NCAA Tournament notebook: B1G (minus Michigan State) begins battle today
The Big Ten has high hopes for this NCAA Tournament.
Maybe more so than any other season since Michigan State won the title in 2000. The league has nine entries (eight following Michigan State’s late-night First Four loss to UCLA), four of which are the top-8 seeds. And the fifth which many consider to be a rising team that few would want to face.
It’s not unreasonable to think that the Big Ten could advance two to the Final Four. Illinois is rolling of late, peeved by not being a Big Ten regular-season champion, Ayo Dosunmu and Co. raced to a conference tournament title, edging by Ohio State. They’ll have the 1 seed in the East and the 2 seed in the South, respectively. Michigan, the regular-season winner, is limping a bit, literally and figuratively, having lost three of its last five games and without veteran wing Isaiah Livers, who is likely out with a stress injury in his right foot. The No. 1 seed in the East has to be on upset alert, maybe as early as the second round.
Iowa can score, as it’s shown all season. Will it’s defense be good enough in March? If so, the 2 seed in the West could have a run in it, especially because it appears to have favorable matchups especially early in the tournament.
And then there’s upstart Purdue. The Boilermakers, who have four freshmen in their rotation, including two starters, were riding a 5-game losing streak before their early exit from the Big Ten Tournament. But No. 4 in the South, Purdue seems like a team that could get hot, and many like their path toward a second-weekend run.
After a tough Big Ten slate, don’t count out the others, either: No. 9 seed Wisconsin and No. 10 Rutgers get underway today (with Illinois, Ohio State and Purdue), while 10 Maryland joins the fray (with Michigan and Iowa) on Saturday.
Following is a glance at Friday’s matchups:
No. 16 Drexel vs. No. 1 Illinois
Time: 1:15 p.m.
Location: Indiana Farmers Coliseum
The Storyline: The Fighting Illini starts its march toward what it hopes will be a Final Four appearance at worst and a national championship at best. There should be too much concern with the 16 seed; Drexel was the CAA sixth-seed for the conference tourney, but rallied to win three games in three days for the automatic bid. The Dragons are a good shooting team but play little defense and has little size, so it’s matchup vs. Kofi Cockburn will be a big edge toward Illinois.
No. 15 Oral Roberts vs. No. 2 Ohio State
Time: 3 p.m.
Location: Mackey Arena
The Storyline: The Buckeyes erased their regular-season-ending malaise with a run in the Big Ten Tournament, taking Illinois to overtime. It’s put the Final Four back into the picture. Oral Roberts might hang with OSU early, because the Golden Eagles can score, but defense is a problem, and trying to locate all of the Buckeyes’ offensive weapons will be a challenge. Look for E.J. Liddell to have a big day scoring and on the glass, as the Buckeyes cruise in the second half.
No. 9 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 North Carolina
Time: 7:10 p.m.
Location: Mackey Arena
The Storyline: Perhaps the first team to 60 will win this matchup, anticipated to be a close defensive battle between two middle-of-the-pack teams in the Big Ten and ACC. The Badgers do have one advantage; they like to shoot the 3, and they do it pretty well (36%) and UNC doesn’t defend the perimeter particularly well. But the Tar Heels probably have a slight edge in the front court, with Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks over Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter.
No. 13 North Texas vs. No. 4 Purdue
Time: 7:25 p.m.
Location: Lucas Oil Stadium
The Storyline: North Texas rallied late in the season, then earned the automatic bid from the C-USA when an upset of Western Kentucky. The Mean Green are an experienced squad, with a couple good players in guard Javion Hamlet and Zachery Simmons. The latter might be critically important in trying to slow down Purdue’s bigs Trevion Williams and Zach Edey. The Boilermakers have turned into a darling of the NCAA, with many taking them as a dark horse Final Four contender. Will their youth rise this month?
No. 10 Rutgers vs. No. 7 Clemson
Time: 9:20 p.m.
Location: Bankers Life Fieldhouse
The Storyline: Rutgers is the favorite even though it is the double-digit seed. Both teams want to turn the game into a fist fight, using their defense and physicality to muck up the opponent’s offense. It might 10 minutes into before the game totals 20 points. This is the Scarlet Knights first trip to the NCAAs since 1991 and they’ve got the veterans, like Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr., who can get hot this time of year. Whichever offense scores in Indy late tonight will win.
Michigan State the first out
Tom Izzo didn’t want to have to be in the play-in game.
And now he doesn’t have to.
The Spartans were sent out of the NCAA bubble early, losing their First Four game vs. UCLA 86-80 in overtime Thursday night in Mackey Arena.
MSU was up 5 with less than 90 seconds remaining — and had been up by as many as 14 — but the Spartans ran out of gas, with critical mistakes, like errant rebounds and airballed shots, costing big.
After the game, senior Josh Langford, who battled through injuries to get back to the court this season, announced his career at Michigan State was over. He could have returned for a sixth season, if desired. He scored 12 points in the loss.