The Big Ten finished 3-2 on Thursday and 2-0 on Friday. Wisconsin, Northwestern and Purdue all advanced, and Minnesota and Maryland were eliminated in upsets, according to seeding.
Michigan got the conference off to a good start on Friday, beating Oklahoma State 92-91. And Michigan State finished the Big Ten’s day with a 78-58 win over Miami.
Let’s go over a few thoughts from Friday’s NCAA Tournament action.
-The field seems pretty wide open.
I don’t have a ton of quantitative evidence to back up this claim, but let’s consider a couple points: Major upsets have been somewhat limited this year, and the field is pretty flat.
Xavier and Middle Tennessee State were two lower seeds to win, and I wouldn’t call the Blue Raiders win over Minnesota an upset. To date, USC beating SMU, a tournament darling, and Rhode Island dropping Creighton are probably the most surprising wins. Otherwise, it’s been predictable.
So, the higher seeds are advancing, setting up really good second and perhaps third round match ups as the tournament moves into the second weekend.
If we look at the remaining programs, can we definitively say there’s a favorite?
The number one seeds have looked solid, but the two seeds have as well. And, others are lurking beyond those two lines (Notre Dame, UCLA, Baylor, Florida, Virginia, Michigan, etc.).
Even though the higher seeds have been advancing, it seems like the field is flatter, just in terms of quality. It’s ultimately a good thing, because we could get really good Sweet Sixteen match ups.
-How far can Michigan go?
We could phrase the question differently: How far can Derrick Walton Jr. take them? The senior had 26 points and 11 assists in the team’s opening round win against Oklahoma State.
The Wolverines have been on a tear, even though they started erratically against the Cowboys. Overall, Michigan has won six in a row, and 11 of 13.
Michigan was 16-for-29 from three, and if that continues, they can beat almost anyone. The Wolverines know exactly who they are this point in the season, and that might be most important. Not perfect, but they have an identity.
Looking at the rest of the bracket, Michigan will take on Louisville on Sunday. Getting by Louisville and they’d meet the winner of Oregon and Rhode Island. An Elite Eight appearance is not far-fetched with how we’ll they’re playing.
-What’s the Big Ten’s outlook now?
Well, it’s going to be tough overall. Northwestern (Gonzaga), Wisconsin (Villanova) and Michigan State (Kansas) each play number one seeds; Michigan takes on two-seeded Louisville. Likely, four of the five remaining Big Ten teams will be underdogs, some by a considerable margin.
Even Purdue has a tough four-five match up against Iowa State. The Boilermakers will have to manage Cyclones’ pace and athleticism in the open floor. KenPom projects a one point win for Purdue.
A larger discussion could be had regarding the seeding in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. The committee mostly selected the right teams for the postseason, but the seeding is odd, to say the least. Purdue might’ve been the only Big Ten team slotted properly; the rest have faced uphill battles. Even though higher seeds, Maryland and Minnesota had tough opening round opponents.
The deck has been stacked against the conference early on, but they’ve responded well, going 5-2 in the first round. If Purdue advances, and the Big Ten picks up two additional wins, which isn’t totally far-fetched, this tournament ought to be considered a success for the conference.