The 2016-17 Big Ten basketball season has been chaotic, to say the least. The conference record for overtime games in a season has nearly been eclipsed, and there’s still two more weeks to go. The top three teams are looking strong; Purdue, Wisconsin and Maryland seem to have solidified themselves as the kings of the Big Ten. But after that it gets messy. Take a look at the current standings and notice the cluster of teams that sit anywhere from fifth to thirteenth:
The Illini are trying to climb their way up the conference ladder following back-to-back wins over Iowa and Northwestern. NCAA tournament “bracketologist” and Illinois grad Brad Evans seems to think there’s a small chance that the orange and blue could still make the field of 68.
Ok, Illinois faithful. There's a faint, and I mean FAINT, NCAA Tourney pulse. Win last three and make B1G finals, a legit argument.— Brad Evans (@YahooNoise) February 22, 2017
Really? Is there really a chance this team finds a way to the dance this season? After all the mistakes and the losses and the coaching carousel conversation is there really life outside of the NIT for this year’s Illinois squad? As fans and media speculate the future of the program, the Illini have come on strong winning three of their last four games. They’ll have to win out for talk of an NCAA tournament bid to continue, but while this may only seem like a breath of fresh air to some, that breath might jumpstart some life back into this 2016-17 campaign. Aside from shooting struggles and the constant shuffling of lineups, Illinois seems to have found a groove with their current recipe. Te’Jon Lucas has been a nice addition to the starting lineup, and players like Jalen Coleman-Lands and Michael Finke have been clutch performers off the bench. Add the newcomer Kipper Nichols to the mix, and Illinois has a few playmakers that certainly give them a legitimate chance in every game remaining on the schedule.
The Illini have three games left in the regular season: at Nebraska, versus Michigan State and at Rutgers. Road games are never easy, but none of those matchups seem like automatic losses for the orange and blue. And then what? If Illinois were to win out, that would give them a record of 19-12 (9-9) heading into Big Ten Tournament play. The Illini would need to win at least a game or two in Washington DC if they want any shot of hearing their name called out on Selection Sunday. But before we get too ahead of ourselves, Illinois’ first postseason position needs to be solidified — and there are quite a few scenarios still in play.
Here’s what would need to happen in order for Illinois to earn any of the following seeds for the conference tournament.
*Teams highlighted in red are the winners. All home teams are in the left column of the game-by-game preview
This is by far the most challenging and least likely path to the BTT for the Illini. But it could still become a reality. Here’s what would need to occur:
Illinois, Wisconsin, Maryland and Purdue win out; Northwestern, Michigan State and Minnesota lose out
While still very unlikely, this seed is slightly more probable than getting a double bye. It would require several tiebreakers to fall Illinois’ way, but here’s what would need to happen for them to nab the five-seed:
Illinois, Wisconsin and Purdue win out; Northwestern, Michigan State and Minnesota lose out
The lower the seed, the higher the probability for the Illini. This seed would once again require a few tiebreakers against teams Illinois has beaten, but it might be a more realistic optimistic goal for the team and the fanbase. Here’s what would need to occur:
Illinois and Wisconsin win out; Michigan State and Minnesota lose out
John Groce would definitely take this seed considering how low down in the standings the Illini have been for the majority of the conference season:
Michigan State loses out
This is also the first opportunity where the Illini don’t have to win all three games to attain this seed. Here’s a way they could win two out of their final three games and still nab a 7th seed:
The classic 8-9 matchup. Illinois has been involved in quite a few of these over recent years, and it’s usually gone the Illini’s way. Here’s how the orange and blue could climb to the eight-seed this year:
Illinois wins two out of three; Northwestern, Maryland and Minnesota win out; Penn State and Michigan State lose out
Seeding is thrown out the window in the 8-9 matchup, but there are a few different things that would have to occur for Illinois to finish ninth as opposed to eighth:
Illinois wins two out of three; Iowa, Purdue and Minnesota win out; Indiana and Rutgers lose out
This is also the first seed that the Illini could reach by winning only one of their final three games. Here’s a scenario where that might happen:
This would mean the Illini would have to play on the second day of the tournament. Indiana is a lock to play on Day One, and as for now it seems Rutgers and Ohio State might be there too. Here’s how Illinois would be able to secure the top seed for Wednesday’s Big Ten action:
Illinois wins two out of three; Purdue, Maryland and Wisconsin win out; Iowa, Ohio State and Rutgers lose out
Illinois wins one out of three; Purdue, Maryland, Nebraska and Wisconsin win out; Iowa, Ohio State and Rutgers lose out
A spot behind where they currently sit in the standings, an eleven-seed would mean a matchup with the worst overall team in the field, most likely Rutgers. Here’s how Illinois would wind up in this spot:
Illinois wins two out of three; every road team wins this weekend; Purdue and Wisconsin win out; Indiana and Minnesota lose out
Illinois wins one out of three; Purdue, Maryland and Wisconsin win out; Indiana and Michigan lose out
Twelfth is the second lowest potential seed the Illini could receive, and that would obviously mean things didn’t go according to plan in the teams’ final three games. It’s still a possibility, though. Here’s how that would happen:
Illinois wins two out of three; Indiana and Wisconsin win out; Michigan, Rutgers and Michigan State lose out
Illinois wins one out of three; every road team wins this weekend; Purdue and Wisconsin win out; Indiana and Minnesota lose out
This is the first opportunity where Illinois could go winless the rest of the way and still reach this seed. Here’s a scenario where that would occur:
Thirteenth is the lowest potential seed the Illini could receive, and that would obviously mean things didn’t go according to plan in the teams’ final three games. There’s no way the Illini could win two or all of their final three games and still end up here, however:
Illinois wins one out of three; Maryland and Wisconsin win out; Northwestern and Rutgers lose out
Illinois loses all three; Maryland and Wisconsin win out
That’s a lot of different possibilities, Illini fans. What are your thoughts on the most likely Big Ten Tournament seed for the orange and blue? Drop by in the comments below and give us your thoughts!