Who's Playing for What in Chicago?

Bloomington, Ind. – The stakes couldn't be much higher this weekend in Chicago. Beginning Thursday, the United Center will be the site of the 10th Big Ten Postseason Tournament. While the tournament champion won't be crowned until after Sunday's championship game, there's more than just hardware on the line during the four-day event.

Bloomington, Ind. – The stakes couldn't be much higher this weekend in Chicago.

Beginning Thursday, the United Center will be the site of the 10th Big Ten Postseason Tournament. While the tournament champion won't be crowned until after Sunday's championship game, there's more than just hardware on the line during the four-day event.

For Ohio State and Wisconsin, there's a potential No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed waiting if they can emerge victorious. For Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue there's the opportunity to fill in the blanks on NCAA tourney resumes that are still a bit shaky. And for Minnesota, Northwestern and Penn State, there's the pipedream of putting together four straight victories to earn an improbable postseason berth.

The team with the least to play for, quite honestly, might be Indiana. Thanks to wins over Northwestern and Penn State in the regular season's final week, the third-seeded Hoosiers are safely in the NCAA field with a 20-9 overall mark and have separated themselves a bit from a muddied Big Ten pack. With that said, an early Chicago exit could result in a middle-of-the-road, No. 7-8 NCAA seed and an unwelcome encounter with one of the nation's elite teams in the second round of the NCAA tourney. But a couple of wins this weekend could elevate IU to a No. 4 or No. 5 seed and position IU for a much more manageable round two foe next week.

So who has the most on the line this weekend?

1. Michigan (20-11/8-8, No. 52 in RPI) –
The eighth-seeded Wolverines missed on a golden opportunity to potentially punch their NCAA ticket over the weekend when they squandered a six-point lead late and lost to Ohio State in Ann Arbor. A victory would have given Coach Tommy Amaker's squad the sort of late-season marquee win that would have likely earned the Wolverines their first NCAA berth since 1998. Now, if Michigan can get by Minnesota in round one, it will get another crack at the top-seeded Buckeyes in a Friday quarterfinal. More than likely, an NCAA berth and Amaker's job will be on the line in that contest.

2. Iowa (17-13/9-7, No. 84 RPI) –
The Hawkeyes NCAA hopes were dealt a crushing blow last week when they lost at Penn State. A victory would have given Coach Steve Alford's team a 10-6 league record and would have made it very difficult for the selection committee to give at-large berths to teams that were a full two games behind Iowa in the regular season standings (such as Michigan State). Now, despite being the fourth seed this weekend, Iowa is either seventh or eighth in the conference pecking order for NCAA berths, and the Big Ten won't be getting that many teams into the NCAA field. More than likely, Iowa is going to need to advance to Sunday's championship game to earn an at-large invite.

3. Purdue (20-10/9-7, No. 45 in RPI) –
One would think that 20 wins, a plus .500 conference record and some solid non-conference wins (Virginia, Oklahoma, and DePaul) would be enough to get Matt Painter's team in the NCAA field. But Purdue could go from solid to shaky by losing to Iowa on Friday, especially if Iowa or Michigan winds up advancing to the tournament's championship game. If that happens, a team that right now appears NIT bound could bump a team like Purdue from the field. Odds are if Purdue beats Iowa Friday they won't have to sweat when the field is announced Sunday.

4. Wisconsin (27-4/13-3, No. 4 RPI) –
The Badgers would love to earn the program's first ever No. 1 seed, but to do so they'll likely need to win the postseason tournament. Their runner-up finish, coupled with the elbow injury to forward Brian Butch, makes a No. 2 seed much more likely for Coach Bo Ryan's squad. UCLA and Ohio State will be very hard to supplant on the top line of two of the regions no matter what they do in their conference tourneys, while North Carolina, Kansas, Florida and possibly Texas A&M could climb to a No. 1 with a postseason tourney crown of their own. For Wisconsin to be a top seed it needs to prove it can win without Butch, and they'll get that opportunity in Chicago.

5. Illinois (21-10/9-7, No. 35 RPI) –
Illinois finds itself in a very similar situation to Purdue – a 20-win regular season, a 9-7 league mark and a solid RPI would appear to have Coach Bruce Weber's team safely in the NCAA field. But…if the Illini were upset by Penn State in round one, their situation would quickly become tenuous. Illinois does have a 6-2 finish to the Big Ten regular season that enhances its resume significantly, and it also showed the loss of Jamar Smith and Brian Carlwell shouldn't play much of any factor when determining if they should get in and where they should be seeded.

6. Michigan State (21-10/8-8, No. 21 RPI) –
Truth be told, the Spartans are the fourth-safest team in the Big Ten in terms of the NCAA tourney behind Ohio State, Wisconsin and Indiana. While Coach Tom Izzo's squad is seeded seventh in the tournament, their RPI is ahead of even Indiana's (No. 23) and their schedule has been brutal – they played the top three teams in the league (Ohio State, Wisconsin and Indiana) twice, but only played the bottom three teams in the league (Minnesota, Northwestern and Penn State) once. The committee will take that into consideration. What Michigan State does have a chance to do, though, is elevate its seed dramatically with a good effort in Chicago. It will play Wisconsin round two, and a second win over the Badgers this season would be huge for the Spartans.

7. Indiana (20-9/10-6, No. 23 RPI) –
Any doubt about IU's NCAA credentials were erased by wins over Northwestern and Penn State in the final week of the regular season. That propelled IU to the No. 3 seed, gave it a 20-win regular season, and separated the Hoosiers from the Big Ten pack. Now, the Big Ten tourney provides the Hoosiers with an opportunity to improve their seed. Depending on how long IU hangs around the United Center, it could still be anywhere from a No. 4-8 seed in the Big Dance.

8. Ohio State (27-3/15-1, No. 2 RPI) –
Coach Thad Matta's team appears to be a safe pick for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney no matter what the results in Chicago. The fact the Buckeyes won the regular season title by a full two games and their only three losses have come on the road to teams that have No. 1 seed aspirations of their own (North Carolina, Florida and Wisconsin) make it virtually impossible to imagine a scenario where the Buckeyes could fall to a No. 2.

9. (tie) Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State –
All three teams have no shot at the postseason barring a Big Ten Tournament title, and none of the coaches are playing for their jobs. Northwestern's Bill Carmody and Penn State's Ed DeChellis will be back at their respective schools, while Minnesota's Jim Molinari has been filling in after Dan Monson resigned during the non-conference portion of the season. All three should be dismissed on the opening day, and possibly all three could be gone in blowout fashion.

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