With the Big Ten Tournament wrapping up on Sunday and the full reveal of the 2023 NCAA Tournament bracket coming just a few minutes later, it’s time to turn our focus away from the Big Ten season and onto the postseason. It’s that special time of year again.
But before we dive into the bracket and how things might shake out, let’s make sure to take a quick look at the bracket itself. Here it is below.
2023 NCAA Tournament Bracket:
Big Ten Seeding Situation:
- No. 1 - Purdue
- No. 4 - Indiana
- No. 7 - Michigan State
- No. 7 - Northwestern
- No. 8 - Iowa
- No. 8 - Maryland
- No. 9 - Illinois
- No. 10 - Penn State
1. The Big Ten continues to show up on Selection Sunday.
Over the last few months, the Big Ten has been maligned as a weak or overrated conference. National pundits have suggested the league has regressed and is no longer competing at the level it did even a few years ago. Even some within the conference have suggested things have soured.
But, despite all this talk, the Big Ten came through once again on Selection Sunday. The conference landed eight teams in the field (nearly matching last year’s total) and earned a one seed for the first time since the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Throw in a Hoosier squad that’s playing at a high level and things look even more impressive. In short, things haven’t been quite as bad as the national folks have suggested.
The only caveat to the performance that should be noted is how many of the teams landed as a seven seed or lower. Six of the Big Ten teams are looking at an uphill battle (at least from a seeding perspective) to get out of the first weekend, let alone move beyond that. Just look at teams like Illinois and Maryland, who had solid seasons, but are underdogs in their opening round games on KenPom. There’s a real possibility most (if not all) these teams are done by Sunday. That’s simply the unfortunate reality. We’ll see if the league can defy those expectations.
2. Rutgers should have made the cut.
Aside from the general performance of the league, the other major storyline was Rutgers’ exclusion from the field. Despite a 19-14 record and solid statistical rankings, the Selection Committee opted for other candidates. Here’s a look at what the Committee excluded:
Rutgers owns best victory in nation at Purdue, 10 wins against Q1-Q2 opponents. Battle-tested in Big Ten w/ 7 wins vs current field of 68. Have nations best defender (McConnell), nations best dunker (Omoruyi) and passer in conference (Mulcahy). defense is top 20 in every category https://t.co/K7ZUC5VdAq— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) March 12, 2023
Now, let’s put things into the proper perspective here. Despite what many often suggest, making the Tourney as an at-large isn’t an astronomical bar, particularly for teams in major conferences. Give or take, you basically need to win two-thirds of your games. This isn’t like the College Football Playoff, where a lackluster performance or two can knock you out. Every team that misses the Field of 68 had plenty of opportunities to make the cut.
For Rutgers, look no further than the losses to Temple, Nebraska, and Minnesota. Those are all teams Rutgers should have beaten but didn’t. Win even one of those three and the Scarlet Knights are dancing. Win two or three and this isn’t even a discussion. Rutgers has nobody to blame for those losses but itself.
The Scarlet Knights also played a painfully bad non-conference slate, ranking 342nd nationally on KenPom. It’s a strategy Rutgers has used to success in recent years under Steve Pikiell, but probably needs to abandon now that the program has found its footing. Simply put, playing teams like Bucknell, Central Connecticut, Coppin State, and Rider simply does nothing for your resume. Rutgers needs to do a better job of scheduling the teams a tier higher in the NET. We’re not talking about a drastic change. Just schedule MAC teams instead of Patriot League squads. Fans would be surprised how much it adds up.
With all of that said, Rutgers still should have made the field. The Scarlet Knights had done enough and had the numbers to get there. By in large, it appears the Committee decided to hold Mawot Mag’s injury against the squad, which is disgustingly weak. You have to feel for the Scarlet Knight fans on this one. The team should have made it.
3. Purdue’s path looks intriguing.
The Boilermakers’ path this season has been a bit unusual. Generally speaking, Purdue has been superb. The team is 29-5 overall and earned a one seed. Those are incredible accomplishments. However, Purdue’s perception nationally has shifted significantly. The team was overlooked in the preseason, vastly overachieved out of the gates, fell flat in February, but bounced back to win the Big Ten Tournament. Depending on when fans checked in, their views of Purdue could differ drastically.
However, regardless of the path, Purdue now finds itself as a one seed in the East Region with a relatively unintimidating path. Yes, that probably seems like “last words” to Boilermaker fans tortured in the Tourney in recent years, but look at the other teams in this Region. Most of the prime contenders have had similar struggles. Three of the other highest seeded teams in the Region (Marquette, Tennessee, and Kentucky) also have coaches who have vastly underachieved in the Tourney in recent years.
A favorable looking Region guarantees little. Even look to this weekend, where Purdue will likely face a top 25 KenPom squad in the Round of 32. A game against Memphis or Florida Atlantic won’t be easy. However, from a general perspective, getting a Region without a buzz saw should be considered a break. And there isn’t an obvious one standing in Purdue’s way to making the Final Four.
4. The Hoosiers could make a decent run.
Like Purdue above, Indiana also has what projects to be a manageable path moving forward. The Hoosiers open against a mediocre Kent State team on Friday and then project to face Miami (FL) in the Round of 32. The Hurricanes are a formidable opponent, but only finished 40th on KenPom. Additionally, while Miami (FL) went 9-2 down the stretch, virtually all of its success came against middling ACC opponents. Miami (FL) also isn’t even a big favorite to make it out of the First Round, barely projecting as a favorite against Drake.
Things would certainly get tougher from there for Indiana, as the Hoosiers almost certainly would have to get through a loaded Houston team in the Sweet 16 to keep advancing. But getting such a favorable path to the Sweet 16 itself is notable. Add in a Texas squad sitting as a two seed in the Region and things look even more favorable. Of course, the Longhorns are still without their coach as Chris Beard was dismissed earlier this season. It’s rare for a squad with that much turmoil to be seeded so highly. All told, that’s about as good of a set of circumstances as you can ask for as a four seed.
5. Things will be a challenge for everybody else.
As noted above, every Big Ten team in the field outside of Indiana and Purdue will have their work cut out to escape the opening weekend of the Big Dance. To put things in perspective, here are the six remaining teams and their opening round odds, per KenPom:
- No. 7 - Michigan State (53%)
- No. 7 - Northwestern (45%)
- No. 8 - Iowa (45%)
- No. 8 - Maryland (48%)
- No. 9 - Illinois (44%)
- No. 10 - Penn State (42%)
Obviously, that’s not an encouraging list. Those odds suggest five of the six will go down in the opening Round and the only team who’s projected to move on (Michigan State) is only a narrow favorite and expected to be a sizable underdog in the Round of 32 if it advances. Even if there are some surprises, it’s unlikely any of these teams make the Sweet 16. It’ll take some madness to get there. The good news is it’s that time of year.