Michigan won five games in the 2018 NCAA Tournament to make a second national championship appearance in the last six years after only two national championship appearances in the preceding 35 years. The Wolverines’ run eradicated some of the stench left behind by the rest of the Big Ten.
The Big Ten posted a .692 winning percentage in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, the best of any conference, registered 13 units in the NCAA’s multimillion-dollar Basketball Fund, and came within 40 minutes of their first national championship since 2000. By some accounts, it was a highly successful tournament for the 14-team conference. By other accounts, it was another Final Four failure for a championship-caliber team and a pathetic top-to-bottom showing for a 14-team conference that averaged 0.6 wins per member, only four of which actually made the tournament, their fewest teams in 10 years.
Three years later, the Big Ten will enter the 2021 NCAA Tournament still chasing their first national championship since 2000. This time, however, they’ll do so with more than four teams in the 68-team field. In the January 28 edition of BetMGM Bracketology, the Big Ten led all conferences with nine teams. They also led with nine teams in the January 21 and January 14 editions and 10 teams in the January 7 edition.
The Big East set the record in 2011 for most tournament teams from one conference when Notre Dame and UConn led 11 teams. Seven years earlier, the ACC tied their own record for the highest percentage when six of nine teams (66.7 percent) made the field in 2004.
If the Big Ten’s nine current Bracketology teams make the field–Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue, Rutgers, and Wisconsin–they’ll need one more to break the ACC’s record and two more to tie the Big East’s record. Just keeping those nine teams in the field is a huge task; two teams–Indiana and Rutgers–are among the last six teams in. But if all nine earn bids, five remain: Maryland, Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Penn State.
Nebraska is out, as is Northwestern. Maryland is squarely on the bubble with mediocre metrics, three good wins, and no horrendous losses.
The true wild card is Penn State. Despite a sub-.500 record entering February, among other issues (road wins, Quadrant 1 record, SOR, non-conference NET SOS) the Nittany Lions are alive thanks to several bubble-worth metrics (as of Jan. 30):
NET SOS: 2
That doesn’t outweigh their issues (and history doesn’t favor at-large campaigns for .500 teams), but there are remaining opportunities for Penn State to enter the at-large picture. Same for Maryland, whose Michigan State, whose metrics suck. Without several Quadrant 1 wins over the final six weeks, the Spartans will miss their first NCAA Tournament since 1997, Tom Izzo’s second year as head coach.
In: Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin
In Barring Collapse: Minnesota and Purdue
Bubble: Indiana, Maryland, and Rutgers
Alive: Penn State
Barely Alive: Michigan State
Out: Nebraska and Northwestern
The Big Ten is a long way from touching the ACC and Big East, but just three years after placing four teams in the field, they’re in a great spot with two legitimate national championship contenders and up 10 more tourney teams.
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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @DoughtyBetMGM.