These are critical, critical times for a few Big Ten teams just one week away from the Big Ten Tournament in New York City. Some teams are completely safe, others have been out of the picture altogether for months. Right now, it’s about figuring out who has work left to do. Down the stretch we go...
**As of today, Michigan State leads the Big Ten Conference standings.
These teams are IN
How they’ve done it: No team in the Big Ten Conference has as deep of a roster as Tom Izzo’s squad. Great outside shooting, four legitimate post players (Jaren Jackson Jr, Nick Ward, Xavier Tillman and Gavin Schilling) and plenty of Tournament experience to boot.
What’s the margin for error: MSU is in and competing for a Big Ten regular season title and a potential No. 1 seed.
What’s left on the schedule: After rallying from 27 points down to defeat the Northwestern Wildcats on Saturday, Michigan State has Illinois at home and Wisconsin away to close out the season. As we’ve seen, that trip to Madison won’t be easy, but with a conference title potentially on the line, there’s plenty of motivation left in the green & white tank.
How they’ve done it: The most surprising team in the country, a team that finished 10th in the Big Ten last year with a 7-11 record in the conference could potentially win the conference this year. Keita Bates-Diop is hands-down the best player in the Big Ten.
What’s the margin for error: The Buckeyes are in, although the blowout loss to Penn State on Thursday was a major let-down. It was Ohio State’s worst performance of the season so far, and yes Penn State has the talent to compete with the big boys in the Big Ten this year, but the lack of effort in that game was alarming to say the least.
What’s left on the schedule: After losing to Michigan on Sunday, Ohio State has just two games left: home vs Rutgers and then at Indiana. Both the Scarlet Knights and Hoosiers are out, but going to Bloomington and playing in one of the more hostile atmospheres in the country is no easy task.
How they’ve done it: Last year’s outright Big Ten title winners were the best team in the conference most of the 2017-18 season. A common cliche in sports goes: “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” That absolutely applies to Purdue. Of course this team is safely in, but that NCAA Tournament seed is dropping by the game. Heading into Sunday night’s game vs Penn State, Purdue was on a three-game losing streak (vs OSU, at MSU and at Wisconsin). Not exactly a stretch Matt Painter will be proud of.
What’s the margin for error: For the first time really all season, Purdue looks vulnerable. Teams are figuring out how to collapse the paint and make 7-foot-3 center Isaac Haas into something he’s not, a playmaker. Purdue is in, but they are heading into Big Ten Tournament play showing some real weaknesses.
What’s left on the schedule: After narrowly beating Penn State (without Vincent Edwards), Purdue has two easy games left: at Illinois and then home vs Minnesota. The Boilermakers should have no problems beating the Illini and Golden Gophers to close out the season this week.
How they’ve done it: Michigan’s been consistent most of the season. Aside from losses to LSU and Northwestern, Michigan has taken care of business against teams they should beat. This team is loaded with players who’ve been to the Big Dance before, and while this group isn’t as talented as last year’s Sweet Sixteen bunch (anybody miss Derrick Walton?) — they are impossible to rule out come March.
What’s the margin for error: Michigan gets the benefit of the doubt because of their challenging non-conference schedule. Playing teams like UCLA, North Carolina, Texas and VCU (Michigan won three of those four) prove that John Beilein knows when to take risks and how to get the most out of his players once Big Ten play starts in earnest. Because of that and a solid showing in conference, Michigan is 100 percent safe.
What’s left on the schedule: Two challenging road games remain. At Penn State and at Maryland. Penn State is in a situation where they’ve got to win in order to impress the selection committee. Maryland is pretty much done and dusted at this point, but a trip to College Park is never easy.
These teams are on THE BUBBLE
How Nebraska could be in: From an overall record standpoint (11-5 in conference), Nebraska is sitting pretty. They have some elite players in this league including James Palmer Jr. and Isaac Copeland Jr. Those two players are made for NCAA Tournament play and belong on the national stage.
How Nebraska could be out: Nebraska and coach Tim Miles should really look at what Michigan did as far as non-conference scheduling. Nebraska and Michigan have nearly identical records, the only difference is strength of schedule. Nebraska hasn’t played and beaten anyone really good — ironically Nebraska’s best win of the year was beating Michigan by 20 points earlier in the season.
What’s left on the schedule: Two home games against Penn State and Indiana. There is ZERO margin for error against the Nittany Lions and Hoosiers. Even if Nebraska were to beat both of those two teams, the Cornhuskers likely need another couple of wins in the Big Ten Tournament to stay alive for an NCAA Tournament berth.
Today’s guess if they’re in: No. The loss to Illinois in Champaign on Sunday likely sealed Nebraska’s fate.
How Penn State could be in: Penn State is on the verge of winning 20+ games for the first time since 2008-09. Before losing to Purdue on Sunday, Penn State was riding a four-game winning streak which included a massive win over then-conference leaders Ohio State. One could argue Penn State has a more talented team than Michigan, a lock already for the tournament.
How Penn State could be out: Credit Penn State for playing a tougher non-conference schedule than Nebraska. Unfortunately for Pat Chambers and his team, Penn State lost to Texas A&M and N.C. State, the two toughest teams PSU played early on in the season. Also, that loss to Rider looms large and continues to cast a dark shadow on all of Penn State’s successes this season.
What’s left on the schedule: Vs Michigan and at Nebraska is all that’s left for these Nittany Lions. Win both of those, I think Penn State is solidly in. Losing to Purdue on Sunday didn’t exactly hurt Penn State, but winning that game would have rung alarm bells to the selection committee.
Today’s guess if they’re in: Yes.