Around the Big Ten NCAA Tournament
2018 was an interesting year for the Big Ten. The conference finished with four teams in the AP top 25 but was unable to receive a bid from another team.
Teams like Nebraska and Penn State were on the tournament bubble for a couple weeks but ultimately faded into the middle of the NIT field. Ohio State opens up play for the Big Ten on Thursday at 4 p.m. against South Dakota State.
The location of the matchup favors the Jackrabbits with the first round game being played in Boise, Idaho. The fifth-seeded Buckeyes are in the West Region and have been up and down entering the tournament, losing three of their last five games.
The uneven play from Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop, who had shot under 40 percent from the floor in four straight games until the conference quarterfinal against Penn State, has been a reason for poor results down the stretch. The Buckeyes need Bates-Diop to play his best game as the Jackrabbits have Mike Daum, the two-time Summit League Player of the Year.
South Dakota State is a trendy pick this year to pull off the upset, but the road to the Sweet 16 does not get easy after the first round. Gonzaga is the four seed and will most likely get through UNC Greensboro in the earlier game. The frontcourt size of the Zags will be too much for Ohio State as the team has very little in terms of depth in the post.
Michigan was also placed in the West Region but drew a three seed and Montana in its first-round game. The Wolverines have the combination of talent and experience to run through the Grizzlies when they play Thursday at 9:50 p.m.
The second round matchup will be between either Houston or San Diego State. The issue for head coach John Beilein is the stark contrast in team strengths with Houston’s Rob Gray being one of the best guards in the nation, while Malik Pope stars for the Aztecs.
The Wolverines should be able to make back to back Sweet 16 appearances, but Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Moe Wagner will need to play well against either Gray or Pope in the round of 32. A poor showing by either player in the opening two rounds could result in an early exit.
Purdue and Michigan State got the best opening location as they open their tournament campaigns in Detroit. The Boilermakers are the two seed in the East and play on Friday against Cal State Fullerton.
Isaac Hass will simply overmatch the smaller Titan frontcourt, but Carsen Edwards and Dakota Mathias will need to play well against Arkansas if both teams advance. The Razorbacks’ press forces guards to make decisions and the presence of Daniel Gafford inside could pressure Haas into taking uncomfortable shots.
The third-seeded Spartans take on Bucknell at 7:10 p.m., but don’t count out the Bison. Forwards Zach Thomas and Nana Foulland have won the last two Patriot League Player of the Year awards. Nick Ward and Jaren Jackson Jr need to bring it on both ends in order to avoid becoming another tournament victim of Bucknell.
The round of 32 matchup will put pressure on Cassius Winston, but the sophomore point guard has been steady all year and should help the Spartans cruise to the Sweet 16.
Joseph Esquivel-Murphy is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and Spanish. To contact him, email email@example.com.