It was another week of stability on the top line of the bracket. That is normally the place where all the attention is focused, and with good reason, but this season that has not necessarily been the case. The question on a lot of people's minds is just how many Big Ten teams will get into the bracket as its historically strong season continues.
Friday's bracket has 11 teams from the Big Ten, including 14-11 Purdue, which is the only the second team I have ever put into a bracket that was not at least four games above .500. The Boilermakers' place is tenuous considering they are playing at Ohio State on Saturday.
I have been saying for a little while now that I think it is possible that the Big Ten could put a team in the field that is just three games above .500. Georgia, which went 16-14 in 2001, is the only team in my 26 years of doing this that has received an at-large bid with a record of fewer than four games above .500.
The strength of the Big Ten this season may very well create a circumstance where an 18-15 team crawls into the field though.
As of this morning, the Big Ten has 11 teams in the top 40 of the NET. That means teams are playing Quadrant 1 or high Q2 teams almost every time they take the floor through a 20-game conference grind. Big Ten teams have played an average of 11 Q1 opponents already and most have at least five such games left on their schedules.
- While Purdue is in the bracket at 14-11, the Boilermakers are not the best candidate in the league for a spot with a record of three games above .500. That belongs to Wisconsin. The Badgers already have seven Q1 wins including road victories over Penn State and Ohio State. They may not qualify though as they are already 14-10 and have a relatively favorable schedule left.
- Minnesota is another possibility. The Golden Gophers will have to play up to get to three games above .500 as they sit at just 12-11 now. They too have won at Ohio State. Their schedule is relatively favorable as well. The only two games in which Minnesota figures to be underdogs are at Indiana and at Wisconsin.
- At 16-8, Rutgers may not get all the way down to three games above .500 but they may test the committee on another strong historic indicator. Every team that has received an at-large bid since 1995 has had at least three wins away from home. The Scarlet Knights are sitting on just one, that coming at Nebraska on Jan. 3. There are no cupcakes left either. They will play at Wisconsin, Penn State and Purdue before the conference tournament, which is also away from home.
- Finally, there is Indiana, the one team of the 12 contenders that is not in the top 40 of the NET. The Hoosiers woke up after the win over Iowa with a ranking of 58. Their problem is similar to Rutgers in that they are also poor on the road, but IU does have two neutral court wins, so they won't test that historic minimum of three wins away from home. However, their next five games are brutal: At Michigan, at Minnesota, Penn State at home, at Illinois, at Purdue. Yikes. IU might be underdogs in each of those games.
It will be interesting to see what the Big Ten meat grinder finally gives us, but I'll be shocked if as many as 11 teams end up making the NCAA Tournament.