March Madness: Predicting how far each Big Ten team will go
There are 9 Big Ten entrants in this year’s NCAA Tournament, which leads all conferences.
But even though the B1G is the deepest league in the country, will it prove itself to be the best? No Big Ten team has won a national title since Michigan State in 2000.
Sadly, we don’t see that streak ending.
This should still be a slightly redemptive year for the league after only 1 team got out of the second round a year ago. But there’s also a great deal of potential disappointment looming.
Here’s Saturday Tradition’s projections for how far each Big Ten team will advance.
No. 4 seed, South Region
How far they’ll go: Second Round vs. Houston
I’m not sure what Brad Underwood ever did to tick off the selection committee, but this is the second straight year that Illinois is in line for a really unfortunate draw in the Second Round.
Last year it was Loyola Chicago, an in-state school that was way too good to be an 8-seed. This year it will likely be Houston, which ranks 3rd in the NCAA NET rankings but dropped to a 5-seed due to other metrics.
Underwood is going to pick up an unfair rap for his inability to get out of Round 2 when the reality is Illinois keeps getting the short end of the stick.
No. 12 seed, East Region
How far they’ll go: Second Round vs. UCLA
Just like in the Big Ten Tournament, I like the Hoosiers to pick up a couple wins before what will probably be some sort of unbelievably heartbreaking loss to a program formerly coached by Steve Alford.
Wyoming is a tough First Four matchup, but Indiana will have a virtual home-court advantage in Dayton. From there it’s on to Portland and 5th-seeded Saint Mary’s. The Gaels shot below 40% in each of their 7 losses, and Indiana’s defense is capable of replicating that.
The Hoosiers’ offensive weaknesses will probably prove too to overcome much against UCLA.
No. 5 seed, Midwest Region
How far they’ll go: Final Four vs. Houston
The Hawks will be the Big Ten’s standard-bearer, reaching the Final Four for the first time since Lute Olson led them there in 1980.
I like the fact the Midwest Region runs through Chicago, which is both a hive of Hawkeye alumni and easily accessible from Iowa. You rarely see Kansas get outdrawn in March, but I think that will be the case here.
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And then there’s just the fact Iowa’s offense just looks plain unstoppable right now. That should remain true until the national semifinal, when any combination of Arizona, Houston or Tennessee has a defense capable of stopping the party.
No. 11 seed, South Region
How far they’ll go: Second Round vs. Tennessee
The Wolverines made an Elite 8 run last year, and that experience will come in handy against a less-seasoned Colorado State team that will also have travel a lot farther than Michigan.
The way this bracket sets up, it’s very plausible Michigan has another deep run in its system. The committee is certainly smiling on Juwan Howard more than Brad Underwood despite, well, ya know.
Tennessee should beat Michigan, but I won’t be shocked if it’s the Wolverines playing on the second weekend instead.
No. 7 seed, West Region
How far they’ll go: First Round vs. Davidson
The Spartans aren’t getting any breaks this March.
Point guard Tyson Walker was injured against Purdue in the Big Ten semifinals, and it looks like we won’t know about his availability until later in the week.
On top of that, this game is less than 2 hours from Davidson’s campus — not exactly a favor you’d associate with earning as a 10-seed. Plus, the Wildcats are one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Not Steph Curry-era good, mind you. But good enough to win here.
No. 7 seed, South Region
How far they’ll go: First Round vs. Loyola Chicago
Bit of a double whammy here.
The Buckeyes are in a swan dive, dropping 4 of 5 games heading into the Tournament while getting lit up on defense in all of those losses. And Loyola is a proven Big Ten killer full of players with chips on their shoulders.
A game in Pittsburgh is a very good draw for Ohio State in terms of fan support, but they’ll probably be heading back across the Ohio River in disappointment.
No. 3 seed, East Region
How far they’ll go: Second Round vs. Virginia Tech
This comes with a caveat.
If Purdue gets Texas in Round 2, I like the Boilermakers. But if it’s the Hokies, who play at a deliberate pace and rate 20th nationally in offensive efficiency, I think Purdue’s defensive issues will be exposed.
Purdue has the most fascinating ceiling/floor disparity of any Big Ten team in the Tournament this year. No team is better suited to match Kentucky big man Oscar Tshiebwe than the Boilers with their combo of Zach Edey and Trevion Williams. I’m willing to bet John Calipari doesn’t want to see Purdue.
Win that game, and the Final Four enters the picture for the Boilermakers.
And if we really want to get nuts, this bracket sets up in a way where Indiana and Purdue could meet in the Elite 8 — which would more than make up for that matchup falling just short in the Big Ten Tournament.
After last year, I’m going with Purdue’s floor for my official prediction. But this group is more than capable of proving that wrong.
No. 11 seed, West Region
How far they’ll go: Sweet 16 vs. Duke
After predicting Purdue to hit its floor, I’m taking Rutgers to reach its ceiling.
Notre Dame should be considered the favorite for the First Four matchup, but these Scarlet Knights thrive on being underdogs. And they’re underdogs here in every way — there might be more Notre Dame rooters in the greater New York City region than Rutgers.
What a perfect way to make a (Garden) statement.
From there, Rutgers can out-grit Alabama and exploit Texas Tech’s offensive limitations.
That’ll set up another matchup against another out-of-state school that might be more popular in New Jersey than Rutgers: Duke.
That’s where the fun will end. Like Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament, the Blue Devils have too much scoring for Rutgers to handle.
No. 3 seed, Midwest Region
How far they’ll go: Second Round vs. LSU
While everyone else was paying attention to conference tournaments, LSU went and fired coach Will Wade on Saturday.
On the surface, that figures to create a lot of chaos for the Tigers. But I have a feeling it will galvanize them. And this LSU team is one of the nation’s best on defense when it’s actually focused.
That’s a tough break for Wisconsin, which has a theoretically friendly road to the Final Four that would just run down I-94 from Milwaukee to Chicago.
The Badgers did not look good at all in losses to Nebraska and Michigan State to close out the season. If Johnny Davis isn’t 100%, this team will have issues.