NCAA Tournament notes: 6 B1G teams now vying for Sweet 16
Six Big Ten teams remain as the NCAA Tournament picks up its second round on Sunday, as the league was buoyed by an undefeated Saturday.
Over the next 2 days, could all 6 advance to the Sweet 16?
It’s unlikely. Of the 6 — Illinois, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Rutgers and Maryland — only the top-seeded Illini and Wolverines and No. 2-seed Hawkeyes are favored in their Round of 32 matchups. The others will need upsets vs. higher-seeded opponents. But this tournament has seen plenty of that so far, with 9 double-digit seeds advancing to the second round.
That group includes No. 10-seed Rutgers, which will try to knock off No. 2-seeded Houston tonight in Lucas Oil Stadium. Rutgers is an 8-point underdog, one of the biggest spreads of the day. It’s the third of three Big Ten games on the slate, with Illinois taking on in-state rival Loyola Chicago and Wisconsin facing top-seed Baylor.
The Big Ten had an undefeated Saturday, thanks to No. 10 Maryland’s upset of No. 7-seed UConn in Mackey Arena. The Terrapins played perhaps their best game of the season — no better time, right? — shooting better than 50% in a 63-54 victory. Eric Ayala paced the Terps with 23 points.
So the Terrapins are in the Round of 32, despite a slow start to the season.
“It’s a grind of all grinds,” coach Mark Turgeon said in his Zoom interview session after the win. “It’s always a grind. But when you’re picked 12th in a great league and you start out 1-5 and 4-9 (in the Big Ten), it’s, woo, it’s kind of scary. And we sat around talked last night, we’re not dumb. We all thought this wasn’t going to happen. But we stayed the course. We stayed positive. We kept trying to get better. We started with our defense. Our offense has come a long ways. It’s still not great.
“So guys are really proud of themselves. We all stuck together. We’ve become incredibly tough-minded and tough physically.”
Earlier in the day Michigan and Iowa cruised to victories (over Texas Southern and Grand Canyon, respectively), although the margins of those wins (by 16 and by 12) might be a harbinger for challenges to come.
Following is a glance at Sunday’s matchups:
No. 8 Loyola Chicago vs. No. 1 Illinois
Time: 12:10 p.m.
Location: Bankers Life Fieldhouse
The Storyline: The first game of the day could be one of the best games of the day, as the country’s best mid-major takes on potentially the country’s best team. And that it’s two teams from Illinois playing only a couple hundred miles away in Indianapolis adds to the intrigue. The matchup to watch is the Ramblers’ Lucas Williams, a defensive dynamo, vs. the Fighting Illini’s Ayo Dosunmu. Loyola-Chicago still has some pieces remaining from its Final Four run a few years ago, but that experience still is unlikely to overcome an Illinois squad on a mission to the Final Four.
No. 9 Wisconsin vs. No. 1 Baylor
Time: 2:40 p.m.
Location: Hinkle Fieldhouse
The Storyline: Wisconsin might be coming off one of its best performance of the season, mainly because it got another scoring option when Brad Davison went for 29 vs. North Carolina in the Round 1 victory. But Baylor is a much better team offensively than UNC and provides a litany of problems. If the Badgers can force the ball out of the lane and keep the Bears’ 3-point shooting to a reasonable percentage, then it might be able to hang in. And March is when veterans, like Davison, show up.
No. 10 Rutgers vs. No. 2 Houston
Time: 7:10 p.m.
Location: Lucas Oil Stadium
The Storyline: Rutgers will need to find a way to lock down the many Houston offensive weapons, while dragging the game down into a slugfest. It’s about the only way for the offensively-challenged Scarlet Knights can upset the Cougars. After winning its first NCAA Tournament game since 1983, Rutgers is unlikely to back down, particularly if Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr. are making shots, but that will likely not be enough. Not only is Houston a solid offensive group because of its extremely athleticism, it might be even better on the defensive end, where he gives up only 57.8 points per game.
Michigan’s Isaiah Livers might not play during this NCAA Tournament — he’s out with a foot injury — but it’s not going to keep him silenced.
The Wolverine senior wore a T-shirt on the Michigan bench, saying “#NotNCAAProperty.”
Livers, along with two other Big Ten players in Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon and Rutgers’ Geo Baker, have been vocal this March about the want for NCAA reform, particularly in athletes’ ability to gain monetarily for use of their own name, image and likeness.
The NCAA has indicated its support for athletes making statements, even on clothing apparel during games, so punishment for Livers or anyone else wearing a #NotNCAAProperty T-shirt is unlikely.
Livers, who has a stress injury in his right foot and is wearing a walking boot, is unlikely to play in UM’s second-round game vs. LSU on Monday night.