The Bubble Report: Big 10

The Bubble Report turns its ever knowing eye to the Big 10 conference.  The Big 10 has the second best conference RPI this basketball season, trailing only the Big East.  They are also the home of the last undefeated team, Ohio State (24-1, 11-1).  Along with the Buckeyes, Purdue (20-5, 9-3) and Wisconsin (19-5, 9-3) have been ranked most of the season.  They are locks for the NCAA tournament.  Indiana (12-14, 3-10) and Iowa (10-15, 3-10) will both be out of the tournament with sub .500 records.  Although Northwestern (14-10, 4-9) is over .500, the loss to Penn State yesterday pushing them five games under .500 in conference play doomed the Wildcats.  That leaves five Big 10 teams currently on the bubble.

Illinois (16-9, 6-6).  Best Win: North Carolina, Wisconsin.  Worst Loss: Illinois-Chicago, @ Northwestern.  Illinois missed out on a golden opportunity yesterday when they lost to Purdue in Champagne.  The North Carolina win is impressive, but Illinois would rest easier come Selection Sunday if they were over .500 in Big Ten play.  That would mean finishing 4-2 down the stretch.  The home games are winnable, but Illinois has three stiff road tests in traveling to Ohio St, Purdue, and Michigan St.  Prognosis: If Illinois does win four of their last six, that put them at twenty wins.  Combined with a non-conference win over UNC, being over .500 in the second-ranked conference should be enough to push Illinois over.  However, if the Illini lose all three road games, they could find themselves in the same position that they were in last year: one of the best teams left out of the field.

Michigan State (14-10, 6-6).  Best Win: Washington, Wisconsin.  Worst Loss: @ Penn St, @ Iowa.  Michigan State finds themselves in unfamiliar territory on the bubble.  Losing five of their last seven, including a twenty point loss at last place Iowa, has put the Spartans back against the wall.  The next four games will tell the story of 2011 for Michigan St: they play Ohio State in Columbus, home against Illinois, at Minnesota, and home against Purdue.  They need at least two of four of those, plus they end the season in Ann Arbor against a Michigan squad who might be in the same spot as the Spartans.  Prognosis:  Not good.  Michigan St. is sliding at the wrong time, and they are coming into the hardest part of their schedule.  The road in the Big 10 has been brutal for the Spartans as they’ve complied a 1-5 record.

Minnesota (17-8, 6-7).  Best Win: North Carolina, Purdue.  Worst Loss: Virginia, @ Indiana.  Minnesota had been ranked for a majority of the season, but they put themselves on the bubble with a four game losing streak that included a loss at last place Indiana.  The Gophers rebounded last night handling Iowa on the road 62-45 to stop the streak at 4.  They may finish 11-7 in regular season conference play; their hardest opponents all travel to Minneapolis (Michigan, Michigan St, Penn St.)  Prognosis: Good.  The schedule favors Minnesota down the stretch getting to play three at home where they are 11-3 with a win over Purdue.  If Minnesota has turned their ship around, they should be able to guide it off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan (16-10, 6-7).  Best Win: @ Clemson, @ Michigan St.  Worst Loss: @ Indiana, @ Northwestern.  The Wolverines have shown their toughness all season with a string of close losses to the nation’s elite: a three point loss to Syracuse, an OT loss to Kansas, and a four point loss to Ohio St.  Unfortunately, Michigan also had a couple of lopsided road losses that will hurt them come March, losing by 19 to Indiana and 14 to Northwestern.  Michigan needs to be eyeing 10-8 in regular season conference play; they’ll need to take four of their last five to do that.  The schedule doesn’t do them any favors to achieve that as they’ll travel to fellow bubble teams Illinois and Minnesota, and host Wisconsin and Michigan St.  Prognosis: Michigan’s best wins, although on the road, are over teams who might not make the NCAA Tournament.  The Wolverines have won three in a row to put themselves into the position; they’ll need 4 of the last 5 to slide off the bubble.

Penn State (13-11, 6-7).  Best Win: Illinois, Wisconsin.  Worst Loss: Maine.  Outside of the Maine loss, Penn State has no bad losses.  When competing for a tournament bid, though, the Nittany Lions haven’t faired well against bubble teams.  They lost to Virginia Tech, to Maryland by 23, to Mississippi, and were swept by Michigan.  Penn State followed their best win over Wisconsin by hitting a slide losing three in a row before beating Northwestern yesterday.  Prognosis: Not good.  Penn State needs to win out to overcome an unimpressive non-conference schedule, and they still have two games against Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ohio St.

Final Tally (as of Feb. 14): IN: Ohio St, Purdue, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota.  OUT: Michigan St, Michigan, Penn St, Iowa, Indiana, Northwestern.  A lot of teams still have life in the Big 10, but they need to play well down the stretch.  The committee will take a long look at any Big 10 team talented enough to go 10-8 in the regular season from the second-best conference.  They are only three sure locks right now, but The Bubble Report see this conference getting at least five bids.  The race for the last two bids begins tomorrow in Columbus when the Spartans face Ohio St.