Monday, February 27, 2012

Big Ten: Weekly Look Ahead (Feb. 27)

*Every week, I’ll take a look at Big Ten’s current landscape, recap the previous week and analyze how the next seven days will impact the teams' NCAA Tournament hopes.


With Michigan and Ohio State losing home games this week, Michigan State is in control of the Big Ten. All the Spartans have to do is win one of their two games this week (at Indiana, vs. Ohio State) to win the outright Big Ten Championship. Wisconsin's win over Ohio State led to Bo Ryan doing some shuffle dance while saying, "Let's... get... on... the... bus!"

For almost all teams, this week will be about seeding in the Big Ten Tournament. The Spartans pretty much have the No. 1 seed** locked up, although Michigan could technically grab the top seed. Ohio State still looks like it'll be the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the conference tournament and Wisconsin should be the No. 4 seed with very winnable games this week (home against Minnesota and Illinois). Illinois and Purdue are tied for fifth while Iowa and Northwestern are seventh and eighth. It might not seem important, but the conference tournament is all about matchups.

**If there is a 3-way tie between MSU, OSU and Michigan for the Big Ten Championship, things get complicated. Tiebreaking for Big Ten Tournament seeds is interesting and actually states that "2-0 is not better than 1-0." Therefore, the only way Michigan State doesn't get the No. 1 seed (and Michigan does) is if somehow Northwestern (7-9) passes Purdue (9-7) in the conference standings. If that happens, Michigan's 2-0 record vs. Northwestern would win out against MSU's 0-1 record.

If the tournament started today, the seeds would be as follows: 1-MSU, 2-OSU, 3-Michigan, 4-Wisconsin, 5-Purdue, 6-Indiana, 7-Iowa, 8-Northwestern, 9-Illinois, 10-Minnesota, 11-Penn State, 12-Nebraska.

MAJOR STUMPER: Ohio State. The Buckeyes win this award for the second straight week, thanks to a disappointing home loss to Wisconsin on Senior Day. The Buckeyes are way to talented to have six losses before March, but chemistry seems to be an issue. It wasn't at the start of the year, but something just isn't right for Thad Matta's team. If Ohio State sweeps trips to Northwestern and Michigan State this week, the chemistry issues might never be brought up again, but keep an eye around all things happening in Columbus, as the Buckeyes look much more like a No. 2 seed susceptible to a second-round exit than a Final Four favorite these days.

MAJOR SURPRISE: Purdue. Major props to the Boilers for being the first team to win at Crisler Center this season. The fact Purdue did it convincingly says this team might be peaking at the right time. Purdue has won four of five, the only loss coming at home to Michigan State. Throw in an 87-84 loss to Ohio State and Purdue's offense might be clicking well enough to win the Big Ten Tournament.

BRACKETOGRAPHY: Last week's edition of Bracketography 2012, seven Big Ten still held firm in the field, but Northwestern is on very thin ice. If the Wildcats get it, it'll be because of better wins (Seton Hall, Michigan State) than other bubble teams. Michigan State has a real shot at the third or fourth No. 1 seed, but it has basically locked up a No. 2 seed at this point. Ohio State's recent troubles could drop Ohio State to the No. 3 line, but at this point the Buckeyes seem pretty comfortable on the No. 2 line. This week's loss to Wisconsin pretty much killed OSU's chances for a top seed.

Despite the loss to Purdue, Michigan continues to be a safe bet for a No. 3 seed on Selection Sunday. The body of work is there. Wisconsin and Indiana are both No. 5 seeds and, depending on how each team's season concludes, could both bump up to the No. 4 line and a protected seed. Purdue was a No. 8 seed, but I actually have the Boilermakers as a No. 6 seed today. The win at Michigan was bigger than most people think and, the way Purdue is playing now coupled with early-season win over Temple is still a great win.

Northwestern is the final Big Ten team in the field, snuggling nicely in the Play-In Game. The bubble is so weak that even if Northwestern loses to Ohio State this week it might still be in the field. I'd suggest winning one more "big" game to be safe, but who knows if that'll matter.

Illinois needs to win out to even be in the NCAA Tournament discussion. A win against Iowa, albeit at home, was very important. Now the Illini need to beat Michigan at home on Thursday and wins at Wisconsin to get to an important 8-10 in the Big Ten. Those wins would be two big ones and could prove to be "ticket-punching" victories.

THE WEEK AHEAD
Michigan State now leads the Big Ten by a game over Ohio State and Michigan with Wisconsin a game behind. Those seem like the top four seeds in the Big Ten Tournament for sure. The order, however, has yet to be determined.

Ohio State 83, Illinois 67: This game wasn't nearly as close as the final score. Needing a win in any way possible, the Illini played like a team worthy of the Big Ten cellar.

Michigan 67, Northwestern 55 (OT): The Wildcats might still make the NCAAs due to the very weak bubble this season, but this win surely would have helped. With a chance to win in regulation, Northwestern couldn't sink a dagger. In overtime, Michigan hit back-to-back-to-back triples to begin the extra session, putting the game away.

Michigan State 66, Minnesota 61: Michigan State couldn't have played worse, but Minnesota gagged the game away by sinking just one field goal over between 10:20 and 2 seconds left in the second half. In fact, the Golden Gophers didn't hit the rim in the final 3:20 other than a meaningless triple with 1.8 to play. This loss killed the Gophers NCAA hopes.

Purdue 78, Michigan 61: So much for Michigan closing out the regular season with an unblemished home record. The Boilermakers can out on fire from 3-point range while the Wolverines had trouble shooting much of the night. This game locks up Purdue's spot in the big dance.

Wisconsin 63, Ohio State 60: Something troublesome is happening in Buckeye land this season. While Ohio State is 23-6 and still in line for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Jared Sullinger is mentally checking out during games and some players seem more focused on improving individual NBA Draft stock than running Matta's offense. Give Wisconsin credit for playing its game and getting a major road win.

THE WEEK AHEAD
Northwestern is still clinging to its NCAA hopes while Illinois and Minnesota are NIT bound. This week is all about seeding in the Big Ten Tournament.

Tuesday, Feb. 28 - Michigan State @ Indiana: Michigan State can clinch an outright Big Ten Championship with this win. Indiana still has a shot at a bye in the Big Ten Tournament, but it would need some help from Wisconsin's opponents. This game could be more about MSU locking up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and Indiana possibly getting a No. 4 seed, however.

Wednesday, Feb. 29 - Ohio State @ Northwestern: A classic "win and you're in" game. At some point, Northwestern needs another signature win and this one would be better than many other bubble teams could claim. The Buckeyes still have a shot at a Big Ten co-Championship by winning this game, having Indiana beat MSU on Tuesday and winning at MSU on Sunday. There is a lot riding on this game for both teams.

Sunday, March 4 - Ohio State @ Michigan State: There could be a lot riding on this game or nothing, depending on the mid-week results. The Buckeyes are looking for revenge while Michigan State could strengthen its case for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

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