Big Ten Bubble Watch: Five In, Six Out?
Where has the college basketball season gone?
With baseball's pitchers and catchers reporting this week, it's time to gear up for the stretch run of college basketball.
March Madness is the best three-week period of the sports year for many, but the field of 65 often takes shape in the last month of conference play.
For the Big 10, there's reason for optimism and a chance to build off of a very impressive football bowl season.
With the Final Four being held in Indianapolis, the Big 10 would like nothing more than to fill the dome with its loyal Big 10 fans.
With six conference games left, let's look at who's in, who's out, and who's riding the bubble.
Their ticket to the Big Dance is paid for:
Purdue, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State.
Purdue RPI: 10; SOS: 47
The Boilers started off 14-0, hit a snag and lost three in a row, but have rallied with seven consecutive victories.
The three-headed monster of E'Twaun Moore (17.3 ppg), Robbie Hummel (16.1 ppg), and JaJuan Johnson (14.9 ppg) have brought Purdue within a half-game of the Big 10 lead.
Nine conference victories is impressive enough, but when you throw in non-conference wins over West Virginia, Tennessee, and Wake Forest, there is a serious Final Four contender looming.
Wisconsin RPI: 16; SOS: 15
The Dec. 2 victory over Duke looks more impressive each day, and the Badgers will be dancing yet again in March.
Bo Ryan's teams always seem to fly under the radar a bit, and this bunch is no exception.
The Badgers look like a No. 4 or No. 5 seed, especially if they can chalk up victories over the likes of Minnesota, Northwestern, Indiana, and Iowa in the next two weeks.
Their last Big 10 game at Illinois will likely determine which team gets the better seed in the Big 10 tournament, and avoids playing a team like Purdue in the semi-finals.
Michigan State RPI: 26; SOS: 38
Another year, and another Big Dance on the horizon for the Spartans.
But just as Wisconsin's win over ACC-power Duke looks better each day, Michigan State's loss to fellow ACC-titan North Carolina looks worse each day.
Ditto for the Spartans' Dec. 22 loss to Texas.
At the time, those losses looked more than respectable, but both teams have gone in the tank in recent weeks, particularly the Tar Heels.
But Tom Izzo's balanced team—nearly five players average double figures in scoring—sits atop the Big 10 and has the experience and tenacity to make another Final Four run.
Ohio State RPI: 30; SOS: 81
The RPI and SOS numbers may not be the most impressive in the nation, but star guard-forward Evan Turner (19 ppg, 9.4 rpg) may be the most impressive player in the nation.
With Turner healthy, the Buckeyes can be a nightmare for anyone in the field of 65.
Winners of six in a row, Ohio State just blasted Illinois in Champaigne—the Illini had been the hottest team in the Big 10.
The title of hottest team in the conference now belongs to Ohio State. They're dangerous.
Have the money for the Dance, just need a date:
Illinois RPI: 65; SOS: 62
Few teams anywhere can brag about back-to-back wins like the Illini can.
They just took down the Spartans and Badgers (at Wisconsin, which is no easy task) and find themselves just a game back in the Big 10 race.
But earlier losses to Utah, Bradley, and Georgia have some wondering if this is a tourney team.
On the other hand, impressive wins over Vanderbilt and Clemson lend support for the Illini.
They'll likely get in, but they would certainly help their case with a win (or two) against Purdue, Ohio State, and Wisconsin.
Don't have the money or a date:
Northwestern and Minnesota.
Northwestern RPI: 73; SOS: 87
Very low numbers for a team with tournament dreams.
Out of conference, the Wildcats can only point to wins over Stanford and Notre Dame —both having down years—and in conference only a win against Purdue stands out.
Bill Carmody's club is under .500 in the league, but only plays one more Big 10 team with a winning record (Wisconsin).
They'll likely need that victory to have a chance come Selection Sunday; there just isn't a lot to their resume.
Unless the selection committee gives them special consideration because their best player, Kevin Koble, sat out the year because of injury, this is an NIT team.
Minnesota RPI: 83; SOS: 52
Wins over Butler and Ohio State are overshadowed by dreadful losses to Portland and Indiana, and the Gophers are just 5-7 in Big 10 play.
A 14-10 overall record lends little support for the Gophers' NCAA hopes, but upcoming home games against Wisconsin and Purdue give Minnesota an outside chance.
If they can steal one or both, plus throw in a victory on the road against Illinois, the Gophers can make the field of 65.
That's a lot to ask for, however, so don't hold your breath, Gophers fans.
No one wants to take these guys to any dance:
Penn State, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan.
Wait 'til next year guys. The four teams have combined for just 11 Big 10 wins, no thanks to Penn State (0-11).
At least Nittany Lions fans have football to celebrate, and Iowa's Orange Bowl victory put smiles on faces in Iowa City.
So, there you have it. This is likely a five-bid conference, with an outside shot at seven if Northwestern and Minnesota catch extreme fire.
Both teams will need a little February Madness in order to compete during March Madness.
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