Bracket Watch: February 13th, 2014

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Michigan vs Purdue_26Just over a month before Selection Sunday, it’s time for the first Bracket Watch of the season. Michigan has collected plenty of marquee road wins during conference play, but a few early season losses continue to drag on its postseason resume.

At 10-2 in the Big Ten, Michigan sits in first place in what many would argue is the nation’s best — or at least deepest — conference. All of its losses save two — Charlotte and Indiana — could be counted as “good” losses: at Duke, at Iowa State, to Arizona at home and at Iowa. That, combined with the recent pickup of a great win on the road against Ohio State, has Michigan headed for a possible 2 or 3 seed in the latest bracketology updates.

The Wolverines are coming up on the final stretch of the Big Ten season, and fortunately for them it seems as though the worst is over. Michigan endured two of the toughest stretches of Big Ten play in recent memory. It passed the first big test with flying colors, beating all three of the top-10 teams it played in a six-day span. The Wolverines were less solid in their four-game stretch over the past nine days, going 2-2 with losses at Indiana and at Iowa. But a win at Ohio State and protecting home court against Nebraska softened the blow of the two losses.

Michigan’s next two games, against Michigan State and Wisconsin, will provide stiff competition but both are at home and they are a week apart. If Michigan can protect home court against those two teams, its final four games on the conference slate are against teams in the middle to bottom of the Big Ten. The Wolverines have the Big Ten title in their sights.

After the jump we have an in-depth look at Michigan NCAA tournament resume, predictions from notable bracketologists as far as Michigan’s potential seeding and a discussion of how other Big Ten teams are faring in the most recent bracket projections.

Nitty Gritty, Bracketology Roundup, Big Ten Bubble Report and Bracket Debate after the jump.

Nitty Gritty

  • Record: 18-6
  • RPI: 13
  • SOS: 7
  • Home: 10-1
  • Away: 5-4
  • Neutral: 3-1
  • vs. RPI Top 5o: 6-4
  • vs. RPI Top 100: 9-5

Bracketology Rundown

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.

Locks:

  • Michigan State (20-4 overall, 9-2 Big Ten, 10 RPI): The Spartans, when healthy, are considered the best team in the conference. Michigan beat them at home and the two teams are neck-and-neck for the championship, with Michigan State a mere half game behind for the moment. At this point, the Spartans are pretty much unanimously a 2-seed, and they’re likely to stay that way for the near future if they can take care of business in winnable games before traveling to Ann Arbor for a rematch with the Wolverines.
  • Michigan (18-6 overall, 10-2 Big Ten, 13 RPI): The Wolverines appear to be in the driver’s seat in the race for the Big Ten conference crown, but if this season has taught us anything, it’s that everything can turn on one game. Michigan has two tough home games coming up, and then must take care of business on the road against Purdue and Illinois. The latter seems doable given Michigan’s 5-2 conference record on the road this season.
  • Iowa (17-6 overall, 7-4 Big Ten, 23 RPI): Iowa finally got a marquee home win over Michigan after striking out in its first two tries against Michigan State and Ohio State. The Hawkeyes seem to be in good position for a late run in the Big Ten, with Ken Pomeroy projecting a loss in only one remaining game — on the road against Michigan State. An almost-consensus 5-seed at this point, Iowa could be looking at a lower seed soon if it’s able to win the games it’s supposed to.
  • Wisconsin (19-5 overall, 6-5 Big Ten, 7 RPI): After a rough stretch of Big Ten play in which the Badgers lost five of six games, they’ve come on strong in recent weeks with a win over Illinois on the road followed by a big win over Michigan State at home. Wisconsin is benefiting from the appreciation of value of some of its non-conference accomplishments, including beating Florida, which hasn’t lost since December 2nd; beating Virginia, which has one loss in the ACC; beating St. Louis, which is undefeated in-conference; and finally an early Big Ten win over Iowa at home. As of now, the Badgers sit firmly in the 4-5 seed range.
  • Ohio State (19-6 overall, 6-6 Big Ten, 19 RPI): The Buckeyes are coming off a tough loss to Michigan at home and while they are projected as a 5-6 seed, their position is a tad more precarious than Wisconsin because they didn’t play anyone in the non-conference season. However, Ohio State doesn’t have a very tough road ahead and if it wins the games it’s supposed to it will have a good opportunity to boost its seeding in its final conference game, at home against Michigan State.

Bubble in:

  • Minnesota (15-8 overall, 5-6 Big Ten, 41 RPI): It has been quite the roller-coaster ride of a Big Ten season for the Golden Gophers. Minnesota has combined wins over Ohio State and Wisconsin with three straight losses to Nebraska, Northwestern (at home) and Penn State to make for a truly vexing Big Ten team. What Minnesota needs to solidify its resume is a marquee road win it can hang its hat on; with upcoming road matchups against Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan to close out the conference slate, the Gophers will get their opportunities.

Bubble out:

  • Nebraska (13-10 overall, 5-6 Big Ten, 64 RPI): The Cornhuskers are not projected to be dancing in any of the bracket predictions. After facing probably the toughest opening three games of the conference season out of any Big Ten team, Nebraska has most recently won five of its past seven games, with a bad loss to Penn State on the road and a blowout loss to Michigan, also on the road. With opportunities for road wins over Michigan State and Wisconsin remaining on their conference slate, the Huskers will have to make some serious noise to force their way into the tournament conversation.
  • Indiana (14-10 overall, 4-7 Big Ten, 95 RPI): Calling Indiana a “bubble team” may be a bit generous at this point, although Joe Lunardi does have the Hoosiers in his first four out. Michigan did the Hoosiers the pleasure of supplying them with their marquee win, but they have yet to win a big road game and just dropped a crushing loss to Penn State in Assembly Hall. Indiana is not projected as a tournament team and their most recent loss didn’t help matters. They have opportunities — Iowa at home, Wisconsin on the road, Ohio State at home, Michigan on the road — but it’s difficult to imagine the Hoosiers taking advantage.

Bracket Debate: How many teams from the Big Ten will make the tournament?

Much of the answer to this question lies in the analysis above. However, it’s worth addressing here because of the persistent oddness of the Big Ten’s power structure this season. Last year, the Big Ten was almost unanimously considered the nation’s best conference. It also had clearly-defined tiers. Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin were elite teams that were so equal in talent and ability that they were a missed tip-in away from a four-way tie at the top. Below them were mid-level teams who were almost as equal and always dangerous, especially on the road: Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue and Illinois were all either 9-9 or 8-10 in conference play. Below them were the basement-dwellers: Penn State, Nebraska and Northwestern.

This season, there are really only two elite teams at the top: Michigan and Michigan State. These two teams take care of business at home and have won the road games they were supposed to win (for the most part). This consistency and predictability is what sets them apart from the rest of the conference. Teams from third-place Iowa down to lowly Penn State are full of surprises, which has led to a fairly democratic scrum in the middle of the standings. There are five teams with records of either 5-6, 6-6 or 6-5 and Indiana, Penn State and Purdue aren’t far behind with four wins in the bag.

All of this adds up to a conference that is, in many ways, just as tough as last season’s version even if the quality of teams doesn’t quite match it. Every game is still a stiff test, but there aren’t as many teams able to withstand such tests sitting at the top of the pile. As the conference season has pressed on, things have evened out a bit and four of the Big Ten’s usual suspects (Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin) will be in the tournament along with one relative newcomer (Iowa). After that, it gets murky. Minnesota is in for the moment, but the Gophers have been liable to lose winnable games this season and could easily play themselves out of the Big Dance. It’s tough to imagine any other mid-level teams playing their way in, although Nebraska has an outside shot if it can secure some surprising victories down the stretch. Right now it looks like five Big Ten teams will be dancing, along with a hopeful sixth.

  • Hail Blue

    This seems right. Nebraska and IU need a run like we had in 2011 to get into the tournament. I dont see it happening to be honest, but you never know. OSU and Wisconsin are locks because of November/December. Minnesota only needs to win 4 out of 7 games to be in, and 3 out 7 might get them in anyway. For our team, our seed is anywhere from 2-4. I wonder how the committee will treat MSU with their injuries.

    • rlcBlue

      One theory is that Izzo’s incessant whining about injuries is produced entirely for the consumption of the committee. There is an established precedent for giving higher seeds than the record alone justifies to teams with injured players who return for the tournament; a team that appears to have the potential to play better at full strength will get a more favorable seed than another team with the same record but no mitigating factors. It’s worth the cost of the toupee and kleenex for Izzo to tear out his hair and cry about how his team has had to struggle through all these injuries.

      • Chezaroo

        Don’t know anybody that will be volunteering to play MSU in the first round of the tournament, especially if they get healthy. It really is remarkable that they’re tied for the conference lead at this point.

  • ZRL

    Does a 10-8 conference record get Nebraska in? Looking at their schedule, it’s actually doable. Win out at home and scrape out a road win over Indiana or Illinois.

    • http://www.umhoops.com/ Dylan Burkhardt

      It really could. They need some sort of a road win or a high profile win, but they have a backloaded schedule with a lot of winnable games.

  • Mattski

    I find the who’s in/who’s out conversation interesting, but as for seeding, it seems so speculative; everything depends so much on region and actual opponents; I don’t quite get the attraction. I know that being a very high seed can mean avoiding any very strong teams in the early rounds, and I don’t mean to be a buzzkill. . . what else is useful about this at this stage?

    • Champswest

      If we had this discussion a few weeks ago, OSU and UW would have been 1 seeds.

  • Hail Blue

    The NCAA is having their Mock Selection today with media pundits. Michigan is a 3 seed, MSU is a two for those wondering. Seems correct. But other than jersey colors and venues, the difference between 2 and 3 is nothing.

  • MLaw

    Nebraska would have had a legit shot at the tournament if they hadn’t lost to Penn State.(14-9 probably only needs 6 more wins including BIG tourney). That is the Big Ten for you: got to bring your A game every night or look out.

  • CDR

    With the victory over Ohio State, anything is possible with Michigan State and Wisconsin. Can’t wait for the Wisconsin game, it’s going to be rumbling in the Big 10 when this game happens.

    CDR
    BlogSurface.com