Inside the Illini, NU NCAA bubbles
Illinois' NCAA tournament case is a little stronger than Northwestern's. But both teams, which are 5-7 in Big Ten play, need to add to their post-season resumes in their final six regular-season games to be invited to the Big Dance.
A 3-3 mark might be enough for Illinois, which would be looking solid if it won four of its last six. For NU, 4-2 may be required.
Here are the projections for the Illini and Wildcats by three leading bracketologists.
JOE LUNARDI, ESPN:
No. 12 Illinois vs. No. 5 San Diego State
Lunardi projects eight Big Ten bids, with NU among the first four out and Minnesota among the last four in.
JERRY PALM, CBSSPORTS:
No. 9 Illinois vs. No. 8 Mississippi State
No. 11 NU vs. a No. 6 Gonzaga
Palm projects nine Big Ten bids
ANDY GLOCKNER, SI.COM
No. 10 Illinois vs. No. 7 Murray State
No. 11 NU vs. No. 11 Xavier in an at-large play-in game
Glockner projects nine Big Ten bids.
All of these projections are very fluid at this point. The rest of the regular season will be pivotal for bubble teams, and they will have another chance to improve their situations in conference tournaments.
This year's Big Ten tournament ought to be very interesting on at least two counts. First, the addition of Nebraska means there will be only four first-round byes, with four games on Thursday involving No. 5 through 12. Second, because so many Big Ten teams could be on the NCAA bubble, the conference tournament ought be very intense and dramatic.
For Illinois, the most logical path to a 4-2 finish involves winning its three home games (vs. Purdue, Iowa and Michigan) and taking care of business at Nebraska. Trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin are likely to be tough.
For Northwestern to go 4-2, its best bet is to protect home courts vs. Minnesota and Michigan, and steal wins at Penn State and Iowa. The trip to Indiana and home date vs. Ohio State shape up as NU's most difficult remaining games.
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