Big Ten Tournament offers three postseason hopefuls last chance to impress

For those still hoping to buy their way off of the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament, cashing-in on the few, last-minute opportunities that remain between now and selection Sunday is the only way to impress the unjust gods of college basketball.

That’s right folks, championship week is upon us. And this year, occasional, Big Ten powers Indiana, Illinois, and Purdue are just a handful of the countless hopefuls that will be playing every second of this week’s action as if it were for the national crown in an attempt to avoid post-season purgatory-otherwise know as the N.I.T. or the dreaded C.B.I.

Over the weekend, Indiana shot itself squarely in the foot by dropping Saturday’s contest 74-72 to Michigan State in front of a very unhappy home crowd. Overall, the Hoosiers are now 19-12 and finished 9-9 in the Big Ten despite losing eight of their last 12 contests and each of their last three. But surprisingly, that still doesn’t mean that Indiana will be excluded from the annual festivities.

According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, who has once again blessed us with his annual exercise in ”Bracketology”, the Hoosiers would be a 12-seed with an opening-round, play-in game versus Brigham Young if the NCAA Tournament began today. Not buying Mr. Lunardi’s projection? You’re not alone.

But for now, ranking 25th in strength of schedule and victories over top-25 opponents such as SMU, Butler, Maryland, and Ohio State seem to be enough to keep Indiana’s tournament hopes alive. However, any progress that the Hoosiers make this week towards earning an invitation to the big dance will have to start with a win against Northwestern on Friday in the opening round of the conference tournament.

For some reason, an unimpressive non-conference schedule that ranks 217th in the nation and early losses to North Florida and Gardner-Webb haven’t stopped people from assuming that Purdue is a lock to reach the field of 68 since Big Ten play began.

Realistically, the Boilermakers wouldn’t even be on the bubble if they hadn’t finished 12-6 in the conference and posted a pair of wins against Indiana, and victories over Iowa and Ohio State. Beyond the Big Ten, consecutive wins over BYU and North Carolina State represent Purdue’s best work, but neither should outweigh the fact that the Boilermakers were rarely more than mediocre against a schedule that ranks 72nd in the nation.

Due to its performance within the Big Ten, Purdue has been seeded fourth and given a double-bye in this week’s conference tournament in Chicago with the possibility of playing either Penn State, Nebraska, or Iowa. While a loss in their first game should send the Boilermakers to the N.I.T., don’t be surprised to see this team in the big dance regardless of what happens in the Windy City.

Of the three tourney-hopefuls, Illinois is definitely the resident long-shot due mainly to a tournament resume that includes just two wins over top-25 competition, a record of 3-6 versus the RPI top-50, and a non-conference slate that ranks 163rd in the country.

At 19-12 overall and 9-9 in the conference, the Fighting Illini have been seeded eighth with a first-round bye in this week’s Big Ten tournament and given a tough match-up against Michigan on Thursday. If successful against the Wolverines, Illinois will have a huge opportunity to impress the selection committee in a third-round contest against mighty Wisconsin.

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