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Big Ten Bracketology: Can the Big Ten send 12 teams to the Big Dance?

Northwestern is not a lock, nor on the bubble.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 04 Rutgers at Maryland Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This college basketball season has been one with pleasant surprises, especially from mid-majors and non-traditional powers coming to the forefront of the rankings. The Big Ten has played a significant part in that confusion, coming into this season with a preseason number one and seeing three other teams ranked in the top five throughout the season.

The emergence of Rutgers, Illinois, and Penn State as viable contenders have seen bracketologists incorporate ten of the fourteen Big Ten squads into their brackets, with some predicting as many as twelve teams making the Big Dance. With these teams seemingly beating each other every week, it remains to be seen if any Big Ten school can set themselves apart as national contenders.

I’ve divided each of the 12 teams (excluding Northwestern and Nebraska of course) into the categories of Locks, Likely Candidates, and On the bubble, along with a résumé of quality wins, projected RPI, and projected strength of schedule. Projected seeds are courtesy of while win quality comes from

With that said, here’s a look at where the Big Ten stands with March just around the corner.


No. 9 Maryland (18-4, 8-3 B1G)

Quality wins: Rhode Island (11/9), Marquette (12/1), Illinois (12/7). Indiana (1/4), Ohio State (1/7), @Indiana (1/26), Iowa (1/30), Rutgers (2/4)

RPI: 14

Strength of schedule: 38

Projected seed: 3

Maryland has perhaps the most impressive résumé in the conference with wins over the conference’s top squads. Their only blotch on the CV is a blowout loss in Iowa City. Nonetheless, they should be the conference’s top seed going into March, especially if they can take care of business at home and pick off a few tough road games against an Ohio State and Rutgers.

No. 16 Michigan State (16-7, 8-4 B1G)

Quality Wins: @Seton Hall (11/14), Rutgers (12/8), Illinois (1/2), Wisconsin (1/17)

RPI: 33

Strength of schedule: 25

Projected seed: 4

Despite some injuries and panic in East Lansing, Sparty is a lock. A blowout at Purdue and a home loss to Penn State will downplay its status as a national contender. Some big road wins over Michigan, Maryland, or Penn State will surely boost their profile down the stretch.

No. 17 Iowa (16-7, 7-5 B1G)

Quality Wins: Texas Tech (11/28), Cincinnati (12/21), Maryland (1/10), Rutgers (1/22), Wisconsin (1/27), Illinois (2/2)

RPI: 42

Strength of schedule: 69

Projected seed: 5

Fran McCaffery’s squad just gave up 104 points to Purdue on the road, but the Hawkeyes should also be a lock for March. Big résumé-building wins could be on the horizon with visits to East Lansing and Champaign still on the schedule.

Likely Candidates

No, 22 Penn State (17-5, 7-4 B1G)

Quality Wins: Yale (11/23), Maryland (12/10), Iowa (1/4), @Michigan State (2/4)

RPI: 35

Strength of schedule: 97

Projected seed: 6

The Nittany Lions’ 75-70 win over Michigan State on the road puts them incredibly close to becoming a lock. They did not have the strongest non-conference schedule and suffered a bad loss against Ole Miss earlier in the campaign. Nonetheless, Pat Chambers’ team will have the opportunity to improve their tournament standing in the coming weeks.

No. 20 Illinois (16-6, 8-3 B1G)

Quality Wins: @Wisconsin (1/8), Rutgers (1/11)

RPI: 28

Strength of schedule: 70

Projected seed: 6

By virtue of a relatively weak non-conference schedule and a loss to struggling Miami and Missouri teams, the Illini also fall just short of lock status. However, the current co-Big Ten leaders have won seven of eight and are a few wins away from locking down a spot in the Big Dance.

Rutgers (16-7, 7-5 B1G)

Quality Wins: Seton Hall (12/14), Penn State (1/7), Indiana (1/15)

RPI: 31

Strength of schedule: 29

Projected seed: 7

Back-to-back losses at Maryland and Michigan stopped me from fully putting Rutgers into the lock category. Much like Illinois and Penn State, the Scarlet Knights are on the brink of guaranteeing a spot in the tournament for the first time since 1991.

Ohio State (15-7, 5-6 B1G)

Quality Wins: Villanova (11/13), Penn State (12/7), Kentucky (12/21), Indiana (2/1)

RPI: 34

Strength of schedule: 49

Projected seed: 7

Four straight losses put the Buckeyes’ tournament hopes briefly in jeopardy. They have seemingly righted the ship with wins over Indiana and Michigan (on the road). The Buckeyes next nine games see them play eight tournament hopefuls, plenty of opportunities for CV-building.

Wisconsin (13-9, 6-5 B1G)

Quality Wins: Marquette (11/17), @Ohio State (1/3), @Penn State (1/11), Maryland (1/14), Michigan State (2/1)

RPI: 41

Strength of schedule: 26

Projected seed: 7

Three straight losses to Richmond, New Mexico, and NC State won’t help the résumé, but the Badgers still have Nebraska and Northwestern on the schedule and the potential to add a few wins to strengthen their case.

Indiana (15-7, 5-6 B1G)

Quality Wins: Florida State (12/3), Ohio State (1/10), Michigan State (1/23)

RPI: 47

Strength of schedule: 47

Projected seed: 10

The Hoosiers have struggled on the road this season. They also only play the other teams on this list for the rest of the season. A few wins there should put them over the line.

On the Bubble

Michigan (13-9, 4-7 B1G)

Quality Wins: Creighton (11/12), Gonzaga (11/29), Iowa (12/6), Rutgers (2/1)

RPI: 70

Strength of schedule: 50

Projected seed: 8

The Wolverines’ win over Gonzaga is perhaps the most impressive win out of any Big Ten squad. The Wolverines could find themselves under .500 in conference play going into March. They host Michigan State on Saturday. A win over Sparty would be huge for their hopes in March.

Purdue (13-10, 6-6 B1G)

Quality Wins: VCU (11/29), Virginia (12/4), Michigan State (1/12), Iowa (2/5)

RPI: 74

Strength of schedule: 308

Projected seed: 11

Purdue just dropped 104 points on Iowa after pulling out a win in Evanston as well as holding Michigan State to 42 points earlier this season. They are trending upwards despite an ugly loss to Nebraska at the beginning of Big Ten play. The major key for the Boilermakers will be to win a couple of their final games against other tournament hopefuls. Visits to Indiana, Iowa, and Wisconsin will go a long way in determining whether or not Matt Painter’s squad will be dancing.

Minnesota (11-10, 5-6 B1G)

Quality Wins: Ohio State (12/5), Penn State (1/15), @Ohio State (1/23), Wisconsin (2/5)

RPI: 69

Strength of schedule: 50

Projected seed: FIRST FOUR OUT

The Gophers are not currently projected into the tournament field. They are right on the bubble. Yesterday’s big win over Wisconsin certainly boosted their hopes. They’ll need to win some big games down the stretch to give themselves a shot at making the field.


Illinois v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Can the Big Ten do the impossible and send 12 teams to the tournament? The old Big East managed to have 11 (out of 16) in the field in 2011. The B1G sending all but two squads (the real NU and fake NU) to the Big Dance would certainly be unprecedented.

What doesn’t help each team’s case is the fact that they will have to play against each other, therefore cutting into the résumés of one another and perhaps dashing each other’s tournament hopes. Each squad on this list has the opportunity to add to their résumé, as this piece reiterated with each team; simultaneously, each squad on this list has the opportunity to squander their chances if it fails to capitalize on its games.