staff, February 15, 2012

As we hit mid-February, the thoughts of college basketball fans naturally turn to the impending NCAA Tournament, especially to that dreaded B-word that gives college coaches heartburn–bubble. The Big Ten is not immune to this syndrome; in fact, four conference members find themselves squarely on that bubble. One of them was in action last night, while the other three will play tonight. Let's examine these squads that are teetering on the edge.

Last night, Minnesota missed a golden opportunity in a 10-point home loss to Ohio State. From an early 12-12 tie, the Buckeyes went on a 20-0 run, putting the Gophers into a hole out of which they were unable to climb. The disappointing thing for Minnesota is just how well it played outside of that window. Here's the efficiencies for the two squads, both inside and outside of that 20-0 run:

During run Rest of game
Ohio State 1.67 1.09
Minnesota 0.00 1.26

Minnesota's offense was rather impressive if you ignore that seven-minute goose egg. Whenever you give up a 20-0 run, lots of things are going wrong, but the most obvious problem was the turnover differential. Take a look at each team's turnover rate inside and outside of the run:

TO% (During run) TO% (Rest of game)
Ohio State 8% 15%
Minnesota 45% 17%

The Gophers turned it over on nearly half of their possessions, allowing the Buckeyes to get out for easy buckets. Minnesota calmed down and played well the rest of the way, but its fate had already been sealed. Julian Welch put up a nice line of 11 points, nine assists, and just one turnover. Jared Sullinger and William Buford were incredibly efficient, combining for 47 points on just 28 shots.

This loss leaves the Gophers with a 5-8 conference record and a rather treacherous road ahead. In only one of its five remaining games is Minnesota favored by KenPom (the home finale against Nebraska). Needless to say, the Gophers have an uphill climb to earn an at-large bid. But where would they stand if the bracket were assembled today?

At Basketball Prospectus, Drew Cannon presented a simple method of looking at the bubble that gets you to a level of accuracy on par with national bracketologists. Simply add together the KenPom rank and RPI rank for every team, and the resulting list gives a rather solid idea of where teams stand in the at-large race. Last season, this method would have nailed 66 of the 68 teams, and it would have gotten 64 of 65 the season before that.

Using this method, here's the top 60, as of today, along with their theoretical seed:

Rank Seed Team Conference
1 1 Kentucky SEC
2 1 Kansas B12
3 1 Syracuse BE
4 1 Michigan St. B10
5 2 Ohio St. B10
6 2 Missouri B12
7 2 North Carolina ACC
8 2 Duke ACC
9 3 Baylor B12
10 3 Wichita St. MVC
11 3 Indiana B10
12 3 Georgetown BE
13 4 Wisconsin B10
14 4 Marquette BE
15 4 St. Louis A10
16 4 Florida SEC
17 5 Michigan B10
18 5 Memphis CUSA
19 5 Nevada Las Vegas MWC
20 5 New Mexico MWC
21 6 Louisville BE
22 6 Gonzaga WCC
23 6 Florida St. ACC
24 6 California P12
25 7 Temple A10
26 7 St. Mary's WCC
27 7 Vanderbilt SEC
28 7 Connecticut BE
29 8 Texas B12
30 8 Creighton MVC
31 8 Southern Mississippi CUSA
32 8 Virginia ACC
33 9 Alabama SEC
34 9 Iowa St. B12
35 9 Harvard Ivy
36 9 Miami FL ACC
37 10 Seton Hall BE
38 10 San Diego St. MWC
39 10 Brigham Young WCC
40 10 West Virginia BE
41 11 Notre Dame BE
42 11 Kansas St. B12
43 11 Purdue B10
44 11 Illinois B10
45 12 Middle Tennessee SB
46 12 Long Beach St. BW
47 12 Northwestern B10
48 12 North Carolina St. ACC
49 13 Belmont ASun
50 13 Minnesota B10
51 13 Iona MAAC
52 13 Saint Joseph's A10
53 14 Arizona P12
54 Xavier A10
55 Wyoming MWC
56 Murray St. OVC
57 Mississippi St. SEC
58 Akron MAC
59 Oral Roberts Sum
60 Washington P12

If we assume that all conference tournaments are won by the favorites, the last at-large bid would currently go to #53 Arizona. In practice, there are going to be some bid stealers, so the realistic line for "last team in" is probably a lot closer to where Minnesota currently resides, if not just above the Gophers. Let this list serve as an easy reference guide of teams for Minnesota fans to root against when their Gophers aren't in action.

We can also see where the Big Ten's other bubble teams rank–Purdue and Illinois are in right now as 11 seeds, but one of them is going to drop after losing tonight's crucial matchup in Champaign (7:30pm CT, BTN). Northwestern is lurking just below them, poised to jump ahead if they can somehow get a win at Indiana tonight (5:30pm CT, BTN). To say that tonight is an important one for the Big Ten bubble would be an understatement. With just 19 days remaining in the regular season, every win is crucial.