The 2022 NCAA Tournament’s opening weekend wrapped up on Sunday and the Big Ten was well featured, with five teams in action. Unfortunately, things wouldn’t end well for most of the league’s teams.
Let’s take a look at what happened.
Game of the Night:
-No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers 81, No. 6 Texas Longhorns 71
This looked like a pretty exciting game on paper and played out that way. Purdue took over early, but Texas battled back by halftime and the teams exchanged blows in the second half before the Boilermakers put it away. Trevion Williams showed out in this one, finishing with 22 points, seven rebounds, and two assists.
The win pushes Purdue to the Sweet 16 and improves the team’s record to 29-7 overall. It’s the program’s fourth trip to the second weekend since 2017 and puts Purdue on the verge of its second 30-win season since 2018. Both are incredible marks and speak volumes about Purdue’s growth as a program. It also puts some positivity on what many fans were worried might be becoming a lost season after the late regular season missteps.
The positive news didn’t stop there, either. Boilermaker fans saw the East Region open up significantly last week, as top seeded Baylor went down to North Carolina on Saturday, Kentucky fell to Saint Peter’s on Thursday, and Murray State went down as well. It means Purdue will enter next weekend as a substantial favorite to make the Elite Eight and likely a favorite to make the Final Four from there as well. UCLA is still alive on the other side, but projects to have a significantly tougher matchup against North Carolina ahead of it.
We’ll have to wait and see how things turn out for Purdue, but fans have to be overjoyed about the events of the last few days. A letdown is still possible and we’ve seen the Boilers do it before. But it’s just hard to look at the projections moving forward and feel bad about things.
-No. 2 Duke Blue Devils 85, No. 7 Michigan State Spartans 76
This one didn’t take much hyping before tip to get the blood boiling. A March meeting between Duke and Michigan State in Coach K’s final season? Add in a shot at the Sweet 16 and things looked even more exciting.
And the game itself would live up to the billing. While Duke jumped out to a first half lead, it evaporated shortly into the second half. The game then went back-and forth from there, with each side exchanging big shot after big shot. At one point, the Spartans took control and seemed to be on the verge of scoring the win. Unfortunately, Paolo Banchero and Mark Williams did just enough to push the Blue Devils over the finish line for an 85-76 win.
For Michigan State, the loss will end the team’s season at 23-13 overall in what most will consider a relatively down year for the program. While the Spartans made the NCAA Tournament and scored some solid wins, that’s not going to turn many heads in East Lansing. Spartan fans simply expect more than that.
It’s also worth mentioning the team’s significant backslide in February and March, which led to such an early meeting with Duke. Despite opening the season at 14-2 overall and 5-0 in Big Ten play, Michigan State finished the regular season at just 20-11 overall and 11-9 in Big Ten play. The Spartans were just 3-7 heading into the Big Ten Tournament. A rare feat for an Izzo team and something that derailed what once figured to be a great season.
-No. 2 Villanova Wildcats 71, No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes 61
After a thoroughly ugly win on Friday afternoon, Buckeye fans were hoping for a better showing on Sunday against a really tough Villanova team. Unfortunately, improved offensive production didn’t end up being enough to grab the win, as the Wildcats scored a 71-61 victory over the Buckeyes to move into the Sweet 16. Wile the Buckeyes got 40 points from Malaki Branham and EJ Liddell, it wasn’t enough to keep pace with Villanova’s shooters and Jermaine Samuels. The Wildcats finished with 1.20 points per possession.
The loss will end Ohio State’s season at 20-12 overall. Like Michigan State above, the tale of this season will be about the late season slide. Despite reaching 13-4 overall and 6-2 in Big Ten play in late January, Ohio State entered Selection Sunday at just 19-11, going 6-7 its final 13 games before the Big Dance. Those struggles set up the Buckeyes as a seven seed, meaning a game against a two seed like Villanova in the second round was a real possibility.
We also have to wonder about what the season could have been had the team’s full complement of players been available. Justice Sueing effectively missed the entire year and Seth Towns continues to struggle with injuries as well. And that doesn’t even mention some of the more routine injury issues, which forced players like Zed Key and Kyle Young to miss games down the stretch. We’ll never know what might have happened with a healthy roster, but it’ll be something that will bother Buckeye fans all offseason.
-No. 5 Houston Cougars 68, No. 4 Illinois Fighting Illini 53
This figured to be a really physical meeting between two teams and ended up playing out that way. Houston’s frontcourt and Kofi Cockburn battled all day on the boards and in the paint. Unfortunately for Illinois fans, the team didn’t get much production around Cockburn, leading to another poor offensive showing and a 68-53 loss.
The loss will end Illinois’ season at 23-10 overall. It’s the second year in a row Illinois has failed to advance to the Sweet 16 as a top four seed. Fans will certainly take solace in the regular season title, but it’s a trend Brad Underwood will have to fix if he hopes to elevate the program to the next level. All eyes will now be on Cockburn, who will have the option to return to Champaign next season if he wishes. Obviously, it will have a huge impact on the team’s hopes moving forward.
-No. 11 Iowa State Cyclones 54, No. 3 Wisconsin Badgers 49
There’s little debating Sunday was a rough one for the Big Ten. The league went 1-4 against a relatively manageable slate and watched team after team blow quality opportunities to advance to the Sweet 16. However, nothing was worse than what happened in Milwaukee, as Wisconsin blew an effective home game against an 11 seed to miss out on the Sweet 16. The Badgers were a mess offensively and finished with a putrid 0.71 points per possession.
The loss will end Wisconsin’s season at 25-8 overall. It’s the fifth year in a row the Badgers have failed to advance past the first weekend and the second time in the last three postseasons where Wisconsin has blown a game against an inferior opponent. Those struggles also include the 2017-’18 season when Wisconsin missed the Tourney altogether. Greg Gard’s formerly stellar NCAA Tournament record is now just 6-5 overall.
Like Illinois above, Badger fans will have this year’s Big Ten title to comfort themselves about this season. After all, it’s impossible to call a season a failure when it leads to the program raising another banner. With that said, this one’s going to sting. Wisconsin had a Sweet 16 sitting on a platter with the game in Milwaukee and LSU going down in the first round. Fans will have to hope Gard and his staff can improve on things next season.