This is it, ladies and gents. The First Four games are underway, the Round of 64 begins on Thursday and we’re ready to roll. As you’re all well aware, the B1G is well represented this year, with half the teams grabbing a spot in the Big Dance and the Hawkeyes one win away from joining in on the fun. But more importantly, how exactly will the B1G teams fare now that they’ve made it? Let’s take a look.
Michigan (No. 2, Midwest)
Michigan’s road in the tournament figures to be the toughest of the B1G teams. After a pair of favorable matchups early on, the Wolverines will in all likelihood get stuck with Duke in the Sweet 16, which doesn’t bode well.
Most importantly, Duke defends the perimeter very well, while Michigan relies relatively heavily on its success from beyond the arc. (Not entirely so, but taking three-point shooting out of the equation is obviously a significant dent in Michigan’s attack plan.) Coach K’s team was 20th in the nation in opponent three-point percentage, meaning the Wolverine big men will have to find a way to come through. After scoring 34.2 percent of its points on threes this year, Michigan would have to come up with a new game plan should they come across the Blue Devils.
Then, even if that matchup falls the way of the Wolverines, a likely face-off against either Wichita State or, more likely, Louisville would loom ahead. The way I see it, Michigan would be matched up against a nearly unstoppable Louisville team that has more offensive weapons than just about any team in the tournament. The Cardinals can beat you inside and out, and Montrezl Harrell has been downright ridiculous (Russdiculous?) lately. Stauskas and Co. would have to have the run of their lives to get past Duke and Louisville.
Wisconsin (No. 2, West)
Wisconsin just might have the best shot among all the B1G teams at making a run. They have an extremely favorable opening slate of matchups: American doesn’t pose much of a threat, and the winner of the Oregon/BYU game won’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of the Badgers, though Oregon is hot and did recently beat Arizona.
It’ll get tough for the Badgers starting with a likely matchup against Creighton (assuming the latter makes it past potential-opponent Nebraska). The Bluejays possess four starters shooting 40 percent (or better) from beyond the arc, and Doug McDermott is a superstar motivated to do big things in his senior year. It’s also worth mentioning that Ethan Wragge, who’s hitting 47.3 percent of his three-pointers this season, scored 17 points in 19 minutes against the Badgers last year. This team presents plenty of problems for the Badgers.
If Wisconsin does match up against Arizona in the Elite Eight, which is a very viable possibility if the Wildcats escape what I expect to be a very tough matchup against Oklahoma State in the Round of 32, the Badgers might meet their match. Aside from being one of the most offensively efficient teams in the nation, Arizona is also fantastic at limiting second-chance opportunities. With the Wildcats’ inside physicality that is eerily similar to that of the Spartans, who caused the Badgers so much trouble on Saturday, Arizona has to be the favorite to survive the West.
Michigan State (No. 4, East)
Will the Spartans justify everyone’s expectations? MSU has become quite the popular pick to go far in the tourney this year, and it’s understandable why. They were ranked No. 2 in preseason for a reason, and with a nice run heading into the tournament, it seems like every expert favors the Spartans these days.
On paper, Michigan State sure looks like a good bet to contend for the title. Perhaps most importantly, they have gobs of veteran talent—Gary Harris, Keith Appling, Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson can all claim this isn’t their first rodeo. The same can be said of March Madness mastermind Tom Izzo.
The Spartans will run into their first real challenge in the Sweet 16, as I see Harvard beating Cincinnati and thus providing an easier matchup for Michigan State in the Round of 32 (assuming the Spartans get by that tough Delaware group—sarcasm).
By then, all jokes aside, there’s a big possibility MSU will face Virginia and its No. 1 scoring defense, meaning we’ll see a hard-nosed battle likely decided by who can be the more physical team—something the Spartans are plenty good at, coming from the B1G. It’s pretty much a crapshoot at this point, but I have Louisville beating MSU in the title game. Feel free to rip me to shreds over this in the comment section!
Ohio State (No. 6, South)
The Buckeyes will actually kick off the tournament on Thursday at noon, the First Four round notwithstanding, and they’ll have a tough matchup right off the bat when they face Dayton. Ex-Buckeye (and current Flyers guard) Jordan Sibert could be tough, but after enduring the physicality of the B1G, it’s hard to imagine the Buckeyes dropping this one.
Assuming OSU gets by the first round, they’ll likely have an easier matchup than is typical of a No. 6 seed upon reaching the Round of 32. I actually picked Western Michigan to beat Syracuse in my bracket, but even if the Orange make it past the second round, the Buckeyes have to like their chances against Jim Boeheim’s struggling team. ‘Cuse has lost five of its last seven, and in a tournament where momentum means everything, that’s nothing to be taken lightly.
I can’t see Ohio State moving past the Sweet 16 if they beat WMU/‘Cuse, as there’s a decent chance they’ll match up against a tough Kansas team that is, in many ways, built for tournament success. If Joel Embiid is fit to play in the tournament, the Jayhawks might have the most talented team in the bracket, at least on paper. As we’ve seen from this very Ohio State team in the past, star power often goes a long way in the NCAA Tournament, and Kansas has plenty of it.
Nebraska (No. 11, West)
It’s certainly tempting to stick with Nebraska. How could you go against Nebrasketball?? It’s also the Cornhuskers’ first appearance in the tourney since 1998, meaning they’ll have plenty to play for.
There’s a couple red flags for Nebraska, however, specifically pertaining to the tournament. For one, Tim Miles’ squad struggled on the road, at 3-8 on the season. Obviously, one of the greatest strengths for this team is how it plays at home in Lincoln, where the Huskers lost once all season, but that won’t be of any help in the tourney.
Even so, for the sake of fun, let’s say Nebraska beats the odds and knocks off Baylor in the second round, because everyone in the state of Nebraska probably wants to see Creighton face off against the Huskers. Even so, that would be a matchup where Nebraska simply wouldn’t have the firepower to counter all of the Bluejays’ weapons. Nebraska will likely concede the inevitable 20-point performance from Doug McDermott, but that’s not all the Huskers have to worry about—Creighton’s all-around efficiency (.499 FG%, .421 3P%) is downright deadly.
Iowa (No. 11 Midwest IF win vs. Tennessee)
I’m a big fan of momentum playing a huge factor in March, and that’s something Iowa doesn’t have a whole lot of right now with six losses in seven games, including three in a row.
If you let the Hawkeyes out in transition, there’s no stopping them—they’re a tough team to slow down when they’re on. But Tennessee allows just over 61 points per game, 16th best in the nation, and they’ll be facing an Iowa team that hasn’t looked good lately, to say the least. If losing to Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament wasn’t a bad omen, I don’t know what is.
Even if the Hawkeyes survive the Round of Four, they’ll have tough matchups against Massachusetts and (quite probably) Duke looming ahead, meaning it looks to be a short road in March for Iowa.