With the unveiling of the 2018 NCAA Tournament bracket last weekend, the BTPowerhouse staff got together for a roundtable discussion about the league, what to expect in the coming weeks, and for some great bracket talk.
See the full discussion below.
1. Well, yesterday was Selection Sunday. Ultimately, four Big Ten teams heard their names called. They were Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Purdue. Whether Big Ten related or not, what was your biggest takeaway?
Thomas Beindit: While I know the day after Selection Sunday is traditionally the day to whine about the bracket and the Committee’s seeding system, I really didn’t have too many issues this year. The inclusion of Syracuse was surprising, but there weren’t too many things that stood out.
If I did have a major takeaway, it would have been the sheer quality of the top 12 teams in the field this season. I can’t remember the last time that the two and three lines have had such quality teams. I mean, Michigan State is a three seed and sixth nationally on KenPom. This is a year where there isn’t a huge divide among the top 10 or 12 teams.
Justin Frommer: This year’s bracket reflects how screwed the selection system is, especially for mid-major programs. How Oklahoma was able to get an at-large bid while Oklahoma State ( win over oklahoma, 2 wins over kansas, win at West Virginia) will be participating in the NIT is befuddling. The “quadrant one win” metric completely handcuffs teams like Middle Tennessee St. as well as St. Mary’s who each deserved at-large bids and are left to play for an NIT championship instead.
Eric Leisure: I’m going to pluck the low hanging fruit here and complain about the selection show itself. TBS, the NCAA, and its corporate champions messed with what had been a perfectly executed hour of television so that a few hundred folks could yell “woohoo” when any team within a four-hour drive of Atlanta was mentioned.
You could argue that for teams on the bubble this provided a more humane demise, but there was always something poetic about holding on to hope till that last bracket was filled. And speaking of hope, here’s hoping that a decision to revert to the old system is made in time for next year’s bracket reveal.
Andrew Michael H: The Selection Committee did a really good job. Most years you can look at the bracket and see a team at or below your seed line that you’d trade places with in a heartbeat. There were very few, if any, situations like that in this year’s bracket. Maybe it’s because there’s so much parity in college basketball this year, but there are a lot of games in the first and second rounds where I have no idea which way they’ll go.
Bryan Steedman: The selection show wasn’t an absolute bust. When they announced the change everyone complained, but besides the bubble teams randomly showing up being anticlimactic, it wasn’t that bad of a format.
As for the selections, it was relatively fine all in all. Every year the committee usually has a head scratcher or two and I think Syracuse getting in was a surprise. Personally, I had USC and Saint Mary’s in over Syracuse and Arizona State, but other then that everything else seemed reasonable.
I am a bit peeved that I didn’t request off Friday and Sunday, though. I figured if I did Purdue wouldn’t have been seeded in Detroit. So, I didn’t bother and now I’m missing out on seeing them play when I live 45 minutes away.
Justin Golba: I thought it was interesting how difficult of a draw the number one overall seed Virginia got. In the round of 32, they will have to play either Creighton or Kansas State and in the Sweet 16, they will more than likely play either Arizona or Kentucky. That is pretty crazy to think Virginia got the number one seed overall and got rewarded with either Arizona or Kentucky in the Sweet 16 and I’m not sure they make it to the Elite Eight.
2. We mentioned the four Big Ten teams selected for this year’s NCAA Tournament, but we didn’t address the teams that didn’t make the cut. Did it surprise you that only four Big Ten teams made it?
Beindit: It would have surprised me if you told me before the season, but when Selection Sunday arrived, there wasn’t any doubt in my mind that only four teams would make it. Nebraska and Penn State weren’t all that close. Perhaps they would have made it in a normal year, but the Big Ten was just too down for them to overcome it.
Frommer: No, not really. After Nebraska had lost to Illinois towards the end of the season and then failed to win a game in New York, it was pretty clear that they were gonna be left on the outside looking in. In fact, I thought Penn State had the better chance of squeaking into the field. Those three wins against Ohio State weighed large plus an appearance in the Big Ten Tournament semi-finals. Unfortunately, that loss to Rider at the beginning of the year ended up being their downfall.
Leisure: I can’t say I was surprised based on what history has taught us, but would love to have been a fly on the wall as the committee discussed Penn State and Nebraska’s qualifications against the likes of Arizona State and Syracuse. The Nittany Lions, in particular, had a compelling case had advanced and predictive metrics been allowed equal influence, but despite the committee’s talking points about moving away from RPI, its actions speak louder than words.
AMH: Would it have surprised me at the beginning of the year? Definitely. Would it have surprised me from, say, mid-January onward? Not really. It was more surprising that Penn State and Nebraska worked their way back into the conversation, not that they fell short.
Bryan: Not at all. Nebraska might have had a better argument had they not lost to Illinois at the end of the season, but their strength of schedule and lack of quality wins was the nail in the coffin for the Cornhuskers.
Golba: If you told me this in November, I would say it would be a huge surprise but as it stands right now, not at all. The NIT Seeding showed just how far both bubble teams were since Penn State is a four seed and Nebraska is a five seed. Maybe if Nebraska beats Kansas earlier in the year then they get in but they didn’t and now they are in the NIT
3. Of the four Big Ten teams that made it, who has the best shot at going to a Final Four, in your opinion?
Beindit: I think I have to go with Purdue here. The Boilermakers have lost some steam over the last month or so, but are still a fantastic team. Add in that the lower portion of the East Region doesn’t look all that great and I think Purdue has a pretty manageable route to the Elite Eight. While I think Villanova is better, Purdue could certainly pull off the upset. It’s one game, after all.
Frommer: Michigan. I said that as soon as the bracket was fully released. I think they have an absolute cakewalk to San Antonio. They got put in the region with the easiest one seed in Xavier ( who I have getting upset by Gonzaga in the sweet 16) and as hot as the Wolverines are, if they can get past North Carolina they should be golden for the Final Four.
Leisure: Gun to my head, I’m going with Michigan State. The Midwest is a bracket I think is primed for chaos with the notable exception being the Spartans’ path to the Sweet Sixteen. After an opening round tilt against Bucknell, Tom Izzo’s team would be in line to meet the winner of Syracuse/Arizona State and TCU, so not exactly a murderer’s row. On top of that, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Seton Hall, or New Mexico State upset the region’s top two seeds creating an easier path for Sparty to reach San Antonio.
AMH: Michigan. Wagner is a matchup nightmare even for teams that have already scouted him and played against him, and the West is the region where brackets are most likely to blow up and provide an easy path. Ohio State, also in the West, is second-most-likely. A healthy Texas Tech stands in Purdue’s path, and Duke is blocking Michigan State. Coach K has Izzo’s number, and the UALR game from two years ago makes me think Chris Beard has Matt Painter’s.
Bryan: Michigan State. On my intentional “gut” bracket, I have Purdue going further (Elite 8), but I’m not sure I like Purdue beating Villanova. If Nova gets upset earlier in the tournament than that would definitely help the Boilers out quite a bit.
While I had the Spartans falling to Duke, I’d put more money on Michigan State beating a Duke team than Purdue beating Villanova, but of course that could all be irrelevant depending on how things pan out in the other games. I’m seeing some people say Michigan but I don’t like the Wolverines against North Carolina and it’ll be interesting to see if sitting for so long after the Big Ten Tournament will cool them down.
Golba: For me, it has to be Michigan State even though they have possible matchups of Duke and Kansas standing in their way. They are one of the most talented teams in the country and it is hard to bet against Izzo in the Tournament. Michigan has a good chance as well due to their weaker bracket and hot play recently.
4. All four Big Ten teams that made it this season were at least a five seed. As such, they will all be favored in their first game. But who has the biggest chance at being upset in game one?
Beindit: It has to be Ohio State. That’s probably not surprising given that the Buckeyes are the lowest seeded Big Ten team, but the team didn’t play all that well down the stretch and gets a tricky opening game against South Dakota State on Thursday. Ohio State will be favored, but it certainly looks like the Big Ten team that’s most likely to be one-and-done this season.
Frommer: Ohio State. Most college basketball fans do not know anything about South Dakota State. But if there is one name that they should know it is Mike Daum. The guy can ball. The Buckeyes should be on upset alert.
Leisure: The trendy pick is Ohio State, so I’m going to give an alternative answer here. While I’m not willing to write it in my bracket, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Montana upset Michigan. As far as 14 seeds go, the Big Sky champions are a formidable challenge that’s being taken a little bit too lightly. Vegas currently has the game as a 12-point spread in favor of the Wolverines. However, KenPom has the Grizzlies as only eight-point underdogs, so it’ll be a closer game than you think.
AMH: Ohio State. If the game was in Akron instead of Boise, I might disagree, but South Dakota State is used to the altitude.
Bryan: Ohio State. The Buckeyes were Big Ten frontrunners and then got crushed by Penn State, lost to Michigan and then Penn State again. Their two wins over their last five games came against Rutgers and an overtime win against Indiana. Plus they’ve had some time to sit on that third loss to Penn State. If Keita Bates-Diop isn’t playing great on Thursday, that’ll be problematic for the Buckeyes.
Golba: As I’m sure everyone will say, it’s Ohio State. They are the dreaded 5-12 matchup and South Dakota State and Mike Daum is the real deal. However, I do believe even though they have the best chance to be upset, they will still pull out a victory.
5. Which Big Ten opening round game are you most excited to see?
Beindit: Largely for the reasons described above, it’s Ohio State and South Dakota State for me. I think the Buckeyes will have to work hard to advance and, as such, I think it projects to be a pretty fun game. The Michigan vs Montana game would be closely behind. I think the Michigan State and Purdue opening round games will be blowouts.
Frommer: It may be biased considering I attend MSU, but I will go with Michigan State. The Spartans have had a lackluster offense of late. They are coming off of a two-week break, playing in front of their home fans at Little Caesars Arena, and Bucknell is no slouch of a mid-major team. I think this first weekend will dictate how far Michigan State can go in the tournament.
Leisure: It’s hard to pass up the intrigue of a 5 vs 12 game, so the Buckeyes and Jackrabbits are must-see TV for me. South Dakota State forward Mike Daum is one of the nation’s most underrated ballers, so watching him and Keita Bates-Diop go at it should lead to some fireworks.
AMH: I’m a Purdue grad, so I’m excited to see my Boilermakers as 20-point favorites in the first game of the day on Friday.
Bryan: Well, I won’t be home from work in time to catch Purdue (kill me), so I guess the Ohio State and Michigan games? I’ll be glued to the big screen with my best friends, who happen to be a Michigan and Ohio State fan respectively. We all like to give each other crap when our teams lose, so it’ll be a prime opportunity to start running my mouth if they get knocked off.
Golba: I think the Michigan State and Bucknell matchup will be real fun. Bucknell had a great year and the duo of Zach Thomas and Nana Foulland is hard to beat. Bridges, Ward and Jackson will have their hands full all game.
6. As mentioned, all four Big Ten teams are favored in their opening round games this week. Assuming they all move on, what are you watching for in potential opponents for Saturday and/or Sunday?
Beindit: I think the two potential matchups that stand out the most are for Michigan and Purdue. The Wolverines would be projected to face a red hot Houston squad and the Boilermakers would see either a dangerous Arkansas team or an in-state opponent in Butler. All of those matchups look really exciting on paper.
Additionally, I would stress just good that Michigan vs Houston game could be this weekend. Since February 7th, TRank has both Michigan and Houston ranked among the top five teams in team efficiency. Michigan is first and Houston is fifth. The idea of that being a Round of 32 matchup between a three and six seed is incredible. Buckle up.
Frommer: I think whoever wins the Arkansas/Butler matchup can give Purdue some trouble in the second round. Both the Bulldogs and Razorbacks have given some good teams trouble throughout the year and could take the Boilermakers down to the wire if not come out with the victory to move to the Sweet 16.
Leisure: A possible Michigan-Houston clash in round two would feature two of college basketball’s hottest teams, not to mention two squads that are both top 30 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. It would be strength-vs-strength-vs-strength-vs-strength and I can’t for the life of me figure out what gives way for either school.
AMH: Purdue’s big advantage is that Isaac Haas is so hard to prepare for. If they play Butler, a team that has already scouted Purdue and Haas once this year, that does a fair bit to negate that advantage. Purdue cruised past the Bulldogs in Indianapolis back in December, but I don’t think Butler will roll over and die.
Bryan: Of the four Big Ten teams in the tourney, I think Ohio State’s likely matchup with Gonzaga will be interesting, if only because that’ll be the most difficult for any of the Big Ten teams to win in the second round. Of course if the Buckeyes can advance to the Sweet 16, I could see them being capable of contending with Xavier in a potential in-state Sweet 16 showdown.
Golba: Michigan and Houston and Ohio State and Gonzaga. Michigan and Houston are two smoking hot teams and Ohio State and Gonzaga would be a rematch with a deeper and better Buckeye team. Not to mention the winner of that stands a decent chance at Xavier.
7. Do you think any Big Ten team makes the Final Four based upon your initial reaction to this year’s bracket?
Beindit: Before the bracket was announced, I felt pretty good about predicting at least one Big Ten team to make it to the Final Four. But after seeing how things slot out on the bracket, I think it’s going to be an uphill battle for that to happen.
To start things off, I think both Michigan and Ohio State will have some major challenges to even get to next weekend, let alone the Final Four. The Buckeyes will be an underdog against Gonzaga and TRank only gives Michigan a 52 percent chance to make the Sweet 16. That might sound pessimistic, but it’s reality. Add in two more challenging matchups and it’s going to take some real magic for either of those teams to win four games.
And while Michigan State and Purdue have manageable routes to the second weekend, Michigan State is staring down a matchup against Duke in the Sweet 16 and Kansas in the Elite Eight. Similarly, Purdue has Villanova in its region. Nothing is easy in March, but those are major obstacles. I can’t sit here with a straight face and claim the Big Ten will come out victorious against teams like Duke or Villanova right now.
On the other side, it is worth mentioning that this is still March. Even if teams like Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue will be underdogs, all are more than capable of pulling off upsets. And that doesn’t even taken into account the possibility of teams like Duke, Kansas, North Carolina, and Villanova getting upset. So, it can happen, but I don’t love the odds.
Frommer: Michigan State seems to be the favorite among the top analysts in college basketball. However, I see the Spartans taking an early exit against Duke in the Sweet 16. Michigan will be my favorite to be the Big Ten team to get to the Final Four. This is Beilein’s time and his team is as hot as anyone right now.
Leisure: There’s definitely a path to Texas for all four of the Big Ten’s entrants but the NCAA Tournament is a numbers game more than anything else. For no other reason than having only four cracks at reaching college basketball’s Super Bowl, the odds aren’t in the conferences favor. Yes, each team is talented enough to make a run, but plenty of other teams fancy themselves just as worthy and it’ll only take four slipups against fairly equal opponents to dash the Big Ten’s hopes.
AMH: I think there’s a plausible path for all the teams except for Michigan State, who I can’t see getting past Duke. The other three teams have all looked stellar at times, but they’ve also struggled against teams a lot worse than they will see in the second, third, and fourth rounds. My gut feeling is no, but I don’t think it’s impossible.
Golba: I can see all the teams getting there. Ohio State is probably least likely with their path going through likely Gonzaga and Xavier and even though Michigan State plays likely Duke, I still like their chances to get to Texas the most.