The 2023 NCAA Tournament tipped off on Thursday and fans got to enjoy five games featuring Big Ten teams. All told, three advanced and two fell short.
Let’s take a look at what happened.
Game of the Night:
-No. 8 Maryland Terrapins 67, No. 9 West Virginia Mountaineers 65
After a year hiatus from the postseason, Maryland entered an eight seed in this year’s field, thanks in part to the team’s domination at home. The Terps only lost one home game all season, which came against UCLA in December. It was an impressive run and made many fans hopeful about the team’s chances against West Virginia.
The game itself would prove highly competitive. The Mountaineers roared out of the gates and jumped to a 19-6 lead at one point. However, Maryland gradually ate away at the lead as the first half closed. The two teams then exchanged blows in the second half until the closing minutes when Maryland narrowly escaped with a win.
Oddly, Maryland didn’t really have a star in this one. Jahmir Young had a quiet night, with just 10 points and an 81 offensive rating. However, three other Terps scored in double-digits, including 15 points from Hakim Hart and 17 points from Julian Reese. It was a team effort.
Maryland improved to 22-12 overall and will now advance to the Round of 32 for the third straight time when the Terps have made the Big Dance. The Terps will face off against an absolutely loaded Alabama team on Saturday night. The Tide are the top overall seed in the bracket and ranked third nationally on KenPom. Needless to say, Maryland will have its work cut out to make the program’s first Sweet 16 since 2016.
-No. 8 Arkansas Razorbacks 73, No. 9 Illinois Fighting Illini 63
Despite earning an NCAA bid, it’s been a bit of a frustrating effort for Illinois this season. The team’s overall and conference record were respectable enough, but the Illini just always seemed a step or two away from being a truly great unit. The team’s biggest issue has been its play against its toughest competition.
Fans were hoping that would change on Thursday.
Unfortunately, Illinois fell flat once again.
While Illinois made things interesting in portions of the second half, Arkansas jumped out to an early lead and controlled this one from tip. Illinois was never in position to win after the opening minutes and spent much of the second half down double-digits. Illinois’ offense was held to a dreadful 0.81 points per possession.
The loss ends Illinois’ season at 20-13 overall. It will go down as a relatively forgettable season in Champaign, particularly given the level of play the last three years. This was a decent unit, but nothing more. All eyes will now turn to the offseason, where the program will almost certainly have to replace multiple starters.
-No. 9 Auburn Tigers 83, No. 8 Iowa Hawkeyes 75
After the last few letdowns in the NCAA Tournament, Hawkeye fans were hoping Iowa would overachieve this time and make some noise. Unfortunately, that didn’t end up being the case, as Iowa fell short against a feisty Auburn team on Thursday evening. Iowa made it interesting for the final 10 minutes, but couldn’t make up for its early missteps as its loaded offense was held to just 1.06 points per possession.
The loss ends Iowa’s season at 19-14 overall. And like Illinois’ season above, this will be a generally forgettable season in Iowa City. The team had a solid performance and some noteworthy wins, but was several steps removed from elite play. The blown opportunities against Ohio State and Auburn in the postseason will also sting, as Iowa had decent odds to win both games before tip, but fell short.
-No. 7 Northwestern Wildcats 75, No. 10 Boise State Broncos 67
The Wildcats made their second trip to the NCAA Tournament in program history this week and opened up things against Boise State on Thursday. While the game was competitive for most of the evening, Northwestern pulled away in the closing minutes and scored a massive win to advance to the Round of 32.
Boo Buie was the star of the show, finishing with 22 points, five assists, and five rebounds. Other players who also scored double-digits were Chase Audige, Brooks Barnhizer, and Ty Berry. It was a fantastic offensive effort as Northwestern finished with 1.25 points per possession against a solid Boise State defensive unit.
Northwestern improved to 22-11 overall and will now prepare to face off against UCLA on Saturday evening. The Bruins are a two seed and got plenty of discussion for a one seed, so expect the Wildcats to have their work cut out. However, Northwestern has shown plenty of potential for knocking off top teams, as it did with Indiana and Purdue earlier this season, so perhaps the Wildcats can get some magic going.
-No. 10 Penn State Nittany Lions 76, No. 7 Texas A&M Aggies 59
The Nittany Lions made their return to the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night for the first time since 2011 and performed well, scoring a convincing win over Texas A&M to advance to the Round of 32. Penn State led by double-digits for large portions of the game and Andrew Funk finished with 27 points and four rebounds. Texas A&M had absolutely no answer for Penn State’s offense, as it allowed the Nittany Lions to score 1.29 points per possession.
Penn State improved to 23-13 with the win and will now prepare for a matchup against Texas on Saturday night. The Longhorns are a two seed and widely considered one of the best teams in the country, even without former head coach Chris Beard. Penn State will have a major challenge on its hands to get past Saturday.