Michigan State is in unfamiliar territory as it prepares to play in the 2011 Big Ten tournament. Usually by this time of the year the Spartans' only concern is what seed they will have in the NCAA tournament, but this year they are on bubble watch. In fact, their record has put them in a position where they need to win before even concerning themselves with what happens around the country with other bubble teams.
Currently, this is what Michigan State's NCAA tournament resume looks like:
Last week, I outlined the different scenarios that existed for MSU with two games left in the regular season. The scenario that played out was MSU splitting its final two games, winning at home against Iowa and losing at Michigan. This leaves the Spartans with a 17-13 record and the No. 7 seed in the Big Ten tournament. They will play Iowa within the hour, which is where the next set of scenarios begins for MSU:
Lose to Iowa. This, of course, is the worst-case, sky-is-falling scenario for Michigan State fans. A loss to Iowa would give the Spartans a 17-14 record. Although they have a good RPI and SOS, a 17-14 record isn't going to be good enough for MSU to make the NCAA tournament. Yes, most of the bracket projections have MSU in the field right now, but losing to a team with an 11-19 record is the definition of bursting your bubble.
Beat Iowa, lose to Purdue. This is probably the most intriguing scenario because it's tough to tell whether or not a win over only Iowa would be enough for MSU to make the NCAA tournament. A loss to Purdue on Friday would give the Spartans an 18-14 record, which still is not all that impressive. Then again, MSU does have the seventh-toughest schedule in the nation and would likely end up being a top-50 RPI team.
Losing to Purdue would be playing with fire for MSU, as they would have to keep an eye on what all of the other bubble teams are doing. I personally believe the Spartans would be able to slide in just because the bubble is rather weak this year, but it would be close. At the very least, losing to Purdue would probably send MSU to Dayton for the First Four if it makes the NCAA tournament, but that's much better than playing in the NIT.
Beat Iowa and Purdue, lose in the semifinals. If Michigan State makes it to Saturday and loses, it would finish with a 19-14 record. Back in 2008, Arizona made the NCAA tournament with the exact same record. Many didn't think the Wildcats were worthy of a tournament bid, but they made it in thanks to having an RPI of 43 and the fifth-toughest schedule in the nation. With a win over Iowa and Purdue, MSU's RPI would potentially be even higher than 43, and it already has the seventh-toughest schedule. Basically, two wins would probably be enough for MSU to make the Big Dance. The only question would be if the Spartans would end up in the First Four or have a seed of 11 or better.
Advance to the championship game. I'm going to combine the final two scenarios. The first is if MSU makes it to the Big Ten tournament title game and wins it. That would give the Spartans an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, so there's not much to discuss except for what their seed would be. (I think they could end up with a 10 seed.)
The other scenario is MSU making it to the title game and losing. Although it wouldn't be guaranteed a ticket to the Big Dance, a record of 20-14 and wins over Iowa, Purdue and potentially Wisconsin would be more than enough for MSU to go dancing. It probably would be enough to get MSU out of the First Four as well, and short of winning the whole thing, that is by far the next best scenario for the Spartans.