Big Ten Bubble Report: 10 Teams Alive In NCAA Tournament Hunt
Although the Big Ten doesn’t have any teams in the top five of the Associated Press’ most recent poll, 10 programs could make the NCAA Tournament.
This year’s collection of Big Ten teams is the deepest in recent memory. Every single team is competitive, including Rutgers, who was once the conference doormat.
As of Feb. 12, the Big Ten only has one team with a losing overall record (Nebraska). Almost every other Power Seven conference has several teams with losing records, except for the ACC, which also only has one (Boston College).
Moving forward, the Big Ten is looking like they could have a serious footprint in the NCAA Tournament. Ten teams are in the hunt, with the bottom four programs all but eliminated.
Here is your Big Ten Bubble Report, with all rankings and records as of Feb. 12.
(Rankings are courtesy of KenPom)
No Chance To Dance:
rutgers Scarlet Knights
Although, the Scarlet Knights are vastly improved this year, they are still rebuilding the program. The team recently won their first ever Big Ten road game and have almost doubled their win total from 2015-16.
Sophomore Corey Sanders is the bright spot so far this year, in both of Rutgers Big Ten wins he has led the way with 25 points.
Under new head coach Steve Pikiell, Rutgers is a program headed in the right direction. With almost all of their key players returning, the Scarlet Knights will be a team to look out for.
The Cornhuskers have slain a few giants this year, including Maryland and Indiana on the road. However, they have too many losses and an overall record of less than .500.
Despite no postseason on the horizon, the Cornhuskers are VERY exciting to watch. If the program didn’t get hit with the injury bug this year, they could very well be a bubble team.
Head coach Tim Miles seat is definitely heating up a bit, however, he should get at least next season to try to right the ship.
penn state nittany lions
With losses to Albany, George Mason and Rutgers, the Nittany Lions don’t have the resume to earn a bubble spot. However, they have one of the hottest freshman classes in all of college basketball, making them a team headed in the right direction.
Look out for Penn State to potentially reach the NIT, with a young team it will definitely give them much-needed postseason experience.
illinois Fighting Illini
One of the most disappointing teams in the Big Ten, the Fighting Illini have stumbled out to a 4-9 conference record. In addition, Illinois doesn’t have enough signature wins, dropping all six of their games against the RPI Top-25.
Needing to win-out to reappear on the Bubble, the Fighting Illini got throttled at home by lowly Penn State. The loss was their third out of their last four conference games, putting to rest any chance at making the Big Dance.
With people questioning the teams overall effort, you can expect head coach John Groce to be relieved of his duties after the season.
Barely Hanging On:
The Hawkeyes have a 14-12 record, including six wins in the Big Ten. However, they’re barely on the radar and now hold only a No. 96 RPI ranking. The only way they can sneak into the conversation will be to go on a serious run, but with Big Ten scoring king Peter Jok on their side, anything is possible.
Helping Iowa’s cause is their win over Purdue, the No. 11 overall team in the KenPom ratings.
If Iowa doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament, they’re definitely going to the NIT.
ohio state buckeyes
My sleeper pick to make the Big Dance, the Buckeyes are a seriously talented group this year. Five Ohio State players are averaging double-digits in points and Thad Matta is one of the best coaches in the country.
With 15 wins this year, the program’s resume is respectable. However, they could have a tough time escaping a home loss to Florida Atlantic.
According to Joe Lunardi’s most recent Bracketology, the Buckeyes are not one of the first eight teams left out. With five Big Ten games remaining, plus the Big Ten Tournament, Ohio State needs to play great down the stretch to get consideration.
On the bright side, Thad Matta has won the Big Ten Tournament four times, so don’t be surprised if they do it again.
Firmly On The Bubble:
Michigan State spartans
The Spartans are in a spot that they’re certainly not used too. The program could miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996-97, Tom Izzo’s second season.
However, Michigan State does rank in the RPI Top-50 and now holds a No. 10 seed in Joe Lunardi’s most recent Bracketology.
Coming off an embarrassing loss to Michigan, where they were handled from start to finish, the Spartans rebounded with a 77-66 win at home versus Iowa. They have six conference games remaining, plus the Big Ten Tournament, giving them ample chances to shore up their NCAA Tournament resume.
What a fall from the grace the Hoosiers have had this year. They beat Kansas and North Carolina to start the year, reaching a No. 3 AP rank early in the season. However, with injury problems in conference play, the Hoosiers have gone 5-8 in the Big Ten.
Despite their struggles, Indiana is still getting love from Joe Lunardi, as he has them as one of the “Last Four In” in his Feb. 10 bracket. According to Lunardi, the Hoosiers would compete in the No. 12 play-in game.
With that said, Indiana lost a home game to Michigan on Feb. 12, making it likely that they hit the wrong side of the bubble. The Hoosiers will need to impress down the stretch to stay in the conversation.
On the bright side, leading scorer James Blackmon Jr. is back in action for Indiana after missing time with an injury.
minnesota golden gophers
It’s safe to say that Minnesota is on the right side of the Bubble.
After dropping five conference games in a row, the Gophers have bounced back nicely. Winners of their past three Big Ten games, Minnesota sports a shiny 18-7 record in 2016-17. According to the RPI, they are ranked No. 22 overall.
You can definitely say the Gophers are a Cinderella team in the Big Ten this year.
After all, they had a putrid 8-23 record last season. Leading the charge for Minnesota is veteran point guard Nate Mason, freshman Amir Coffey, Dupree McBrayer, Jordan Murphy, and sharpshooting transfer Akeem Springs.
All five players are averaging in double-digits, making them one of the most lethal groups in the country.
According to the latest Bracketology with Joe Lunardi, Minnesota is a No. 9 seed. Barring any collapse down the stretch, the Gophers will be dancing for the first time in Richard Pitino’s tenure.
With their blowout win over Michigan State and road win at Indiana, the Wolverines are definitely trending up. However, their upcoming schedule is very tough and will play four KenPom Top-50 teams in their next six games.
According to Bracketology with Joe Lunardi, the Wolverines are still on the outside looking in. In the most recent release, Lunardi has them in the “Next Four Out” category with Illinois State, Texas Tech, and Georgetown.
Since the Wolverines beat the Hoosiers after Lunardi’s bracket came out, it’s safe to say that Michigan and Indiana will trade spots.
Mortal Locks For March Madness:
After making it all the way into the Sweet Sixteen last season, the Terps re-tooled this year and look to make another run.
With a talented trio of freshman, including Anthony Cowan Jr., Kevin Huerter, and Justin Jackson, the Baby Terps are providing a nice complement to superstar Melo Trimble. So far in 2016-17, Maryland has run through their schedule and already has 21 wins.
Despite losing two of their last three games, Maryland is balanced on both ends and is a lock for the ‘Big Dance’. Through 25 games, the Terps rank in the top 50 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
As of now, Joe Lunardi has Maryland as a No. 6 seed, but with a strong finish the Terps could definitely move up.
Say it ain’t so, but the Northwestern Wildcats are going to make their first ever NCAA Tournament. With their 66-59 upset at Wisconsin, the Wildcats removed any doubt that the selection committee could leave them out.
The Wildcats have a deep rotation, led by junior Bryant McIntosh and leading scorer Scottie Lindsey. Bryant McIntosh has facilitated the offense this year, leading the team in assists (5.5 apg) while posting 13.5 points per game.
After steadily improving the program over the last three seasons, head coach Chris Collins will never have to buy a drink in Evanston again. He completely changed the culture at Northwestern and will be able to leave the school on his own terms when the time comes.
Regardless of what the NCAA Selection Committee says, the Badgers are still one of the best teams in the country. They have 21 wins already, including a 13-4 record against KenPom Top-100 teams.
The Badgers defense is the key to their success, allowing only 60.2 points per game and ranking No. 7 overall in defensive efficiency. Big man Ethan Happ is the catalyst for Wisconsin, anchoring the middle while averaging two steals and more than one block per game.
On offense, Ethan Happ also holds his own. He leads the team in scoring (14.5 ppg), rebounding (9.3 rpg), and field goal percentage (60.5 percent). In addition, both Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes are averaging double-digits in scoring.
According to Bracketology with Joe Lunardi, the Badgers are a No. 3 seed. Although, all six of their remaining games are against KenPom Top-100 teams, they should finish with a No. 3 seed or better.
Purdue is the Big Ten’s highest rated KenPom team, but holds a lower seed than Wisconsin in the most recent Bracketology with Joe Lunardi.
With that said, it’s been a season-long debate between both teams as to who was the Big Ten’s best team. If you look at their head-to-head matchup, the honor goes to the Boilermakers, as they beat the Badgers 66-55 on Jan. 8.
In terms of the conference’s best player, Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan is the clear-cut favorite. After playing major minutes as a freshman, Swanigan is now averaging 19 points and 12.8 rebounds per game in his second year.
In fact, “Biggie” is second in the nation in rebounds per game, trailing only Seton Hall center Angel Delgado.
Moving forward, Purdue has six Big Ten games remaining. If they play as well as they have all year, you can expect them to snag a No. 3 or No. 4 seed.