First Look: What's Ahead in the NCAA Tourney

After four days of Big Ten basketball in Indianapolis, six Big Ten men’s teams move on to the NCAA tournament. Michigan State lands the No. 1 seed in the West and plays Long Island University (Friday, 9:20 p.m. ET), while Ohio State is the No. 2 seed in East and faces Loyola (Md.) (Thursday, 9:50 p.m.). Wisconsin scored a No. 4 seed in East and plays Montana (Thursday, 2:10 p.m.), and Michigan gets a No. 4 seed and plays Ohio University (Friday, 7:20 p.m.)

The state of Indiana gets both teams in as Purdue is the No. 10 seed in the Midwest facing St. Mary’s (Friday, 7:27 p.m.) while Indiana is the No. 4 seed in the South and faces New Mexico State (Thursday, 9:45 p.m.). Use the full interactive bracket at NCAA.com for TV info or print one out here, then read this post for my initial quick look at the Big Ten schools as well as healthy dose of BTN video previewing the Big Ten tournament teams, too.

Toughest path: Michigan State and Ohio State. The East and West appear to be the most arduous regions. So, that’s not good news for Michigan State (West) and Ohio State (East).

The No. 1 Spartans have No. 2 Missouri and No. 3 Marquette in their region. And even No. 4 Louisville is formidable and hot after winning the Big East tournament. That means to get to Tom Izzo’s seventh Final Four, Michigan State may have to walk through a Mizzou squad that very easily could have been a No. 1 seed. Not a very good spot for a team that played the second toughest schedule in the nation and won a share of the Big Ten regular-season title and the tourney crown.

The No. 2 Buckeyes shouldn’t have an issue getting to the Sweet 16 with teams like Loyola (Md.), Gonzaga, West Virginia, St. Bonaventure, Florida State, Cincinnati and Texas on their side of the bracket in the East. The problem is on the other side, where No. 1 Syracuse would stand between the Buckeyes’ and a trip to the Final Four in New Orleans.

Easiest path: No. 4 Indiana. Most analysts feel the South is the easiest region. And that’s good news for the Hoosiers, who head to beautiful Portland to play New Mexico State. Still, Indiana is in the same bracket there with No. 1 Kentucky. Then again, the Hoosiers already beat the Wildcats, who are coming off a loss in the SEC tourney. Duke is the No. 2 seed in this region—and this isn’t a vintage Blue Devil team. Baylor, the No. 3 seed, flopped in almost every big game it had this year in the Big 12.

The Midwest also isn’t too daunting. But I’m not sure that will be much comfort to Michigan or Purdue. No. 1 North Carolina, No. 2 Kansas and No. 3 Georgetown look impressive and will be big hurdles for both the Wolverines and Boilermakers.

Hot team: No. 1 Michigan State. You have to like the mojo the Spartans are bringing to the Big Dance. The Spartans lost their final two regular-season games (at Indiana; Ohio State) before rebounding with three victories in a row in the league tourney to win the event for the first time since 2000.

Cold team: Michigan. I just don’t like the way the Wolverines are entering the Big Dance, coming off a 77-55 shellacking at the hands of Ohio State in the semifinals of the Big Ten tourney. And Michigan needed overtime to dispatch Minnesota in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tourney. Has this team already played is best basketball?

Over seeded: I don’t think any Big Ten is seeded higher than it deserves. The conference was deemed by the ratings system to be the best in the nation. So, getting five teams with bids in the Nos. 1-4 range seems fair.

Under seeded: No. 4 Michigan. The Wolverines have a RPI of 10 and won a share of the Big Ten regular-season crown. Didn’t that merit more than a No. 4 seed and being placed in the same side of the Midwest bracket with No. 1 North Carolina?

Most likely to get upset the first in the first game: No. 4 Michigan. The Bobcats are a No. 13 seed, but they won the MAC tourney over Akron and have a star player in D.J. Cooper. Walter Offutt and Ivo Baltic also are strong players for an Ohio club that is riding a four-game winning streak and has won eight of nine. Be careful, Wolverines.

Most likely to not see the Sweet 16: No. 10 Purdue. The Boilermakers take on a good No. 7 seed in St. Mary’s. Purdue is riding a 13-game winning streak in the opening round of the Big Dance. And the last time the Boilers were a No. 10 seed, they knocked off No. 7 Texas and No. 2 Miami (Fla.) in 1999 to reach the Sweet 16. Still, the Boilers will be hard-pressed to see the Sweet 16 for a third time under Matt Painter. Even if they beat St. Mary’s, Purdue would have to knock off No. 2 seed and Big 12 regular-season champ Kansas in the next game.

Most likely to advance to the Final Four: Michigan State. Yes, the Spartans are in a tough region out West, but the Spartans appear to be motivated—and they are hot. The likely hurdles for the Spartans, according to seeds: No. 16 Long Island University; No. 8 Memphis; No. 4 Louisville; No. 2 Missouri. Doable? Of course. A trip to the title game may mean beating No. 1 Kentucky in New Orleans.

Best opening round matchup: No. 7 St. Mary’s vs. No. 10 Purdue. Meet the new Gonzaga. The Gaels are a force out West, as this will be their second NCAA appearance in three years. The last time in the Big Dance, St. Mary’s advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2010 where it lost to Baylor. The Boilers will have their hands full trying to guard Matthew Dellavedova, who won West Coast Conference player of the year accolades for a St. Mary’s squad that won the regular-season and tourney titles this season.

Best potential second-round matchup: No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 5 Wichita State. I love this potential game pitting Shockers coach Gregg Marshall vs. Hoosiers coach Tom Crean. Wichita State won the MVC regular season before falling in the league tourney. Indiana big man Cody Zeller would battle Wichita State 7-footer Garrett Stutz. And Joe Ragland is a good guard for the Shockers. Also, No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 5 Vanderbilt would be fun, as the Commodores are rolling coming off an SEC tourney title victory over mighty Kentucky.

Best potential Sweet 16 matchup: No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 4 Louisville. Tom Izzo vs. Rick Pitino. It doesn’t get much better than that, does it? Of course not. And each team is hot, winning its league tourney. Each team was in the Final Four in 2005 but didn’t play each other. Other potential Sweet 16 meetings with intrigue are No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 4 Indiana; No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Florida State; No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 1 North Carolina, which would rekindle the infamous Chris Webber “timeout” game from the 1993 Final Four. Sorry to remind you, Michigan fans.

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart’s work can be found at www.btn.com/tomdienhart, follow him on Twitter at @BTNTomDienhart, send a question to his weekly mailbag here, and click here to subscribe to his overall RSS feed.

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