USC men’s basketball won’t play its first Big Ten Conference game until December of 2024, but in a certain sense, the Trojans are already part of a Big Ten basketball season. The explanation isn’t as complicated as you might think.
Right now, as you look at the NCAA Tournament bubble — on which USC is centrally placed, right near the cut line for entry into the field of 68 — there are a ton of Big Ten schools.
When you look at the Big Ten standings, you’ll see why the bubble has a lot of Big Ten teams. The conference is balanced but not hugely impressive. There are a lot of teams which could reasonably be viewed as “decent but nothing special,” which is basically a team sitting on the fence between the NCAA Tournament and the NIT.
The Big Ten is currently projected by ESPN to have 11 teams in the NCAA Tournament, all while the Pac-12 is projected to have three teams, USC not being one of them. If USC is to get into the field, the Big Ten’s NCAA Tournament haul might need to shrink to nine or even eight teams.
There’s a clear bubble battle between USC and a large group of Big Ten schools.
Entering play on Monday of this week, four Big Ten teams were within eight spots of the cut line for the NCAA Tournament. Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State and Northwestern were on the positive side of the cut line, included in the field, but by narrow margins. The only three Big Ten teams not in the field are Michigan, Nebraska, and Minnesota.
USC gained good news on Tuesday: Ohio State and Penn State, both part of that large bubble group in the Big Ten, lost. Wednesday night, Maryland hosts Wisconsin and Northwestern visits Nebraska.
You will want to follow Big Ten basketball over the next several weeks — not because the Trojans are about to join the Big Ten, but because the flow of results in the Big Ten will affect USC’s bubble position.