Bubbler is a term you’re liable to hear only in Wisconsin — specifically Milwaukee County.

It describes what anyone else in the United States would refer to as a drinking fountain. Although, post-pandemic, maybe the only way to describe that thing is as a garbage bag cover with a paper sign that says “Out of Order.”

But these days there’s a different kind of bubbler in Wisconsin. These bubblers are found in Madison, where they are also known as the Badgers.

Wisconsin is 1 of 3 Big Ten teams that enter the final week of the regular season ostensibly looking at the NCAA Tournament from the outside. But by just about any metric, all 3 are grouped among the first 6 outside of the cutline — and in some mock brackets, Wisconsin is among those who make the cut.

It’s still possible for a whopping 11 Big Ten teams to reach the NCAA Tournament.

And at this point, it looks like that number will be no fewer than 8 teams.

Safely in: Purdue, Indiana, Northwestern, Maryland, Rutgers, Illinois, Michigan State, Iowa

Miraculous comeback wins last week from Illinois, Rutgers and Iowa erased any chance 1 of those teams might somehow fall out of the field amidst recent cold snaps.

New additions


Illinois’ 18-point rally against Northwestern seems particularly important after the Illini followed it with a lackluster loss at Ohio State. With a loss to Northwestern, the Illini would have dropped 4 of 5 with the lone win coming against Minnesota. At that point, a win over Michigan or Purdue probably would have been necessary.

Illinois may still want to win 1 of the 3 games left on the schedule to avoid any possibility of the First Four, but even that would be a shock. The Illini could land anywhere from a 6-10 seed.


The Hawkeyes were teetering in the wrong direction. A home loss to Michigan State would be Iowa’s third straight. Iowa would certainly need a win in 1 of its last 3 games to avoid Dayton.

But somehow Iowa erased its 10-point deficit to the Spartans in less than a minute, and now the Hawks are comfortably in the field regardless of how they close out.


Over the course of a couple weeks, the Scarlet Knights went from looking like a potential 5-seed to potentially being in a world of trouble.

Rutgers dropped 3 of 4 after losing Mawot Mag to a season-ending injury, and was well on its way to another loss at Penn State on Sunday. Rutgers trailed by 19, and the Scarlet Knights’ offense is certainly not built to overcome such a deficit — not unlike an option team in football.

But Rutgers does have the defense to overcome deficits, and outscored the Nittany Lions 18-5 in the final 10 minutes.

Like Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State, Maryland and Northwestern, Rutgers finds itself hovering somewhere between a 6-10 seed as the regular season concludes.

The bubblers

Wisconsin (16-12)

NET: 80

KenPom: 69

Quad 1 record: 6-6

A pair of weekend buzzer beaters dealt pretty crushing blows to Wisconsin’s Tournament hopes.

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The Badgers witnessed 1 of those first-hand — Hunter Dickinson’s 3 that sent a would-be win over Michigan into overtime.

The other Badger heartbreaker was thousands of miles away. Arizona State, considered well outside the bubble, suddenly worked its way in with a 60-foot shot to earn a crucial road win at Arizona.

What Wisconsin must do

A win over Minnesota to close the regular season isn’t going to give the Badgers enough juice to impress the NCAA Tournament committee. The Gophers don’t even have a Big Ten roster at this point.

That gives the Badgers a couple pathways. The first is to beat Purdue at Kohl Center on Thursday night. It may not carry the same weight as Arizona State’s road win, but outside of location Wisconsin could not ask for a better opportunity.

If the Badgers lose to the Boilers, they’ll need to make it at least to Friday’s quarterfinals in the Big Ten Tournament.

Who Wisconsin should root against

Michigan, West Virginia, Utah State, USC, Nevada, Arizona State, North Carolina.

Many experts seem to have the Badgers and Tar Heels neck-and-neck in the fight for the final spot. That makes Duke a Badgers’ best friend this weekend.

Michigan (17-12)

NET: 54

KenPom: 41

Quad 1 record: 3-10

The Wolverines are finally taking care of business after dithering around in December and January.

After dropping to 11-10 following a loss at Penn State on Jan. 29, Michigan looked like it might not even qualify for the NIT. But the Wolverines are 6-1 since, including their current 3-game winning streak.

What Michigan must do

Given the degree of difficulty remaining, any combination of 2 wins might be enough to get the Wolverines into the field.

Michigan has a pair of challenging road tests at Illinois and Indiana to close out the regular season. Sweep those and the Wolverines are in regardless of what happens at the Big Ten Tournament.

Split those games, and Michigan likely needs to grab a win in Chicago.

Lose both games, and it’s hard to see a path for Michigan without winning a couple at the Big Ten Tourney or getting some major help from around the country.

Who Michigan should root against

Wisconsin, Arizona State, North Carolina, Nevada, Utah State, USC, Clemson, New Mexico.

The Sun Devils earned a suddenly significant 87-62 head-to-head win over the Wolverines back in November. If the teams are otherwise even — and it’s looking pretty close at the moment — that outcome has to factor into the committee’s decision.

Beating both Illinois and Indiana would give Michigan a superior resume that makes that comparison less relevant. But Arizona State, like Michigan, closes out with a pair of road games that could greatly hurt or harm the cause — at USC and UCLA.

Penn State (17-12)

NET: 59

KenPom: 49

Quad 1 record: 3-7

Penn State’s squandered 19-point lead against Rutgers was an utterly painful thing to witness in real time. The Nittany Lions looked as good as any offense has against the Scarlet Knights this season in the first half — and then as bad as any offense has looked against any team in the final 10 minutes.

What Penn State must do

Wins over Northwestern and Maryland to close the regular season are now necessary. If Penn State wins those games, though, simply taking care of business against Ohio State or Nebraska in the opening round of the Big Ten Tourney may be enough.

Lose either game, however, and a couple wins are going to be needed in Chicago.

Penn State’s scenario is similar to Michigan’s, but the Wolverines are currently better situated.

Who Penn State should root against

Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Clemson, Pitt, Utah State, Nevada, USC, Arizona State, West Virginia.

The Nittany Lions really are a bizarro world version of Michigan.

Just as the Wolverines have a suddenly meaningful loss to Arizona State, Penn State has a suddenly meaningful loss to Clemson. The Tigers outlasted the Nittany Lions 101-94 in a double overtime game on Nov. 29.

If all things are equal going for 1 of the final spots, that’s going to help Clemson’s cause.

And at the moment, all things are kind of equal between the teams — Penn State is 59th in NET and Clemson is 60th.