Big Ten NCAA Tournament Preview

Story posted March 14, 2017 in Sports, CommRadio by Zach Seyko

Michigan, Minnesota, Purdue, Maryland, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Michigan State are representing the Big Ten in the NCAA tournament this year. The highest seeds are Purdue at No. 4 and Minnesota at No. 5, while Michigan State is the lowest entering the Big Dance at No. 9. Most of these teams have been to postseason in the past, but March Madness welcomes a newcomer in the form of the Northwestern Wildcats. All eyes will be on Michigan, especially after winning the Big Ten Tournament, and Purdue to see if All-American forward Caleb Swanigan and company can live up to the hype.

After months of anticipation for the Big Dance, here is the Big Ten NCAA tournament preview:

Who has the easiest path to the Final Four? Who has the toughest?

After climbing its way to the top of the Big Ten in the conference tournament, Michigan finds themselves in an excellent spot to make more noise. As a No. 7 seed, the Wolverines have one of the more lenient paths to the Final Four. They are coming into the tournament hot and will look to ride that momentum against fairly equal opponents. If Michigan defeats Oklahoma State in the first round, the Wolverines would hypothetically play teams like Louisville and Oregon in the following two rounds. Louisville is one of the weaker No. 2 seeds, and Oregon suffered a devastating injury to star player Chris Boucher. Potentially playing the No. 1 seeded Kansas Jayhawks in the Elite Eight is no easy task, but the Wolverines can hope that tough matchups against teams like Michigan State, Purdue, Miami (FL) or Iowa State can tire out Bill Self’s team by that time.

The Maryland Terrapins have the toughest path because they will be tested in each round of the NCAA Tournament. The Terrapins face off against the Xavier Musketeers in the Round of 64. The Musketeers dominate the paint, an area where the Terrapins struggle.  While the Terrapins are a strong team, they’re cold entering the tournament and are one of the public’s favorites to be upset in the first round. Even if they do defeat Xavier, they would move on, most likely to play a very talented Florida State team in the Round of 32. Then, Maryland would hypothetically matchup with an elite Arizona Wildcats team in the Sweet Sixteen.

This NCAA Tournament means the most for…

The Northwestern Wildcats. The Wildcats are dancing in March for the first time in school history. Head coach Chris Collins has done an excellent job with his team, proving that they were NCAA Tournament-ready by upsetting the Terrapins in the Big Ten tournament. The Wildcats play a slow-paced game and beat teams by controlling the flow of any matchup. Northwestern has potential to make it to the Sweet Sixteen with a fairly easy game against No. 9 Vanderbilt, following up with a likely matchup against the unproven Gonzaga Bulldogs.

Who is the best team representing the Big Ten? Who are the hottest and coldest teams in the Big Dance?

After previewing the Big Ten tournament and stating that Purdue was the best team in its respective conference, the Boilermakers proved me wrong and choked against the Wolverines. While Michigan went on to take the Big Ten trophy, it was disappointing to see Purdue fall from its short-lived prominence. Swanigan will look to help his team bounce back in the tournament, which they can do with a winnable matchup against No. 13 Vermont.

Now that Purdue is no longer the best team in the Big Ten, Wisconsin jumps right back up to claim the top spot. Head coach Greg Gard and his team possesses what analysts describe as one of the best team chemistries heading into the tournament. Placed at No. 8, Wisconsin is severely underrated this year and has the potential to surprise a lot of people, and bust some brackets if they take down the defending champion Villanova Wildcats.

Michigan is clearly the hottest team coming in the NCAA tournament, as they racked up four impressive victories to punch their ticket to the dance. Northwestern is another team that can ride its momentum in March winning three of its last five regular season games, and knocking off Maryland in the Big Ten tourney. Minnesota, Michigan State and Wisconsin remain neutral, leaving the Terrapins as the coldest team representing the Big Ten. The Terrapins are not skating on ice, but a disappointing conference tournament leaves them behind in terms of March Madness momentum.

Who will surprise/disappoint in the NCAA Tournament? Who will travel the furthest in the field of 64?

Wisconsin will be the most surprising because many college basketball fans are overlooking them. They have the second-easiest path after the Michigan Wolverines, and are still playing at an elite level. The Badgers can hurt opponents in many ways, particularly on defense by limiting other teams to 61.4 PPG. The Badgers also own the 21st best BPI ranking and were runners up in the Big Ten tournament. They are underrated to the extreme after being one of the hottest teams early in the regular season. Star forwards Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes lead the charge, and their full potential will be on display once the tournament tips off.

The Wolverines are going to disappoint after coming off such a shocking Big Ten tournament run. The Wolverines were underrated then, but now they have the national spotlight given their No. 7 seed, potential matchups and recent hot streak. Head coach John Beilein has prepared his Wolverine squads well in the past, most notably with his championship run as No. 4 seed in 2013 when they lost to Louisville in the finals. Oklahoma State has a high-powered offense that averages close to 86 points per game. Earlier this season, the Wolverines were obliterated by the UCLA Bruins, losing by a margin of 22. A lot of the public has Michigan as a Cinderella team this year, which is setting them up for utter disappointment.

Ultimately, Wisconsin will travel the furthest in the NCAA tournament. I am predicting them to upset the Villanova Wildcats in the Round of 32 and moving on to meet the Duke Blue Devils in the Elite Eight. Michigan State is slightly injured, and the other Big Ten schools like Minnesota, Purdue and Maryland face too much high-caliber talent to make waves in this year’s edition of March Madness.

 

Zach Seyko is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and minoring in communication arts & sciences. To contact him, email zachseyko@msn.com.