Once again, Big Ten's NCAA Tournament hopes dwindle down to a B1G 2
So, it seems we’re going to make a habit of this.
In 2021, only a single Big Ten team advanced to the Sweet 16. Last year, that still-slim number moved up to 2.
And this March, there are a maximum of 2 Big Ten teams who still might make it that far: Indiana and Michigan State. Which also means there’s a very realistic chance that no Big Ten teams will get to the Sweet 16.
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If that happens, it’s impossible to describe the 2023 NCAA Tournament as anything short of a disaster for the league.
A Big Ten team has been among the final 16 playing every year since 1944 — back when the Tournament only had 8 teams. And the only reason a Big Ten team wasn’t in the 1943 Tournament was because Illinois declined its invite after having 3 starters drafted — not by the NBA, which didn’t exist, but by Uncle Sam, who was fighting World War II.
The Big Ten teams that lost Saturday can hardly be blamed for this failure, though.
2nd round was a feat for Cats, Lions and Terps
Penn State, Northwestern and Maryland did what was asked of them, winning tough first-round matchups before running into superior opponents in Round 2. All 3 programs had exemplary seasons.
The Wildcats were picked 13th in the preseason poll, and justifiably so. Their 2 best players transferred to North Carolina and Duke. (And ironically, neither ended up having a longer season than his former team.)
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As UCLA coach Mick Cronin noted after his team’s 68-63 win over the Wildcats, “What Chris Collins has done at Northwestern is a miracle, really.”
The Cats did well to go toe-to-toe with a legitimate national title contender. There’s no shame in Northwestern’s game.
The same can be said for Penn State.
The Nittany Lions were picked 11th in the league under 2nd-year coach Micah Shrewsberry — and done so with respect. Shrewsberry earned such a good reputation in Year 1 that people recognized there was no way Penn State would be the worst team in the Big Ten.
The Lions were very nearly the best in the Big Ten Tournament, coming just 3 points shy of their first conference title since winning the 1991 Atlantic 10 Tourney.
Shrewsberry and the Lions kept that mojo rolling into the NCAA Tournament, upsetting 7th-seeded Texas A&M before giving No. 2 Texas a run for its money in a 71-66 loss.
It’s somewhat remarkable the Nittany Lions rallied from 11 points down and held a late lead despite shooting 8-for-28 from 3-point range. Or that they were in the game with Texas’ tenacious defense holding all-American Jalen Pickett to 11 points. The Horns are very capable of cutting down the nets in Houston.
Speaking of teams capable of cutting down the nets, Alabama is unquestionably the most athletic team left in this field. So it’s hard to quantify Maryland’s 73-51 loss as a disappointment.
Like Collins and Shrewsberry, Kevin Willard did a heck of a job this year. To get from last year’s 15-17 debacle to the 2nd round in his first year running the show was an impressive feat. The Terps are moving back in the right direction.
Pressure on Hoosiers and Spartans Sunday
Thanks to Purdue’s insistence on doing Purdue things in March, Sunday is a precarious day in Big Ten basketball history.
If Indiana loses to Miami and Michigan State falls to Marquette, the conference will be in a spot it hasn’t found itself in 80 years. And the previous instance was a heck of a lot more excusable than this one, should it come to fruition.
But since the bracket was revealed, the Hoosiers and Spartans felt like the B1G teams best suited to make a run this March. It’s no surprise it is down to these 2, even if it’s a surprise that it’s already happening. Both looked like they can rise to the occasion in their 1st-round victories.
No. 2 Marquette vs. No. 7 Michigan State
Where: Columbus, Ohio
When: 5:15 p.m. ET, CBS
The Skinny: Marquette University is not to be confused with Marquette, Michigan, the Gem of the Upper Peninsula.
The Spartans are 10-2 all-time against the Golden Eagles/Warriors/Hilltoppers, though 10 of those games took place prior to 1960. So you probably shouldn’t read too much into that success.
As basketball junkies know, Shaka Smart loves to apply pressure and cause havoc. This is where having an experienced backcourt of AJ Hoggard and Tyson Walker is advantageous to the Spartans. They should be able to handle the press better than most guards the Golden Eagles harass.
Also of note: The Golden Eagles are 254th nationally defending the 3, while Michigan State ranks 3rd in 3-point percentage.
If Michigan State avoids coughing it up, it will get 3-point looks. And if the Spartans get 3-point looks, they should win. Look for Joey Hauser to deliver a dagger against the school he started his college career with.
No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 5 Miami
Where: Albany, N.Y.
When: 8:40 p.m. ET, TNT
The Skinny: As Indiana is discovering this weekend, Albany is the real city in New York that never sleeps. At least this game starts 2 hours earlier than their First Round tip time.
But enough talk about late tips on the East Coast before I end up in one of those “you’re becoming your parents” commercials.
In a Tournament where scoring has been lacking, this matchup should prove the exception. Miami has an explosive offense but can be lacking on defense, and the Hoosiers are quite capable of putting up points against the right opponent. The Hurricanes are probably the right opponent.
Miami’s backcourt of Nijel Pack and Isaiah Wong is well-suited for this time of year. Jordan Hood-Schifino will need to play better than he did against Kent State if IU is going to advance. Hood-Schifino dealt with foul trouble while going 4-of-11 from the field for 8 points with 3 assists and 2 turnovers.
If those were freshman jitters that can be cast aside for Round 2, fortune should favor the Hoosiers. If they continue, the Canes will have the edge.