When the NCAA Tournament bracket was revealed, there were a lot of hurt feeling across the conference. It looked as if the vast majority of our teams had been given the short end of the stick, especially if you compared the bracket to the final AP and Coaches polls. One week ago I was trying to figure out how expensive it would be to travel to Chicago for the Sweet Sixteen. By the time I got out of work last Friday, my calendar was foreseeably free.
The first weekend has come and gone in a year where the playing field looked as even as ever. Let’s look at how the Big Ten teams fared compared to what we expected.
Falling Short of Expectations
(2) Michigan State — The Spartans finished the year ranked #2 in the country. Coming off a Big Ten Tournament championship, winning 13 of their last 14 games , and ending with a 9 game winning streak. They were pegged as one of the few true contenders to win the national championship this year. There is a reason they call it “March Madness”. The MTSU Blue Raiders jumped out to a 15–2 lead and their hot shooting lead them past Michigan State to what many consider the biggest upset in tournament history.
(5) Purdue — The Boilermakers had a great team this year. Looking back at their schedule, they only had one loss to a team that missed the tournament (Illinois), and that was back in early January. They had respectable guard-play and a monster front court featuring AJ Hammons, Isaac Haas, and Caleb Swanigan. They finished the season ranked #10 and #12 in the country, but were given a 5-seed. This was a team no one wanted to run into. In the round of 64, with under 5 minutes left in the game, Purdue had a 14 point lead. The UALR Trojans went on a run and forced overtime. Purdue couldn’t put them away and it went onto a second overtime, where The Boilermakers fell by 2 points.
(5) Maryland — The Terrapins were one of the preseason favorites in college basketball this year. With a loaded roster, and only one bad loss (Minnesota, Feb. 18), pundits expected the Terps to make it this far. They won a close game against the Summit League champion South Dakota State Jackrabbits in the Round of 64. Maryland then beat a sneaky-good Hawaii team in the Round of 32, earning them a Sweet 16 match-up with the #1 team in the country.
(7) Iowa — The Hawkeyes had a rollercoaster of a season. Reaching as high as #3 in the country before a head-scratching stretch to end the season losing 6 of their last 8. They peaked early in conference play and just haven’t looked like the same team for the past month. They beat the AAC champion Temple Owls in the Round of 64 before losing to the 2-seeded Villanova in the Round of 32.
(11) Michigan — The Wolverines had a fairly lackluster year and were fighting to stay on the bubble team all season. By beating Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament, they earned a trip to Dayton for a First Four game against Tulsa. After beating Tulsa, they lost to Notre Dame in the Round of 64. Considering the season ending injuries to Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht, and the short term injuries to Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton, this team never looked positioned for a deep run.
(5) Indiana — This was my hardest team to place. The Hoosiers won the Big Ten regular season, had an early exit due to Michigan in the conference tournament, and finished ranked #12 and #14 in the country. In the round of 64 they handled Chattanooga and were rewarded with a match-up against Kentucky. If you would’ve asked me before the brackets came out how far Indiana would go, I would have guessed that they would win a game or two. A 5-seed beating a 4-seed shouldn’t be considered that big of an upset, but I didn’t think they would beat Kentucky.
(7) Wisconsin — The Badgers looked like they would finally finish outside the top 4 in conference play. They dropped non-conference games to Western Illinois, Marquette, and Milwaukee. They started conference play with a 1–4 record, but then they went on tear — finishing 3rd in the Big Ten. They lost to Nebraska in their first and only game of the conference tournament. The Badgers won a low scoring game against Pittsburgh in the Round of 64. They then went on to upset the 2-seed Xavier in the Round of 32.
What Lies Ahead
Maryland has been lauded all season for their NBA caliber players. Kansas has been considered one of the most complete teams in the country. Kansas has been the favorite to win this tournament from the very beginning, they also finished and spent a lot of the year as the #1 team in the country. They won their the Big 12 regular season and conference tournament. Maryland may have some future NBA stars in Melo Trimble and Diamond Stone, but I don’t think they have what it takes to get past this Jayhawks team.
Indiana has been pretty good at making it to the Sweet 16 lately, but haven’t advanced past it since 2002 when they went to the National Championship Game. The Hoosiers next match-up is with the 1-seed North Carolina Tarheels in another brawl of the basketball blue bloods. I would love to see Indiana pull this one off and finally get past a Sweet Sixteen. While they are probably the Big Ten’s best shot to win the tournament this year, I don’t see them getting past their next game.
Wisconsin has been to back-to-back Final Fours the past two years, losing in the National Championship game last year. After a rocky start to the season and Bo Ryan retiring, Greg Gard has had a coach of the year quality season getting the Badgers to this point. I like Wisconsin over Notre Dame to the Elite Eight. On Wisconsin!