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Will the Big Ten have more than six teams in the NCAA’s?

BY DI SPORTS STAFF | FEBRUARY 17, 2009 7:40 AM

YES

March is rapidly approaching, and that means the NCAA Tournament is drawing near as well. The Big Ten looks poised to secure seven bids in the 65-team field.

First, the lock: Michigan State is on the road to securing a No. 2 seed and possibly even a No. 1 seed depending on the way it finishes the season. But what about the other six teams?

Purdue is a team that appears to be in at this point — its wins at Minnesota and Wisconsin, plus a neutral-site victory against Davidson, should land the Boilermakers in the tournament.

Minnesota’s strength of schedule could hurt the Golden Gophers if they falter down the stretch, but if they conclude the season without any glaring losses, Minnesota’s marquee wins against Louisville and at Wisconsin in overtime should be enough to get its name called on Selection Sunday.

The best Big Ten résumé after Michigan State may be that of Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ impressive RPI plus a win at Miami early in the season will earn the Buckeyes a spot in the field.

Illinois needs one more big win to earn “lock” status, and its upcoming games at Ohio State and against Michigan State in Champaign will give them opportunities to do so.

Despite a shaky January in which the Badgers went 3-6 in Big Ten play, Wisconsin’s recent surge play has its fans feeling a lot more confident about its NCAA chances. If the Badgers’ hot play to end the season doesn’t earn them a bid, their fourth-ranked strength of schedule should.

Then there are the two most questionable cases, Michigan and Penn State. Both teams are tournament caliber, but all signs suggest only one will make it. I believe the Wolverines have the superior résumé, which is highlighted by two big wins over UCLA and Duke. If Michigan is able to win four out of its remaining five games and win at least one game in the Big Ten Tournament, the Wolverines should be able to punch their ticket for the dance.

— by Jordan Garretson

NO

The Big Ten has had an impressive 2008-09 season. It’s no longer a laughingstock in the world of college basketball.

But with that said, you can’t tell me that seven, or even eight, Big Ten teams will make the NCAA Tournament this year.

Four teams — Michigan State, Illinois, Purdue, and Minnesota — appear to be locks. The first three are all ranked at this moment, and the Golden Gophers have a stellar neutral-court win over Louisville, who many prognosticators believe is a Final Four contender this year.

Then there are four teams on the bubble — Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin. The Badgers helped themselves with a nationally televised win over the Buckeyes at home last weekend, but they also lost to Iowa this season.

Penn State has some impressive wins this season, such as beating Michigan State on the road and Purdue at home, but you don’t associate the Nittany Lions with stellar basketball year-in and year-out. Hell, they haven’t made the tournament since 2001.

Michigan has two good wins over UCLA and Duke, but those wins look weaker and weaker by the day. The Bruins are on a two-game losing streak and probably killed their chances of winning the Pac-10 last weekend, and the Blue Devils have lost four ACC games in the last three weeks. If the Wolverines are going to dance for the first time in 11 years, there’s still more work for them to take care of.

Ohio State beat Notre Dame when the Fighting Irish were a top-10 team. Boy, does that seem like a long time ago. As of now, I think the Buckeyes are safe, but I’d also be more confident about saying that had Ohio State left the Kohl Center with a win over Wisconsin last weekend.

One, or even two, of these bubble teams could make the NCAA Tournament, but to suggest any more than six teams coming out of the Big Ten making it is ludicrous.

Unless, of course, Iowa pulls off another “four games in four days” miracle at the Big Ten Tournament in March, as it did in 2001.

— by Brendan Stiles


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