For as poor a job as the conference did a season ago at putting teams in position to earn a tournament bid, no one can say the Big Ten as a collective unit hasn’t done really nice work in the non conference. At this point, we’re mostly past the “big games” prior to conference play starting back up. Thought it would be a good time to take a look at the league team by team and evaluate where things stand by grouping them into categories.
Michigan – Can’t argue with 11-0 and 2-0 in the conference for the Wolverines. They’re #2 in the NET behind only Virginia nationally (and for those who are behind, this is the only metric which really matters for selection/seeding purposes). 2-0 in true road games, 2-0 on neutral courts, 3-0 vs NET Top 40s and 1 more (Northwestern) just outside of that group at #44 as of yesterday. Really, the only minor negative is that they haven’t been able to shake any of their last three opponents, beating NW by 2, South Carolina by 11 and WMU by 8, but that is a REALLY minor deal.
Michigan State – #9 in NET prior to tonight’s win (I don’t think they’ll move up tomorrow). 9-2 overall, 2-0 in the league. The losses came to NET #5 (KU) and #19 (Louisville). They have wins over one Top 40 (Iowa) and three in the 41-58 range (Florida, Texas and UCLA). 2-1 on the road and 2-1 in neutral site games. Honestly, if they’d made one more play at Louisville, we’d be talking about this as an incredible non conference performance. As it stands, it’s still really, really good. At Michigan State, all you ask for in the non conference is to be in position to earn a greatseed/favorable sites if you take care of business in the league and MSU is absolutely in that position.
Wisconsin – I expected Wiscy to bounce back and be a Tournament level team this year after their long bid streak ended in last season’s injury ravaged campaign. So far, they’re making that call look good, though many are probably surprised by their #9 NET ranking. The Badgers are, like MSU, 9-2 overall, 2-0 in the league, 2-1 in road games and 2-1 at neutral sites. Their losses have come to #1 NET UVa and #22 Marquette (the latter on the road), while they have wins over #38 NET Iowa (on the road, no less), #18 NET Oklahoma and #17 NC State (as well as Xavier, an uncharacteristically low #64 right now, but it came at X). Most casual fans and maybe even some less casual ones likely don’t realize how impressive the Iowa, OU and NC State wins are by the metric which matters, and that the two losses don’t do them much damage either. On the merits, it’s hard to argue that they are anything but a contender for the Big Ten title right now, it would appear.
VERY GOOD WORK
Nebraska – #15 in NET, 9-2 overall , 1-1 in the league loss at #56 Minnesota and on a neutral court to #4 NET Texas Tech. Wins over #60 Creighton, #62 Oklahoma State, at #69 Clemson and #84 Seton Hall (not top 40 wins but top 100 wins will matter as well). Nebraska certainly isn’t a tourney lock just yet but as opposed to last year, where a miserable non conference meant even a stellar Big Ten campaign wasn’t enough to get them to the bubble, this time around the Huskers sit in a very good position. Hard to believe that even an 11-9 Big Ten mark won’t be enough this time around to get a bid.
Indiana – #21 in NET, 9-2 overall, 2-0 in Big Ten, 1 road win over PSU. The loss to #57 Arkansas isn’t a great one but it did come on the road (as did the loss to Duke, which isn’t a problem). On the other side of the ledger, they have wins over #19 Louisville, #22 Marquette, #44 Northwestern and #42 Butler. IU is still dealing with injuries and when I watch them play, I’m never knocked out…they look like a team still struggling to find itself. However, there is still a lot of upside left with this group and the resume to date is damned good.
Ohio State – #24 in NET, 9-1 overall, 2-0 in the league. A home court loss to #61 Syracuse wasn’t good but road wins over #28 Cincy and #60 Creighton mitigate some of that. I’m still expecting the Bucks to be a second division team in Big Ten play but they’ve certainly positioned themselves in such a way that a winning Big Ten record probably gets them in.
Maryland – #40 NET. 9-2 overall 1-1 in the league. Losses at #1 UVa and #38 Purdue. The problem is they only have one Top 100 win, over PSU. I like the talent on this team and I think they’re going to have a strong league campaign but there is work to do here, as the Terps really haven’t built up the resume many of their fellow conference teams have to this point.
Purdue – #37 NET, 6-5 overall and 1-1 in the league. You look at that overall record and might think that they’re buried, but the NET shows that’s not the case. The win over #40 Maryland is the only good one they have but the 5 losses are all against quality teams (#2 Michigan on the road, #33 FSU on the road, #23 VaTech, at #58 Texas and a neutral court loss to #51 Notre Dame). Yes, the lack of big wins hurts but the fact remains that, using the NET as a guide, Purdue is still in position to be a Tournament team if they take care of business in the league. I think that’s an “if” right now, but they certainly have the potential to win enough games to get there. They have a tricky home game left with #38 Belmont…a win there would help the Boiler cause.
Iowa – #38 in NET, 8-2/0-2. Losses at Michigan State and at home against Wisconsin (both top 10) don’t hurt them much. Wins over #31 Iowa State, #49 Oregon and #96 Pitt help the cause. They’ve done enough to get in if they can finish Big Ten play with a winning record. Whether that happens or not is an open question, but the opportunity is there.
Northwestern – #44 in NET 7-3 overall 0-2 in the league. Two heartbreaking losses in the Big Ten, at home to #2 M and on the road at #21 IU. They also took a loss to Fresno, but the Bulldogs are currently at #70 in NET, so not as bad as might have first appeared. Wins over #80 DePaul, #66 GaTech and #156 Utah. The losses aren’t terrible but they don’t have a strong win yet…the league will give them an opportunity to get some. I think they’re in a difficult spot to do that, without a real PG playing significant minutes, but they do have some veteran talent.
Minnesota – #56 in NET, 9-2 overall 1-1 in the league. A loss at #116 Boston College did some damage but it was on the road and the road loss to Ohio State doesn’t hurt much. The win at home over Nebraska is the big one right now…high major victories over Utah, Texas A&M (#106) and Washington (#55) aren’t quite as impressive as they might normally be, but the overall picture is decent here for the Gophers. There’s talent on this roster but they (like Northwestern) are having point guard issues. The difference is that Minnesota might have better potential to find an answer in Isaiah Washington.
Those are the 11 teams I think can seriously think about building a Tournament resume at this point. The rest aren’t in such good shape.
PSU is #86 in NET. 5-5 overall, 0-2 in the league. The Maryland, IU and NC State losses aren’t disasters but losses to DePaul and Bradley don’t help. The one thing they’ve got on their resume is a win over #23 VaTech but that’s not going to be enough without a great conference performance. I think PSU would really need to pick it up dramatically to have a shot. The league schedule will present them with opportunities for big wins but I just can’t see it coming together.
Illinois and Rutgers are #104 and #123 respectively in NET. They’re both 0-2 in the league and it’s just about impossible to imagine enough happening to get either into the conversation.
It’s still so, so early, but one of the things which helps the Big Ten is the depth…6 top 25 NET teams right now, 9 in the top 40 and 10 in the top 50, with Minnesota lurking at #56. NET is a different system with different inputs than RPI but as I see it, the basic truths are still the same, namely that strength is established in the non conference. Once you’re beating up on each other, if everyone is highly rated (as is the case with the Big Ten), you’re not going to see teams dropping much if at all even with losses. That’s what gives teams like Purdue, NW and Minnesota legitimate hope right now. Another thing helping the cause is that a fellow high major league, the Pac 12 has just one team in the top 25 (#25 ASU) and only 4 in the top 50 (three teams in the 40s). That’s a league which seems unlikely to earn more than 4 bids and I could even see 3 under the right circumstances. Also factor in the Big East being down (1 team, Marquette in the top 25, 3 in the top 40 and 4 in the top 50) and there should be more bids to be had by Big Ten schools than in most other years. Yes, mid majors probably will benefit as well but I think right now you’d have to assume the Big Ten has a great shot to get at least 8 bids.