Big Ten bubble teams need wins in Indy

BY SETH ROBERTS | MARCH 10, 2011 7:20 AM

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Don’t look now, but Madness is upon us.

The men’s Big Ten Tournament will tip off today in Indianapolis, and quite a few teams involved will be fighting to keep their hopes alive for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

While three teams are certainly going to be invited to the Big Dance, four other squads — Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State — likely need numerous wins in the Big Ten Tournament to garner an at-large bid.

Each of those teams finished the regular season with 9-9 conference records and 12 or more total losses, which is traditionally a few too many to be considered a lock for the field of 68.

That some of these losses have been to mediocre programs — the Nittany Lions lost to Maine, the Spartans fell by 20 points in Iowa City, and Illinois somehow fell short against Illinois-Chicago — only complicates matters for the bubble teams.

No one is more familiar with the standards set for the Big Dance than Illinois coach Bruce Weber. The Fighting Illini were 19-14 last year with a respectable 10-8 conference record but lost to eventual conference champ Ohio State in double overtime in the Big Ten semifinals. Weber’s squad didn’t get an invite to the NCAA Tournament, instead settling for a berth in the NIT.

“I don’t know if I’m really confident after last year, to be honest,” the eighth-year coach said in a teleconference on Monday. “If we lose the first game in the Big Ten Tournament [and] Michigan or Michigan State go on a little bit of a run, we could be the guy left out.”

Not all the bubble coaches seem to be as worried as Weber, though. Penn State’s Ed DeChellis said he’s confident his Nittany Lions can go dancing without winning the Big Ten’s automatic bid to the NCAAs (the ultimate prize for the conference tourney winner).

DeChellis cited his team’s strength of schedule and good RPI rating — two factors used to determine the at-large bids — but admitted winning at least a couple games this weekend wouldn’t hurt.

“I don’t think we have to win the whole thing … but I don’t make those decisions,” he said in a teleconference. “It’s frustrating sometimes for coaches, because the criteria change from year to year. Two years ago it was RPI and strength of schedule, this year it might be some different criteria. All I know is, we have to continue to win.”

Purdue tries to regroup

One team not concerned about its spot in the Big Dance is Purdue. The No. 2-seeded Boilermakers (25-6, 14-4) are assured of an NCAA berth; they enter the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 9 squad in the country.

But even though the Boilermakers punched their dance ticket weeks ago, head coach Matt Painter said his team has a lot to prove this weekend.

Purdue’s last time out on the floor resulted in a stunning 67-65 loss to Iowa (11-19, 4-14) in which the Hawkeyes outrebounded the Boilermakers 48-40 and posted a 15-10 advantage in second-chance points. Painter said after the game that his players’ energy and effort wasn’t up to his standards.

Still, the six-year head coach said losing in the season finale might not be such a bad thing after all.

“If you take it the right way, it could be a benefit,” Painter said in a teleconference on Monday. “Through watching film and having a couple days of practice, you’d hope that [the players] would open their eyes to saying that their effort wasn’t acceptable.”

Purdue awaits the winner of the game between Iowa and Michigan State.

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