Bracket Watch: January 31st, 2012

March 18, 2011:  Guard Zack Novak (0) of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates during the Tennessee Volunteers game versus Michigan Wolverines in their second round game of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, NC.It’s almost February and Selection Sunday is just 40 days away. As crazy as it seems, it’s time to start thinking about the NCAA tournament. Halfway through the Big Ten season, Michigan is in great position to not only make the tournament but to earn a high seed. As of now, most bracketologists have Michigan slotted somewhere between the four and seven seed lines.

With nine games still remaining in the Big Ten season, there’s still a lot of basketball to be played for every team. Michigan’s position could move dramatically in either direction over the next month and a half. The Wolverines have won just one true road game (although the NCAA’s official RPI metrics include Oakland as a road game) and will certainly have to earn a high seed with five road games left on the docket.

After the jump find an in-depth look at Michigan’s resume, a roundup of what notable bracketologists says about the Wolverines thus far, a look at the Big Ten’s NCAA tournament worthy teams and more.

Nitty Gritty:

  • Record: 15-6 (6-3 Big Ten) [Div. 1 Only]
  • RPI: 16
  • SOS: 14
  • Home Record: 11-0
  • Away Record: 2-5
  • Neutral Record: 2-1
  • vs. RPI Top 50: 6-4
  • vs. RPI Top 100: 7-5

Bracketology Rundown:

Every week leading up to Selection Sunday, we’ll have a full run-down of predictions from some of the nation’s most widely-read bracketologists. Here’s a look into what each expert is saying as we prepare to enter February.

Around the Big Ten

We’ll also keep a close eye on the rest of the Big Ten and let you know who’s in, who should be in, who could be on the bubble and which games this week have the biggest tournament implications. If the season ended today, the Big Ten would likely put eight teams into the Big Dance. 

Locks

  • Ohio State (19-3 overall, 7-2 Big Ten): Ohio State has won four straight and continues to emerge as the Big Ten front runner. At 19-3 (7-2 B10), the Buckeyes are a one seed in most brackets.
  • Michigan State (17-4, 6-2): Michigan State ranks fourth in RPI and first in Strength of Schedule, and both of its Big Ten losses have come on the road. The Spartans are in the Big Ten title hunt and seem to sit right between a two and three seed on the S-Curve.

Should Be In

  • Wisconsin (17-5, 6-3): Following a brutal 1-3 start to the Big Ten season, the Badgers are playing Bo Ryan basketball again. Wisconsin is surging up the S-Curve and appears to be somewhere around a 5-seed right now.
  • Michigan (16-6, 6-3): The Wolverines are in a good position with six top-50 RPI wins and a 6-3 conference record.
  • Indiana (17-5, 5-5): Indiana is sputtering, losing four of six, but still has marquee victories over Kentucky and Ohio State stashed away.

Bubble In

  • Purdue (15-7, 5-4): Matt Painter admitted that this has been his most difficult season in West Lafayette but the Boilermakers are still in the NCAA tournament pictures.
  • Illinois (15-6, 4-4): The Fighting Illini have been up and down all season and still have trips to Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Home games against Michigan and Michigan State are no gimmies either and the Illini could find themselves significantly more bubbly sooner than later.
  • Minnesota (16-6, 4-5): Minnesota doesn’t want to go away. The Gophers shouldered the blow of losing Trevor Mbakwe, put a disappointing 0-4 conference start in their rear view mirror and now sit at 4-5 in league play.

Bubble Out

  • Northwestern (12-8, 2-6): The Wildcats boast the eighth toughest schedule in the country but haven’t done much other than beat Michigan State at home. If the Wildcats are going to make their first NCAA tournament they are going to have to right the ship quickly.

Big Ten Games with Tournament Implications

  • Minnesota at Iowa, 8:30 Wednesday: If the Golden Gophers are going to climb off the bubble, they’re going to have to beat the teams that they’re supposed to beat. The Hawkeyes have lost five of their last six and are reeling.
  • Northwestern at Illinois, 3:00 Sunday: Here’s a chance for Northwestern to add a nice win to its resume and maybe creep into the bubble picture. Illinois should win this game, but if it doesn’t, the Fighting Illini better get cozy sitting on the bubble.

Bracket Debate

And to top things off, we’ll take a look at one national game or storyline from the week before that could have a dramatic impact on the NCAA Tournament picture.

Following its victory on Saturday against Eastern Illinois, Murray State is now the only unbeaten team in the nation and is ranked in the top 10 for the first time in school history. Still, even with a perfect record heading into February, the Racers are projected as low as a 10 seed in some tournament projections. This brings up the age old debate: how should a team with a great record from a small conference (Murray St. is in the Ohio Valley Conference) be seeded come tournament time? As of now, the Racers have just two wins against Top 50 RPI teams – Memphis and Southern Mississippi – and 15 of their 21 wins have come against teams with an RPI of over 150. However, on Monday the Racers were selected to take on No. 18 St. Mary’s as part of ESPN’s Bracketbusters series on Feburary 18th. A win against St. Mary’s would no doubt strengthen the Racers’ resume, but will it be enough to earn them a high spot in the tournament? Should Murray St. remain unbeaten, it’ll be a unique test for this year’s Selection Committee.

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