The NCAA Bubble Landscape in the upper right hand corner has been updated as we set the stage for the power conference tournaments, which began yesterday in New York when the Big East tipped off. This weekend will be one of the most consequential tournaments the Big Ten has ever had, with eight teams in legitimate contention for a bid, but only three (Michigan State, Illinois and Purdue) really secure.
Another conference tournament in Indianapolis concluded last night, and it was quite unfavorable for the Big Ten. In the Horizon League, Cleveland State stepped up to upset Butler, who was already a lock. The Horizon would likely have been a one-bid league had Butler won, but now will take a bid off the bubble. The Missouri Valley was even worse, where third-place Northern Iowa won, but Creighton is still very likely to make it, and Illinois State isn't out of the running either.
On a more positive note, Gonzaga and Siena, both locks for the Dance, took care of their business in their tournaments, ousting St. Mary's and Niagara respectively. Both runner-ups are still very much alive, but their resumes are not appreciably stronger than any Big Ten team. It was the best circumstance we could have hoped for.
Perhaps the biggest question about the Big Ten teams' chances is what sort of strike zone the committee will look at. Because our landscape is muddled. Of the bubble teams, Penn State has the impressive record 21-10 (and win #22 likely to come against Indiana on Thursday), but an RPI rank of only 63, thanks to an awful non-conference schedule. But the committee has also shown a propensity to reward teams who show themselves capable of beating top-notch competition within their league. PSU's 3-0 record against Michigan State & Illinois, the top two seeds in the tournament, will bode in their favor. How much weight will it get? Michigan's record of 18-12 isn't very impressive. How much weight will their wins over Duke & UCLA, back in December get? Wisconsin, at 18-11, doesn't have the spiffy record, nor any dazzling wins. But their non-conference losses were to UConn, Texas and a healthy Marquette. None of their conference losses were blowouts (seven were in the final minute of the game, the other being at Michigan State). Will they committee look at not just caliber of wins, but caliber of losses?
All are questions known only to the members of the committee, which is why no one outside of East Lansing, Champaign or West Lafayette can be too secure of what will transpire Sunday evening. It will make for an exciting tournament. Big Ten Country's coverage plans are to let the first two rounds play out on Thursday and Friday, then check back in here Saturday morning before the semis start. See you then, and everybody enjoy the tourney!
Michigan-Iowa (2:30, ESPN2)
Penn State-Indiana (5, ESPN2)
Michigan State vs. Minn/NU (Noon, ESPN)
Wisconsin vs. Ohio State (2:30, ESPN)
Illinois vs. Michigan/Iowa (6:30)
Purdue vs. Penn State/Indiana (9:00)