Bubble Wrap: The Crowded Big Ten

First of all, allow us a moment to give Penn State some credit. They had never won 10 Big Ten games in one season until they garnered their tenth of 2009 Thursday night. They apparently have a flair for the dramatic, as they trailed by six with under two minutes left. A Stanley Pringle three, a huge offensive board -- followed by two free throws -- from David Jackson, some good defense, and a clutch runner from Talor Battle propelled them to an unbelievable victory over a very solid Illinois team for the second time this season.

So, after Thursday night's showing, did Penn State punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since '01? What about the other Big Ten bubble teams?

Penn State

(21-9, 10-7)
Big Wins: Illinois home/away, at Michigan State, vs. Purdue. vs Minnesota, vs. Michigan
Bad Losses: none
Last 10: 6-4
RPI: 66
Remaining Game(s): at Iowa, conference tourney
What they need to do: Win at Iowa. If they do that, they'll get a three-seed in the Big Ten tourney. Um, hold on. Actually, if they win in Iowa and Purdue loses in Michigan State (obviously, that's entirely plausible), Penn State will be the number two seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Can you even fathom that? With a conference this good and this deep, the second-worst program -- pedigree-wise -- is behind only the mighty Spartans? Anyway, I digress. It's tough to tell who they'll face in the conference tourney in this scenario, because of a muddled middle in the standings, but after the bye I don't think they really have to win a game. Thursday night's victory along with a road win in Iowa Saturday should do it (as long as Purdue loses to MSU). You can't keep the technical second-place team of the number two RPI conference in the nation out of the Big Dance. You just can't. (Just in case, though, don't lose to Iowa should they happen to pull an upset in the first round)


(18-12, 8-9)
Big Wins: vs. Duke, vs. Illinois, UCLA (neutral), vs. Minnesota, vs. Purdue, vs. Penn State
Bad Losses: at Iowa
Last 10: 4-6
RPI: 47
Remaining Game(s): at Minnesota, conference tourney
What they need to do: They absolutely have to win at Minnesota Saturday, and that's not an easy task. If they do that, they'll probably get either Northwestern, Indiana, or Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten tourney. That would be another must-win game. If they get those two, they will be squarely on the bubble. A second Big Ten tourney win would go a long way in solidifying their spot, but they need to win two straight before we discuss that.


(21-8, 9-8)
Big Wins: Louisville (neutral), vs. Illinois, Wisconsin home/away, vs. Ohio State, vs. Penn State
Bad Losses: none
Last 10: 5-5
RPI: 32
Remaining Game(s): vs. Michigan
What they need to do: A win at home against Michigan should pretty much do it. They have a solid enough resume that a 10-8 record in this conference should do, especially considering their win over the Wolverines would eliminate another bubble team from the conference in one fell swoop. Winning their first Big Ten Tournament game would likely be gravy, but there's no reason to leave anything to chance. The mantra in Tubby Smith's locker room would be: Just get that dubya.

Ohio State

(19-9, 9-8)
Big Wins: vs. Butler, vs. Purdue, vs. Minnesota, Michigan home/away, at Miami (FL), vs. Penn State
Bad Losses: none
Last 10: 6-4
RPI: 40
Remaining Game(s): vs. Northwestern
What they need to do: If they take care of business against a tenacious Wildcat team at home Sunday, they should be pretty firmly in. Just as I said with the Gophers, though, it couldn't hurt to nail down that spot with one Big Ten tourney win as well.


(18-11, 9-8)
Big Wins: vs. Illinois, vs. Ohio State, Michigan home/away, at Virginia Tech
Bad Losses: at Iowa
Last 10: 6-4
RPI: 31
Remaining Game(s): vs. Indiana, conference tourney
What they need to do: Don't screw it up. Winning over Indiana at home -- which should be an absolute given -- seals their birth. If they lose, they'd likely to have to win at least two conference tourney games to make up for losing to IU at home this late in the season.


(17-11, 8-9)
Big Wins: at Michigan State, vs. Florida State, vs. Wisconsin, vs. Minnesota, at Purdue, vs. Ohio State
Bad Losses: at Stanford, at Iowa
Last 10: 6-4
RPI: 70
Remaining Game(s): at Ohio State, conference tourney
What they need to do: Man, if only they could flip those bad losses into wins. They'd be sitting at 19-9 with a 9-8 conference record, plus, a better resume than Michigan and Penn State. Instead, they need to do some work. First of all, they'll have to win at Ohio State. This team isn't getting in with an 8-10 conference season record. If they win that game, they'll need at least two wins in the Big Ten tourney to get on the bubble. At that point, they'd really have a legitimate shot. You'd be talking about a 20 win team with a serious list of quality victories from a deep conference.

All told, I really think the Big Ten is getting seven teams in. That means there are two on this list not making it, but four that will. If you like "on the bubble" action, pay attention to the Big Ten for the next week and a half. It's going to be exciting as everything sorts itself out.

My personal prediction is that it's Northwestern and Michigan left out in the cold.

Note: This is assuming Michigan State, Illinois, and Purdue are in. It's also assuming Iowa and Indiana are out (I know, a huge leap of faith there).

Bubble Wrap: The Crowded Big Ten originally appeared on NCAA Basketball FanHouse on Fri, 06 Mar 2009 08:00:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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