With the opening rounds of the 2022 NCAA Tournament wrapping up last weekend, the BTPowerhouse staff got together for a roundtable discussion about the league and what fans should expect in the coming days.
See the full discussion below.
1. Simply stated, that was a hell of an opening weekend. We got to see a two seed lose to a 15, a one seed go down on Saturday, and a plethora of other great results. What are your biggest takeaways from the last few days?
Thomas Beindit: Well, let me start with the obvious: March is back, folks. It’s been three years since we got to experience March as it’s meant to be. The 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled and last year’s had limited attendance because of COVID-19 concerns as well. It was nice to experience the action with packed houses across the country.
Outside of that, the biggest thing I’ll remember is the Saint Peter’s upset. It was a remarkable feat, especially when you add in their win over Murray State on Saturday as well. Seeing a 15 seed win its opening game is rare enough, but a Sweet 16 appearance as well? It’s a wild story and one I won’t soon forget. The final meeting of Tom Izzo and Coach K on Sunday and the epic Gonzaga-North Carolina game on Saturday were also great moments.
Kevin Knight: My day job caused me to miss most of the action for opening weekend, but it seems like I missed a lot of fun upsets. Michigan State outperformed expectations against a tough Duke squad, but couldn’t find the depth to finish it out in the final 2.5 minutes.
Ryan Hodes: My biggest takeaway is that the No. 1 seeds are vulnerable. Arizona needed overtime to beat TCU, Gonzaga was down 10 on Memphis at half before turning on the jets in the second half, and Kansas barely escaped an injury-riddled Creighton team. And, of course, Baylor went down to North Carolina
Each of these teams have a tough path to get to the Final Four. For me, Arizona is the one I’m worried most about getting there. The Wildcats face the best offensive rebounding team in the country, and this comes immediately after they struggled on the boards against a less intimidating TCU team. If Arizona wins vs. Houston, it will likely face Villanova, one of the most disciplined and experienced teams in the field. While Tommy Lloyd has proven that he is a fantastic coach, I wonder how he’ll fare in his first year against the likes of Kelvin Sampson and Jay Wright. I still believe the Wildcats get it done, but it won’t be easy.
Bryan Steedman: There were a ton of exciting games and a lot of complaints about officiating, so I guess it was par for the course when it comes to college basketball. Interestingly enough, two of the craziest endings (Baylor/North Carolina and Arizona/TCU) were largely set up by massive officiating gaffes. It was nice to see a decent amount of upsets, including the East bracket getting absolutely decimated. I guess it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the opening weekend was exciting following the absolute insanity of the Rutgers and Notre Dame game in the First Four. And once again the Big Ten had a dreadful start to the tournament, only being saved somewhat by the SEC faceplanting even more.
2. What about the Big Ten? Obviously, it wasn’t a great performance for the league, but Michigan and Purdue did make it to the Sweet 16. What should fans make of the action?
Beindit: Look, I’m not going to sugarcoat things, even if this is a Big Ten site. It was a rough week for the conference and one that will sting for months to come. The Big Ten entered the Tournament with nine teams in the field and a handful of those teams had serious hopes of making it past the first weekend. Unfortunately, seven of those nine teams found themselves eliminated by Sunday evening and only Michigan and Purdue advanced to next weekend. There’s simply no way to sell that as anything but a poor outcome, especially when three of the teams (Illinois, Purdue, and Wisconsin) were supposed to make the Sweet 16 based on their seeding alone and Iowa landed in the bracket as a five seed as well. Going 1-for-4 on that group is an absolute face plant for the league.
With all that said, it’s absurd to believe you can judge a conference based on three games. And that’s really what we’re talking about here because every other Big Ten team to lose this week (Indiana, MSU, OSU, Rutgers) lost to a higher seeded team. Yes, teams like Iowa and Wisconsin deserve criticism. They fell short against inferior foes. But are we really going to get angry over Indiana losing to Saint Mary’s or Ohio State falling to Villanova? Both teams entered as solid underdogs and weren’t expected to win.
Like most things, I think nuance is the best approach here. While the Big Ten underperformed last week, it isn’t nearly as many have claimed. Moreover, the league also has a distinct possibility of overperforming this weekend as Michigan wasn’t expected to be here in the first place and Purdue’s seeding didn’t suggest anything past the Sweet 16. Let’s wait and see what happens there before we lose our minds.
Knight: What a flop once again by the Big Ten. Wisconsin and Illinois absolutely face planted, Iowa proved once again being a five seed for whatever reason is a curse for being paired with a 12 seed, and Rutgers probably deserved a better seeding than it got and thus was stuck with a dangerous Notre Dame squad.
I’m one of the bigger critics out there of Michigan, and I stand by the point this Wolverine squad got super lucky with its pairings. The comeback against Colorado State was a hard fought victory, but Tennessee was a flop performance waiting to happen. Had the Wolverines been in the same kind of pairing as Rutgers or Ohio State then we’d be saying the same thing about Michigan not advancing. That’s the nature of single-elimination with the big dance, though, you win or go home and any team can come up big in performance any given day. Hence, it can be dangerous to read too much into it, but I think the league proved it was about as weak as some were saying after all this season.
Hodes: I’m not particularly worried about the Big Ten. While only sending two teams to the Sweet 16 is disappointing, I’ve always thought of this season as a down year for the conference. Illinois and Wisconsin stand out as the most disappointing results, for obvious reasons.
I’ve talked about this all year, but I think Illinois might be better off when Kofi departs from the program. We saw glimpses of what the future might look like in their loss to Houston, with players like Melendez and Goode. They are trending in the right direction and I believe a guard-centric offense is going to produce more dangerous teams in March.
Wisconsin massively overachieved all season, and their March demise came down to poor shooting and a hobbled Johnny Davis. Ohio State simply ran into a better and more talented team in Villanova, but fought hard and performed well against Loyola-Chicago. And let’s not forget that this team had just been through a gauntlet of a late-season schedule, due to COVID delays, and was almost certainly not 100 percent healthy. Michigan State is in somewhat of a rebuild but played really well against Duke, and I’m certain they’ll be back to Spartan standards next year.
If Purdue fails to make the Final Four, that will certainly be a big talking point, and maybe rightfully so, but I think the Big Ten is due for some much better March performances in the near future.
Steedman: I’m not even surprised at this point. There’s a lot of parity in the Big Ten and they beat each other up, but the one consistent thing for a lot of teams in the Big Ten is that they’re inconsistent. Ohio State, Rutgers and Wisconsin all looked really, really good at points this season. They also looked like they could lose to almost anyone. So, am I surprised that a lot of these teams lost? Not really.
It was definitely a bad time for the Big Ten offensively. The high flying Illinois were held to 54 and 53 points in two games andshould have lost to Chattanooga. Ohio State was respectable against Villanova after looking dreadful against Loyola Chicago. Iowa got flat out bullied once again in the NCAA Tournament, this time by a mid-major program, and Wisconsin couldn’t even score 50 in the second round (speaking of that game, Iowa State going from two wins in an entire season to two wins in the NCAA Tournament is an insane turnaround). Last bit, I know Indiana has been inconsistent, but getting beat by almost 30 to Saint Mary’s had to be the worst performance in the NCAA Tournament for the Big Ten.
3. Was there anything that surprised you out of the Big Ten in the opening rounds?
Beindit: Iowa and Michigan deserve mention here and for clearly different reasons. It was pretty surprising to see a team as hot as Iowa bow out in the team’s opener on Thursday. You can say whatever you’d like about them, but the Hawkeyes were better than the Spiders. Blowing that game to Richmond was a colossal waste for Fran McCaffery and his staff. That team was way too good to be done that early. Conversely, many didn’t even think Michigan deserved inclusion in the field and the Wolverines are now sitting in the Sweet 16. I wasn’t quite that low on Michigan, but I can’t say I expected the team to get past Tennessee.
Knight: Illinois’ complete flop on offense for two straight performances was a bit surprising. Houston is a respectable squad, but the Illini should have done better against Chattanooga and most definitely should have managed more than 54 and 53 points respectively in its two games over the weekend.
Hodes: It’s definitely Iowa for me. Frankly, I thought Iowa had the easiest draw of the 5-seeds and would cruise to the Sweet 16. Obviously, that didn’t happen, as they went down to Richmond while shooting 6-29 from three. This performance had to be frustrating for Hawkeye fans, having thrown the potential of Luka Garza and Keegan Murray by the wayside in the NCAA Tournament.
Steedman: Honestly, the biggest surprise was the fact that Michigan State was in position to beat Duke at the end of the game before losing it at the end. A lot of the teams that lost this weekend had flaws that got exposed. Wisconsin has played in close games all year and got burned against Iowa State. Iowa, Illinois and Ohio State all once again got bounced early. It was more of the same for a lot of the conference.
4. Ok, turning our focus to this weekend, how happy should Michigan and Purdue fans be to make it to the Sweet 16?
Beindit: I’d use two different words to describe this: thrilled and relieved. For Michigan, you really had no right to hope for anything an NCAA beyond a berth a little over a week ago. The team had been inconsistent all year and blew a huge opportunity against Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament, which put plenty of stress on the program on Selection Sunday. To get to the Sweet 16 is a huge statement about the program’s status. Even when facing an uphill battle, Michigan found a way to get the job done. Conversely, Purdue did what it was supposed to do and made the Sweet 16. You have to tip your cap to that, but this weekend is where the Boilermakers need to make their mark, especially with a winnable matchup against Saint Peter’s.
Knight: Purdue should have a good path to at least the Elite Eight now. Beating that Texas squad was legitimately a good win fans should be happy to have in the rear view mirror. Both UCLA and North Carolina waiting in that second game will also be tough, but entirely feasible for Purdue to get the win and advance to a Final Four for the first time in far, far too long for that program. As for Michigan, a competitive loss to the Wildcats would be a nice way to end the season after those two wins fans can enjoy upset wins in.
Hodes: Michigan fans have got to feel vindicated to make the Sweet 16 after a massively disappointing regular season. I was very high on this team coming into the year, but it took much longer than expected to integrate all their young players into the lineup. But it seems they finally have figured it out towards the end of the year, and I’m excited to see how these young players develop next year.
Purdue fans should feel grateful that they made it to the second weekend, because they have been a beacon of inconsistency this year. But they should also be hungry for more. This is probably the best Purdue team Matt Painter has assembled yet, and they now have a golden opportunity to make the Final Four without needing to beat the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in their region.
Steedman: They should both be happy, Michigan fans more so than Purdue fans because the Boilermakers were expected to be here. Michigan’s inclusion in the NCAA Tournament is a sore topic for some, especially with them avoiding the play-in game, and they drew a favorable matchup against Colorado State. While I don’t think anyone is surprised they made it to the second round, the upset over Tennessee was a bit surprising and it’s safe to say Michigan has once again overachieved, with Juwan Howard continuing a tradition started by John Beilein.
6. Of Michigan and Purdue, who do you think has the best shot of going deep? Can either make the Final Four or win the title?
Beindit: Purdue has to be the answer here. Not only because the Boilermakers look better in nearly every statistical category, but also because of the matchups. A road of Saint Peter’s and UCLA/North Carolina looks immensely better than Villanova and Arizona/Houston. Neither looks easy, but I’m taking Purdue’s slate over Michigan’s 100 times out of 100. Similarly, I like Purdue’s odds of making the Final Four. It’s hard to judge what might happen there against a team like Gonzaga or Duke, but the Boilers are going to have a legit shot of making the cut. For Michigan, everything moving forward is gravy. Even another win would be a huge accomplishment.
Knight: Purdue hands down both due to talent and teams the Boilermakers will face.
Hodes: Definitely Purdue. I would argue that Purdue has the best shot in the East region of making the Final Four, simply because they get to play a 15-seed, and UNC and UCLA have to play each other. I struggle to see this team winning a title, however. They are bound to play much stiffer competition in the Final Four, and with their defensive woes, they’ll need to execute nearly perfectly to knock off a Gonzaga or Arizona-type team twice.
Steedman: Michigan landed a huge upset over Tennessee, but them making it to the next weekend seems highly unlikely. Even if they can find a way to upset Villanova, they’ll likely face Arizona in the Elite Eight. It’s going to be a tough road for Michigan to advance and considering their issues shooting from three, it won’t be a surprise if Villanova wins on Thursday.
Purdue drew a highly favorable run to start the Tournament, surprisingly because their bracket was loaded before all of the upsets. Now, they just need a win over Saint Peter’s to reach the Elite Eight where they would face either a North Carolina team they already beat or a UCLA team that looks more beatable this year than last. If Purdue plays like they did to open the season, or if Ivey continues to take over games, they can compete with everyone remaining in the Tournament.
7. Any other thoughts? Anything you’re specifically excited for this week?
Beindit: This time of year is always special, but the bracket really broke well this year. I like all the Sweet 16 matchups on deck. You get a blueblood meeting between UCLA and North Carolina in the East, Arizona and Houston in the South, and the double-digit seeds in Miami (FL) and Iowa State in the Midwest. And that’s on top of the two Big Ten matchups we’ve already been discussing. You can’t ask for more of a mix than that.
Knight: It will be interesting to see if Saint Peter’s bid ends against Purdue whether the head coach leaves for Seton Hall to replace Kevin Williams and continue the coaching carousel for another round. Also, that UCLA-North Carolina game should be one of the more exciting ones, though I also look forward to seeing whether Duke can overcome the stifling defense of the Red Raiders. That game likely won’t be the most exciting offensive game in the mix, but it should be a good one nonetheless.
Hodes: First off, I can’t wait for the Midwest region, because I’m going to the games in Chicago! While this isn’t the most stacked region, it will be my first March Madness experience and I’m excited to see Providence/Kansas and the Cinderella matchup of Iowa State/Miami.
Other than that, I’m very interested in the Arizona/Houston matchup. These are two teams I think are capable of winning a title, and in fact, I’ll call my shot right now: the winner of this game moves on all the way to the championship game.
Steedman: Purdue should be in the Elite Eight and then I’ll get to stress over if they can get over the hump this year or not. So, is it exciting? Sure, but also not good for my anxiety. My brackets are also in the top 100 and 99 percentile on ESPN, so hopefully those will continue to hold up as well.