Big Ten Men’s Basketball Bracketology: It’s closing time

We are in for a wild week to close the Big Ten regular season.

There are quite a few crucial matchups in the next seven days for teams on this list. Purdue, now holding a share of a second Big Ten regular season championship in a row, concludes against the next two teams on this list: A hungry Illinois and a spiraling Wisconsin. The Illini face Iowa in the finale, as the Hawkeyes look to jumpstart a Big Ten Tournament run that could squeeze them into the Big Dance. And Michigan State and Northwestern, vying for similar seeding projections, will get their chance at a significant final statement.

Everyone wants to be playing their best ball right now, but some teams are just trying to scrape by. Here’s where things could stand if Selection Sunday was today:

Purdue: 1-seed

Games this upcoming week: at Illinois Tue. (Peacock), vs. Wisconsin on Sun.

There are plenty of people out there who doubt Zach Edey, or at least what Purdue can be with its system designed so much around him. That’s an understandable impression based on last year’s sole NCAA Tournament game. I counter with the following facts: No. 3 Purdue just clinched a share of its second straight Big Ten regular season title, it’s the big favorite to win its second straight Big Ten Tournament and Edey is averaging 27.3 points and 12.4 rebounds over the last seven games.

Illinois: 4-seed

Games this week: vs. Purdue Tue. (Peacock), vs. Iowa on Sun.

The No. 12 Illini are a threat no matter the game situation because they can put up points in a hurry. The third-ranked offense in the country per KenPom has averaged 87.8 points over the last nine games. The Illini have their issues on defense, for sure, but they’re adept at forcing teams into shootouts where they simply have more firepower. Illinois must beat Purdue Tuesday to maintain a chance at the shared Big Ten regular season title.

Wisconsin: 7-seed

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

Wisconsin’s defeat at the hands of Illinois Saturday makes it seven losses in nine games. It’s hard to imagine a worse finish to the season, or another team in college basketball that fell so stunningly over the course of the season. Even their two wins during that stretch came against Ohio State (in Chris Holtmann’s final game) and Maryland (which has also lost seven of its last nine).

Northwestern: 9-seed

Games this week: at Michigan State on Wed., vs. Minnesota on Sat.

Michigan State: 9-seed

Games this week: vs. Northwestern on Wed., at Indiana on Sun.

We’re examining these teams together because the comparison here is fascinating entering the season’s conclusion. Northwestern jumps Michigan State (although they’re on the same seed line) in these rankings because the raw numbers of the resume favor the Wildcats. Northwestern holds the better record overall (20-9 to 17-12), in conference (11-7 to 9-9) against Quad 1 teams (5-5 to 4-8) and against Quad 2 teams (5-3 to 4-4).

Why, then, does NET rank Michigan State around 30 spots ahead of Northwestern? It mainly seems to come down to who they’ve played – MSU holds the 12th-toughest schedule to this point, whereas Northwestern is at 51. At some point, though, you must turn on-paper optimism into on-court victories. The Spartans’ losing streak is up to three; losing by six at Purdue is hardly damning, but that sort of mindset is indicative of the frustration surrounding the team.

Nebraska: 10-seed

Games this week: at Michigan on Sun.

The bad news: The Cornhuskers’ 67-56 victory over Rutgers on Senior Night Sunday was Nebraska’s last game of the season in Lincoln, where it finished the season 18-1. The good news: Sunday’s regular season finale at Michigan is their last true road game, where they have been 2-8 this season. From there, it’s all neutral court games, in which they are 1-0 this season. It will be exciting to see how their well-rounded approach plays in such settings.

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