With just one day remaining in the Big Ten basketball season, many might think that there's nothing of importance left to decide. Purdue locked up the conference title with its win over Indiana last week. Non-conference invitee Rutger has locked up the 14th and final position in the tournament. But still, with just four games left, there are substantial seeding changes that could take place. And all four of today's games could potentially affect Indiana.
|2017 Big Ten Men's Basketball Standings|
|Team||Big Ten Record||GB||Overall Record|
Purdue is locked into the 1-seed. Maryland can't be moved off the 3-seed line. Rutger are locked into the bottom. Every other seed in the conference tournament is subject to change with just four games left.
So, what should Indiana fans be rooting for today?
The Hoosiers can only finish 10th or 11th. The difference? A first-day bye or playing Rutger. They're the same thing, really, except for having an extra day's worth of wear and tear on the legs. The scenarios for deciding Indiana's place in the tournament are simple: if Nebraska beats Michigan, Indiana will be the 11-seed. If Michigan beats Nebraska, Indiana is the 10-seed and will play the 7-seed.
Who will be the 7-seed? Well, it depends, really. Michigan State can only be the 7-seed if Northwestern beats Purdue, Iowa loses to Penn State, and Michigan beats Nebraska. Iowa will be the 7-seed with a win against Penn State or a loss by Michigan. Michigan can be the 7-seed with a win over Nebraska and an Iowa loss.
But what if Nebraska beats Michigan? Northwestern is most likely to finish as the 6-seed. If Purdue beats the Wildcats, they'll be locked into the 6-seed no matter what. Michigan State would be the 6-seed if Northwestern and Iowa win, or if Northwestern wins and Iowa and Michigan both lose. Michigan can earn the 6-seed with a win, a Northwestern win, and an Iowa loss.
The top of the bracket also has implications for Indiana. The Hoosiers are locked into the bottom half of the bracket regardless of whether they are the 10- or 11-seed. That means they wouldn't have to face Purdue until the Big Ten Tournament final on Sunday. Three wins to get there, by the way, would put Indiana at 20 wins, 10 in the Big Ten, and potentially right back into the NCAA conversation.
But who would they have to go through?
If Wisconsin beats Minnesota, they'll be the 2-seed. That would make Maryland the 3-seed and Minnesota the 4-seed. If Minnesota beats Wisconsin, Minnesota will be the 2-seed, Maryland the 3-seed. Then, Wisconsin would be the 4-seed if Purdue beats Northwestern. If Northwestern beats Purdue and Wisconsin loses, Northwestern would be the 4-seed and Wisconsin falls to the 5-seed. The two and three seeds will be in the bottom half of the bracket.
According to KenPom's projections, Wisconsin will beat Minnesota, Iowa will beat Penn State, Michigan will beat Nebraska, and Purdue will beat Northwestern. If today's games are chalk, according to KenPom, the final standings will look like this:
|Team||Big Ten Record||GB||Overall Record|
This scenario would give us the following matchups in the Big Ten Tournament:
First Round, March 8
12 Nebraska vs. 13 Penn State
11 Ohio State vs. 14 Rutger
Second Round, March 9
8 Michigan vs. 9 Illinois
5 Michigan State vs. Nebraska/Penn State winner
7 Iowa vs. 10 Indiana
6 Northwestern vs. Ohio State/Rutger winner
Third Round, March 10
1 Purdue vs. Michigan/Illinois winner
4 Minnesota vs. Michigan State/Nebraska/PennState winner
2 Wisconsin vs. Iowa/Indiana winner
3 Maryland vs. Northwestern/Ohio State/Rutger winner
Indiana's path, then, to Sunday, and to joining the bubble discussion, would include Iowa, Wisconsin, and then either Maryland, Northwestern, Ohio State, or Rutger. Not the easiest path in the world. But consider this: at the height of its ineptitude this season, the 5-game losing streak bookended by sloppy wins over Penn State and Northwestern, the Hoosiers lost to both Iowa and Wisconsin on the road. They hung with the Badgers and lost by five. They took Iowa to overtime after completing collapsing down the stretch. Then, when Maryland was playing much better than they did to close the season, they took the Terps down to the wire in College Park. They have beaten Northwestern, Ohio State, and Rutger.
The bottom line is this: if today's games are chalk, Indiana has a possible path to the Big Ten Tournament final, albeit a tough one. But if the Hoosiers play just slightly better than they did over that rough 3-week period that seemed to cost them a bid to the big dance, they might just find a way to get to 20 wins and play themselves back into the conversation.