It’s that time of the year again. Conference tournaments and the bubble watch. March madness is upon us.
The Big Ten finds itself squarely on the bubble heading into the women’s conference tournament this week in Indianapolis. Charlie Creme, ESPN’s women’s basketball bracketologist has six Big Ten teams somewhere in his Last Four In, First Four Out or Next Four Out.
Minnesota, Purdue, Rutgers, Nebraska, Indiana and Michigan State all head to Indianapolis in hopes of either securing their NCAA tournament spots or forcing themselves into the field with a few wins this week.
These next few days at Bankers Life Fieldhouse will be play-in games for six different Big Ten teams.
(All numbers in parenthesis are Sagarin rankings.)
Last Four In
Minnesota (22-7, 11-5 B1G)- 32nd in Sagarin rankings; 75th SOS, 2-1 vs Top 25, 4-3 vs Top 50
Minnesota won five of their last six to finish the regular season, including solid wins over Purdue and Maryland, ranked 10th at the time.
It wasn’t until that win over Maryland that Creme put them in his field of 64. Now, after the loss last week to Indiana at home, they are clinging to their last four in position.
Minnesota’s good wins include that Maryland win, as well as at Purdue, vs then No. 20 Iowa and Michigan State. They have some bad losses, at North Carolina (92) and San Diego (141).
Minnesota will have a great opportunity to punch their ticket on Friday. With the four-seed in the tournament, they have the double-bye and will wait on Wisconsin, Northwestern, or Iowa.
The Hawkeyes are the five-seed and would be the expected opponent for Minnesota. They split with Iowa in the regular season. If they can break that tie with a win on Friday, that should be enough for the Gophers to feel safe. If they lose, they will be very nervous come selection day.
Purdue (18-12, 9-7 B1G)- 58th in Sagarin rankings; 45th SOS, 2-1 vs Top 25, 5-8 vs Top 50
Purdue can hang their hat on their strength of schedule at the moment. They may have lost eight times to top-50 teams, but they’ve also won five times, and challenged themselves all season with a plethora of top-tier talent.
Purdue is hobbling into March, losers of four of their last six. However, one of those two wins was at No. 10 Maryland.
Purdue is ranked 125th in the recent Sagarin rankings. These rankings are score-based rankings that weight recent games heavier than earlier games.
The Boilermakers have some good wins, including that Maryland win. They have knocked off a few other ranked teams; vs Rutgers and at Michigan and Iowa. They also have a solid win over Central Michigan early in the season.
Their only “bad loss” is vs Ohio back in December. The Hoosiers are outside the top-50, and they beat Purdue in both meetings. But that’s a bubble team, so those aren’t bad losses.
Purdue will need to beat Rutgers, the next team on this list, in the first round of the tournament to have a chance. That may be good enough, but an upset of Ohio State on Friday wouldn’t hurt.
Rutgers (19-11, 7-9 B1G)- 42nd in Sagarin rankings; 30th SOS, 1-4 vs Top 25, 5-5 vs Top 50
Rutgers is trending in the wrong direction. After a 2-5 record in February, and having lost nine of their final 12 games after starting the season 16-2, the Scarlet Knights have fallen hard in the rankings and in Creme’s bracket.
Right now, Rutgers is clinging to an 11-seed in the newest bracketology. Rutgers, like Purdue, have a poor recent Sagarin rating. The Scarlet Knights are 191st in the recent Sagarin metrics.
Their one top-25 win is Michigan (24). They also have good wins in conference vs Purdue, Minnesota and at Michigan State. Their good non-conference wins include NC State (26), Virginia (47) and Princeton (54).
Their bad losses are all in Big Ten play. Losses at Penn State (84) and Northwestern (103) stand out. They also have several losses to fellow bubble teams Purdue, Nebraska and Indiana.
I think Rutgers is in the same boat as Purdue. If they can beat the Boilers in the first round, they could squeak in. An upset over Ohio State would help make sure their selection day is much less stressful.
First Four Out
Nebraska (20-9, 11-5 B1G) 53rd in Sagarin rankings; 69th SOS, 0-4 vs Top 25, 5-5 vs Top 50.
It’s hard to believe the three-seed in the Big Ten tournament could miss out on March. However, a glance at the numbers makes it more believable.
Nebraska’s strength of schedule isn’t anything to write home about. Fellow Big Ten teams on the bubble have much better ones, like IU (24), MSU (27), Rutgers (30) and Purdue (45).
Their zero wins vs. top-25 teams is also concerning. Their good wins are all in conference, winning vs Iowa twice, Purdue and on the road vs Minnesota, Rutgers and Michigan State.
Nebraska doesn’t have that many “bad losses.” Their one blemish is a loss vs Clemson (174) in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in November. Other than that, no losses stand out as horrible. Their loss vs Washington State (76) isn’t great, but not “bad.”
Nebraska waits until Friday to play their first game. They may have wanted to get a Thursday game for another possible win, but a win vs Michigan on Friday would be enough in my mind to put them into the tournament. Michigan defeated Nebraska 69-64 in overtime back in January.
Next Four Out
Indiana (16-13, 9-7 B1G)- 59th in Sagarin rankings; 24th SOS, 0-5 vs Top 25, 3-9 vs Top 50
Indiana’s overall record is by far the worst of any of these teams. However, their SOS is the toughest. They went out in the non-conference and scheduled very difficult. The issue is, they didn’t win many of those games.
The Hoosiers have had close calls with many of the best teams on their schedule. They hung around with Louisville (5), Ohio State (11), Maryland (14) and Michigan (24).
The good wins have come late in the season as a part of their eight-game win streak. During that streak, they won at Michigan State, Purdue and Minnesota, and also beat Rutgers and Nebraska at home. That’s a perfect 5-0 vs the bubble teams in the Big Ten. Their lone loss to any of these bubble teams was a loss in December to Michigan State at home.
Their only bad loss in conference play was at Penn State (84) on January 3. They also lost in non-conference play to Auburn (72), St. Mary’s (96) and Chattanooga (124).
While the stats may not back them up, the Hoosiers are one of the hottest teams in all of college basketball. They have finally appeared on Creme’s bubble watch, but they will need to do some work in Indianapolis this week.
The Hoosiers can’t stumble against Michigan State, that’s a given. Then the question is whether or not a win over Maryland would be enough. It depends a lot on what happens to bubble teams around them, but I think a win over Maryland for their 10th win in their last 11 would be enough to get them through.
Michigan State (17-12, 7-9 B1G)- 34th in Sagarin rankings; 3-5 vs Top 25, 3-9 vs Top 50
Michigan State doesn’t have a great overall record or Big Ten record. They’re also the ten seed in the tournament. However, their 3 wins over top-25 teams is the best of the bunch.
The Spartans have a 34 recent Sagarin ranking thanks to winning 3 of their last four. They had previously lost 6 straight.
Sparty has some good wins. In conference, they have knocked off Maryland, Michigan, Indiana and Purdue. They defeated South Florida (19) in non-conference play.
The problem isn’t bad losses either. It’s just a lot of losses to the middle tier. The loss that stands out is at Penn State (84). Their record against bubble teams isn’t great either. They have losses to Purdue, Indiana, Nebraska, Minnesota and Rutgers, all the teams mentioned in this article.
So where does that leave Michigan State? They have the furthest to climb to get into the tournament. They for sure need to wins, Indiana and Maryland, and may even need a third to get in. But that Maryland win would be their fourth win over a top-25 team so that may be enough.
What does this all mean?
Seeds three, four, seven, eight, nine and 10 are all entrenched in this year’s bubble. Three of them are in a “win and you’re in” circumstance, and Nebraska may be there as well from that “first four our” group.
For the winner of Indiana and Michigan State, they will need at least one more win to get into the picture.
The Rutgers vs. Purdue and Indiana vs. Michigan State games on Thursday are play-out games. The loser is out. The winner of the Purdue/Rutgers game should be in. The latter will still have work to do.
No matter what happens this week in Indianapolis, there will be plenty of eyes on Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Creme will certainly have his eyes on the Big Ten tournament.
And whether they win or not this week, Monday, March 12, and all the time leading up to that day will be extremely nerve-racking for all six of these teams. The Big Ten could have anywhere from probably five or six teams to up to around eight teams in the NCAA tournament.
While it may not technically be a part of the NCAA tournament, the Big Ten tournament this week in Indianapolis will be a play-in tournament for these six teams to punch their tickets into the NCAA tournament.