2015 BTP Tourney Roundtable
1. The Big Ten received 7 bids to this year's NCAA Tournament. How do you think this compared as a conference?
Thomas Beindit: There is no doubt by now that the conference took a step back as a whole this season, but to still get the most teams in the NCAA Tournament is a substantial statement about the depth of this league. A lot of these bids are lower seeds, but I think the Big Ten has a really good shot at putting 6 teams in the Round of 32, which is a pretty significant statement when you think about it. After that, things will get very, very tough, but I think the Big Ten should be proud of its NCAA Tournament representation, even if most of it will likely be out by the end of the weekend.
Aaron Whitlock: The Big Ten has to be pleased with its seven tournament bids, tied with the Big 12 for the most by any conference. The league was one of the strongest in America yet again in 2015, and the selection committee rewarded it handsomely for its depth. This marks the fifth consecutive year the Big Ten will send six or more teams to the Big Dance, and they are the only league in the country that can make such a boast. Over that time period, only the Big East has more overall bids, topping the Big Ten 38-33. With a No. 1 seed , a No. 4 seed, and two No. 7 seeds the conference not only has depth, but the potential to have a deep impact on the tournament.
Bryan Steedman: Seven bids to the Tournament is a solid end result for the Big Ten, especially after a comical and depressing non-conference slate to kick things off. The conference definitely benefited from a strong finish by Purdue and Indiana doing just enough to save face and land in the tournament. The end result was the Big Ten was tied for the most bids with any conference, though I still think both the Big Ten and Big 12 would be fighting for the second best conference if realignment hadn't essentially crippled the monstrous Big East. I think the bigger disappointment was the lower postseason tournaments. The Big Ten landing only one NIT bid was a bit surprising (sorry Minnesota) and then Illinois laid an absolute goose egg. Then you had a laundry list of teams turndown the CBI, which would make sense thanks to the pay-to-play aspect...except these schools are bringing in serious money from BTN revenue and schools like Northwestern probably could have used an additional game or two in a "win or go home" setting.
A R Holmes: I think what that number shows is that, even though we are in a "down year", the B1G still has enough depth to be considered one of the best conferences. The conference has more strength top to bottom than similarly-sized conferences like the ACC and the SEC, and our size will help us compete with the smaller major conferences even when they are particularly good like the Big 12 this year. Add in the fact that we have led in conference attendance for something like 40 years, and I think we easily measure up with any conference year in and year out.
Scott Manning: In my opinion this was a very down year for the B1G and I think we will see that play out in the tournament with most teams being eliminated this weekend. The fact that they still got 7 bids speaks to how down college basketball is in general right now. Whether that is because of Kentucky consuming 13 potential NBA players on one roster or an impact of one and dones leaving the landscape lacking of talent this season - I am not sure. I do expect this tournament to be very upset oriented as outside of 3 or 4 teams - I just am not convinced any other team has a significant advantage over others.
2. Wisconsin grabbed a #1 seed in the West Region. What do you think their chances are of making it to another Final Four?
Thomas Beindit: Well, I have them picked to my Final Four, so I feel pretty good about them making it back. The biggest challenges in this bracket clearly are Arizona and Baylor and both are on the opposite side of the bracket, meaning that Wisconsin is probably relatively safe until an Elite Eight matchup. Sure, upsets happen, but I think this team has too much talent and are too well coached to have an early exit in their current position. We saw when they got pushed against Michigan State they pushed it to another level and were able to get the win. I think they can do that against any team they face until the Elite Eight. There, it will be a major challenge, but I like their odds of taking down their opponent, especially if Arizona goes down early.
Aaron Whitlock: Making consecutive Final Four appearances is a huge feat for any program, but one that has become increasingly more common. The 2014 Final Four ended an eight year streak during which at least one team in the semi-finals had been there in the year prior. With that said, I don't like the Badgers chances to make it out of the West. The biggest obstacle for Wisconsin to overcome in its region will once again be the Arizona Wildcats. The two faced-off last year in an Elite Eight battle in which the Badgers prevailed in overtime, 64-63, on the strength of 28 points and 11 rebounds from Frank Kaminsky. The two have swapped seeds this year, but the most noticeable difference on the court will be the addition of forward Brandon Ashley for the Wildcats. Ashley missed most of last season after tearing a ligament in his foot, but should figure to be a big factor in a prospective matchup this year.
Bryan Steedman: Relatively reasonable. I think the two teams most likely to upset the Badgers are both in the bottom half of the region (Arizona, Baylor) and will have to get to the Elite 8 if they want to take on Wisconsin. As for the upper half of the region, there's some decent enough schools but it's hard to see any of the other seven teams outside of North Carolina knocking off Wisconsin. As for the Tar Heels, it really depends which Carolina squad shows up in a potential outing with Wisconsin. If the logical outcome plays out Wisconsin should be relatively safe until the Sweet 16 and should be fine until next weekend. While I think Arizona or Baylor could pull off the upset, it's not even a guarantee either team will last that long and if the Badgers can draw Ohio State, Xavier or Ole Miss in their regional final I think they'll be fine.
A R Holmes: Really high. Outside of Arizona, I don't think there is really a team that can keep them out in their bracket. North Carolina could give them a tough game, but the Tar Heels lack of consistency might mean that they don't even make it to Wisconsin. Honestly, I'm pretty upset we won't get to see both Arizona and Wiscy in the Final Four, but that Elite Eight rematch will be quite the game if it happens.
Scott Manning: There is not much resistance for Wisconsin at all outside of Arizona on a Final Four run. I expect them to walk pretty easily to the Elite 8 and we will see if Arizona can do the same. If Wisconsin / Arizona does occur - that would be a great basketball game but I think Wisconsin's experience will win the day and it would be quite the rematch if this does in fact occur. Once they get to the Final Four though - Kentucky is looming unless something incredible happens in the Midwest bracket.
3. There are a three Big Ten teams (Indiana, Ohio State, Purdue) that are facing higher seeded teams. Do you think any of them can pull off the upset?
Thomas Beindit: For me, I like Ohio State and Purdue here. The Buckeyes are facing a VCU team that prides itself on its press and ability to create turnovers from opponents. Ohio State has a great guard in D'Angelo Russell and another solid one in Shannon Scott where they will likely prevent a lot of these turnovers. As a result, I don't think VCU is able to get its system to work that well. For Purdue, they are a matchup problem for virtually every team due to their size and they have been playing much better than a typical 9 seed. I would pick Indiana here, but I just don't trust them to have any defensive consistency or be able to take advantage of a decent matchup inside against Wichita State.
Bryan Steedman: I think that there's a pretty good chance both Purdue and Ohio State can snag wins here, though their seeding doesn't scream "upset.' With Ohio State it likely stems around how well freshman D'Angelo Russell can play because he has the capability of carrying the Buckeyes past VCU in the opener. Virginia Commonwealth is good but let's not forget that this team just a few weeks ago topped off a three game skid with a 27 point loss at Davidson. Of course Russell needs his supporting cast to step up, which has been one of the Buckeyes biggest problems this year. As for Purdue, they happened to draw a slow-paced and physical Cincinnati team that plays a highly similar style compared to Purdue. As long as Purdue's core trio of A.J. Hammons, Rapheal Davis and Jon Octeus have a solid night Purdue has more than enough depth and size to take down the Bearcats, especially if they can get Octavius Ellis into foul trouble to exploit a size advantage.
A R Holmes: All of these teams are capable of winning their games. I actually think they all got pretty favorable match-ups too. VCU is a tough team, but without Briante Weber they are not nearly as dangerous. D'Angelo Russell is a special player and usually those types of guards can get you NCAA wins. IU got pretty lucky in that if they had to play an underseeded 7, at least it was one without a dominant big. The Hoosiers have a tough task, but when they get hot they can beat almost anyone. Purdue got a team that is really similar to them, except Purdue has A.J. Hammons, and I think that he is the reason they win.
Scott Manning: I think all of these teams have a reasonable chance to winning their first game. The most likely seems like Purdue as they are playing great basketball right now and have the added advantage of two talented seven footers to throw against Cincinnati. Ohio State is always going to have a chance with D'Angelo Russell and I'm not convinced that VCU is really that good this season. Indiana has the toughest matchup by far, but at the same time Wichita State doesn't have a big man which will open the lane to James Blackmon Jr and Troy Williams driving the lane and being able to finish at the rim or kick out to that open three point shooter. The question for the Hoosiers will be - can they defend and rebound? If they can - they are going to have a great shot.
4. Who goes the farthest in the Big Ten?
Thomas Beindit: The easy pick here is Wisconsin. Not only do they have the easiest path to the Final Four in the Big Ten since they are a #1 seed, but they are also the deepest and most talented team in the league. They not only have the National Player of the Year, but several All-Big Ten caliber players as well. The other note that I think helps Wisconsin in this category a lot is that most of the Big Ten's NCAA Tournament teams this year are 7 seeds or below, which substantially hurts their odds of making a deep run. Even if Wisconsin just makes the Elite Eight, I think it's unlikely any other Big Ten teams make it that far.
Bryan Steedman: Wisconsin or Michigan State. A lot of the teams had a rough draw this season, with three of the schools (Maryland, Purdue, Indiana) landing in a region with Kentucky, Kansas and Notre Dame. As for Ohio State, facing Arizona in the Round of 32 isn't a great matchup and I just don't think Iowa can be consistent enough to make a deep run in the tourney. That leaves Wisconsin and Michigan State. While Virginia is a good team, their slow pace and lack of scoring means the Spartans will be able to stick around and I see that as a huge potential upset. Get past Virginia and the rest of their region is by far the weakest in the tournament. As for Wisconsin, the best team they could hypothetically face before the Elite 8 is North Carolina. That's not exactly murders row for the badgers.
A R Holmes: It has to be Wisconsin, they are the only team that will be a clear favorite in their second game. I still think at least three B1G teams make the Sweet Sixteen (Wisconsin, Maryland, Michigan State), but I see the Badgers in the Elite Eight easily.
Scott Manning: It has to be Wisconsin. Michigan State is the only other team with a reasonable draw, and while they might be able to make a run - Wisconsin seems like much more of a sure thing. There are many out there that think Wisconsin is the best built team to handle Kentucky and while I am not sure about that - they certainly are going to have a better shot at beating Kentucky than most other teams. The only team that seems like they could upset Wisconsin before that potential Kentucky matchup is Arizona as I view them as the top #2 seed in the tournament.
5. Who in the bracket do you see as a potential upset pick?
Thomas Beindit: Well, statistically, you have to go with a 5 vs. 12 for at least one upset and I like Buffalo taking down West Virginia in the first round. I think West Virginia needs some turnovers for their defense to be effective and Buffalo is pretty good at avoiding them. Another upset that I see coming is Villanova going down early to LSU. Nova is a good team, but I think the Tigers are a pretty good matchup and will take them down very early.
Scott Manning: Sticking in the B1G Conference - I like Michigan State to upset Virginia in Round 3. Virginia does have star Justin Anderson back, but he isn't the same as he was before the injury and Michigan State seems to be peaking once again in March which is a credit to Tom Izzo continually getting his team to improve throughout the season. They seem to have a good mix of inside and outside play and took Wisconsin to overtime in the B1G Championship game which is saying a lot. I'm not sure how far the Spartans can make it this year, but I do think there is an outside chance of getting to Indianapolis as a #7 seed which would be incredible.
6. Who is your champion?
Thomas Beindit: Right now, I'm going with Duke primarily because I think their talent is going to win out against the vast majority of the teams they face early and I think Jahlil Okafor is going to come into his own deeper in the postseason and push them to that next level.
Bryan Steedman: If I had to pick a champion, I'd go with Kentucky simply because that's the most logical and reasonable choice out of all 68 teams that made it to the big dance. This is March Madness, however, and things never go as expected. So while I'd pick Kentucky to win if I had to put my money on a specific team, I think someone out of nowhere wins this thing...no idea who though. I mean who would have anticipated Connecticut winning this last season or a few years back when Butler made it to back-to-back title games and came only several inches from sinking Duke on a halfcourt buzzer beater?
A R Holmes: Wisconsin has had some stumbles this season, but I like them over everybody else. I think they can keep their composure game in and game out and make it all the way. Kentucky is an incredible team, but I think the Badgers get by them in the Final Four.
Scott Manning: I have to go with Kentucky although I think they will hit at least one road bump along the way and be forced to have some incredibly plays down the stretch to pull it out. I believe Duke, Wisconsin, and Arizona are the three teams who have a shot at beating them if Kentucky has an off night. However, I fully expect the Wildcats to be lasered focused for this stretch of games and they will ultimately make all Indiana fans hate them more when they become the first team to go undefeated since the 1976 Hoosiers.
It was a great discussion and it will be interesting to see who was right on their picks.