So the Big Ten is having a down year, you say? The conference responded to the criticism in the NCAA Tournament and will send three teams to the Sweet 16. We break it down in Livin’ B1G
I’m not going to deny the fact that I was one of the doubters. I watch a lot of Big Ten basketball, and I didn’t witness a great product toward the end of the regular season.
Wisconsin and Maryland went cold. Minnesota was playing meh. Purdue lost twice down the stretch to Michigan, which suddenly was gaining some steam after being the No. 8 seed in the conference tournament. Northwestern got blown out by Wisconsin in the semifinals, and Michigan State just couldn’t be trusted, even if it was March.
But as I’ve written in this space before, the Big Ten more often than not shines when the Tournament starts. And although the committee got it all wrong – Minnesota as a No. 5 seed and Wisconsin as a No. 8?! – the conference lost only two of its seven teams in the first round and is sending three to the Sweet 16.
How’s that for some redemption?
It’s true that Minnesota’s loss to No. 12 seed Middle Tennessee and Maryland’s poor showing against No. 11 seed Xavier didn’t do much to help the Big Ten’s reputation, but everyone else stepped up. Northwestern beat Vanderbilt before getting hosed on an awful missed goaltending call against No. 1 seed Gonzaga, and Michigan State overcame a huge first-half deficit to crush Miami before falling to top-seeded Kansas.
There’s no doubt that Purdue, Wisconsin and Michigan all could be bounced out before the weekend begins. But there’s also a chance of the Boilermakers and Wolverines playing each other in the Elite Eight on Saturday. Who would’ve thought that?
Let’s break down each of the Big Ten’s Sweet 16 qualifiers and how they stack up with their next opponents, in this edition of Livin’ B1G.
I got to spend the first and second rounds sitting on press row in Milwaukee and watched the Boilermakers up close. I’ll be heading to Phoenix to do some Final Four coverage, and I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if Purdue joins me.
Everyone knows about Caleb Swanigan, who leads the nation with 28 double-doubles and has been named a finalist for the Naismith Award. He picked up his most recent double-double in Saturday’s 80-76 win over Iowa State, grabbing an offensive rebound that helped the Boilmermakers secure the victory. I wrote all about it.
But Vincent Edwards has been the X-factor for Purdue so far. He scored 21 points in the first-round win over Vermont and netted the same amount while adding 10 rebounds against the Cyclones. Edwards has the ability to frustrate No. 1 seed Kansas on Thursday night in Memphis with both his defensive tenacity and suddenly hot offensive game. If Purdue does reach the Final Four, Edwards will have played a huge role in it.
But first it’ll have to get past the Jayhawks, who are fresh off a 20-point thumping of the Spartans and boast uber-talented freshman Josh Jackson. They’re going to attack Purdue’s guards with Frank Mason III, who joins Swanigan as a Naismith finalist. The Boilermakers have enough to keep up, though.
What do you think of Wisconsin now, NCAA Tournament committee? The Badgers were 21-3 on Feb. 9 before going into a bit of a shooting slump. They weren’t getting blown out by any means, but apparently that was enough for the committee to punish Wisconsin with a completely ridiculous No. 8 seed.
The Badgers have been doubted plenty before, and this year was no different. They responded, knocking off No. 1 overall seed and defending national champion Villanova in the second round with a 65-62 victory Saturday. And they did it with Ethan Happ playing only six minutes in the first half because of foul trouble and Bronson Koenig picking up his fourth foul early in the second half.
Next up is fourth-seeded Florida, which will try to speed up the Badgers and play at a much quicker pace than they want. The Gators succeeded in doing that to Virginia, crushing the No. 5 seed Cavaliers 65-39 in the second round and holding them to 29.6 percent shooting.
Wisconsin can play a higher-scoring game if needed as it did in its 84-74 first-round win over Virginia Tech, so it shouldn’t immediately be in trouble should the Gators jump out to an early lead. But the Badgers will need to stay out of foul trouble while still hounding Florida’s guards.
Team of destiny? Airplane accident, followed by a Big Ten tournament championship as a No. 8 seed, a come-from-behind first-round win over Oklahoma State and knocking off No. 2 seed Louisville to get to the Sweet 16. That’s one helluva run, but it isn’t happening simply because of emotion.
Moe Wagner introduced himself to the nation in Saturday’s 73-69 win over the Cardinals, scoring a career-high 26 points while hitting 11 of 14 from the field. Junior D.J. Wilson continued to blossom with 17 points and three blocks. Derrick Walton Jr. hit for 26 against Oklahoma State, then filled the stat sheet with 10 points, seven rebounds and six assists Saturday.
The Wolverines were inconsistent throughout much of the regular season but have put it all together now, winning their last seven games. John Beilein has done a solid coaching job and he’ll have to get Michigan prepared to get back at it Thursday against No. 3 seed Oregon.
The Ducks survived a tough 75-72 victory over Rhode Island with help from Tyler Dorsey’s 27 points and 19 from Dillon Brooks. Both players could cause Michigan problems on the perimeter, but Oregon also is a bit thinner down low with 6-foot-10 forward Chris Boucher out for the season.
If Michigan can win and Purdue gets past Kansas, it’ll be the Boilermakers against the Wolverines for the Midwest Regional title, guaranteeing the Big Ten to have at least one Final Four team.
Take that, committee.