Outside of Wisconsin dominating this year (by the way, they clinched the Big Ten outright after beating Minnesota Thursday), the Big Ten has been mostly defined by its bubble teams. Besides Wisconsin and Maryland, no Big Team team has really stood out this year, as most teams in this conference have suffered a hiccup or two along the way.
However, this is a conference that could nonetheless get eight teams in the Big Dance despite being the fourth-best conference in the NCAA according to RPIRatings.com. Of course, how the following teams do this weekend and in the Big Ten Tournament next week will be of paramount importance to their NCAA Tournament candidacy.
So, let’s once again break down the Big Ten Bubble Watch, which is more bubblicious than ever.
All RPI’s courtesy of KenPom.com
Stone Cold Locks: Wisconsin and Maryland
Not a lock, but firmly in at the moment: Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State
Out barring a miracle or winning the conference tournament: Rutgers, Northwestern, Penn State, Nebraska, Minnesota and Michigan.
Still might have work to do:
Illinois 19-11, 9-8 RPI: 52
As of right now, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Illinois as one of his next four out. So clearly, this is the most bubblicious Big Ten team and one with no margin for error.
Most recently, the Illini took two important home games that they could not afford to lose in beating Northwestern and Nebraska. Assuredly, the Illini might have to win on the road against another bubble team in Purdue Saturday to even get a look.
Here are the positives for the Illini: two top-25 wins (Baylor and Michigan State, the latter of which on the road), one top-50 win (Maryland) and an additional three top-100 wins (Purdue, Michigan and Penn State).
The selection committee may also factor in that the Illini played nine games without their leading scorer Rayvonte Rice. Regardless, this is still an Illinois team that has to amass as many wins as they can.
Indiana 19-11, 9-8 RPI: 58
Once looking solid for a bid, if Indiana is not careful in the next week or so they could be left at the altar come Selection Sunday.
The problem with the Hoosiers is that they have not had a sustained run in quite a while. They have still yet to win back-to-back games since January 22. Indiana has now lost two games in a row and three out of their last four, which is no doubt leaving a sour taste in the mouths of the Selection Committee. Their game Saturday at home against Michigan State will prove to be critical to their NCAA chances.
As for what is working in the Hoosier favors is the fact that they own wins over SMU (RPI 23), Pittsburgh (RPI 76), Butler (RPI 24), Ohio State (RPI 15), Illinois (RPI 52) and Maryland (RPI 33). A good showing in the Big Ten Tournament could also benefit the Hoosiers greatly. Lunardi has the Hoosiers in the play-in-game as an 11 seed, so you can see Indiana’s margin for error is incredibly small.
Purdue 19-11, 11-6 RPI: 49
You would think 11 conference wins, four top-50 wins (BYU, NC State, Iowa and Ohio State) and a sweep of Indiana would be enough reason to include the Boilermakers, but a recent two-game losing streak has some people losing hope in Purdue.
Purdue has still won eight of their last 11 games and proven over the duration of the conference season that it is one the Big Ten’s better teams. The Boilermakers pass the eye test for certain.
One of the stains on Purdue’s resume that could stick with them is their non-conference losses to North Florida (RPI 128) and Gardner Webb (RPI 213). Still, the Boilermakers have regrouped and are playing much better down the stretch, and that is something the selection committee always values. Lunardi has Purdue as an 11 seed in his latest bracketology.