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The record for NCAA Tournament bids for one conference (11 by the Big East in 2011) could be in jeopardy this season as the nation’s best conference, the wild-and-wooly Big Ten, makes a case for 12.

Yes, 12 Big Ten teams have a shot at being included in the 68-team bracket in March.

Twelve of the conference’s 14 teams are ranked in the top 40 of’s overall efficiency ratings and top 50 of the NCAA’s NET rankings, and 11 of those 12 received votes in the AP Top 25 on Monday.

Back in December it appeared Michigan and Ohio State might be the class of the conference. Both teams were undefeated, and both had wins over North Carolina — which seemed like an achievement at the time. The Wolverines also beat Gonzaga by 18, and the Buckeyes had a 25-point win over Villanova.

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But the two are off to a combined 4-9 start in the Big Ten play and are 10th and 11th respectively, in the standings.

Instead it’s Rutgers and Illinois who are tied for second place behind preseason No. 1 Michigan State.

One thing that has proved to be true this season: It’s good to play at home.

Home teams in conference games are 42-7, and the Big Ten’s two basement dwellers, Nebraska and Northwestern, have accounted for four of the seven home losses. Home teams are winning at an 85.7 percent clip, up from 62.1 percent a season ago.

Would the committee really choose a dozen teams from the same conference? It could happen. The NCAA has often said it disregards conference affiliation when handing out bids.

And there are other factors that favor the Big Ten.

The ACC is in the midst of a dreary down year. North Carolina is almost certainly staying home in March, and defending national champion Virginia needs to make a course correction to avoid being NIT-bound.

Undefeated San Diego State is running away with the Mountain West Conference, and Dayton is doing the same in the Atlantic-10.

Both conferences, unusually, could be single-bid leagues this season. San Diego State is No. 2 in the NET while Utah State, the only other MWC school in the top 100, is 89th. No. 5 Dayton is 40 spots ahead of VCU, its closest rival.

The Aggies have lost four of five and have just one more chance, Feb. 1 at San Diego State, for a quality win. But KenPom gives the Aztecs an 85 percent chance to win that one.

The Rams’ chances seem a little better as they still have games against four teams — Saint Louis, Duquesne, Richmond and Rhode Island — ranked between 54th and 61st in the NET, and they host Dayton on Feb. 18.

Among smaller conferences, only 19-1 Liberty (NET No. 24) out of the Atlantic Sun and 16-2 Northern Iowa (NET No. 38) appear to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid.

All of that means that there likely will be fewer candidates than normal for the 36 at-large bids, and Big Ten schools have a chance to impress the committee in most every game.

Even the three teams with the shakiest records already have multiple quality wins. Wisconsin (11-7, NET No. 22) has the fifth-best strength of schedule, according to Pomeroy, and has road wins over Tennessee and Ohio State. Minnesota and Purdue are both 10-8 but have the second- and 11th-toughest schedules, respectively, thus far.

KenPom projections suggest 12 of the 14 teams will finish with a conference record of 9-11 or better, and each of the 12 already has multiple Quadrant 1 wins, according to the NET. The Big East is second with seven teams with at least two Quadrant 1 wins.

Furthermore those 12 have no Quadrant 4 losses and just a combined five losses in Quadrant 3.

If those teams continue to hold serve at home, the NCAA Tournament committee could have its hand full trying to distribute them throughout the bracket in 55 days.


Penn State at Michigan -4: Speaking of the Big Ten, after beating Gonzaga in the Bahamas in November, the Wolverines were 7-0. Since then: 5-6 with five straight road losses.

Luckily, they get the Nittany Lions at home, so … MICHIGAN

UNLV +5 at Nevada: The Rebels started the T.J. Otzelberger era in Las Vegas 4-8. But since then UNLV has won seven of eight.

The Wolf Pack’s only win in the past four games was by one point at home over lowly Wyoming (KenPom No. 301).

A side note: After Vanderbilt went 0-for-25 from 3-point range on Saturday, there remained just two Division I teams that had made a 3-pointer in every game since the rule went into effect in 1983: the Rebels and Princeton. UNLV


Belmont at Murray State +1, Total 149: The Bruins have won five in a row since starting Ohio Valley Conference play with an inexplicable loss to SIU Edwardsville.

The Racers took a while to adjust to life without Ja Morant (can you blame them?) but are 13-5 after winning seven straight games.

Both teams shoot the ball wall, especially from inside the arc, and Murray State has averaged more than 80 points per game during the win streak. MURRAY STATE and OVER

Last week: 2-2

Season: 23-21

About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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