By Shawn Muller–
Surprisingly, seven Big Ten teams punched their tickets to the NCAA Tournament last night, but outside of the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, do any of the other teams have what it takes to make a run to Houston?
My gut tells me absolutely not, but obviously, crazier things have happened. If George Mason can make it to the Final Four, and the Butler Bulldogs can be a buzzer beater away from winning the title last year, I guess it is possible for a Big Ten team not named Ohio State to make it to Houston.
But that doesn’t mean it will happen.
The good news is that the tournament field is about as weak as I can possibly remember. Sure Ohio State and Kansas seem to be a notch above everyone else in the field, but the rest of the field looks to be a tossup after the first weekend.
The bad news is that the tournament field is about as weak as I can possibly remember. Normally, it is pretty easy to see which teams should be on upset alert, but looking at the bracket this year, I can’t find many games where I would be “surprised” at the outcome.
The best case scenario for each Big Ten team is obviously cutting down the nets on April 4th, but reality needs to sink in quickly for many of us. So make sure you keep my thoughts in mind before you fill out your bracket. I may help prevent you from looking at the bracket through rose-colored glasses… and keep you from being eliminated from your pool before the tournament reaches the second weekend.
Captain obvious will tell you that anything less than winning the national championship will be a huge disappointment for the Buckeyes. Ohio State has a fairly easy road to the Final Four, with the biggest road block between them and Houston most likely coming in the Sweet 16 against the Kentucky Wildcats. The bottom-half of the East bracket is just as mediocre as the top-half. The number two seed North Carolina Tar Heels are very beatable, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they lost in the second round to the winner of the Washington vs. Georgia game.
Not getting to the final four. If Ohio State does not make it to Houston, this season will be a major disappointment. Sure they won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles, but this team is built for bigger and better things. The Buckeyes have a very easy road to Houston, so there is no excuse for Thad Matta and his crew to get eliminated any earlier than April 2nd.
Prediction: National Runner-Up
A month ago, Purdue was looking like a possible number one seed in the tournament. With the way the Boilermakers have played the in their last two contests—a loss to the lowly Iowa Hawkeyes and the early exit from the Big Ten Tournament at the hands of the Michigan State Spartans—Purdue should feel very fortunate that they received a number three seed in the Southwest Region. That being said, Purdue is playing in Chicago this weekend, so that is a bonus. The Boilermakers should make it past this weekend which sets up for a possible matchup with Notre Dame in the Sweet 16. A Sweet 16 berth would be a solid end to the season for the Boilers. Anything more would be a bonus.
The funk this team appears to be in right now could mean an early end to what—for the most part—has been a solid season. The Boilers should have no problem disposing of St. Peters in round one, but a potential second round meeting with the Georgetown Hoyas, could spell the end for Matt Painter and company. If they continue to play like they have in their last two games, it won’t matter that they are playing in Chicago….they will be home before they know it.
Prediction: Elite Eight loss to Kansas
Outside of Ohio State, perhaps no team in the Big Ten is playing better basketball right now than the Wolverines. As good as the Wolverines have played; however, they should consider a one and done appearance as a positive one. I can see Michigan beating Tennessee, but beating the Duke Blue Devils in round two is going to be a tall order for this young team. The future appears to be bright for John Belein and his crew, but not this year.
There really is no worst case scenario for Michigan. This team was a mere afterthought in the Big Ten a month ago, but went on a great run to finish tied for 4th place with Illinois, Michigan State, and Penn State. Making the tournament did not seem possible, but the team rallied and got the invite. If they lose in the first round to Tennessee, Michigan fans should still be proud of what the Wolverines have accomplished this season. The future looks bright in Ann Arbor.
Prediction: Second Round loss to Duke
This is tournament time, so all of college basketball should be on alert. Death, taxes, and the Spartans in the Final Four. Tom Izzo has reached the Final Four in six of the last twelve seasons, so would anyone really be shocked if they did it again this year? Actually, yes…I would. The Spartans have played well below expectations all season long and should feel very fortunate that they even made the tournament. As much as I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make it to Houston, I also wouldn’t be shocked if they were a one and done….it has been that type of year for the Spartans. If Izzo can work his tourney magic again this season, I can see the Spartans reaching the Elite Eight in the Southeast Region.
Michigan State continues their erratic play in the tournament and gets beat in the first round by the UCLA Bruins. Normally, that wouldn’t seem so bad for a team that squeaked in to the tournament anyway…but this is Michigan State. For a season that began with such high expectations, a loss in the first round would be icing on the disappointment cake.
Prediction: Second Round loss to Florida
The Nittany Lions are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade. They are playing quality basketball right now, reaching the finals of the Big Ten tournament. Life is good in Happy Valley. Just like Michigan, anything that happens now for the Nittany Lions will be icing on the cake, and win over in-state rival Temple in the first round would make this season all the more special. The second round is about as far as I see this team going, but for a team that looked to be heading to the NIT a week ago, a second round exit in the “Big Dance” would be quite alright for the folks at Penn State.
See the Michigan Wolverines.
Prediction: First Round loss to Temple
Wisconsin fans better hope that the Badgers got whatever it was that made them look about as inept as a team could possibly be the past couple of weeks….out of their system. The Badgers are one of those teams that wouldn’t shock you if they made it to the Final Four, and they wouldn’t shock you if they got beat in the opening round. Wisconsin is fortunate to be playing in—what I feel– is the “easiest” bracket. Assuming they get past their first round opponent in the Belmont Bruins, the road to the Final Four in the Southeast Region is more than doable. As winnable as the Southeast Region appears, however, the Badgers should be happy with a birth in the Sweet 16.
For whatever reason, the Wisconsin Badgers always seem to underperform come tournament time. Bo Ryan and company seem to have the misfortune of being paired with a buzz saw, whether it is a Davidson, a Cornell, or this season…a Belmont. Belmont is 30-4 on the year, and the trendy upset pick in the first round, is the Bruins over the Badgers. An early exit in March….seems par for the course for Wisconsin, doesn’t it?
Prediction: Sweet 16 loss to Pittsburgh
Illini Fans have something in front of them that any school would be drooling over. Illinois plays UNLV and former Illini head coach, Lon Kruger in the opening round of the Southwest Region. If Illinois happens to beat the Runnin’ Rebels, they then get a chance to knock off another former coach in Bill Self, the head man in charge of the Kansas Jayhawks. Not many schools get a chance to matchup in the tournament against a former coach…let alone two. Playing on pure emotion, the Illini finally put two complete games in a row together and beat their former coaches on their way to the Sweet 16.
Illinois has all the talent in the world. Outside of Ohio State and Michigan State, no other team in the Big Ten has as much individual talent than the Illini. The problem is individual talent can’t win games all by itself. No team in college basketball has been as erratic as Illinois has. One game they look like world beaters, and the next they look pedestrian at best. For a season filled with disappointment, after starting with such promise, Illinois ends this up and down year with a first round exit at the hands of UNLV.
Prediction: Second Round loss to Kansas
Happy brackets everyone…and good luck!
Do you agree with Shawn? Post your comments below.
Shawn Muller has lived in the great city of Chicago for 7 years. He is a 2002 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and, in October of 2010, Shawn received his certificate in radio broadcasting. In his free time, Shawn enjoys spending time with his wife Melissa and 3 year old daughter Ava, catching any live sporting event, and traveling. Check out his radio show, Grab Some Bench with Muller and Bangser” every Thursday night at 8:30 P.M., at www.blogtalkradio.com/spmuller24.