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Thursday/Friday Thoughts: The Big Ten holds serve over the first two days of tournament play

It wasn’t all pretty, but the Buckeyes, Wolverines, Spartans, and Boilermakers found a way

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Michigan vs Montana Kelly Ross-USA TODAY Sports Images

If you’re like me, you just got done watching 24-plus hours of basketball, along with an endless stream of horrifying Hanes commercials and a dissertation on the TruTV programming lineup.

So why don’t we skip the chitchat and get right down to business. After all, we’re only a nights sleep away from doing it all over again tomorrow.

-No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes 81, South Dakota State Jackrabbits 73

Well I think that closes the door on the rust verse rest debate, eh?

Thanks to a 20 day stretch that saw the Buckeyes play only one game, it was able to unleash the three-headed monster of Keita Bates-Diop, Kam Williams, and C.J. Jackson for a combined 107 minutes in Ohio State’s round one win.

And while the Jackrabbits were able to ride a thoroughbred of its own, as junior forward Mike Daum put up 27 points over 37 minutes played, its supporting cast had no answer for Ohio State’s second and third options.

Bates-Diop, Williams, and Jackson scored a combined 66 points which accounted for 81-percent of the Buckeyes offensive output. Bates-Diop led the way individually with 24 points to go along with 12 rebounds, however, the title of hero on Thursday belongs to Kam Williams.

With South Dakota State in the midst of a 10-0 run that tied the game late in the second half, the senior guard was able to convert a 4-point play that swung momentum back in Ohio State’s favor. Then, after trading missed jumpers, Williams took an ill-advised 3-pointer that, by the grace of Woody Hayes, resulted in a trip to the free throw line and the ultimate dagger in the Jackrabbits upset bid.

Ohio State will move on to the round of 32 on Saturday where it’ll meet Gonzaga who survived almost being, well, Gonzaga’d in it’s 68-64 win over 14-seeded UNCG.

KenPom gives the slightest of advantages to the Bulldogs, favoring the 4-seed by 2.5 points on a neutral court. And while South Dakota was ultimately done in by being a one-man band, that’s nowhere near the case for last years national runner-ups with Gonzaga featuring five players averaging more than 11-points-per-game.

Needless to say, it should be a fun one.

-No. 3 Michigan Wolverines 61, No. 14 Montana Grizzlies 47

And why don’t we go ahead and reopen that rust verse rest debate, shall we?

Ceding a 10-0 run to your opponent is a bad way to begin tournament play. Having your best player go scoreless in the first half is worse. Finding a way to grab a three point lead heading to intermission despite those previous two points is lucky.

Yet in an ode to Newton’s Third Law, the opposite (and then some) was true for the Wolverines in the second half, as Montana managed just two points in the first 10-plus minutes of the games final frame.

It was anything but pretty, however, in the end this tale of two halves proved to be enough as John Beilein and the Wolverines survived to play another day.

On Saturday, Michigan will meet the Houston Cougars who took part in an old-fashion shootout, coming out with a win against San Diego State thanks to a career high 39-points from senior guard Rob Gray.

Despite falling in the AAC title game to Cincinnati, Houston is right up there with the Wolverines as one of the hottest teams playing basketball in the month of March. KenPom favors Michigan by a mere 1.5-points so your guess is as good as mine on who finds a way to win the game and book a trip to Los Angeles.

-No. 2 Purdue Boilermakers 74, No. 15 Cal State Fullerton Titans 48

When you’re a top seed one of two things is going to happen: Either you become a footnote to a program defining win (see, Arizona or Wichita State) or you blowout your opponent in a boring and uneventful game.

Purdue’s 26 point win over the Titans subscribed to the latter and was boring with a capital B.

Once the Boilermakers were through being the latest case study in the rust verse rest conundrum, it pulled away with relative ease against a CS Fullerton team, that just didn’t have the athletes to keep up with Purdue.

Hold on...I legitimately just saw this tweet:

And just like that we have some devastating intrigue.

My gut reaction? The effect this has on Purdue cannot be understated. Haas is one of those players that frankly no one in the country has an answer for as his combination of speed and size make him a unicorn among unicorns.

It’s an absolute shame for Haas to have his collegiate career come to an end like this after never missing a game during his entire Purdue career and working so hard to improve over his four years in West Lafayette. And its equally demoralizing for a Boilermakers team that fancied itself as a Final Four contender.

Moving forward, it’s impossible to replace a player like Haas, so Matt Painter will have his work cut out for him. You’d assume Purdue’s other 7-footer in freshmen Matt Haarms will draw into the starting lineup, but the real focus shifts to guards Vincent and Carsen Edwards.

The unrelated senior and sophomore are more than capable of putting this team on its backs and shooting the Boilermakers on to the Sweet Sixteen. Undoubtedly Purdue’s tempo will go up a few ticks as they look to turn any future games into a track meet.

In fact with a Sunday meeting against in-state rival and familiar foe Butler on tap, Purdue’s best chance to salvage its season is to hope Edwards and Edwards can will their team to a win, giving Matt Painter a few days to catch his breath and figure out how to change course moving forward.

-No. 3 Michigan State Spartans 82, No. 14 Bucknell Bison 78

Well that was a hella fun way to close out the Big Ten’s first two days of the tournament.

Bucknell did its best to go toe-to-toe with Michigan State and 20,000 of its closest friends, but in the end Sparty pulled away late, staking its claim as the conferences likeliest Final Four participant.

Miles Bridges may have vaulted himself up NBA draft boards with his play on Friday evening, putting his freak athleticism on display under the brightest of lights. The lottery pick-to-be ended the night with 29 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and a trip to the round of 32.

At the risk of looking too far ahead, the Spartans win keeps a potential Sweet Sixteen showdown with Duke on the table. A rematch of November’s Champions Classic tilt, which the Blue Devils won 88-81, would be the highlight of the NCAA Tournaments second weekend.

Very few matchups feature the likes of Tom Izzo verse Mike Krzyzewski or Miles Bridges verse Mavin Bagley. Raising the stakes by putting a trip to the Elite Eight on the line puts this potential meeting on instant classic alert.

So my apologies to Rhode Island and the winner of tonight’s TCU/Syracuse game, but don’t take that away from us. It’s nothing personal, so just do it for the love of the game.

-Random Non-Big Ten Musings

1. Oklahoma and Trae Young remain America’s most confounding team. I’ll admit, during the course of Thursday’s opening game, I thought the Sooners had finally figured things out. Trae Young was making behind the back passes and dribbling through traffic look like an art form, and I was already drooling over seeing the freshmen phenom get his shot against Duke.

But for just as quickly as the train got back on the tracks it was derailed again with Young throwing up 40-footers to end what’ll go down as one of the more frustrating one-and-done careers of recent memory.

2. Loyola-Chicago and Seton Hall looked the best — literally. Maybe I’m a sucker for simplicity when it comes to uniforms, but I challenge anyone to look at the two pictures below and not daydream about what Wisconsin or Penn State would look like in those simple script jerseys.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-North Carolina State vs Seton Hall Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Miami vs Loyola Chicago Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

3. Texas Tech freshmen guard Zhaire Smith had not only the play of the first round, but maybe the play of the year when he took a pass from Keenan Evans and went all Neo from the Matrix in midair:

On a day that saw a lot of poorly attempted and ugly alley-oop misconnections, this more than made up for it. Way to send it in, Zhaire.