Before I start the rankings this week, I'm again going to offer a quick tribute to another legendary coach. Longtime UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian died on Wednesday, and like Dean Smith, he was a pioneer, but in a much different way. Tark the Shark was a refreshingly honest character in college basketball, liked his teams to play a fun and up-tempo offense, and was often seen chomping on a towel as a way to alleviate stress. In addition, Tarkanian also was the first coach to really go public about how the NCAA doles out punishments to its members - here's his most famous quote: "The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky, it's going to give Cleveland State two more years' probation."
Now, here's my question. With about a month until Selection Sunday, can eight B1G teams make the NCAA Tournament this year? It's certainly plausible, especially since the bubble will always seem "soft" now that the field has expanded to 68 teams. The past few days, you've likely seen some tweets about the mock selection committee that took place over the weekend. Below is the final field that the mock selectors came up with:
It's kind of hard to read this, so here are the seeds that each B1G team received:
Wisconsin - 1
Maryland - 4
Indiana - 6
Ohio State - 7
Iowa - 8
Illinois - 11
Michigan State - 11 (play-in)
Looking right on the outside was Purdue. You'll see that I have the Boilers pretty high this week in the rankings, but the efforts of the mock committee signify that they might not be a tourney team at this moment. Thus, Thursday's game at IU might not only be important for rivalry purposes, but it also would have a huge impact on Purdue's NCAA chances.
Tier 4: Gone Fishin'
14. Rutgers (10-16, 2-11) (Previous: 13)
Welcome back to the bottom rung, Scarlet Knights! I still think they could be a dangerous opponent when IU heads there next Sunday though - the RAC has foiled opponents before and Rutgers will be playing for pride by then.
But since there's not much to discuss about Rutgers, let me rant for a bit about a troubling development that I heard over the weekend. Apparently some higher-ups are interested in making freshmen ineligible to play college sports, like they were back in the 50s and 60s. That is a ridiculous idea and the thought shouldn't even be considered. First of all, the NBA is the one that has made the one year of college rule before entering the draft, not the NCAA. So if the NCAA makes this freshmen ineligibility rule, where do first-year players turn? The best players might leave to compete overseas, like Emmanuel Mudiay did this year, and for the rest of the players, not having a year to play would stunt their growth and development as an athlete. This is ludicrous and reactionary and it's embarrassing that it's even being considered.
13. Northwestern (11-14, 2-10) (Previous: 14)
It's been a rough season for Northwestern, who have come close to victory several times during their 10-game losing streak but did not break through until Sunday for their first win of the calendar year. Thus, the victory over a reeling Iowa team must have been a cathartic one, especially since Michigan State ran the Wildcats out of their own gym earlier last week.
12. Penn State (15-11, 3-10) (Previous: 12)
Pat Chambers was NOT happy with the refereeing after a close home loss to Maryland on Saturday. Here's a question: Is Penn State the basketball equivalent of IU football? Both programs have proven to be tough places to win consistently, another sport dominates the campus, but also have players that often keep their teams competitive (D.J. Newbill could be the Tevin Coleman of PSU hoops).
11. Nebraska (13-12, 5-8) (Previous: 11)
Another two-loss week for the Huskers and they have officially fallen to the bottom tier. Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields both have been on the floor for over 85 percent of the team's minutes this year, and you can begin to see the fatigue setting in for this team. Definitely the most disappointing team of the B1G this season after last season's surprise run to the Field of 68.
Tier 3: Time Keeps on Slipping
10. Michigan (13-12, 6-7) (Previous: 9)
Speaking of fatigue, the Wolverines have now lost four in a row and the injuries to their backcourt have really started to take their toll on the team. The loss to Illinois last Thursday was especially frustrating, as Michigan was outscored 21-2 in the closing minutes and overtime.
9. Minnesota (16-10, 5-8) (Previous: 10)
Despite losing by 19, I didn't think the Golden Gophers played terribly against IU last night. They just ran into a Hoosiers team that was the living embodiment of the fire emoji from outside. With two games remaining against Wisconsin down the stretch, this team's tournament chances are likely in trouble.
Tier 2: Tournament-worthy?
8. Iowa (15-10, 6-6) (Previous: 3)
This. Freaking. Team. Last week I had the Hawkeyes at three, this week, they fall back five spots, after a home loss to Minnesota and a road loss to frequent Iowa oppressor Northwestern. Could this be the start of another late-season Iowa swoon? Fran McCaffery must be worrying that his team is going through Groundhog Day right now, and their resume may not be as strong as it was last season to keep them into the field. Luckily, the Hawkeyes end their season with a very favorable schedule other than a road trip to Assembly Hall, so they should be safe as long as they take care of business.
7. Illinois (17-9, 7-6) (Previous: 7)
The Illini are predicted to win two and lose two in their next four games. In their final game of the regular season, they travel to Mackey Arena. Could Illinois-Purdue become a de facto play-in game to get into the tourney?
6. Indiana (18-8, 8-5) (Previous: 5)
Well, that was fun last night, wasn't it? There really isn't a ton of difference between the sixth and second-best B1G team right now; however, I have IU ranked sixth because the Hoosiers aren't quite as well-rounded as the teams above them, and have lost to all five. Despite this, who needs well-roundedness when you are hitting every three-pointer in sight? This team is incredibly fun to watch. Now, it's time for the Hoosiers to get revenge on the school up north.
Also, here's a link to a really awesome gesture that Tom Crean made at the postgame presser.
5. Maryland (20-5, 9-4) (Previous: 6)
Props to the Maryland crowd, who brought a ton of energy to Xfinity Center (and threw no batteries, as far as I know) during Wednesday night's squeaker over IU. Like that game, the Terps have had a penchant for winning close games this year, and thus are ranked sixth out of 351 on KenPom's luck ratings. Comparatively, Michigan State is ranked 332nd on the same metric.
4. Michigan State (17-8, 8-4) (Previous: 8)
I thought I was being really clever when I tweeted something about how Denzel Valentine hit the dagger for Sparty on Valentine's Day. If only Ted had been refereeing too! Of course, this is what happened next:
EVERYONE MAKE THE SAME JOKE AT ONCE pic.twitter.com/FenFNxQR9z
— The Crimson Quarry (@crimsonquarry) February 14, 2015
Still, the Spartans have quietly climbed to 8-4 in the conference and are in good shape for keeping their NCAA Tournament streak alive as long as they finish strong.
3. Purdue (17-9, 9-4) (Previous: 4)
The Boilers took care of business against two subpar conference teams, and look nothing like the Boilers that lost at home to North Florida and Gardner-Webb back in December. Vince Edwards may be a freshman, but he already seems like he could be a special player for this team in the coming years.
2. Ohio State (19-7, 8-5) (Previous: 2)
Yes, I know the Buckeyes lost to MSU on Saturday. But the Buckeyes have still won five of their past seven, and both losses came on the road and were by only one possession. Marc Loving is also back with the team, after missing three games due to a very mysterious suspension.
Tier 1: The Tank
1. Wisconsin (23-2, 11-1) (Previous: 1)
What more is there to say about the Badgers at this point? Yesterday, Wisconsin didn't even get to 50 possessions, yet still effortlessly scored 68 points. With the B1G title all but sewn up, the major question that remains is whether this team gets a 1-seed in the tournament.