March Madness 2021: Ranking the chances of winning a national championship for all 9 B1G teams
It’ll be one of the storylines throughout March Madness, just like it has been for the last handful of years. The B1G hasn’t seen a team win the national championship since Michigan State’s magical run in 2000.
This year, the B1G was regarded as the best conference in college basketball. That’s a statement that will ring hollow if the league walks away empty handed at the end of the NCAA Tournament, especially in a year when it earned nine bids.
Before games start later in the week, we’re taking a look at the likelihood of each B1G winning the national championship and ending the conference’s unglamorous streak.
No. 9: Maryland Terrapins (10-seed)
First round matchup: UConn
Maryland played its way off the bubble and into the tournament during the most important stretch of the season, but even that five-game winning streak in late February seemed to be a bit of fool’s gold. The Terrapins posted victories over Minnesota, Nebraska (twice), Rutgers and Michigan State to essentially lock up a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Then Mark Turgeon’s team dropped three of the next four, with losses to Northwestern and Penn State.
The combination of Eric Ayala and Aaron Wiggins is a tough one to stop, and the two have been playing well down the stretch for Maryland. But this is a team that’s played inconsistent all season and doesn’t have the firepower to make a long tournament run. The Terps might win a game, but it seems unlikely they’d beat Alabama in the Round of 32 matchup even if they beat UConn.
No. 8: Wisconsin Badgers (9-seed)
First round matchup: North Carolina
Looking back through Wisconsin’s schedule, there isn’t really much to point to that would indicate it’s capable of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers finished 0-9 against the B1G’s Top 5 teams (Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Purdue and Ohio State) and dropped five of its final seven games, with the two wins coming against Northwestern and Penn State.
Experience is on Wisconsin’s side, so maybe that helps in a game against a North Carolina team that has seen better seasons, but there’s really no chance the Badgers could keep pace with a team playing as well as Baylor. Wisconsin has had some nice runs in the tourney in the past, but it doesn’t have enough to do it again this year.
No. 7: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (10-seed)
First round matchup: Clemson
Rutgers might be the most unpredictable team out of the B1G in the tournament. At times, the Scarlet Knights looked like a squad capable of making a Final Four run. Then there were moments that made you wonder if this team would even make the field. Steve Pikiell’s squad has the make-up of a team that earns the title “Cinderella” during March Madness.
Ron Harper Jr., Jacob Young and Geo Baker are capable of scoring buckets by the bunches and Myles Johnson is an elite-level defender. Rutgers also has some depth, which are the necessary ingredients to pull off some surprising upsets in the NCAA Tournament. But this team hasn’t put it all together consistently. The Scarlet Knights do have a favorable matchup against Clemson and, with a win, would (likely) play a Houston team that hasn’t seen much quality competition recently. From a bracket standpoint, there aren’t many intimidating teams in the region until you get to top-seeded Illinois. Keep an eye out for Rutgers.
No. 6: Michigan State Spartans (11-seed)
First round matchup: UCLA (First Four)
Why not? Even though Michigan State has endured some hard times throughout the season, ruling Tom Izzo out of any tournament is foolish. He’s earned a reputation for having his teams playing well in the month of March, and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt again. Just look back to what the Spartans did in the final six games, which were played in 13 days. Michigan State defeated ranked opponents Illinois, Michigan and Ohio State, as well as Indiana, to punch its ticket into the NCAA Tournament.
The Spartans will have a tough road ahead, playing a First Four game against UCLA. With a win, they’d advance to play BYU in the first round and would likely have to play Texas for a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Tough? yes. Impossible? No. With the recent play of Aaron Henry and Joshua Langford, Michigan State has proven it has the talent to compete with just about anyone it takes the floor against. The question is, did that 13-day period at the end of the season take everything out of the Spartans just to make the tournament? We’ll find out Thursday night.
No. 5: Purdue Boilermakers (4-seed)
First round matchup: North Texas
Matt Painter’s team was the surprise of the college basketball season in the B1G. The youngest team in the conference — and one of the youngest in the country — finished as a Top 4 team in the league and improved on both ends of the floor throughout the season. From a talent perspective, Purdue has an opportunity to make a Final Four run. Having a combination of Trevion Williams and Zach Edey in the post along with the progression of Jaden Ivey really puts the Boilermakers in a good spot.
However, Purdue’s inexperience in these big situations has flashed at times. And as good as this team played down the stretch, it can’t afford to be inconsistent in the NCAA Tournament. The Boilers get a favorable draw with North Texas and a matchup with either a depleted Villanova team or Winthrop gives them a good shot at the Sweet Sixteen. To get to the Final Four, Purdue would have to then likely beat Baylor and either Arkansas or Ohio State (again). The chances are slim, but stranger things have happened.
No. 4: Iowa Hawkeyes (2-seed)
First round matchup: Grand Canyon
You know the question before I even present it. Is Iowa’s defense good enough to win a national championship? That’s been the concern for the Hawkeyes ever since the season tipped off, and they’ve still not truly answered it just yet. At least against championship-level teams.
Luka Garza’s presence alone gives Iowa a chance to make a Final Four run. And having the sharp shooting abilities of Joe Wieskamp and Jordan Bohannon on the floor makes the Hawkeyes’ one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the tournament. Sharing a bracket with No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga presents a major challenge for Iowa, losing to the Bulldogs in the regular season in a high-scoring showdown. But when the Hawkeyes are hitting, they’re nearly impossible to stop. This team needs to play much better on the defensive end to win a national championship. Or maybe catch a team or two on an off-shooting day.
No. 3: Michigan Wolverines (1-seed)
First round matchup: Mt. St. Mary’s/Texas Southern
With Isaiah Livers in the lineup, Michigan would probably be ahead of rival Ohio State on this list. The Wolverines lose a tremendous 3-point shooter, an all-around good scorer and depth without him on the floor. It’s a significant blow for a team that has looked like a championship-caliber club all year long. If he returns, I think Michigan has as good of a chance as anyone to end the B1G’s national title drought.
As it stands, Michigan’s performance in the month of March has been suspect. The Wolverines lost by 23 points to Illinois (without Ayo Dosunmu), dropped the regular season finale to Michigan State and lost to the Buckeyes in the semifinal round of the B1G Tournament. Not a great close to the year. If you’re looking for good news, it’s that Mike Smith is a championship-level point guard and the combination of Hunter Dickinson and Franz Wagner is a tough matchup for opponents. Even without Livers on the floor, Michigan is a really talented team with a really deep bench. Can it win it all without its second-leading scorer on the floor? That’s going to be tough, but if Michigan can get bigger contributions from Chaundee Brown and Brandon Johns Jr., it has a chance.
No. 2: Ohio State Buckeyes (2-seed)
First round matchup: Oral Roberts
Even without starter Kyle Young on the floor, Ohio State was an overtime period away from winning the B1G Tournament over the weekend. The Buckeyes have the 3-point shooting of Duane Washington Jr., the inside presence of E.J. Liddell and the depth off the bench to make a push for a national championship.
Ohio State defeated every team in the B1G this year, a pretty incredible accomplishment considering the level of competition throughout the league. The concerns for the Buckeyes come in the form of the ability to close out games. Three times in the B1G Tournament, Chris Holtmann’s squad nearly blew a double-digit lead in the second half. They have to play better in the final 10 minutes of games. But this is an Ohio State team that has great chemistry, defends well and can hurt teams with their inside-outside game. Ohio State seems like a team poised of making a deep run this March.
No. 1: Illinois Fighting Illini (1-seed)
First round matchup: Drexel
Nobody is hotter than Illinois right now. The Fighting Illini have won 14 of their last 15 games, claiming a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a B1G Tournament title on Sunday. After a bumpy start to the year, Brad Underwood’s squad is showing the country why it was picked as a preseason favorite to reach the Final Four.
Illinois has one of the best 1-2 punches in the country with Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn. When it has needed players to step up, Andre Curbelo, Adam Miller, Trent Frazier and Giorgi Bezhanishvili have all risen to the occasion at some point in the season. And it’s that combination of talent, depth and team chemistry that allows teams to have a successful run in March. Right now, Illinois is capable of beating anyone it plays. It has, by far, the best chance to end the B1G’s drought without a national title.