wolverines and Spartans battle it out twice over the next couple of weeks, the Boilermakers are in a great spot to sneak in and take the Big Ten regular season title. Purdue does have to travel to Nebraska, Minnesota and Northwestern still this season and they host Illinois and Ohio State. If the Boilermakers manage to win the Big Ten, they should move to a 2 seed instead of a 3 seed.
Wisconsin Badgers
At 18-8 Wisconsin does not have a great record for a team projected to be a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But the schedule has been tough and they have a strong RPI. The Badgers should also be able to add a few more wins to their resume before the season is over. They have road trips to Northwestern, Indiana and Ohio State and host Penn State and Iowa. Those are all winnable games and if that happens, they could push for a three or four seed.