A Sweet Saturday for 3 Big Ten teams

Ohio State, Wisconsin and Indiana came into Saturday looking to take the next step in the NCAA Tournament but all three had formidable challenges ahead of them. First off, the Buckeyes held off a very tough Gonzaga team before the Badgers battled Vanderbilt right down to the end to win. Finally, the Hoosiers got some late-game heroics from Will Sheehey and defeated VCU.

That means the Big Ten has advanced three teams to the Sweet Sixteen, with two more to play on Sunday. First up, No. 1 seed Michigan State faces and No. 9 seed St. Louis, then No. 10 seed Purdue plays No. 2 seed Kansas (TV info and times here). Have a look at Tom Dienhart’s Saturday recaps and come back Sunday for more breakdowns on the Big Ten games.

No. 2 Ohio State 73, No. 7 Gonzaga 66 | READ THE RECAP

Key player: Ohio State had four players score in double-figures, but point man Aaron Craft was most impressive. He tallied 17 points and also dished 10 assists. And the sophomore also played his typical great defense, which all was key for an Ohio State team that won despite losing the turnover battle (11-9) and being outrebounded (31-25).

Key number: 0, bench points for Ohio State. No matter, with Craft scoring 17, William Buford 13; Jared Sullinger 18; Deshaun Thomas 18. The game was tied 61-61 with 3:40 left, but the Buckeyes took over in the crunch time, outscoring Ohio State, 12-5, to claim victory.

What’s next: The Buckeyes will advance to the Sweet 16 for the third year in a row and the fourth time in the last five seasons. But the last two trips have ended with defeat in the first game of the Sweet 16. And last year’s 62-60 loss to Kentucky was especially galling for a Buckeye program that entered the Big Dance as the No. 1 overall seed. Ohio State will play the winner of the No. 3 Florida State-No. 6 Cincinnati game on Sunday. Win that, and Ohio State could end up meeting No. 1 Syracuse or Big Ten rival Wisconsin in the Elite Eight with a Final Four berth on the line. The Buckeyes last were in the Final Four in 2007, when they lost the national championship game to Florida on a team led by Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Daequan Cook, David Lighty and Ron Lewis.

No. 4 Wisconsin 60, No. 5 Vanderbilt 57 | READ THE RECAP

Key player: Ryan Evans had a good all-around game, notching 11 points, five rebounds (the last was a huge one in the closing moments) and four assists. The junior was one of five Badgers in double-figures, joining Mike Bruesewitz (10), Jared Berggren (12), Jordan Taylor (14) and Ben Brust (11). Vintage Badger balance and team work.

Key number: 3-of-13, shooting for Vanderbilt star John Jenkins. He finished with just 13 points in 33 minutes, missing a 3-pointer in the waning moments that would have given Vandy the lead. Credit the Badgers’ terrific defense for handcuffing the Commodores’ star player. That played a big role in Wisconsin pulling out the victory and advancing to the Sweet 16.

What’s next: Wisconsin is off to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row and third time five years. No. 1 Syracuse awaits the Badgers. The Orange haven’t looked overly impressive in dispatching UNC-Asheville and Kansas State. That, of course, has plenty to do with big man Fab Melo being declared ineligible just prior to the tourney, eliminating a key defensive presence in the middle. Wisconsin has to like this matchup, as it has a series of shooters who are equipped to launch shots over Syracuse’s vaunted zone defense. But can the Badgers handle Syracuse’s athletic ability? This will be a fun matchup. If Wisconsin wins, it may meet Ohio State in the Elite Eight for a spot in the Final Four.

No. 4 Indiana 63, No. 12 VCU 61 | READ THE RECAP

Key player: Cody Zeller. The big fella had another big game, tallying 16 points and 13 rebounds. VCU had no answer for the freshman sensation, who was one of just two Hoosiers in double figures (Christian Watford had 16 points). Zeller was a big reason why Indiana rallied from a 59-53 deficit with six minutes left to win, as a potential game-winning 3-pointer by VCU’s Rob Brandenberg rimmed out at the buzzer.

Key number: 32, Indiana’s rebounds, compared to just 20 for VCU. That dominance on the glass helped the Hoosiers overcome a season-high 22 turnovers forced by the Rams’ tenacious and pressing defense. Also, credit Indiana’s defense, as the Hoosiers’ held VCU to 40.4 percent shooting (23-of-57) and just 30 percent from 3-point range (9-of-30) in a game of contrasting halves. VCU held a 42-41 halftime edge but was outscored 22-19 in the second half.

What’s next: The Hoosiers are off to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2002, when Mike Davis took Indiana to the national title game where it lost to Maryland. Rival Kentucky is waiting. And, no doubt, UK will be out for revenge after losing in Bloomington on Dec. 10, 73-72, after Christian Watford nailed a game-winning shot in the waning moments to give the Wildcats’ their first loss of the season. The Hoosiers are hot and will be buoyed by the confidence of knowing they can beat Kentucky, which is the No. 1 overall seed in the tourney. But this uber-talented Wildcat team will be a formidable challenge with its athletic ability and size.

Tom Dienhart is a senior writer for BTN.com. Find Dienhart’s work 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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