Big Ten With Realistic Chance to Get 12 Teams Into NCAA Tournament With Five Weeks To Go

By David Wertheim on February 8, 2020 at 11:05 am
Kofi Cockburn and Luka Garza
Jeffrey Becker- USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten has been the country's undisputed top basketball conference this year.

With five ranked teams and 12 (of 14) over .500, there is a non-zero chance that the conference could sneak all 12 of those teams into the Big Dance this year, thanks in part to a down year filled with parity across college basketball. 

Maryland is arguably the conference's most all-around team led by stars Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith. Michigan State got Cassius Winston to return for one last hurrah and and is in the top-25 as always. 

A resurgent Illinois led by Kofi Cockburn and Trent Frazier has them as a lock. Iowa, featuring the potential Naismith Player of the Year in Luka Garza (23.2 ppg, 10.0 rpg), is also a lock.

Lamar Stevens is dominating his last season and Penn State should finally make the Big Dance under Pat Chambers. Nobody saw Rutgers coming, but Steve Pikiell will probably have the Scarlet Knights dancing as well.

Archie Miller's Hoosiers are currently 15-7 and are probably in the field if the season were to end today. Same with Chris Holtmann's Buckeyes, of course, who were dominant in the non-conference slate and are starting to pick it back up as of late. 

That leaves four: Purdue, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. The first three all have double-digit losses (Michigan has nine) but all sit at .500 or better in the conference, again with the exception of the Wolverines, who have a few nice non-conference victories over Gonzaga and Creighton to make up for it.

The Big Ten also has all 12 .500 or over teams in the top-50 of the NET rankings, which factor in strength of schedule and other metrics and is certainly something the committee will be looking at.

But is this actually possible? The current record of teams from one conference was set by the old Big East back in 2011, when they got 11/16 in. The Big Ten is literally trying to do what hasn't been done before in the history of the sport. Again, though, is it possible? 

Here's the only way: the conference has to somehow get more even. Minnesota needs to beat Penn State today. Indiana needs to beat Iowa on Thursday. Michigan beating Rutgers again next week would be huge for the Wolverines. Basically, all games between top teams and middle tier teams need to swing towards the middle tier. 

Even then, there stands to be a chance that one or two of the middle teams falter. Minnesota and Wisconsin seem to be the most likely, especially with the Badgers cloaked in turmoil at the moment after losing second-leading scorer Kobe King due to a racial epithet hurled by (now former) Badgers strength and conditioning coach Erik Holland that led King to transfer. 

But what if? What if the Big Ten could pull off the unthinkable and somehow own 17.6% of the tournament field? It's possible, according to the country's bracketologists. According to the bracket matrix, which sums up current bracketology picks by all experts, the Big Ten is projected 11 teams with Minnesota being in the "First Four Out" category.

So you're saying there's a chance? 

Yes. And it's gonna be fun to watch.

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