The NCAA tournament selection committee doesn't think much of the Big Ten.
But should we blame them?
For the first time — taking a cue from the must-see TV that is the weekly releases of rankings ahead of the final picks for College Football Playoff — the tourney selection committee is releasing top-16 rankings ahead of Selection Sunday.
The first batch came Saturday, 21 days before the entire bracket will be officially announced. The field of 16 teams, complete with which regions the Nos 1 through 4 seeds would be placed in, looked to set up for a pretty fun Big Dance.
Here's how it shook out:
Notice anything strange? Look again. You won't see a single Big Ten team among the committee's top 16.
At first blush, that seems a bit outrageous, right? Even in a down season, could the Big Ten really not claim one of the top 16 teams in the country? And it becomes especially head-scratching when you look at the AP top-25 rankings, the most recent of which have Wisconsin as the No. 7 team in the country and Purdue at No. 16.
But think on things a little bit longer, and perhaps you too will struggle to come up with a reason why the Badgers, the Boilermakers or any other Big Ten team belongs in the top 16 over any of the squads the committee placed there.
The sad truth this season is that the Big Ten has just not been that impressive. Top to bottom, that's plainly true. After the top three or four teams, there's a significant drop off into mediocrity. While bracketologists still seem intent on handing out invites to as many as eight teams from the conference, does anyone who watches the league on a regular basis see the likes of Michigan State, Minnesota and Michigan as March contenders?
While that's a more broad conversation, it shows how the conference as a whole reflects on the top two teams. The Badgers and Boilers weren't included in the top 16 on Saturday because it seems the committee doesn't view being one of the top two teams in the Big Ten as a very noteworthy accomplishment in 2016-17.
Separately, both Wisconsin and Purdue have had their stumbles. Sure, the Badgers look good when it comes to results, but how they've gotten those results hasn't always been pretty. Wisconsin is on an eight-game win streak and has lost just once since Thanksgiving, but half of its last six wins have come in overtime against weaker competition. The Badgers barely survived against Minnesota, Rutgers and Nebraska. A team deserving of conversation for a No. 1 seed probably shouldn't be doing that. Purdue, meanwhile, boasts one of the frontrunners for national player of the year, but the Boilers have losses to Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, surely results that affected their standing with the committee.
But it's not only the teams at the top who should be worried about not getting a top-four seed. Lower down the standings, maybe there are more Big Ten bubble teams than the bracketologists believe. Maybe the Spartans, Gophers and Wolverines start slipping out of the projections entirely, like the Indiana Hoosiers already have started doing. Maybe Northwestern should be a little worried about landing on that bubble considering what the committee seemingly thinks about the league as a whole.
There's a month more of basketball to be played, and all this could change come not only Selection Sunday but as soon as next week. But for now, though, it looks like Wisconsin and Purdue have some work to do to impress their way into a higher seed. The biggest question is whether they even have the power to do that as mediocrity continues to reign in the standings below them.