Big Ten Men’s Basketball Bracketology: Purdue, Wisconsin, Illinois project as high seeds

With college basketball fully entrenched in conference schedules, teams are starting to make their cases for the NCAA Tournament and potential seeding is taking shape. The Big Ten is always among the conferences with the most entrants, and that’s not going to change this year with the depth the conference boasts.

This edition of bracketology will establish the approximate range of each team in contention by examining their season to this point. Moving forward, this series will focus on recent performance, short-term trends and important upcoming games.

Let’s jump into it!

Purdue: 1-seed

Games this upcoming week: at Indiana on Tue. (Peacock), at Iowa on Sat.

Yes, the Boilermakers got waxed by Nebraska in Lincoln on Tuesday, but they still have perhaps the best resume in the sport right now. With the seventh-hardest NET Strength of Schedule (SOS) per NCAA Statistics and six Quadrant 1 wins (the most in the country), Purdue has proven itself against the elite. However, with a 1-2 road record and huge games at Indiana and Iowa this week, they also have to prove that the early-season struggles away from Mackey Arena are no more than a blip.

Wisconsin: 2-seed

Games this week: at Penn State on Tue., vs. Indiana on Friday

The Badgers are the only team still unbeaten in Big Ten play, have played the 10th-hardest NET SOS and have only lost to Quadrant 1 teams (and they still have a winning record in such games). In the last week, they took down two conference foes who are currently slated to make the tournament, winning 71-60 at Ohio State Wednesday and 71-63 at home vs. Northwestern on Saturday. Few teams are taking care of business like the Badgers are right now.

Illinois: 4-seed

Games this week: at Michigan on Thu., vs. Rutgers on Sun.

For the most part this season, Illinois has only lost to truly elite teams. Before Sunday, the Illini’s sole blemishes came against No. 11 Marquette, No. 5 Tennessee and No. 1 Purdue. But then they lost at home to a Maryland team that ranks 68th in the country in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin, which measures each team holistically. Illinois has some good wins, but with Terrence Shannon Jr. suspended indefinitely, it can’t afford many slip-ups and stay in position for a high seed.

Michigan State: 8-seed

Games this week: vs. Minnesota on Thu., at Maryland on Sun.

The Spartans are an interesting case. On the surface, they’re an unimpressive 10-7 on the season, including 2-4 in conference play. On the other hand, they have the 14th-hardest strength of schedule in the country, six of those seven losses have come against Quad 1 teams and they’ve been competitive in virtually all those losses. We’ll see what wins out: The statistical models that like Michigan State, or the face-value numbers that make them look mediocre.

Nebraska: 9-seed

Games this week: at Rutgers on Wed., vs. Northwestern on Sat.

A dominant win over the No. 1 team in the country will do wonders for your bracket outlook. The 319th-ranked non-conference SOS held the Cornhuskers back in this conversation early, but they made it out of that without any major blemishes and have had some impressive moments in Big Ten play, featuring convincing wins over Michigan State and Indiana. Two ugly road losses to Wisconsin and Iowa sandwiched that Purdue win, though, so Nebraska still has plenty to prove.

Northwestern: 9-seed

Games this week: vs. Maryland on Wed., at Nebraska on Sat.

The Wildcats are the other team that can lay claim to a victory over the Boilermakers, one of their three Quadrant 1 wins. Their December home loss to Quad 4 team Chicago State hurts, especially considering they played the 304th-ranked non-conference SOS, but they have been tested early in their Big Ten slate and are still standing. They have an opportunity to keep up with the conference’s best.

Ohio State: 10-seed

Games this week: at Michigan on Mon., vs. Penn State on Sat.

In most years, snagging out-of-conference wins against Alabama, UCLA and West Virginia would be incredibly impressive. This year, however, they don’t seem to be helping the Buckeyes quite as much. The Buckeyes’ schedule is somewhat backloaded, so it’s important to rack up wins now, especially coming off two straight losses to Indiana and Wisconsin.

Iowa: 11-seed (First Four game)

Games this week: at Minnesota on Mon., vs. Purdue on Sat.

The Hawkeyes are 0-4 on the road and 0-5 against Quad 1 teams, but those ugly numbers require some context. Three of those four road losses came against ranked teams, and the other was against an Iowa State team that received votes for last week’s AP Top 25 poll. It’s hard to beat that caliber of competition in their own building. If Iowa doesn’t take down Minnesota Monday night, the road performance will become more of a concern.

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