Bracket Watch: Is Michigan on the bubble?

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan is just 13-9 and 6-4 in Big Ten play with an RPI of 71 which makes it’s fair to ask: are the Wolverines really a bubble team?

Michigan hasn’t beaten a RPI top-50 team and has those two ugly December losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan. If we’re being frank about it, the Wolverines haven’t done much to prove that they deserve any sniff of the NCAA tournament. Three close losses to Villanova, Wisconsin and at Michigan State might earn some feel-good points in February, but aren’t going to count on Selection Sunday.

But it appears that Michigan has done just enough in games against mid-level teams to hang around in the picture. Michigan isn’t in the field now and isn’t that close, but it’s not impossible for it to play itself into the dance over the next month and a half. It just won’t be very easy.

Nitty Gritty

  • Record: 13-9
  • RPI: 71
  • SOS: 17
  • Home: 9-4
  • Away: 2-4
  • Neutral: 1-1
  • vs. RPI top-50: 0-6
  • vs. RPI top-100: 5-7

Bracketology Rundown

It’s tough to project the RPI over the next month, but RPI Forecast is a useful tool that allows us to do just that by utilizing Sagarin win probabilities.

The widely presumed expectation is that Michigan would need to win 11 conference games to make the NCAA tournament. Plucking five more hypothetical additional victories – the five most likely, according to their probabilities are Iowa, @Illinois, MSU, at Northwestern and Rutgers — and plugging them into RPI Forecast nets us this result heading into the Big Ten Tournament:

A 17-12 record, 54 RPI and 20th ranked strength of schedule.

Would that be good enough? It would probably take at least a 1-1 split in Chicago to punch a ticket to the dance at that point, and even then that might be a Tuesday trip to Dayton rather than a Thursday or Friday game.

On the other hand, it’s not impossible. Michigan won’t be favored in five more games this season, but KenPom projects the Wolverines to finish 10-8 which is just a game short of the 11 win target. For now, it’s still a possibility and that’s why Thursday’s game against Iowa is so critical for this team.

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.


  • Wisconsin (19-2, RPI 8): The loss at Rutgers won’t help, but Wisconsin looks destined for a top-line seed and should have a chance to return to the Final Four.
  • Maryland (18-4, RPI 17): The Terrapins have been slumping, but they still have the second best resume in the conference featuring a top-15 RPI neutral site win of Iowa State back in November and a regular season sweep of Michigan State.


  • Ohio State (17-5, RPI 32): Ohio State has been one of the best teams in the Big Ten during conference play, but did next to nothing in the non-conference. The Buckeyes beat one top-100 team in non-conference play: No. 97 High Point and lost their only two challenging games (Louisville and North Carolina). While they’ve already been swept by Iowa, wins over Maryland and Indiana in the last two weeks have bolstered their resume a bit and most projections have Ohio State around the 7 seed line.
  • Indiana (16-6, RPI 34): Indiana is also around the 7 seed in most early bracket projections. The Hoosiers have wins over SMU and Butler in the non-conference and have knocked off Maryland and Ohio State in Big Ten play. KenPom projects Indiana to close the season with an 11-7 conference record which would put it comfortably in the tournament.

Bubble In:

  • Michigan State (15-7, RPI 37): Michigan State checks in around the 10 seed range in most brackets and the Spartans have a pretty flimsy resume upon detailed inspection. MSU is just 1-5 against top 50 teams and 4-5 against top 100 teams and has lost a pair of games to teams ranked outside the top 100 (Texas Southern and Nebraska). The Spartans played good teams in non-conference play, but their best win was at home over 137th ranked Marquette.  Izzo’s team knocked off Michigan, won at Iowa and blew out Indiana at home, but they shouldn’t get comfortable yet.
  • Iowa (13-8, RPI 51): Iowa is one of the most unpredictable groups in the country. Iowa’s win at North Carolina was one of the Big Ten’s most impressive in the non-conference and it swept Ohio State, but the losses are starting to pile up. The Hawkeyes have now lost 4 of 6 in conference play and are squarely on the bubble in most brackets.

Work To Do:

  • Purdue (14-8, RPI 78): Purdue is playing quality basketball right now and has won three straight, but the Boilermakers are also their own worst enemy with five non conference losses including at home to Gardner Webb and North Florida. The Boilers are included in exactly one bracket featured in the Bracket Matrix and will have to play their way into the dance.
  • Michigan (12-9, RPI 73): Michigan has similar problems to Purdue. The Wolverines have bad losses without great wins and have work to do down the stretch.
  • Illinois (14-8, RPI 65): Featuring the best RPI among the Big Ten teams on the outside looking in, Illinois is still very much in the picture. The Fighting Illini boast RPI top 25 wins over Maryland and Baylor (neutral) which are more impressive than any of Purdue or Michigan’s best victories.

Falling Out

  • Minnesota, Penn State, Nebraska: All three schools have RPIs below 90 which means they are closer to Rutgers (116th) than most teams that are in the tournament. There’s also a chance for a miracle close, but it’s starting to get late.

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  • Fab 5 Legends

    if we somehow make it into the Last 4 in…this would be an amazing accomplishment considering how our season has gone, with tough close loses, injuries etc…these freshmen keep developing which is gives UM a positive outcome regardless what happens this year. keep it up Dawkins & Rahkman!

    • BlueRev

      Exactly. And as much as I want to squeak in the tourney I am absolutely pleased that THIS GROUP OF PLAYERS playing are even in the discussion at this point. Having said that I am disappointed we were short of that one more key recruit the last year or two that would have been another difference maker. Yes, we lost so many good players early to pros, so maybe kids thought they’d sit the bench too much behind guys no longer here, but the list of near misses is hurting us now. Having said that, it has given opportunities for the guys you have mentioned to step up–AND THEY ARE! Very excited about next season, while enjoying the ride now–NCAA, NIT or bust.

  • gobluemd16

    I saw that our RPI on is 63rd, is that inaccurate?

  • Corperryale

    Maybe this is a stupid question. I take it the Hillsdale game doesn’t count towards the record for tournament resume purposes. (Although I can’t help but think a LOSS to Hillsdale somehow WOULD count.) So, why even play a D2 team during the regular season? If you need an extra tune up after the exhibition games, why not just schedule a Maine, an Abilene Christian, a Liberty? Not that it would help the RPI much, but at least adds one win, which might help a bit optically — if you’re teetering on the bubble, it would seem better to have 18 wins than 17.

    • It’s sort of a gray area.

      The win doesn’t count toward the RPI which actually is better than playing a 300+ team because so much of the RPI is based on SOS, opponent SOS.

      • Corperryale

        That makes sense — thanks for the explanation!

  • jemblue

    Our two bad losses are slowly getting less bad: NJIT is now 13-10 and EMU is 14-7. Hopefully they can keep it up. But obviously, we’ve got to get some big wins for it to matter.

  • A2MIKE

    Iowa is huge and it is a scary matchup as well. They are a dominant post team. I have nightmares about Woodbury and Max dueling in the post. The saving grace is that their defense isn’t great and lends itself opportunities to jump shooting teams.

  • Taylor

    I don’t see how Iowa gets in. They are the biggest choke in the conference. They start off well and choke at the end. Look at last year and this year doesn’t look any better

    • A2MIKE

      easy on this year… a lot of teams would have a 3 game losing streak bookended by games vs. Wisconsin.

  • meow

    I’m a big fan, but this wit happy for a few years, at least

    • meow