It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Madness! Okay, not quite, but we’re getting ever so close. As the final week of the college basketball regular season is amazingly upon us and conference tournaments are right around the corner, the time is now or never for teams on the NCAA Tournament bubble to step up and earn their spot in the field of 68.
With less than two weeks until Selection Sunday, the Big Ten Conference is shaping up to be the bubble watch capital of the college basketball world. Why? Well, only five of the conference’s teams are locks to qualify for the big dance later this month, and entering the season, the Big Ten was widely expected to receive at least seven bids, if not more. Furthermore, four of the conference’s teams still have legitimate shots to go dancin’ which surely guarantees that next week’s Big Ten Tournament in Indy will be wild.
Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State are all going to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. Each of these teams are locks to qualify for the tournament, although the Spartans, Hawkeyes and Buckeyes are really trying hard to ensure that that’s not in fact the case. All jokes aside, though, these five teams will strictly be playing for seeding over the next couple of weeks.
The same can’t be said for Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana and yes, Illinois. These four teams find themselves squarely on the bubble, however, the possibility of reaching the field of 68 still exists for all. The Cornhuskers and Gophers unquestionably have the best chances based on their overall body of work, but with that said, don’t discount the fact that the Hoosiers and Illini — with the exception of Wisconsin — are the Big Ten’s two hottest teams.
I am firmly convinced that someway, somehow, the Big Ten is going to send seven teams to the “Madness.”
Here’s what all four of the conference’s bubble squads need to do to get there:
Nebraska: All credit to Tim Miles. The second-year coach has done nothing short of an extraordinary job in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers were picked to finish near the bottom of the conference standings, but Miles and company weren’t about to have any of that. They’ve won eight out of their last 10 games and currently sit at 17-11 overall and 9-7 in Big Ten play. In their final two games of the regular season, the Huskers travel to Bloomington to take on the Hoosiers on Wednesday before a huge home date this weekend with Bo Ryan‘s Badgers. I believe that if they split these last two and win one game in the conference tourney, they’re in. Terran Petteway and the rest of Miles’ surging crew can eliminate all doubt with a win over Wisconsin on Sunday night.
Minnesota: If the selection committee is keeping tabs on how a team has been playing of late, Richard Pitino‘s Golden Gophers are in serious trouble. The Gophers have lost nine out of their past 14 games and really looked sluggish in doing so. Having said that, they’re still 18-12 and have a lot working in their favor. Minnesota’s strength of schedule is third-best in the country, and that includes a marquee win over Wisconsin as well as a pair of other nice wins over fellow bubble teams Florida State and Richmond. The Gophers can ill-afford to slip up against Penn State this weekend and will also need at least one win in Indianapolis — maybe more.
Indiana: After a week of questioning and quite frankly doubting Tom Crean, the Hoosiers are back on the bubble after consecutive wins over Iowa and Ohio State. While their record is only 17-12 and 7-9 (B1G), Indiana is definitely back in the tournament discussion. For that, Crean deserves a tremendous amount of credit as I still don’t believe this IU team is very talented. Yogi, Sheehey and Vonleh — not much else. The Hoosiers are absolutely a long shot, but their resume does boast wins over Wisconsin and Michigan. If they can win in Ann Arbor on Sunday and sweep the season series from the conference leading Wolverines, hey, who knows? They have to beat Nebraska first and probably get 2-3 wins in Indianapolis as well.
Illinois: The Fighting Illini are going to have to win the conference tournament in order to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Still, they’re playing exceptional basketball at the moment, and anything is possible, right?
Matthew Sturgeon is a College Basketball Writer for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @OfficialSturg27