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Big Ten Men’s Basketball Bracketology: Early February Update

Where do the top teams in the conference stand with a month until the Big Dance?

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Wisconsin Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports

With just over a month until a much-anticipated Selection Sunday, it’s time to take a look at which teams may be representing the Big Ten in this year’s edition of March Madness. As of right now, six teams from the conference are poised to make it to the Big Dance. But with a month left in the regular season, there’s still room for change.

The number in parentheses next to each team is that team’s average projected seed on Bracket Matrix, a site that combines several bracket projections to form a ranking system.

Purdue (1.00)

NET Ranking: 2

This comes as little shock to anyone given Purdue’s dominance this year. Zach Edey has continued his dominance in the conference, and he is a key contributor on both sides of the ball. However, the emergence of guards Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith has been crucial in the team’s sustained success. Purdue has the best offensive efficiency in college hoops, according to KenPom, and despite one of the tougher overall schedules, it has emerged victorious in all but two of its contests thus far. The Boilermakers should be a favorite in March, as they were last year, but as we all remember, nothing is guaranteed unless they can get out of their own heads.

Wisconsin (2.05)

NET Ranking: 13

Wisconsin is looking to make a deep run in March after missing out on the tournament in 2023. It has played and beaten formidable foes such as Marquette and Northwestern, and this can be attributed in large part to AJ Storr, who is averaging 16.4 points per game since transferring from St. John’s. The Badgers have struggled as of late, dropping consecutive games to Nebraska and Purdue, but this should be just a small hiccup in an otherwise commanding season.

Illinois (4.22)

NET Ranking: 14

Illinois is without a doubt one of the best teams in the Big Ten, if not college basketball. The Fighting Illini rank sixth in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and this makes sense given their plethora of options in Coleman Hawkins, Marcus Domask and Terrence Shannon Jr. Illinois has a 17-5 record, but it has struggled against its better opponents. Since January, it has dropped games to Purdue, Maryland, and Northwestern, and it barely hung on to a win against Nebraska on Sunday. Illinois will undoubtedly represent the Big Ten in March, but it will need to fare better against top competition if it wants to make a deep run.

Northwestern (8.33)

NET Ranking: 58

Northwestern has moved up to fourth in the Big Ten on Bracket Matrix, overtaking Michigan State and Nebraska. January was a largely dominant month for the Wildcats, with big conference wins over Michigan State, Maryland, and Illinois. Boo Buie has been absolutely lights-out, with his 18.9 points per game tied for fourth in the Big Ten. However, the ‘Cats have options when it comes to scoring, with Brooks Barnhizer, Ty Berry and Ryan Langborg all also averaging over 10 points per game. NU recently dropped two games — its first set of consecutive losses this season — in overtime nail-biters against Purdue and Minnesota. But if the team can make a strong finish in its slate of Big Ten matchups, it will be well-positioned to compete in March Madness for the second straight season.

Michigan State (9.23)

NET Ranking: 22

Despite a much higher NET Ranking than Northwestern, Bracket Matrix currently has Michigan State positioned as a lower seed in March. The Spartans have certainly not been the daunting team that everybody anticipated before the season, but they have still put up a respectable 14-8 record under Tom Izzo. Tyson Walker has done most of the heavy lifting offensively, averaging 18.9 points per game, but it’s the team’s defense, ranked 18th on KenPom, that has kept it competitive in the Big Ten. The Spartans have floundered against ranked opponents thus far, but they will have opportunities to prove their mettle and make a case for a higher seed in upcoming matchups against Illinois and Purdue.

Nebraska (9.63)

NET Ranking: 52

Nebraska’s position is largely unchanged since InsideNU’s last edition of Bracketology, which makes sense given the Cornhuskers’ recent results. They have notched impressive victories over Northwestern and No. 6 Wisconsin, but lost a thriller to Illinois and were dominated by Maryland. Nebraska has not played elite defense, but its offense has stepped up in a big way to keep the team in the March Madness conversation. Keisei Tominaga is the face of the team, and deservedly so, but Rienk Mast and Brice Williams have also been crucial contributors to the effort, averaging 14 and 13 points per game, respectively. Nebraska has a relatively light schedule to conclude the season, with its only true test coming this Wednesday in Welsh-Ryan Arena. Hence, the Cornhuskers should be able to coast through February en route to an appearance in March Madness.