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Big Ten Bracketology: Iowa Rising, Sparty Falling

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Surveying what the experts have to say on the B1G teams in the dance.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

With the help of The Bracket Project, here's where your favorite Big Ten teams are projected to wind up in the NCAA Tournament, along with assorted thoughts from yours truly* and other members of the OTE "staff".

*Yes I get the irony of a Northwestern fan writing about the NCAA Tournament. Shut up.

For these rankings, the number next to the team name serves as the average rating from The Bracket Project. I've included some other notable pickers, along with how our very own StewPoll would have those teams shake out.

Consensus "In":

Iowa (2)

BracketMatrix 2.07 Palm (CBS) 2
ESPN 2 SBNation 2
StewPoll 3 RealTimeRPI 3

The Hawks are soaring, with only StewPoll and RPI metrics failing to move them up to a 2-line. Iowa is almost unanimously headed to Des Moines for its first two games, which would provide Iowa a dangerous home-court feel.

Michigan State (2)

BracketMatrix 2.58 Palm (CBS) 2
ESPN 3 SBNation 3
StewPoll 6 RealTimeRPI 2

Graham Filler: Let's talk Spartan struggles!

(With the caveat that Sparty improves come March, almost every year, and this little blip will probably be erased by some ridiculous Final Four run. But that aside...)

How could an undefeated, #1 ranked Spartan squad fall so quickly into, say, a #4 seeded NCAA Tourney team? I think the reasons are clear and (mostly) fixable:

  • Injured Tum-Tum. The loss of MSU's best perimeter defender has led to major defensive issues on the perimeter (surprise). Teams are driving and kicking with tremendous success against a coach who has made his living on keeping teams out of the paint and away from open shots. Going to be awhile until he's healthy again.
  • Weird Foul Stuff. I know a few Spartan fans complaining about the inconsistent refereeing (28 against Wisconsin, 14 against Nebraska including some particularly mind-boggling mid-game ticky tack fouls). But MSU hasn't found a happy spot defensively. Too much aggression leads to FT's, too little aggression leads to open shots.
  • Three Point Confidence. 4-21 against Iowa. 11-18 against Nebraska. 8-18 v Wisconsin. 10-20 against PSU. MSU can shoot ‘em, but besides the good looking deep shots, the offense isn't that put together. Lots of standing and watching Denzel create.
  • Rotating Rotations. Maybe you all know something I don't and maybe this is the early season dance to find a perfect lineup(s). But it's like musical chairs out there.

This Spartan team, when rolling, is a Top 3 team in America. But the truth is, this team looks lost against Big Ten competition and they obviously need to start playing together or else everyone's going to start talking about next year, during this year.

Maryland (3)

BracketMatrix 2.82 Palm (CBS) 4
ESPN 2 SBNation 2
StewPoll 2 RealTimeRPI 2

Maryland showed a lot of weakness against Northwestern, but so far Jerry Palm appears to be the only big name dinging the Terps for their unconvincing 2015-16 campaign. Wins are wins, but if Maryland's a 2 seed, they're going to be picked a lot to get upset by the 7.

Purdue (5)

BracketMatrix 4.93 Palm (CBS) 4
ESPN 4 SBNation 4
StewPoll 3 RealTimeRPI 7

Lots of variance on the Boilers, whose RPI of 35 is damaged by their weakish non-conference schedule. A win or two over the premier teams in the Big Ten would go a long way to cementing the Boilermakers on a 4 line, while a bad loss here or there would likely slip Purdue to a 6.

Indiana (7)

BracketMatrix 7.44 Palm (CBS) 8
ESPN 7 SBNation 7
StewPoll 5 RealTimeRPI 8

Speaking of terrible SOS, hi, Indiana! Not much love for the Hoosiers among those taking who they've played into account. Running into the meat of the Big Ten will likely knock Crean's club down to a 9 or 10 seed if the Hoosiers can't impress.

Michigan (8)

BracketMatrix 7.91 Palm (CBS) 7
ESPN 8 SBNation 7
StewPoll 6 RealTimeRPI 9

Surviving a scare from Minnesota, the Wolverines are off the bubble and squarely into a tourney berth. A strong SOS and a 5-5 record against the RPI Top 100 gives 13-5 Michigan the credibility of a team which beats those it should.

Also Receiving Selections; Or, Slap These Blogs for Being Silly:

Ohio State (11, 3 votes)

Point and laugh at this blogthis blog, and...SBNation?! It's true. Blogging the Bracket's Chris Dobbertean has the Buckeyes as one of the Last Four In, playing Florida in Dayton.

Northwestern (11, 1 vote)

Point and laugh at this blog.

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Takeaways

  • I doubt Ohio State can play its way onto a bracket line unless they get a big scalp, and fast.
  • In the meantime, it looks like the Big Ten has solidified 4 bids, but there are reasons to be wary about both Indiana and Michigan, both of whom could go cold from the field at the worst times against teams which lock down on defense.
  • Could this be the start of an NIT push for Nebraska? Maybe, but that 149 RPI and some baaad losses are going to hold back the Huskers, who finally seem to be rediscovering their form.
  • It's not The Year, Northwestern. You dared to dream, though.
  • With RPIs of 207 and 229, respectively, Minnesota and Rutgers have strayed into potentially tourney dreams-crippling losses for teams in the middle 6 of the conference. Woof.
Ultimately, this looks like a down year for the Big Ten. The Michigan State brand has lost some of its luster with the injury to Tum Tum Nairn, and Maryland has been uninspiring, to say the least.

What has this meant? That Iowa continues to fly under the radar outside of Big Ten country. And there's a reason for that. While the Hawkeyes' worst loss is to Notre Dame (RPI 33, Kenpom 31), they've yet to claim an RPI Top 25 scalp, falling to Iowa State (13, 19) and Dayton (11, 45), though they've beaten Kenpom #9 Purdue once and #16 Michigan State twice. This turns their January 28th showdown with Maryland into, effectively, their last chance before conference tournament time to make a real case for why they should be a #1 seed in the Big Dance.

Otherwise, compared equally to other schools around the nation in terms of RPI (which the committee uses -- though it's not a be-all end-all!), I expect the Hawks to stay on the 2-line. In the national, non-conference limelight, they fell in big games, and while a season sweep of Michigan State is phenomenal for the program, I don't think there's enough there to buoy the Hawkeyes any higher than a 2-seed when it all shakes out unless they've convincingly demonstrated that they're the best in the Big Ten.

[edited to reflect that Iowa has won three games against the Kenpom Top 25 --MNW]