As the month of February begins, some Big Ten college basketball teams are looking at the final third of their season and are thinking about where they might be playing once the season ends.
The general rule of thumb for Big Ten teams to make it to the NCAA tournament is 20 wins although occasionally 19 wins is good enough, as Wisconsin demonstrated last season.
Some Big Ten teams have worked hard during the season and are already making NCAA tournament season plans with thoughts of spending Apr. 3-5 in Indianapolis at the Final Four in lovely Lucas Oil Stadium.
A few Big Ten teams, however, have gaps in their basketball resume and will need a little extra credit to get to 20 wins and an invitation to the Big Dance.
If those teams on the bubble are not able to secure a big win down the stretch, they will begin making plans to spend the end of March in New York City to play in the NIT tournament in Madison Square Garden.
Unfortunately, there are a few teams in the conference who know that it is too late to turn around their fortunes. There will be no reprieve as they will not be playing anywhere in the postseason. The best these teams can do is to spoil the fun for other teams who have postseason aspirations.
A look at the prospects of each team in the Big Ten to see some postseason action either in the NCAA, NIT or on the couch at home.
Current Record: 14-8
Best Win: Dec. 8 at home over No. 24 Vanderbilt, 79-68
Worst Loss: Nov. 27, 60-58 loss to Utah in Las Vegas Tourney
Key Remaining Home Games: No. 5 Michigan St. on Feb. 6, No. 16 Wisconsin on Mar. 6
Key Remaining Road Games: No. 12 Purdue on Feb. 20, No. 24 Ohio State on Mar. 3
Which Player Came Ready to Play: Junior guard Demetri McCamey (pictured above) is averaging 15.1 points, 3 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.5 steals a game. McCamey has not only improved his stat line in all of the above categories from last year but he has also improved his shooting from the field (48 percent) and from beyond the arc (35 percent).
Biggest Surprise/Biggest Disappointment: Freshman guard D.J. Richardson has played like a seasoned veteran averaging 11.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and shooting 45% from beyond the arc.
What You Might Be Surprised to Know: The Illini defends the arc (29 percent) very well but is second to the bottom in the Big Ten in defense in allowing points (67.6) which has to have Coach Bruce Weber wondering what he can do to stop transition baskets on defense.
Projected Postseason Tournament Chances: Illinois has six of its remaining nine games against Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State, and Wisconsin. In order to get to 20 wins during the regular season, the Illini will need at least three victories over currently ranked teams. The Illini should get into the NCAA tournament but will likely need to win one Big Ten tournament game to make the NCAA tournament.
Current Record: 9-11
Best Win: Pittsburgh 74-64 in New York on Dec. 8
Worst Loss: Loyola (MD) (67-72) at home on Dec. 22
Key Remaining Home Games: No. 12 Purdue on Feb. 4, No. 24 Ohio State on Feb. 10
Key Remaining Road Games: No. 16 Wisconsin on Feb. 13, No. 12 Purdue on Mar. 3
Which Player Came Ready to Play: Freshman Christian Watford, pictured above, (12.4 points, 5.9 rebounds) has become a very nice addition to Coach Tom Crean’s squad. The 6’9", 240-pound Watford has a nice touch for a big man as he is shooting 80 percent from the free throw line.
Biggest Surprise/Biggest Disappointment: The knee injury that sidelined freshman Maurice Creek was the biggest disappointment for the Hoosiers this season. At the time of his injury, Creek was averaging 16.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists a game and was well on his way to picking up Big Ten freshman of the year honors.
A healthy Creek this season and the Hoosiers would have been the surprise team in the Big Ten.
What You Might Be Surprised to Know: The remaining schedule is brutal for the Hoosiers, as they have six of their last 10 games of the schedule are against teams that are ranked in the top 25 in Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, and Wisconsin.
In addition, they have to travel to Northwestern and Minnesota, where both teams are extremely tough to beat.
Projected Postseason Tournament Chances: The Hoosiers will be watching the NCAA and NIT tournaments from the couch as they will have a hard time getting to 12 wins.
Current Record: 8-14
Best Win: Dec. 21 home win over South Carolina State 82-69
Worst Loss: Nov. 17 home loss to Duquesne 52-50
Key Remaining Home Games: Michigan on Feb. 16, Indiana on Feb. 28
Key Remaining Road Games: Wisconsin on Mar. 3, Minnesota on Mar. 7
Which Player Came Ready to Play: Matt Gatens (pictured above) has improved his game from last year (12.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists) but without more talent around him there is only so much he can accomplish.
Biggest Surprise/Biggest Disappointment: The biggest surprise for Iowa has been the contributions of freshmen, Eric May (9.3 points, 5.1 rebounds) and Cully Payne (8.2 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists).
What You Might Be Surprised to Know: The two leading scorers on the Hawkeyes Matt Gatens (37 percent) and Anthony Tucker (36 percent) are both shooting under 40 percent from the field.
Projected Postseason Tournament Chances: The Hawkeyes will be hanging out at the Airliner watching the tournament action. Iowa’s two goals for the remainder of the season is to avoid finishing last in the Big Ten and to finish playing hard at the end of the season.
The first goal can be accomplished by winning one of the above remaining key home games. The second goal can be accomplished by winning one of its final two road games.
Current Record: 11-10
Best Win: Jan. 17 win over No. 15 Connecticut, 68-63
Worst Loss: Dec. 2 loss to Boston College, (58-62)
Key Remaining Home Games: No. 16 Wisconsin on Feb. 6
Key Remaining Road Games: No, 24 Buckeyes on Feb. 27; No. 5 Spartans on Mar. 6
Which Player Came Ready to Play: Expectations were high for the Wolverines this season as they started the season with a top-20 preseason ranking and two All Big Ten performers in Manny Harris (pictured above) and DeShawn Sims.
Harris (19.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists) and Sims (17.6 points, 7.7 rebounds) have both delivered as expected this season.
Biggest Surprise/Biggest Disappointment: The biggest disappointment this season has been the lack of any consistent shooting from any member of the squad not named Harris or Sims.
What You Might Be Surprised to Know: The four Wolverines other than Harris and Sims to average more than 20 minutes of playing time a game are all shooting less than 40 percent from the field: Zack Novak (38%), Stu Douglas (32%), Laval Lucas-Perry (38%) and Darius Morris (39%).
Projected Postseason Tournament Chances: The Wolverines have a signature non-conference win over a top-20 team with their win over Connecticut but they are unlikely to win eight of their remaining nine of their remaining games to get to 19 wins to give themselves an opportunity to secure a NCAA bid. The Wolverines appear destined to play in the NIT.
Current Record: 19-3
Best Win: No. 20 Wisconsin 54-47
Worst Loss: Road loss to Florida (74-77) on Nov. 27
Key Remaining Home Games: No. 12 Purdue on Feb. 9, No. 24 Ohio State on Feb. 20
Key Remaining Road Games: No. 16 Wisconsin on Feb. 2, No. 12 Purdue on Feb. 27
Which Player Came Ready to Play: 2009 Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas (pictured above) has played well. Recently, Lucas hit the last shot for the Spartans to put away the Gophers and Wolverines in consecutive games.
Biggest Surprise/Biggest Disappointment: Tom Izzo held Lucas out of practice earlier in the season to get his attention. Since the meeting with Izzo and Lucas, everyone in East Lansing has been on the same page as the Spartans are now 9-0 in Big Ten play.
What You Might Be Surprised to Know: As a team, the Spartans are shooting only 69 percent from the free throw line, which is eighth overall in the Big Ten. The Spartans still have some heavy lifting to do to win the Big Ten title, as they still have four tough games on their schedule as identified above.
Projected Postseason Tournament Chances: If the Spartans get a little help and don’t stumble the rest of the way toward the Big Ten finish line they might receive a No. 1 seed. If the Spartans continue to play as they have the past two weeks, Michigan State may be returning back this season to the Final Four.
Current Record: 13-8
Best Win: Butler 82-73 on Nov. 26 at 76 Anaheim Classic
Worst Loss: OT loss at Indiana (78-81) on Jan. 17
Key Remaining Home Games: No. 16 Wisconsin on Feb. 18, No. 12 Purdue on Feb. 24
Key Remaining Road Games: Illinois on Feb. 27, Michigan on Mar. 3
Which Player Came Ready to Play: Blake Hoffarber (pictured above) is shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc this season and his providing consistent perimeter shooting when the ball is moving. Lawrence Westbrook has picked up where he left off from last year as he continues to lead the team in scoring.
Biggest Surprise/Biggest Disappointment: Off-court problems. Senior Devon Bostick was suspended for a few games during the season. Freshman Royce White who was projected as a key contributor has failed to appear in a single game this season after being suspended in two off-court incidents.
White has now announced that he may leave the University of Minnesota. Starting point guard Al Nolen has recently been declared academically ineligible.
What You Might Be Surprised to Know: Minnesota is a pathetic 1-5 on the road. In the last third of the season, the Gophers need to figure out how to win away from home.
Projected Postseason Tournament Chances: The Gophers are clearly on bubble team for the NCAA tournament. They need to upset either the Badgers or Boilermakers along with winning both of their remaining key road games to ensure they get an invitation to the Big Dance.
If the Gophers can only manage to play .500 ball for the remainder of the season they will likely be hosting NIT games in the barn.
Current Record: 14-7
Best Win: 72-64 win at home over No. 6 Purdue on Jan. 16
Worst Loss: Jan. 2 home loss to No. 5 Michigan State, (70-91)
Key Remaining Home Games: Michigan on Feb. 2, Minnesota on Feb. 14
Key Remaining Road Games: No. 16 Wisconsin on Feb. 21
Which Player Came Ready to Play: Forward John Shurna (pictured above) has arguably had the best sophomore campaign in the Big Ten, taking over the scoring void left by Kevin Coble.
Shurna is averaging 18.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists while playing 35 minutes a game; he has even improved his free throw shooting going from 75 percent to 80 percent.
Biggest Surprise/Biggest Disappointment: The biggest surprise is the resiliency of the team as they could have easily folded at the beginning of the season. However, the Wildcats instead raced out to a 10-1 record.
What You Might Be Surprised to Know: The Wildcats have played the entire season arguably without their best player Kevin Coble, knee injury, and one of the key role players Jeff Ryan, foot injury, yet are poised to receive the school’s first ever NCAA tournament bid.
Projected Postseason Tournament Chances: If the Wildcats win one of the above identified key remaining home or road games, the Wildcats should secure 20 victories and a NCAA bid as seven of their final 10 games are against Indiana, Iowa, Penn State and Chicago State (6-16).
Current Record: 16-6
Best Win: Road win at Purdue 70-66
Worst Loss: Road loss to Michigan (64-73)
Key Remaining Home Games: Purdue on Feb. 17, Illinois on Mar. 3
Key Remaining Road Games: Michigan State on Feb. 20, Illinois on Feb. 14
Which Player Came Ready to Play: Evan Turner, pictured above, (18.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists) is putting together a strong case for player of the year honors. The Buckeyes however aren’t completely dependent on Turner to provide them with scoring. Ohio State has three players in William Buford, Jon Diebler and David Lighty averaging more than 13 points a game.
Biggest Surprise/Biggest Disappointment: The biggest surprise is Turner’s miraculous recovery after breaking several bones in his lower back on Dec. 5 after throwing down a dunk against Eastern Michigan.
What You Might Be Surprised to Know: Ohio State is leading the Big Ten in shooting at 50 percent. The Buckeyes honored their 1960 NCAA Basketball Championship team against Minnesota on Sunday. Attendees included Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek and Bobby Knight.
Knight honored his late coach in saying, “No team won a national championship with a better head coach than Fred Taylor.”
Projected Postseason Tournament Chances: If the Buckeyes sweep Illinois and beat either Purdue or Michigan State, Ohio State should receive a favorable seed to allow them to make a very deep run in the NCAA tournament. If Turner can stay healthy the rest of the way, Ohio State could be one of the surprise teams left during the second week of the tournament.
Current Record: 8-13
Best Win: 69-66 road win at Virginia on November 30
Worst Loss: 67-64 road loss at Iowa on January 16
Key Remaining Home Games: Michigan State on Feb. 23, Purdue on Mar. 6
Key Remaining Road Games: Ohio State on Feb. 13, Michigan State on Mar. 3
Which Player Came Ready to Play: All Big Ten 2009 First Team player Talor Battle, pictured above, (19.4 points 5.4 rebounds 3.8 assists) has put together another solid season in which he will again garner several votes for post season honors. Unfortunately, the Nittany Lions are a one man band as 6’0", 170-pound Battle is leading the team in rebounding and is the only player averaging more than 10 points a game.
Biggest Surprise/Biggest Disappointment: The biggest disappointment...is that the team’s schedule called for them to play most of the teams in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings yet the Nittany Lions have 0-9 record in the Big Ten.
What You Might Be Surprised to Know: Penn State is 0-9 in the Big Ten and has just completed the easy part of its Big Ten schedule. Every opponent remaining on the Nittany Lions schedule is ranked in the top 25 teams or has been ranked among the top 25 teams in the nation.
Projected Postseason Tournament Chances: None, as the Nittany Lions are simply playing the role of spoiler. While, the Nittany Lions could win the Big Ten postseason tournament, the reality is that Penn State has not shown any stretch of play this season that remotely suggests that they could play that well enough to win the tournament.
Current Record: 18-3
Best Win: Jan. 1 win at home over No. 6 West Virginia, 77-62
Worst Loss: Road loss to Northwestern (64-72) on Jan. 16
Key Remaining Home Games: Michigan State on Feb. 27
Key Remaining Road Games: Michigan State on Feb. 9, Ohio State on Feb. 17
Which Player Came Ready to Play: The three Purdue players (E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel and JaJuan Johnson) who received Big Ten honors last year have all increased their scoring average from last year; Moore had the biggest increase going from 13.8 points a game last year to 17.6 points a game this year.
Biggest Surprise/Biggest Disappointment: The three game losing stretch in which Purdue lost to Wisconsin, Ohio State and Northwestern between Jan. 9 and 16. What was surprising is that the Boilermakers had just throttled the West Virginia Mountaineers by 15 points and the Golden Gophers by 19 points in their previous two games.
What You Might Be Surprised to Know: The five players on Purdue’s squad who are averaging 20 minutes or more a game are all either junior or seniors giving Purdue one of the most experienced squads in college basketball.
Projected Postseason Tournament Chances: The Boilermakers will clearly be a high seed in the NCAA tournament, the only question is how high? The NCAA selection committee could find itself in a difficult predicament concerning seeding if Purdue sweeps the Spartans but finishes second in the Big Ten.
Current Record: 16-5
Best Win: Duke 73-69 on Dec. 2
Worst Loss: Green Bay (84-88) on Dec. 9
Key Remaining Home Games: No. 5 Michigan State on Feb. 2
Key Remaining Road Games: Michigan on Feb. 6, Minnesota on Feb. 18
Which Player Came Ready to Play: Senior Trevon Hughes, pictured above, (16 points, 5 rebounds, 2.9 assists) and Junior Jon Leuer (15.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 53 percent from the field) have both been solid this year providing Wisconsin with solid perimeter play, post play, and leadership.
Biggest Surprise/Biggest Disappointment: The play of the underclassmen, Jordan Taylor (9.5 points, 3.5 assists) and Ryan Evans (4.2 points, 3.1 rebounds), have been a pleasant surprise for Coach Bo Ryan as they have been solid contributors off of the bench.
What You Might Be Surprised to Know: After the playing the Spartans on Feb. 2, the Badgers don’t play another team with a winning record in the Big Ten for the rest of the season.
Projected Postseason Tournament Chances: The Badgers have gone through the toughest part of their schedule and are good shape to receive a favorable seed in the NCAA tournament. Ryan may be afforded the luxury of having some of his younger players see even more playing time if some of Wisconsin’s opponents mail it in at the end of the season.