Just as quickly as the Big Ten’s regular season wrapped up, the post-season buzz begins. Wisconsin clinched another Big Ten title on Friday night with a win over Nebraska ($@#@$%!#$!) but they’re far from the only conference team whose season is continuing. The NCAA Tournament selection happened Sunday evening (view the complete bracket here), and here’s what we know.
The Big Ten has five seeded teams, which isn’t too shabby!
#9 Ohio State
There are eight total Big Ten teams in the tournament, the most of any conference—once again, B1G volleyball rules the roost. We already knew that, but it’s nice to see it confirmed. But the question—and one which I’m less confident about—is whether a B1G team can win it all. Let’s take a look at what they’re facing:
Michigan (vs. Ball State)
#9 Ohio State (vs. Howard)
BRT: My initial reaction is that Ohio State should be pretty happy about this quarter—the lone exception being Louisville, who is going to be a challenge for whoever faces them (sorry Michigan—that means a second round exit for you, assuming you take care of business against Ball State.) Still, I like OSU’s chances up until that point.
Kind of...: Yeah, Michigan was going to have a tough second round opponent no matter what. But the #1 overall seed? No way they survive the first weekend. As for Ohio State’s draw...Georgia Tech is good! They beat Pittsburgh. But, if you told Ohio State that their Sweet 16 opponent was going to be Baylor, Kentucky, or Georgia Tech, I think they would have taken Georgia Tech. I’m not going to pick Ohio State to beat Louisville, but they’ve quietly been really good. The Buckeyes lost @Purdue and @PSU to start the B1G season, but are 15-3 since then, losing only to Minnesota (2x) and Wisconsin. They’d have to play close to their potential, but OSU is talented enough to pull the upset, if they make it past the Yellow Jackets.
#12 Minnesota (vs. South Dakota)
#4 Wisconsin (vs. Colgate)
BRT: Hmmmm. Wisconsin appears to have a pretty clear shot in this quadrant, at least through the first three rounds. If Baylor makes it out of the top half of this one, and Wisconsin out of the bottom, that sets up a very interesting pairing, and I think the Bears could give the Badgers some trouble. IMO, Wisconsin’s problem in the tournament is rarely one of talent, and instead is a mental one. They’ve been challenged a bit more in the Big Ten this year, and perhaps that will help them turn the corner. However, they’ve also proven themselves mortal in conference play, and they won’t be invincible against the other top seeds. As for Minnesota, I don’t like them to get past Baylor, but it’s also not beyond the realm of possibility—and a Minny-Wisc match-up in the round of eight would be a delight.
Kind of...: Way back in late August, Baylor played both Minnesota and Wisconsin in Madison in the B1G/Big 12 challenge. They beat Minnesota in four and lost to UW in four. None of that means anything now. Baylor struggled early, starting the season 1-3. They’re 19-2 since and handed Texas their only loss of the year. Avery Skinner and Yossiana Pressley are pretty good building blocks, to say the least. I think Baylor is a bad matchup for Minnesota. They may have been better off falling to 14 and taking Creighton’s spot with Pittsburgh waiting in the Sweet 16. I will never doubt Stephanie Samedy, but she’ll need help if the Gophers are to get past Baylor.
As for Wisconsin, I take your point, but you’re also a Nebraska fan, which means you have insanely high standards when it comes to VB. UW is in search of a third straight Final Four trip! They took out national #1 Baylor in the Final Four in 2019 before falling to Stanford and generational talent Kathryn Plummer. Last year was last year. Covid, shortened schedule, etc. And the Badgers gutted out a five setter over Florida to make the Final Four. I think UW should make the Final Four. If they don’t and lose to anybody other than Baylor, then it will be cause for criticism.
Penn State (vs. Towson)
#6 Purdue (vs. Illinois State)
BRT: Penn State is unseeded, which is something. They’ve got an interesting little portion of the bracket though. I confess to not paying a ton of attention to Creighton—the Huskers always play them so early in the season that it’s not necessarily indicative of where they’re at now. However, PSU won’t have to worry about Creighton if they can’t get past Pitt, which is a tall order. I know in football that Pitt isn’t “really” a rival for PSU, but I have to imagine the in-state angle is pretty intriguing for most fans in Pennsylvania, especially given how long PSU has owned the sport in the state. Good for Purdue for snagging a #6 seed—I like their chances in that section of the quadrant. I think the Boilermakers could make some noise in this part of the bracket.
Kind of...: Not only is PSU unseeded, they’re in the equivalent of an 8/9 game indicating that they are viewed as no better than #29. The home loss this weekend to Minnesota did them no favors, but that is just the latest missed opportunity. They had no impressive non-conference wins, and they went 2-6 against seeded B1G teams (and lost to Illinois). Other than that they’re Penn State, there’s just nothing to suggest they’re Sweet 16 caliber. At the same time, I’m sure Pittsburgh was thrilled to see them as a potential second round opponent. I don’t see them beating Pitt, though.
Off the top of my head, I think this is the deepest regional. Neither Utah nor Oregon got a seed, but both are battle-tested Pac 12 schools that could surprise. BYU (28-1) is largely untested, but swept Utah and did take a set from Pitt in their only loss. But I do think Purdue is a real threat to win the regional. They made the Elite Eight last year, so have some experience, and they really gelled down the stretch. The loss to Nebraska Saturday night gives some pause, but, well, Nebraska is good, too, and it was probably deflating not to have a chance to win the conference. They swept Wisconsin. Obviously they’re good enough to make the Final Four. Honestly, I think they will.
Illinois (vs. West Virginia)
#10 Nebraska (vs. Campbell)
BRT: Hey there, Illini. Their first opponent is playing in their first-ever NCAA tournament. I think that Illinois is capable of keeping it a short debut for West Virginia. I’m really not sure what Kentucky is like this year, but my impression is that they’re not exactly the same caliber of team that won it all last year. Does that mean the Illini can take them?—I’m not sure. As for Nebraska, I’ve said most of the season that I don’t see this team making it past the round of eight, and an exit in the round of 16 wouldn’t shock me—and this quadrant unfortunately doesn’t change my feelings on that. Husker tournament kryptonites Washington and Texas (probably Texas) lurk should Nebraska make it out of the top half of this quadrant, and I am not sure this team is ready to take down the Longhorns.
Kind of...: Okay, Illinois is probably not going to beat Kentucky. And they could lose to West Virginia in the first round. The Mountaineers are a worthy opponent. But the Illini are a pesky/annoying team, and if they take one of the first two sets from Kentucky, you’re going to want to tune in. One team that had no problem with Illinois however, was Nebraska, who they’d meet in the Sweet 16 if the Illini did pull the upset. No matter who the opponent is, I like Nebraska to get to the Elite Eight. Kentucky is the defending champs, but the SEC was relatively down this year. Nebraska has simply faced better competition and more frequently, and it looks like they’ve ironed out some of the serving issues that plagued them earlier in the year. Texas in the Elite Eight, though? Yeah, that’s a big ask. Sorry, but I think the Huskers’ run ends just short of the Final Four.
First round matches involving B1G schools:
Thursday, 12/2, 6:00 PM CST, Illinois State @ Purdue
Friday, 12/3, 3:00 PM CST, Michigan vs Ball State
Friday, 12/3, 3:00 PM CST, Penn State vs. Towson
Friday, 12/3, 4:00 PM CST, Illinois vs. West Virginia
Friday, 12/3, 6:00 PM CST, Howard @ Ohio State
Friday, 12/3, 7:00 PM CST, Campbell @ Nebraska
Friday, 12/3, 7:00 PM CST, South Dakota @ Minnesota
Friday, 12/3, 7:00 PM CST, Colgate @ Wisconsin
Which Big Ten team will lose first?
This poll is closed