In my bracket for the BTPowerhouse bracket group, I had five Big Ten teams making it to the second weekend. Yes, I'm a total homer when it comes to pick 'em games, but I would guess that most people had at least three teams making it from the best conference in the universe. The thing is, if I had to pick the three teams I felt most confident about making it to the Sweet Sixteen, I would have gone 0-3.
Although I was worried about the Boilers' first game, and rightfully so, I felt Purdue would be in past the Iowa State-Iona winner without much doubt. I also felt Iowa could get past Villanova, which was mostly a gut feeling based somewhat on the Wildcats' recent NCAA Tournament failings. Finally, I was extremely confident in picking Michigan State, as were most people I've talked to about the subject. I liked Indiana to get past Kentucky and Wisconsin to make it by Pitt and Xavier, but I was anything but confident given the way they played in the Big Ten Tournament. And finally there is Maryland, let's talk about Maryland.
1. Maryland is the most confounding team in the conference.
I'm going to be extremely honest for a minute, I do not like this year's Maryland team. Last year, I was excited to welcome both newcomers to the conference, but I really liked the idea of picking up on of the ACC's best teams and Under Armour's version of Oregon. Half of my wardrobe is UA gear, and the Terps also brought a rich basketball history that didn't have the dirty feeling that other possible teams like Syracuse, Louisville, and UConn had. I even bought tickets to the first Purdue-Maryland game.
This year, my feelings shifted. It started with the controversy surrounding Rasheed Sulaimon, then got worse as the season went on. Something about the team just rubbed me the wrong way as they continued to squeak by inferior opponents, then Diamond Stone went and pulled the biggest bonehead move of any Big Ten player not named Adam Woodbury. I don't really hate the team, how could you with fun and talented guys like Jared Nickens, Damonte Dodd, Jake Layman, and Varun Ram, but I don't like them as much as I do most of the Big Ten teams.
That being said, this team is more confusing performance-wise than my feelings about them. They have enough talent that they were picked as the top team in the nation by quite a few people at the beginning of the season. Next came the close wins and then a handful of losses to end the season. This led them to their lowest poll rankings of the season just prior to the start of the Big Ten Tournament. And now, they are sitting in the Sweet Sixteen and being talked about as a Final Four caliber team again. Will the real Maryland team please stand up?
2. The NCAA Tournament is as much about matchups and luck, as it is about talent and chemistry.
Maryland only had to get past a 12 and a 13 to advance to the second weekend, but they at least have a legitimate argument to be considered one of the best sixteen or even best eight teams in the country. Syracuse and Gonzaga? Not so much, but one of them will be in the Elite Eight. So will either Notre Dame or Wisconsin. All four of those teams have a ton of talent, but their in-season performance tells us that they probably wouldn't be in this position if the seeds had been laid out just a bit differently.
3. The NCAA has to be extremely pleased.
While there were a lot of very valid arguments that this year's bracket was set-up poorly, the way it has shaken out so far has to have the accountants at the NCAA very happy. The first round included a ton of exciting upsets, but the Sweet Sixteen has just one small school (Gonzaga) and a bunch of big name programs with national followings. Oh, and that small school has developed quite the national following in its own right. This means rating should continue to be high and the prices for advertising with the tournament will be even higher in the future. At least, that is how I see it.
4. If Purdue's 2OT loss was a collapse, then Northern Iowa's was an implosion.
The Panthers gave up a 14-2 run in the final 35 seconds. That is insane, even Reggie Miller would be jealous of a comeback like that (look it up). A dishonorable mention goes to Saint Joe's, who let #1 Oregon comeback late.
5. The Pac-12 got a much more favorable draw than the Big Ten, and did nothing with it.
Oregon is the only survivor after Utah got spanked by Gonzaga and five others lost in the first round. Seems like maybe we deserved some of those higher seeds they got.
6. Wisconsin could be the conference's only Elite Eight team.
Indiana and Maryland have to face the top two overall seeds in their games, but Wisconsin gets a Notre Dame team that should have lost to S.F. Austin. Win that game and Greg Gard is just three more wins away from a title, and after watching the way that Bronson Koenig shot today it seems entirely possible. How crazy would it be if the Badgers finally nabbed a national championship the tournament after Bo Ryan retired?