Who Survives This Bubble Team Scramble?

Selection Sunday is March 11. Time is running out for teams to enhance their resumes for an NCAA tourney at-large berth. Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana all look like locks for the Big Dance, with one winning the automatic bid and the others at-large spots. And Penn State and Nebraska appear to be but out.

But what about Purdue, Northwestern, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois, the Big Ten’s bubble teams? Yes, one could claim the Big Ten’s automatic bid by winning the league tourney, but that’s a long shot. Instead, each likely will need to earn an at-large bid if it wants to play in the NCAA tourney.

Each week this conference season I spoke with NCAA bracketologist Jerry Palm from CBSSports.com and posted my audio chats with him here. Now from my perspective, here’s a look at the resume of each bubble team as we enter the penultimate weekend of the season. Note that the RPI I’m using is as of Feb. 23, but you can always find the updated RPI right here.

PURDUE
Record: 18-10 overall; 8-7 Big Ten
RPI: 50
Record vs. Top 25: 0-7
February record: 3-3
Good wins: Iona, Temple, Miami (Fla.)
Bad losses: Butler; at Penn State
Games left: at Michigan; Penn State; at Indiana (see full schedule)
My take: No wins over Top 25 teams—and few other impressive victories. Still, I think the Boilermakers will lock up an at-large bid with a ninth Big Ten win, which should come at Penn State. Would a win in the league tourney help? No doubt, but I don’t think it will be necessary with a 9-9 record in the best conference in America.

NORTHWESTERN
Record: 16-11 overall; 6-9 Big Ten
RPI: 47
Record vs. Top 25: 1-6
February record: 4-3
Good wins: Seton Hall, Michigan State, Iowa
Bad losses: Illinois
Games left: at Penn State; Ohio State; at Iowa (see full schedule)
My take: That home overtime loss to Michigan was killer, but the Wildcats are playing well down the stretch. They also have some nice wins and few bad losses. I think NU could get its first NCAA bid with an 8-10 league mark and with two wins in the Big Ten tourney. Would one win in the league tourney be enough with an 8-10 Big Ten record? Hmmmm. Likely losing big man Luka Mirkovic to an ankle injury for the rest of the season would hurt.

IOWA
Record: 15-13 overall; 7-8 Big Ten
RPI: 139
Record vs. Top 25: 4-3
February record: 4-2
Good wins: Wisconsin (twice), Michigan, Indiana
Bad losses: Campbell, Clemson, Nebraska, at Penn State
Games left: at Illinois; at Nebraska; Northwestern (see full schedule)
My take: The Hawkeyes’ hopes looked bleak as February dawned (11-11 record), but they are now one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten. Most aspects of Iowa’s resume look NCAA worthy, but can the Hawkeyes overcome that horrid RPI? The good news: Iowa has a good shot to finish 10-8 in the Big Ten. But it still may need at least one win in the Big Ten tourney.

MINNESOTA
Record: 17-11 overall; 5-10 Big Ten
RPI: 77
Record vs. Top 25: 1-5
February record: 1-5
Good wins: Virginia Tech, at Indiana
Bad losses: None, really
Games left: Indiana; at Wisconsin; Nebraska (see full schedule)
My take: The home loss to Michigan State may have been the end of the Gophers’ hopes. Minnesota ended January with a 4-1 run, but it is struggling as the month comes to an end with a couple of tough games left. Yes, there really are no bad losses (Iowa twice?), but the Gophers have a bad RPI and no mojo.

ILLINOIS
Record: 16-12 overall; 5-10 Big Ten
RPI: 73
Record vs. Top 25: 3-4
February record: 0-6
Good wins: Gonzaga, Ohio State, Michigan State
Bad losses: at Penn State, Northwestern, at Nebraska
Games left: Iowa, Michigan, at Wisconsin (see full schedule)
My take: It’s probably time to stick a fork in the Fighting Illini. Yes, there are some nice wins, but Illinois is in a free fall with nine losses in 10 games. And three tough games remain. NIT, here we come!

Now you tell me what you think. Use the comment box below.

Tom Dienhart is a senior writer for BTN.com. Read his work at www.btn.com/tomdienhart, follow Dienhart on Twitter at@BTNTomDienhart, send a question to his weekly mailbag here, and click here to subscribe to his RSS feed.

Show Comments (1 Comment)
1 Post Your Comment
ryan eaton on 2/25/2012 @ 9:02am EDT Said:

i knew that iu, michigan, msu, wisconsin and osu were locks for the ncaa tournament. and then i thought it would be between purdue and northwestern to get at large bids. but iowa may be able to steal a bid. i did not realalize they were on such a hot streak

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