NCAA Tournament Seeding Scenarios For Northwestern and Illinois

NCAA Tournament Seeding Scenarios For Northwestern and Illinois
Fact Checked by Jim Tomlin

These are unprecedented times for college basketball in the state of Illinois. For the first time ever, the state’s two Big Ten schools, Northwestern and Illinois, appear set to make the Men’s NCAA Tournament in the same season.

Both teams lost Sunday, but the Wildcats and Fighting Illini have accomplished enough throughout the season to avoid sweating it out on Selection Sunday, and Illinois sports betting operators can look forward to both teams participating in March Madness.

With focus now turned towards seeding, examined the national landscape and created hypothetical odds to predict which seed line the Wildcats and Fighting Illini will end up on. Here is where they are most likely to land:

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Northwestern NCAA Tournament Seeding Odds

Seed Odds Implied Probability
4 or better +1500 6.2%
5 +450 18.2%
6 +200 33.3%
7 +325 23.5%
8 +800 11.1%
9 or worse +1200 7.7%

Northwestern Making History in 2022-23

It has already been an incredible season for Northwestern. With two games left in the regular season, the Wildcats (20-9 overall, 11-7 Big Ten) have already set a program record for conference wins, and their 20 total wins are tied for second most in school history. When their name is announced on Selection Sunday in 13 days, it will be just their second time ever in the NCAA Tournament field.

Northwestern sits as a projected 6-seed according to the consensus bracket at, which averages dozens of bracket projections from various sources. But the last week of the regular season and conference tournament time can create considerable movement along the S-curve. 

NU has +12500 odds with BetMGM Illinois Sportsbook to win the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats reached the second round in their only other appearance.

What’s Just Ahead For Northwestern

The Wildcats will look to boost their resume this week by beating two bubble teams, Penn State and Rutgers, but their biggest challenge will be avoiding a protracted losing streak. 

After blowing an 18-point halftime lead at Illinois on Thursday and being outscored by 14 in the second half on Sunday in a loss at Maryland, Northwestern has consecutive defeats for the fourth time this season. Each of the previous three times, the Wildcats have managed to stop the bleeding there, but it is critical they do it again if they wish to preserve or enhance their seeding.

That seeding could impact NU’s chances of a deep NCAA tourney run. BetRivers Illinois Sportsbook has the Wildcats at +3400 to reach the Final Four.

Wildcats Have Strong Resume

Northwestern owns seven Quad 1 wins, tied for eighth most nationally, but they also have four losses outside of Quad 1, more than anyone else with as many or more Quad 1 wins as them. Those losses, along with a NET ranking of just 41, push them towards the middle of the field despite the high number of quality wins.

A victory over Penn State (17-12, 8-10) on Wednesday would only count as a Quad 2 win because it is at home. But if the Wildcats win Sunday at Rutgers (18-11, 10-8), that would net them another Quad 1 victory. A split likely does not move the needle very much for the Wildcats, but a 2-0 or 0-2 week will have seed line repercussions.

The conference standings are far from final, but Northwestern will aim for a top-four seed and a double bye in the Big Ten tourney. The Wildcats are tied for second in the league with Maryland, Indiana and Michigan, two games behind Purdue. Rutgers, Illinois, Iowa and Michigan State could all possibly finish above the Wildcats in the standings too.

Regardless of where Northwestern finishes, any loss in the conference tournament should not have much impact on seeding given the Big Ten’s depth, unless it is to last-place Minnesota. Coach Chris Collins can feel confident about the program’s second NCAA Tournament appearance (first since 2017) and so can folks using Illinois sportsbook apps to wager on March Madness.

Illinois NCAA Tournament Seeding Odds

Seed Odds Implied Probability
4 or better +2500 3.8%
5 +750 11.8%
6 +350 22.2%
7 +275 26.7%
8 +350 22.2%
9 or worse +650 13.3%

Illinois Has Two Huge Nonconference Wins

Like Northwestern, Illinois projects as a 6-seed per Bracketmatrix’s current forecast. However, the Fighting Illini appear to have a more tenuous grasp on their seeding than the Wildcats. The Fighting Illini’s average seed in the 89 brackets on the site (as of Monday afternoon) is 6.67 compared to 6.02 for Northwestern. sees a seventh seed as the most likely.

Illinois has +8000 odds to win their first NCAA Tournament title with Caesars Illinois Sportsbook

While forward-looking predictive metrics rate Illinois as the better team, a resume comparison favors Northwestern’s total body of work. The Illini claim two non-conference wins few can match, with neutral court victories over top-10 teams UCLA and Texas, but the rest of their profile does not hold up as well.

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Illinois Basketball Resume at a Glance

Though they have just one loss outside of the first quadrant, Illinois (19-10 overall, 10-8 Big Ten) is 3-9 in Quad 1 contests. Their only Quad 1 conference victory was at Wisconsin, a win that could easily fall to Quad 2 as the Badgers rank 72nd in the NET right now (top 75 games on the road count as Quad 1).

The unbalanced league schedule also has affected affected the Illini. Per, Illinois faced the easiest slate of conference games in the Big Ten this season. Illinois has played last-place Minnesota and second-to-last Ohio State twice each (losing to the Buckeyes on Sunday in Columbus) and has also gone 4-2 against the other three teams with losing conference records (sweeping two games each against Nebraska and Wisconsin but getting swept by Penn State).

That schedule has helped the Illini stack wins in the nation’s second highest rated conference, but it has also worked against them to a degree. Their road schedule was loaded with difficult games, whereas they have only had one Quad 1 opportunity at home this season.

Still, the Illini have already ensured at least a .500 finish in Big Ten play with two league games left. Scoring a home win over Michigan on Thursday would be nice, but it is Sunday’s game at first-place Purdue that can really lift Illinois. If the Illini were to win that it, would give them a third win away from home against a team currently ranked in the top 10, something no other team in the country can claim.

Odds of Illinois Making Final Four

That alone could bump Illinois up a seed line, though KenPom only gives them a 21% chance of defeating the Boilermakers. Illinois has reached the Final Four five times in program history and FanDuel Sportsbook Illinois gives them +1800 odds of doing so again this year.

Given the variance in Illinois’s projected seed compared to Northwestern, the Big Ten tournament also feels like a bigger deal for the Illini. They are less likely to earn a double-bye than the Wildcats, which would require them to win an extra game to reach the championship game.

This could help Illinois add to its win total, but it also opens up coach Brad Underwood’s team to the risk of bowing out early to a worse team. With the opportunities other teams will have, adding another Quad 1 win to the profile feels essential for the Illini to maintaining their current status, as their wins over the Bruins and Longhorns can only carry their seeding so far.

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Josh Markowitz is a freelance writer for He is a lifelong sports fan with an emphasis on basketball, football, baseball and the scouting/evaluation process. A graduate of Elon University's School of Communications, Josh also has experience in television production.

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