Here at The Champaign Room we’re not insisting you root for other Big Ten teams once the NCAA Tournament starts. After all, it’s hard to go from loathing teams like Michigan and Purdue to all of the sudden wanting them to succeed on basketball’s biggest stage.
As we enter the final stretch of the season, with most teams having four games left, here’s a look at who’s in, who’s out and who has some work left to do.
*Note: As of today, Ohio State is in first place in the Big Ten Conference.
These teams are IN:
How they’ve done it: No doubt Purdue had a rough week after losing to Ohio State and Michigan State. Still, the Boilermakers won 20-plus games in a row and won a handful of tough non-conference games earlier in the season. Purdue also has a ton of experience — its rotation is loaded with upperclassmen and balanced scoring.
What’s the margin for error: They could lose the rest of their games and lose their first game in the Big Ten Tournament, and still be A-Okay. Purdue is playing for seeding. A No. 1 seed is a possibility, as is the all-important Big Ten regular season title.
Big games left: Home vs. Penn State. The other remaining games should be no problem for Purdue. Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota just aren’t good enough to beat this Boilermakers team.
Michigan State Spartans:
How they’ve done it: Talent. Sheer talent. It’s not just Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges. Their two-deep rotation is loaded with size and experience at all five positions. There are clearly distractions for Michigan State and head coach Tom Izzo. Right now, Sparty is rolling and earned a huge, huge win versus Purdue on Saturday.
What’s the margin for error: Similar to Purdue, Michigan State has been consistent enough to the point where they are shoo-ins no matter what happens. Sparty has just three losses, and they’re all “good” losses: Duke, Ohio State and Michigan.
Big games left: None, really. The remaining Big Ten slate is all against teams that aren’t going to the NCAA Tournament— although three of the four are on the road. If Sparty were to sweep those games and earn a couple of wins in the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan State is looking at a No. 2 seed, maybe even a No. 1 seed in all likelihood.
Ohio State Buckeyes:
How they’ve done it: Let’s just hand Chris Holtmann the Big Ten Coach of the Year award right now. He’s the first to admit Thad Matta left him with a ton of weapons, but Ohio State plays with a fearlessness they haven’t shown since they last made the Final Four.
What’s the margin for error: Completely safe. It certainly helps when you have the best player in the conference in Keita Bates-Diop who does so many things well on both ends of the floor. Ohio State has no bad losses and picked up as big of a win as there’s been in college basketball this season — a road victory at Purdue.
Big games left: Three tough road games are left: At Penn State, at Michigan and at Indiana. It’s entirely possible (albeit unlikely) Ohio State loses all three of those, and that would hurt their seeding come Selection Sunday.
How they’ve done it: John Beilein is the best coach in the Big Ten. Michigan finds itself down in most first halves, but the Wolverines usually come back with superior halftime adjustments and find a way to win. Mo Wagner is the prototypical stretch-5 and this team has some guys who really like to defend (Isaiah Livers, Charles Matthews and Xavier Simpson). Michigan isn’t as good at shooting the outside shot as in years past, but there’s experience and athleticism all over this roster.
What’s the margin for error: Michigan is safe. The loss to Northwestern earlier in the week was an eye-sore and one of the Wolverines’ worst performances of the season. Aside from that, the Wolverines are in fine shape.
Big games left: Michigan’s last three games are all extremely tough: vs. Ohio State, at Penn State and at Maryland. Maryland and Penn State are both going to be desperate for wins, especially because beating a quality opponent like Michigan matters for bubble purposes. Michigan has a massive target on its back.
Big Ten Bubble Watch:
Why they’re on the bubble: Nebraska is very, very close to being IN. There’s a little work left to do, but it’s clear this team has talent and some nice wins (vs. Michigan, vs. Boston College). After beating Rutgers on Saturday, the Cornhuskers are on a five-game winning streak. Another win or two in the regular season and a win or two in the Big Ten Tournament should mean this 19-win team is ready for its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014.
Standout games left: Three of the last four are at home, including games against Penn State and Maryland. Win at least one of those two, I think they’re solidly in.
Today’s guess if they’re in or not?: YES.
Penn State Nittany Lions:
Why they’re on the bubble: This is the most talented Penn State team of my lifetime — I’m 29 years old. They’ve got plenty of size and scorers, including a go-to clutch shot-maker in Tony Carr. Losses to Northwestern and Minnesota (each by nine-plus points) and a real bad loss to Rider earlier in the year could drag down the Nittany Lions come Selection Sunday.
Standout games left: This is a gauntlet for Penn State. Four games left: vs. Ohio State, at Purdue, vs. Michigan and at Nebraska. “Great moments are born from great opportunities” Coach Herb Brooks used to say. The schedule for Penn State is hell, but it also means a win or two against those quality teams looks real nice to the selection committee.
Today’s guess if they’re in or not?: YES.
Why they’re on the bubble: Missing forward Justin Jackson for most of the season is a big reason why Maryland’s underwhelmed this season. The bar and expectation is higher for Maryland than it is for teams like Northwestern, Nebraska and many others currently on the bubble or out of the NCAA picture altogether.
Standout games left: At Nebraska, vs. Rutgers, at Northwestern and vs. Michigan. Maryland has no margin for error, especially when they play the Scarlet Knights and Wildcats. Pressure is on.
Today’s guess if they’re in or not?: NO. Bold, but No.
These teams are OUT... Unless they can win the B1G Tournament in New York City:
Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, Rutgers and Wisconsin.