The Big Ten’s complement in this week’s projected NCAA tournament field inched back up to 12 as Minnesota nosed its way back in. Still, given the zero-sum nature of conference play, a few of those teams are bound to end up more than a victory shy of .500 against league opponents.

It’s important to remember NCAA tournament bids are not set up as a quota. No league is entitled to any more berths than its one automatic qualifier; on the other end, there is no maximum per conference.

And while conference record is not part of the selection committee’s criteria (which makes sense in an era of unbalanced league schedules), the list of teams to earn at-large berths while sitting four games under .500 in their respective conferences is short. Iowa State was the first to do it after going 5-9 in the Big Eight in 1992. Since then, 1998 Florida State (6-10 ACC), 2019 Ohio State (8-12 Big Ten) and 2019 Oklahoma (7-11 Big 12) have joined the club.

So there’s recent history to illustrate a team with the right profile could win 40 percent of its Big Ten games and still make the NCAA field as an at-large. It isn’t unthinkable Ohio State (13-7, 3-6), with its nonconference defeats of Kentucky and Villanova and the absence of any glaring defeats, could replicate last year’s accomplishment if it can merely slog along around .500 the rest of the way.

Not every Big Ten team has the Buckeyes’ nonconference résumé, and thus they don’t enjoy the same margin for error. Yet given the opportunities for high-end victories still floating around — basically, every game against anyone other than Nebraska or Northwestern can help a Big Ten team’s profile — there’s a good chance all 12 of the current contenders will remain in the conversation (if not necessarily in the field) once March arrives.

Field notes

Last four included: N.C. State, Minnesota, Memphis, Virginia

First four on the outside: Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Rhode Island, Alabama

Next four on the outside: Mississippi State, Richmond, Xavier, Tennessee

Moving in: Minnesota, South Dakota State

Moving out: North Dakota State, Virginia Tech

Conference call: Big Ten (12), ACC (5), Big East (5), Big 12 (5), Pac-12 (5), SEC (5), American Athletic (3), West Coast (3), Atlantic 10 (2)

Bracket projection

South vs. East, West vs. Midwest

South Region

St. Louis

(1) BIG 12/Baylor vs. winner of (16) SWAC/Prairie View vs. NORTHEAST/Robert Morris

(8) Indiana vs. (9) Saint Mary’s


(5) Colorado vs. (12) Minnesota-N.C. State winner

(4) Kentucky vs. (13) SOUTHLAND/Stephen F. Austin


(3) ATLANTIC 10/Dayton vs. (14) WESTERN ATHLETIC/New Mexico State

(6) Illinois vs. (11) MISSOURI VALLEY/Northern Iowa

Albany, N.Y.

(7) Arkansas vs. (10) Purdue

(2) BIG EAST/Seton Hall vs. (15) COLONIAL/William & Mary

A victory over Michigan State and a one-point loss to Maryland (both at home) last week is a net plus for Indiana, which moves up a few seed lines but still finds itself in a plenty fluid situation. …

Here’s your annual reminder to appreciate what New Mexico State has done over the last decade. The Aggies have won the WAC seven of the last eight years and eight of 10. Over the last six seasons, they are 70-8 in conference play. … A few teams are going to face a defining stretch in the Big Ten meat grinder this season. Purdue, which plays five of its next seven on the road, might be entering one now.

East Region

Greensboro, N.C.

(1) Duke vs. winner of (16) METRO ATLANTIC/Monmouth vs. MEAC/Norfolk State

(8) Stanford vs. (9) Texas Tech

Greensboro, N.C.

(5) Auburn vs. (12) Memphis-Virginia winner

(4) Maryland vs. (13) AMERICA EAST/Vermont

Albany, N.Y.

(3) Villanova vs. (14) PATRIOT/Colgate

(6) AMERICAN ATHLETIC/Houston vs. (11) Michigan


(7) Penn State vs. (10) Florida

(2) MOUNTAIN WEST/San Diego State vs. (15) SUMMIT/South Dakota State

Texas Tech fares well in predictive measures such as KenPom and Sagarin, not quite as well in evaluative measures and right in the middle in the NET rankings. The best thing the Red Raiders can do is go win some games, an easier-said-than-done suggestion with West Virginia and Kansas up next. … Memphis has dropped four of six this month and doesn’t get another truly high-end opportunity until Feb. 22 against Houston, though a Feb. 13 trip to Cincinnati could help the Tigers’ profile a little. …

Maryland entered the week with a combined 10 Quadrant 1 and 2 victories. Only Kansas (with 11) has more; Baylor, Butler and West Virginia also have 10. … At some point, as long as its remains undefeated, San Diego State is going to work its way onto the top line. That point probably isn’t that far away. … Colgate is already two games clear of the field in the Patriot League, a welcome development in a conference that plays each of its tournament games at the site of the highest seed involved. The Raiders have won 15 of their last 17 and are a sneaky candidate to climb up to the No. 13 line and create headaches in March.

West Region

Spokane, Wash.

(1) WEST COAST/Gonzaga vs. (16) BIG SKY/Montana

(8) Wichita State vs. (9) Ohio State

Spokane, Wash.

(5) Iowa vs. (12) BYU

(4) PAC-12/Oregon vs. (13) MID-AMERICAN/Akron


(3) West Virginia vs. (14) HORIZON/Wright State

(6) Creighton vs. (11) ATLANTIC SUN/Liberty

St. Louis

(7) Rutgers vs. (10) SOUTHERN/East Tennessee State

(2) ACC/Louisville vs. (15) SUN BELT/Little Rock

There’s an interesting sequence looming for Wichita State: At Tulsa, at home against Cincinnati and at Houston. … Because BYU must be slotted in Thursday-Saturday sites for religious reasons, it adds a wrinkle to bracketing the Cougars. For this season’s purposes, BYU must be in the Midwest or West brackets, with an opening weekend trip to Albany, St. Louis, Spokane or Tampa. …

A two-game trip to Florida probably eliminated any slim hope for Liberty to land an at-large bid. The Flames lost at North Florida and Stetson and now sit tied with both teams atop the A-Sun. … Louisville stretched its winning streak to six with a rout of Clemson over the weekend. A note of caution: The Cardinals are projected to have only three Quadrant 1 games the rest of the season (trips to Florida State, N.C. State and Virginia).

Midwest Region


(1) Kansas vs. (16) OHIO VALLEY/Austin Peay

(8) Southern California vs. (9) Wisconsin


(5) SEC/LSU vs. (12) IVY/Yale

(4) Butler vs. (13) CONFERENCE USA/North Texas


(3) BIG TEN/Michigan State vs. (14) BIG WEST/UC Irvine

(6) Arizona vs. (11) VCU


(7) Marquette vs. (10) Oklahoma

(2) Florida State vs. (15) BIG SOUTH/Winthrop

Southern Cal looked the part in its trip to face the Oregon schools. The Trojans took Oregon to double overtime before succumbing, then torched Oregon State by 20 in Corvallis. … LSU has won its last six games by a combined 15 points. Good on the Tigers for getting the job done, but metrics that take into account scoring margin aren’t helping Will Wade’s team as much as the late, not-so-lamented RPI would have. …

On the flip side, part of why Arizona holds up so well in various metrics (No. 10 NET, No. 12 KenPom) even with a 13-6 record has to do with scoring margin against a schedule that ranks fourth in the country in the NET. The Wildcats have 10 victories by double figures, and five of their losses are by a combined 14 points. … It feels like a big week for Oklahoma, which gets Kansas State on the road before playing host to Oklahoma State. The Sooners could use a sweep of the Big 12’s bottom two teams. … … VCU has won three in a row, and it can stabilize its positioning with a good week. The Rams welcome Richmond to the Siegel Center and visit Rhode Island in the next five days.

Read more: