It is already February, which means March Madness is right around the corner and the Big Ten Conference figures to be a major player in the NCAA tournament this year given the overall depth of the league.
In the most recent edition of the Associated Press Top 25, the Big Ten has five ranked teams and another receiving votes. All of those teams are ranked No. 18 or higher and three are inside the top 10.
To put that into perspective, no other conference in the country has more than three teams within the top 18.
With all of those teams in the national polls, that means there are several opportunities for other Big Ten members to compile some impressive quality wins for their tournament resumes.
Some programs are taking advantage of their opportunities while others are floundering. But when the smoke clears on Mar. 17, how many Big Ten teams will receive an invitation to the field of 68?
Who Has No Shot at Making the NCAA Tournament?
Before taking a closer look at which members of the conference will be competing in the NCAA tournament, let's examine which schools have absolutely no chance of making it to the Big Dance.
The Penn State Nittany Lions are currently 0-10 in league play and have struggled to an 8-14 overall record. It is safe to say head coach Patrick Chambers and his team will not be receiving one of the 37 available at-large bids next month.
Also out of the mix are the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who are 11-12 this season and have lost 10 of their 12 conference tilts. Nebraska's only victories in the Big Ten came against Penn State and the Northwestern Wildcats, who will not give anyone's tournament resume a boost.
The Iowa Hawkeyes sealed their fate on Wednesday night after losing to the Wisconsin Badgers in double overtime.
The loss left the Hawkeyes without a quality win away from home, and a 3-7 record in conference play. Their only victory came on Jan. 19 against Wisconsin.
The incredibly inconsistent Purdue Boilermakers will also find themselves on the outside looking in.
The Boilermakers are 5-5 in contests against Big Ten foes, though their struggles in non-conference play, including losses to the Eastern Michigan Eagles and Oregon State Beavers, are enough to eliminate them from the picture.
Now, let's take a look the Big Ten teams that are essentially locks to make the tournament and who has work left to do before they can breathe easy.
Who's Already Assured a Spot in the Field of 68?
The No. 1 Indiana Hoosiers, No. 3 Michigan Wolverines and No. 12 Michigan State Spartans are all mortal locks to make the Big Dance.
Firstly, the Hoosiers are 20-2 this season, sit atop the Big Ten with an 8-1 mark and boast a 5-2 record against teams ranked inside the top 50 of the Rating Percentage Index. (RPI). Among those victories is an 83-59 rout of the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Next up is Michigan, which improved to 21-2 overall and bolstered its case for a No. 1 seed by taking down the No. 10 Ohio State Buckeyes in overtime on Tuesday.
The Wolverines are 4-2 against the RPI top 25, and have three tilts with nationally ranked opponents before the conference tournament, so Michigan's resume can only get stronger from here on in.
Finally, head coach Tom Izzo and the Spartans are at it again. Michigan State is also in the hunt for one of the four top seeds, because it has five wins over teams inside the RPI Top 50 and zero bad losses.
The only games the Spartans have dropped thus far came at the hands of teams ranked No. 22 or better in the RPI rankings.
Michigan State still has two clashes with in-state rival Michigan and a home tilt with Indiana left on its schedule. Winning two of those three games would put the Spartans in the conversation for a No. 1 or 2 seed as long as they don't suffer any bad losses along the way.
Who Needs to Bolster Their Resume?
The five remaining teams in the hunt for NCAA tournament bids are Ohio State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Northwestern and the Illinois Fighting Illini.
The Buckeyes do not have much work left to do, but they are not a lock at this point due to the fact they only have two quality wins.
Ohio State has not lost to anyone outside the RPI top 50, though it could use another victory in one or two of its remaining games against nationally ranked teams to rule out any potential disaster scenarios.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin is quietly sitting at 7-3 in Big Ten play and have beaten four teams inside the RPI top 50, including a road win over Indiana.
Losses to Iowa and the Virginia Cavaliers could hurt the Badgers a bit when it comes to seeding. Wisconsin has a chance to nullify those by winning any of their next three games though, which are all against Top 25 teams.
Minnesota is also on the verge of locking up an at-large bid. The Golden Gophers simply need to take care of business at home, avoid being upset on the road and defeat either Ohio State or Indiana to earn a high seed.
Illinois and Northwestern are facing the most uphill battles out of this group.
After running off 14 wins in their first 16 games, the Fighting Illini have dropped six of their last seven contests. They only managed to beat Nebraska during that span.
There are still plenty of opportunities left for Illinois to pick up some wins worthy of a postseason resume. The success the team had early in the season is the only thing keeping its hopes alive right now.
The Fighting Illini topped the Butler Bulldogs on a neutral floor, the Gonzaga Bulldogs in Spokane, Wash. and Ohio State at home prior to their disastrous turn.
Northwestern also has a few big wins to its name. The Wildcats are just 13-10 on the year, but they did beat Illinois and the Baylor Bears on the road. A victory over Minnesota also looks pretty good on this season's resume.
How many Big Ten teams will make the 2013 NCAA tournament?
In order for the Wildcats to realistically have a shot at the Big Dance, they will have to take three out of four games from Ohio State (twice), Wisconsin and Michigan State.
Northwestern will also need to dispatch of everyone else on its schedule, however, it would be foolish to count them out considering that the Wildcats have already beaten some solid teams this season.
Michigan and Indiana should both wind up with No. 1 seeds and will be No. 2s at worst. Look for the Spartans to take one game from the Wolverines and make a run in the Big Ten tournament to secure no worse than a No. 4 seed.
Ohio State defeats Minnesota and Michigan State in Columbus, gets swept by Indiana and makes an early exit in the conference's postseason event. This would mean the Buckeyes lock up a No. 3, No. 4 or No. 5 seed.
The Golden Gophers look like a solid bet to fill up a No. 5 or No. 6 seed, while Wisconsin will be hovering around a No. 7, No. 8 or No. 9.
As for the bubble teams, Northwestern pulls off one more upset at home, but come up well short of its first tournament bid once again.
Illinois will not find any answers before the end of the year and will come up short in all three of their road games against ranked opponents. This will keep the Fighting Illini out of March Madness.
Therefore, the Big Ten will place six teams in the 2013 NCAA tournament.
Note: A quality win is considered to be a victory over a team ranked inside the RPI top 50.
RPI Rankings via realtimerpi.com.
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