Tom Izzo is a man who knows how to win in March.
Some teams seem to be locked into the field of 68 for next month's tournament, but only time will tell how many will really get in. Some teams are fighting for No. 1 seeds, others are right on the bubble and there are teams who don't have any shot whatsoever unless they can make some sort of run in the Big Ten tournament.
Here's a rundown on who's in and who's out.
The Spartans took sole possession of first place in the Big Ten conference with a win over Purdue Sunday. Their 11-3 conference shows they can fight, and they would be 13-1 if they kept their head on straight early in the conference season. The Michigan State Spartans seem to make it to the Big Dance every year; they haven't missed the Big Dance since 1997.
Tom Izzo and his squad are almost locked into a top spot, whether a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. The Spartans lead the country with six wins over Top 25 teams. They started off slowly but got the wheels turning with a 15-game winning streak midway through the season. The Spartans lost to Northwestern and Illinois, games that the Spartans should have won. Their other loss in conference was at the hands of their archrival Michigan Wolverines, by one point.
The Spartans swept the Wisconsin Badgers and Purdue Boilermakers this season, with chances to do the same to their last four opponents.
The Spartans are a lock in the field. If they win three of their last four games, or all four, they have a shot at a No. 1 seed. Other than that, they are looking at a No. 2 seed.
Remaining Games: Feb. 22 at Minnesota (17-10, 5-9), Feb. 25 vs. Nebraska (12-13, 4-10), Feb. 28 at No. 20 Indiana (20-7, 8-7), March 4 vs. No. 6 Ohio State (22-5, 10-4)
(Rankings based on AP Poll 2/13/2012)
Ohio State holds a 10-4 record in the conference. The team has played well but has struggled in its last two games against ranked opponents. They lost at home by 10 to conference-leader Michigan State, and lost to Michigan by five to leave them tied for second with that very team.
On Feb. 10 I would have said they were in contention for a No. 1 seed, but now that hope is fading away. They can't seem to close out games. When ranked No. 2 they lost to IU by four, then, just like Michigan State, lost to a struggling Illinois team at Illinois. They'll have to prove themselves against Illinois at home in their next game as they have to get the momentum going down the stretch as they wrap up the season at East Lansing to take on the Spartans.
Hope for a No. 1 seed is almost gone. A No. 2 is seeming unlikely as well. Unless they get some help, I see the Buckeyes getting a No. 3 seed in the tournament
Remaining Schedule: Feb. 21 vs. Illinois (16-11, 5-9), Feb. 26 vs. Wisconsin (20-7, 9-5), Feb. 29 at Northwestern (16-10, 6-8), March 4 at No. 8 Michigan State (22-5, 11-3)
Michigan has won three straight after a loss at the hands of Michigan State. The Wolverines have one of the easiest remaining schedules, playing no team ranked higher than sixth in the conference (Purdue). Three of those games are on the road, including one against Illinois, which has proven to be a difficult place to win this season.
The Wolverines are getting hot at the right time, and unlike Ohio State, they are able to close out games. They are coming off a five-point win against the Buckeyes and are looking for the best seeding possible heading into the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. If they are able to win out, they would find themselves in second in the conference; the only way they could win would be with some help from Michigan State.
They are 2.5 games ahead of fifth, so they will more than likely receive a bye in the conference tournament.
ESPN's Joe Lunardi has Michigan ranked third and I can agree. If the team stays hot and wins out, as well as as least one game in the Big Ten tournament, they will solidify a No. 3 seed in the tournament.
Remaining Schedule: Feb. 21 at Northwestern (16-10, 6-8), Feb. 25 vs. Purdue (17-10, 7-7), March 1 at Illinois (16-11, 5-9), March 4 at Penn State (12-16, 4-11)
The Badgers have been on a roller coaster as of late—3-2 their last five games, including an overtime win at Minnesota. They have to get their heads on straight if they want a shot at greatness, as they have a tough Ohio State team just two games away.
Wisconsin lost just twice out of conference; then again, they were to the only ranked teams that the Badgers played. They lost by three at UNC and lost to Marquette by seven. They hit a cold stretch to ring in the new year, losing three games from Dec. 31 to Jan. 8.
The Badgers need to win out to have a shot at a No. 4 seed in the Big Dance. Of course, part of that streak would have to be at Ohio State, a tough place to play.
I can't see Wisconsin beating Ohio State on the road, and I can see them landing anywhere from a No. 4 to a No. 6 seed depending on how well they perform in the conference tournament.
Remaining Games: Feb. 23 at Iowa (14-13, 6-8), Feb. 26 at No. 6 Ohio State (22-5, 10-4), Feb. 28 vs. Minnesota (17-10, 5-9), March 4 vs. Illinois (16-11, 5-9)
(Rankings based on AP Poll 2/13/2012)
I really don't know what to say about this IU team. They have played their hearts out all season long, then embarrassed themselves in Iowa, losing by 12. They are 3-2 in their last five and 5-5 their last 10.
This is the team that shocked the world by beating No. 1 Kentucky in December. That was the signature win that Tom Crean needed on his resume.
The Hoosiers sit fifth in the Big Ten table and are fighting for a bye in the tournament. At the beginning of the season I figured .500 would be successful for them, slowly trying to work their way back into the spotlight they had with Bob Knight. The shooting for this team has been spectacular; ranked sixth in the nation in field-goal percentage, their three-point shooting leads the country.
I have them as a lock in the tournament, but where? We'll have to wait and see.
Before the Iowa game I had them as high as a No. 5 seed, but the loss drops them a little. I'll put them as a No. 6 seed—No. 7 if the roller coaster continues through the end of the regular season.
Remaining Games: Feb. 22 vs. North Carolina Central (14-12, 8-5 MEAC), Feb. 26 at Minnesota (17-10, 5-9), Feb. 28 vs. Michigan State (22-5, 11-3), March 4 vs. Purdue (17-10, 7-7)
The Boilermakers had a lead over conference-leader Michigan State at halftime, but then went scoreless as Michigan State pulled away with a 10-0 run to start the second half. Purdue is 2-3 their last five and 4-6 their last 10. They can't seem to put wins together and haven't won back to back in 2012.
Purdue needs to prove itself as the season winds down. Two of their last four games are very winnable. Three of four locks them into the tournament; two of four means they must show up in Indianapolis for the conference tournament. They are very close to punching a ticket but do have some work to do. A win at Michigan or at IU will (in my opinion) solidify their spot in the Big Dance.
A No. 12 seed for the Boilermakers, unless they start closing out games. At the highest they are a No. 10 seed. They are oh-so-close to a berth in the Big Dance once again.
Remaining Schedule: Feb. 22 vs. Nebraska (12-13, 4-10), Feb. 25 at Michigan (20-7, 10-4), Feb. 29 vs. Penn State (12-16, 4-11), March 4 at Indiana (20-7, 8-7)
The Wildcats are 4-2 their last six. The team lost back-to-back games on the road to both Indiana teams in the conference (IU and Purdue) yet won on the road at Illinois, which many teams haven't done—like Michigan State.
The team has been streaky—a few three-game winning streaks, a few three-game losing streaks and now a game against No. 19 Michigan to try to improve their resume. Their schedule out of conference was not good to start the season; their only out-of-conference losses were to the only ranked teams they played—Baylor and Creighton.
They somehow lost to Illinois at home yet beat them on the road and beat Michigan State at home. We'll have to see which NW team shows up the last three weeks of the season.
Illinois is sliding down the hill and Northwestern has a chance to take their place. If the Wildcats can win three of four down the stretch they have a shot at the Big Dance and a No. 13 seed.
Remaining Schedule: Feb. 21 vs. No. 19 Michigan (20-7, 10-4), Feb. 25 at Penn State (12-16, 4-11), Feb. 29 vs. No. 6 Ohio State (22-5, 10-4), March 3 at Iowa (14-13, 6-8)
Iowa just won their third game against a ranked opponent this season and their record vs. the Top 25 improves to 3-3, with a ranked game up next against Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes are 3-2 their last five, including their 12-point win over No. 20 Indiana.
The Hawkeyes haven't put more than three consecutive wins together this season, They played a mediocre out-of-conference schedule including losses to Campbell and Iowa State. They seem to not put much together in a row but they need to down the stretch with four games left. The Hawkeyes need to run the table and get at least one win in the conference tournament to be considered for the NCAA tournament.
If they don't win out, and don't win at least one tournament game, there is no way that the committee will consider the Hawkeyes in a bid for the Big Dance.
Remaining Schedule: Feb. 23 vs. No. 17 Wisconsin (20-7, 9-5), Feb. 26 at Illinois (16-11, 5-9), Feb. 29 at Nebraska (12-13, 4-10), March 3 vs. Northwestern (16-10, 6-8)
All of these teams have a very, very small window of opportunity. Minnesota has three of its last four games against Top 25 teams. If they win out they still have a shot at making the Big Dance, but they'll also have to show up in Indianapolis for the conference tournament.
Illinois has beaten Ohio State, Michigan State and Gonzaga as its key wins, its only wins vs. ranked opponents, and all have come at home. They also play three of their last four against Top 25 teams including Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Not much can be said about Penn State and Nebraska. Both teams have played poorly and are only fighting for 11th place in the Big Ten. If they pull off three miracle wins in a row, they will likely only earn a No. 15 seed in the Big Dance.
Not much can be said about the Cornhuskers (in their first season in the conference) or the Nittany Lions.