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Big Ten men’s basketball bracketology: January update

Where do the ‘Cats stand heading into the latter half of conference play?

Ohio State v Northwestern Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

We’re less than two months out from Selection Sunday, and the Big Ten will show out in numbers. As the field currently stands, six teams from the conference are expected to make it onto the 68-team bracket. From Purdue to Northwestern, let’s take a look at what experts are saying about the Big Ten’s chance in March.

Note that the figure in parentheses next to each team is the average projected seed on Bracket Matrix, a website that aggregates dozens of bracket projections to formulate a composite ranking.

Purdue (1.00)

NET Ranking: 2

No surprises here for one of the best teams in college basketball. Zach Edey is in line for his second consecutive Wooden Award, leading the Boilermakers with 22.9 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. According to KenPom, Purdue has faced the toughest schedule in the nation, but that hasn’t been an issue so far. The Boilermakers lead the way with seven Quad One wins, matched only by Connecticut.

The Boilermakers were caught off guard by No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson last March, but they’re suited to avoid that same fate. Between Edey and a much-improved guard rotation, Purdue will be the team to beat in this year’s tournament.

Wisconsin (2.11)

NET Ranking: 11

After reaching the NIT quarterfinals in 2023, the Badgers are out for blood this time around. The calendar hasn’t even turned to February, but Greg Gard has led his players to a 16-4 record (8-1 B1G) — a marked improvement on their 17 wins last year. AJ Storr has been a revelation after transferring from St. John’s, and Steven Crowl has proved to be a snarling interior presence.

Wisconsin sits at 6-3 against Quad One opponents, including an 11-point win over then-No. 3 Marquette in December. The Badgers’ only conference loss was a squeaker at Penn State, but they’ve otherwise been a shockingly dominant team in the B1G. Watch out for this squad as it looks to reach its first Final Four since 2015.

Illinois (4.18)

NET Ranking: 13

The Fighting Illini are an enigma — they’re dominant on the glass and score over 82 points per game, but they haven’t delivered against tough opponents. Illinois’ only top-25 win came against then-No. 11 Florida Atlantic in early December, and even then it took an astounding 33-point effort from Marcus Domask to top the Owls.

Brad Underwood’s squad is just 2-4 in games against Quad One teams, but its grit cannot be denied. Coleman Hawkins’ defense has exponentially improved and set a precedent for his teammates. However, the Fighting Illini are shooting just 34% from deep, so an inopportune cold spell in March could mean trouble for them.

Michigan State (9.05)

NET Ranking: 25

Although the Spartans are just 12-8, they’ve received a boost from their schedule thus far. Michigan State has encountered the 10th-most difficult slate going into February, according to KenPom. Tom Izzo and company lost to top-10 teams in Duke and Arizona in a grueling non-conference November, but they stunned then-No. 8 Baylor in an 88-64 blowout just weeks later.

Michigan State is all over the place in terms of tournament projections. ESPN has the Spartans slotted in as a 7-seed in the South region, while FOX Sports has them as low as an 11-seed in the West. Wherever they end up come Selection Sunday, fifth-year senior Tyson Walker will have to go nuclear if the Spartans want to make a deep run.

Nebraska (9.38)

NET Ranking: 62

The Cornhuskers are a fun team in every sense of the word. From beating No. 1 Purdue by 16 points to ripping Northwestern fans’ hearts out, it’s been a party all season long in Lincoln. Keisei Tominaga and Rienk Mast are a collective joy to watch, as their shooting skills have rendered the Cornhuskers first in the B1G in threes made per game (9.6).

With that being said, it wouldn’t be shocking if Nebraska got bounced in the first round. For every exhilarating win, the Cornhuskers have suffered a demoralizing loss (i.e. Iowa, Maryland). They’re just 5-6 against teams in Quads One and Two and run into trouble when their top scorers have off nights. Nebraska is undoubtedly the biggest wild card among the B1G looking ahead to March.

Northwestern (9.70)

NET Ranking: 61

Last but not least, the ‘Cats are looking to make their second consecutive tournament appearance. NU scratched the AP Top 25 after taking down No. 1 Purdue in December, but it dropped the ball against a dreadful Chicago State team two weeks later. That loss was a massive blemish on the Wildcats’ resume — only Seton Hall has a lower NET ranking among teams with at least four Quad One wins.

The ‘Cats have some serious issues they’ll need to clean up between now and March. NU has been dreadful on the boards, sitting at dead-last in the B1G with 30.3 rebounds per contest. Not only that, but the purple-and-white is tied for 243rd in the nation in fouls per game. NU’s postseason success will be contingent upon its ability to make tough shots in the clutch.

Missed the cut: Ohio State, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Iowa, Penn State, Rutgers, Michigan