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Basketball’s Big Ten Bubble

BY IAN MARTIN | FEBRUARY 22, 2011 7:20 AM

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Selection Sunday is 19 days away, and Big Ten sides have three or four games left to play this year. While seven teams likely know if they’ll play in the NCAA Tournament or not (see sidebar for more on those squads), there are four teams still in limbo. Here’s a look at the Big Ten bubble.

Illinois (17-10, 7-7)

Best Win: Jan. 2 vs. then-No. 24 Wisconsin, 69-61
Worst Loss: Dec. 18 vs. Illinois-Chicago, 57-54

The Illini’s win against Wisconsin keeps looking better, but that loss against lowly Illinois-Chicago (7-22, 2-15) still lingers. Realistically, this team will be playing in the field of 68. However, the squad still has two major trap games to take care of with the conference’s two worst teams still set to play at Assembly Hall. If the Illini lose to Iowa at home Saturday and/or lose to Indiana on March 5, the selection committee could easily rethink an at-large bid for one of the conference’s most inconsistent teams.

Michigan (17-11, 7-8)

Best Win: Jan. 27 at Michigan State, 61-57
Worst Loss: Jan. 15 at Indiana, 80-61

Michigan would have been in the “completely out” category if it had lost to Iowa on Feb. 19, but would be completely in if the squad had even one truly elite victory. The Wolverines have had close call after close call, such as an overtime loss to No. 3 Kansas on Jan. 9 followed by a 4-point loss to then No. 2 Ohio State three days later. Michigan will need to beat No. 12 Wisconsin at home on Wednesday — which would be easily the team’s best victory — and then win both bubble-off games against Minnesota and Michigan State in its last three to have a chance.

Michigan State (15-11, 7-7)

Best Win: Jan. 11 vs. then-No. 21 Wisconsin, 64-61 in OT
Worst Loss: Feb. 2 at Iowa, 72-52

A preseason favorite to make it far in this year’s bracket, Sparty’s subpar overall record is offset because the team played an out-of-conference schedule that included No. 1 Duke, current-No. 17 Syracuse, current-No. 14 Connecticut, and current-No. 5 Texas. However, the Spartans didn’t win any of those games, and only have one win over a team currently ranked. Also, a stretch where the team dismissed star guard Korie Lucious and lost five of six games in the middle of conference play didn’t help. However, it is Michigan State and coach Tom Izzo, and it’d be tough to bet against a strong finish for the Spartans, who historically have played their best when it’s the month of March.

Minnesota (17-9, 6-8)

Best Win: Jan. 13 vs. No. 8 Purdue, 70-67
Worst Loss: Nov. 19 vs. Virginia, 87-79

If the field had been filled after the nonconference schedule, Minnesota may have been a third seed or higher. But the team has had persistent hiccups in Big Ten play — losses at Indiana and Penn State stand out — and has never looked like the same team since it lost guard Al Nolen midway through the year. Minnesota has four games left, all winnable, and it will probably need three out of four and a decent conference tournament run to make March Madness.


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