Quick now: Which is the biggest story?
@ The Big Ten being shut out of the top 16 NCAA seeds for the first time since 2004?
@ Northwestern playing in the NCAA tournament for the first time. Period?
It probably depends on whether you like your eggs sunny-side up.
What’s clear is that the Wildcats, with a huge win at Wisconsin on Sunday, have put themselves squarely in position to be the toast of the Big Dance.
It’s equally clear that Big Ten will need to ham-and-egg it to sneak a team or two into top-four seeds by Selection Sunday. League-leading Wisconsin is not out of that hunt. But the Badgers’ loss makes Purdue the best bet.
``It lets us know [we ’re] a 5 seed and need to win to improve our position,'' said Purdue coach Matt Painter, adding that he already knew they needed to win games.
Wisconsin coach Greg Gard also downplayed the top-four snub in the inaugural early look given by the Selection Committee, saying so much can change in the next month.
So much already has changed. Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan State and Indiana all were top-four seeds in Joe Lunardi’s pre-season bracket.
But Michigan State has been done in by injuries and another ridiculously ambitious early schedule. Indiana handled its early challenges well, knocking off Kansas and North Carolina. But injuries and some head-scratching losses have put the Hoosiers in a very strange position. . .
Has there ever been a team that beat the two teams that played for the national championship but failed to earn an NCAA tournament berth?[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
Indiana does not want to know the answer.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and CBSsports’ Jerry Palm basically agree that the Big Ten is in line for seven bids, with the Hoosiers now on the outside looking in.
Here are their Big Ten contingents as of Monday, Feb. 13:
Lunardi: Purdue 4, Wisconsin 5, Maryland 6, Northwestern 7, Minnesota 8, Michigan State 10, Michigan 11.
Palm: Purdue 4, Wisconsin 5, Maryland 6, Minnesota 7, Northwestern 7, Michigan 10, Michigan State 10.
This is where I cut through the hype and say, ``What’s the difference between a 4 seed and a 5 seed? The only thing that’s certain is, the 4 gets to wear its home white jersey in the 4-5 game.’’
And then I correct myself by saying, 12 seeds have a history of upsetting 5s, and 13s don’t do that to 4s nearly as often.
In other words, it’s time to roll up the sleeves on those tank tops and flip some eggs, Big Ten style.
BIG TEN POWER POWER RANKINGS
1, WISCONSIN (No. 1 in last ranking), 21-4, 10-2: If the Badgers weren’t a top-four seed before Northwestern ended their 19-game home winning streak, where are they now? Needing to get their offense on track. And needing to get Bronson Koenig, who had two points on 1-of-8 shooting while playing again through a calf injury, healthy.
2, PURDUE (No. 2), 20-5, 9-3: Nice three-game winning streak vs. Northwestern, Maryland and at Indiana. Note to NCAA committee: Boilers are getting their act together.
FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY, STING LIKE A BEE
3, NORTHWESTERN (No. 4), 19-6, 8-4: Bouncing back from upset home loss to Illinois, Northwestern came up with a huge 66-59 win at Wisconsin. It’s the signature win that will be pointed to as the game that put the Wildcats into their first NCAA tournament—if they take care of business the rest of the way.
4, MARYLAND (No. 3), 21-4, 9-3: If Terrapins, who have lost two (vs. Purdue, at Penn State) of their last three, want to stay in the league race, they’ll need to find a way at Northwestern on Wednesday. The Wildcats, who are expected to have Scottie Lindsey (mono) back, will be a handful.
BOBBING AND WEAVING
5, MICHIGAN STATE (No. 5), 15-10, 7-5: After being routed by Michigan, Spartans recovered for must-win vs. Iowa. They are tracking for their 20th straight NCAA bid, but have little room for missteps.
6, MICHIGAN (No. 10), 16-9, 6-6: Improved to .500 in league, and improved NCAA case, with big win over Indiana on Sunday. With Wisconsin and Purdue at home plus four road games remaining, the Wolverines will need to keep their chinstraps buckled.
7, MINNESOTA (No. 8), 18-7, 6-6: Have won three in a row since five-game losing streak. Starting with home games vs. Indiana and Michigan, Gophers have opportunities to solidify their NCAA case.
8, PENN STATE (No. 12), 14-12, 6-7: Followed upset of Maryland with solid road win at desperate Illinois. All in all, a very good week. Suddenly, it will be interesting to see if Penn State can finish strong. ``Interesting'' and ``Penn State basketball'' are words not often used in the same sentence.
9, IOWA (No. 6), 14-12, 6-7: Coming off pair of tough road losses (at Minnesota and Michigan State), Hawkeyes will try to regroup at home vs. Illinois and Indiana. Fran McCaffery and Tom Crean ranting on the sidelines of the same game? That's entertainment. Can't wait to see that handshake.
10, INDIANA (No. 7), 15-11, 5-8: A team with early-season wins over Kansas and North Carolina now fighting for its NCAA tournament life? Believe it. Injury-depleted Hoosiers, who have lost five of six, have enough to finish strong. They need to do that. And nothing less.
11, OHIO STATE (No. 9), 15-11, 5-8: Not enough ups, too many downs, mean the Buckeyes are unlikely to be traveling in March.
12, NEBRASKA (No. 11), 10-14, 4-8: With seven losses in eight games since their 3-0 Big Ten start, the Cornhuskers have reverted to expectations of an early spring-football focus. But red-hot Penn State vs. Big Red in Lincoln provides an interesting opportunity between schools that do their best work in shoulder pads.
13, ILLINOIS (No. 13), 14-12, 4-9: Follow up a rousing win at Northwestern with something as unsavory as the smell from the barns near State Farm Center vs. Penn State? At this point, there seems little question that John Groce is gone after five sub-par years.
14, RUTGERS (No. 14), 13-13, 2-11: Playing out the string. With Purdue and Northwestern coming up, this week looks like another tough one. As a sage city editor once told me, ``The future lies ahead.''[/membership]