A win over Nebraska on Monday night put the Illinois basketball team in the middle of the race for the coveted double-bye.
The Big Ten Tournament went to the double-bye format a few years ago. This is where you get a free pass to the elite eight if your record is good enough. Seeds 11-14 play on Wednesday in the first round. The winners of those two games advance to the second round where seeds 5-14 would play on Thursday. The winner of those four games plays the top four seeds in the conference on Friday.
Illinois’ win over the Cornhuskers ties them with four other teams for the second-best record in the conference. Penn State, Iowa, Michigan State, Wisconsin and the Illini all sit with a 10-6 Big Ten record. The big question remains, how will this all shake out and who will be the two teams left out of the double-bye?
I mapped out the remaining schedule of all five teams vying for the three spots remaining for the double-bye. I have Maryland locked into the regular-season title, so they will be the No. 1 seed. Here is how I see the other five teams finishing.
The No. 6 seed would go to Penn State. The Nittany Lions currently hold the No. 4 spot in the conference, but I see them finishing 2-2 in their final four games giving them a 12-8 record in the Big Ten. One of those losses would be to Iowa, and this would drop them to the bottom of the tie-breaker. Penn State would await the winner of the No. 11 vs. No. 14 game, which could end up being Northwestern vs. Purdue.
I have the No. 5 seed going to the Wisconsin Badgers. This is the spot they are currently in, and I believe they will finish there as well. I have Wisconsin finishing the season 2-2, which would give them a 12-8 conference record. They are pretty much locked into that spot based on the tiebreaker.
The first team in with the double-bye would then go to the Iowa Hawkeyes. They would be the No. 4 seed right now. Iowa is currently listed as the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, but I have them dropping two of their final four games. They would finish the season with a 12-8 Big Ten record.
Illinois would then don the No. 3 spot in the conference tournament. Thankfully, the Illini schedule is easier than most down the stretch. While they currently hold the No. 6 spot, I see the Orange and Blue winning three out of their final four games. The only loss I have marked is at Ohio State. That means Illinois would finish with a 13-7 Big Ten record.
The final seeding goes to Michigan State. I have them checking in at the No. 2 seed. They should go 3-1 to finish out their season. That would tie the Illini with a 13-7 Big Ten record, but the Spartans have the tiebreaker with beating us both times this season.
That is how I see the Big Ten playing out the final couple of weeks. I can’t believe the season is already coming to an end. This should be one of the best Big Ten Tournament we have ever seen, though.