Only two and a half weeks remain until the start of the NCAA tournament. Michigan has put itself squarely in the mix to be a 1-seed and one of the teams to beat in the event. Following No. 2 Baylor’s 71-58 loss to No. 17 Kansas on Saturday night, it is expected that Michigan could pass the Bears in the AP poll as soon as Monday. However, both teams remain solidly on the one-seed line.
Michigan’s explosion onto the scene this year is made even more impressive by the fact that they have done so by being dominant in one of the most top-heavy Big Ten conferences in history. That has also bolstered the resumes of some of the lesser teams, which might give the conference a chance at 10 programs in March Madness.
Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois, and Iowa are all but guaranteed to be top-three seeds, especially following Iowa’s 73-57 victory over OSU on Sunday. Either Ohio State or Illinois feel likely to secure the final one-seed or a two-seed at worst. There is a gap between the top four teams in the Big Ten and Purdue and Wisconsin, who make up that next tier.
Jerry Palm of CBS Sports has Purdue as a five-seed and Wisconsin as a seven, though still solidly in the tournament. Neither the Boilermakers or Badgers are at risk of falling out of the field but they have quite a bit to play for in the last two weeks with regards to seeding.
Rutgers and Maryland are next in the Big Ten pecking order. Bracket Matrix, a website that compiles 100 mock brackets and averages out the rankings, has Rutgers as an eight-seed and Maryland as a nine. Rutgers ends the season at Nebraska and Minnesota, while Maryland ends at Northwestern and at home against Penn State. This is far from a gauntlet, but it is vital for Rutgers and Maryland that they avoid bad losses down the stretch.
Things begin to get dicey after the eight-mentioned teams in the tournament. Michigan State, Indiana and Minnesota remain squarely on the bubble. The Spartans began to figure things out with consecutive top-five wins at home against Illinois and Ohio State. However, they were tripped up by Maryland on Sunday in a game they needed to keep the momentum rolling. Michigan State finishes the season with home-and-home series against Michigan after a Tuesday tilt with Indiana. The Spartans will be fighting for their tournament lives against a rival as the basketball gods intended.
Indiana and Minnesota are currently sitting on the outside of the bubble, according to Jerry Palm. The Hoosiers recently fell out of the projected field thanks to losing their last three games. The importance of Tuesday night’s game against Michigan State cannot be understated for either of those teams. The last team with a puncher's chance of a tournament bid, Minnesota, has lost five-straight and eight of their last 10. They would need a minor miracle, especially tough considering the injury to Gabe Kalscheur.
It seems possible that the Big Ten could get 10 teams in, but it does feel unlikely. Six teams are locks (Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois, Iowa, Purdue, and Wisconsin) and two more are probably in (Rutgers and Maryland). Three remain on the bubble (Michigan State, Indiana, and Minnesota) with a handful of games and the conference tournament to go.