Big Ten teams face week of uncertainty

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Hurry up and wait.

That’s the position a handful of Big Ten teams are in now. With the conference tournament complete a week ahead of time, there was no lead-in from Michigan grabbing the championship trophy Sunday evening right to the NCAA Tournament selection show on CBS.

Instead, “60 Minutes” was ready to roll.

So, instead of instantly knowing which teams made the tournament, who they were playing as well as when and where, this time there’s a long week — agonizing for a couple teams — of guessing.

And that’s about the best way to sum things up — trying to nail down the bracket a week ahead of time is basically a big guess. Sure, there’s plenty of data that goes into it, but it’s essentially like forecasting the weather — there are plenty of variables that could significantly alter things.

For the Big Ten, it’s cut and dried for four teams. Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State are getting in the NCAA Tournament. For those teams, it’s about what seed they draw and where they’ll be playing.

Obviously, Michigan State and Michigan would love to land in Detroit with first- and second-round games being played at Little Caesars Arena. But as we’ll get into, that’s not a simple formula.

For Nebraska and Penn State, the brutally tough wait will be to see if they’ve done enough to make the field or whether their bubble has burst.

Here’s a look at what the Big Ten teams will be thinking about over the next few days:

Michigan State

We might as well start with the most difficult team to predict, which of course, is Michigan State. All season the Spartans’ ranking in the polls hasn’t jibed with what was coming out of the committee or with many of the mock brackets. The best they’ve been in the last few weeks is a No. 2-seed, even when they had been ranked as the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the nation by the Associated Press and coaches’ poll.

The big issue all along has been Michigan State’s schedule — it was 97th entering Sunday – which didn’t have the Quadrant 1 wins of many of the other top teams. In fact, the Spartans finished with a 3-4 mark in Quadrant 1, losing twice to Michigan — at home and on a neutral court — while losing at Ohio State and on a neutral court to Duke. Of course, Michigan State also doesn’t have a single bad loss and is hurt by Notre Dame’s significant drop after Bonzie Colson was injured.

It has all left MSU as likely a No. 2 or No. 3 seed with its chance of playing in Detroit dwindling. That’s because the committee starts with geography as the top criteria and right now, two teams are ahead of MSU that are closer to Detroit — Xavier and Purdue — while Michigan and Cincinnati could leap them.

The committee could opt to move a team out to another region that is nearly as close. For example, Xavier is only about 25 miles closer to Detroit than Pittsburgh, another first-round site. Go about 70 more miles and Purdue could end up in Nashville. The bottom line is, the more teams closer to Detroit that end up ahead of MSU on the finals seed line, the tougher it is for the Spartans to be in Detroit.


Michigan has a shot to end up in Detroit, but it’s not a great one. There’s a chance the Wolverines could jump Michigan State on the seed line based on what happened this weekend, but some experts are unsure that will be the case. Their 6-5 mark in Quadrant 1 is solid, but they do have a Quadrant 3 loss on the resume, as well.

If they did end up in Detroit, the Wolverines could be as high as a No. 3 seed. It seems more likely they’ll land as a solid No. 4 or even a high No. 5. In that case, the chances of landing in Detroit would be slim.

However, regardless of where Michigan lands, it might be playing as well as any team in the country. And you’ll hear this a lot over the next few days, but the Wolverines are a team few teams want to see in their bracket.

Purdue/Ohio State

Neither team helped itself over the weekend, however neither hurt itself too much, either.

Even with its loss on Sunday, the Boilermakers still have six Quadrant 1 wins and should stay on the 2-seed line. At worst they might drop to a 3 but would likely be one of the top 3-seeds. That is worth paying attention to for Michigan State and Michigan in terms of getting to Detroit. Purdue is closer to Detroit than any other first-round site, and could keep a spot from the local teams.

Ohio State had a chance to help itself out with a chance to add two Quadrant 1 wins, but the Buckeyes were bounced by Penn State — again — and likely land on the 5- or 6-seed line.

Penn State

Penn State looks like an NCAA team, but it’s hard to ignore the resume that took a beating in the first half of the season. The Nittany Lions have 21 wins including three over Ohio State, but that’s their only three in Quadrant 1. Add two Quadrant 3 losses and one in Quadrant 4 and it’s a tough sell.

“I’m an optimist, very positive,” coach Patrick Chambers said. “Nobody’s going to want to see us in the NCAA Tournament. We have NCAA Tournament talent. … The teams that we’ve come up a little short with has been Purdue twice. We’ve played some really, really good teams. I believe we’re going to be in.”


That leaves us with Nebraska, a team that won 13 Big Ten games and finished fourth in the conference. Since the tournament expanded in 1985, only two teams have won 13 conference games and failed to make the field.

The Cornhuskers will likely be the third, thanks in large part to a 1-7 mark in Quadrant 1. They simply don’t have anything outside of the win at home over Michigan and blew any chance of building the resume this weekend by going one-and-done, getting whipped by the Wolverines.

“I believe we’re an NCAA Tournament team now,” coach Tim Miles said. “At the end of the day if Quad 1 is the holy grail, that’s a tough deal. But I don’t think Quad 1 is the holy grail. There’s tough wins in Quad 3. You just have to see where it goes.”