Big Ten stars in action-packed tourney games

There were big shots (Aaron Craft), heartache (Illinois), disappointment (Wisconsin) and jubilation (Indiana) all wrapped into one massive second- and third-round of the NCAA tourney.

The Big Ten landed seven teams in the Big Dance—and four survived to play in the Sweet 16—No. 1 Indiana, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Michigan State, No. 4 Michigan. No other league has as many teams, further validation of the Big Ten’s prowess as the conference pursues its first national crown since 1999-2000 when Michigan State cut down the nets. But before we jump ahead to a Sweet 16, let’s look back at what just happened from Thursday to Sunday.

Top player: How about Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas? The junior scored 24 points vs. Iona and 22 vs. Iowa State, hitting a combined 16-of-26 shots and 5-of-7 3-pointers for a total of 46 points. Thomas also had eight total rebounds. The game is the epitome of a franchise, the ultimate scorer.

All-First Weekend Team

Honorable mention to Ohio State guard Aaron Craft (11 ppg, 6.5 apg, 4 spg), Illinois guard Brandon Paul (17.5 ppg, 4 rpg, 2 apg, 2 spg) and Indiana guard Victor Oladipo (13.5 ppg, 7 rpg, 2 apg).

Best game: Ohio State’s 78-75 victory over No. 10 Iowa State on Sunday was the top game involving a Big Ten team. It was a back-and-forth affair that was filled with drama, big shots and lead changes—along with a touch of controversy over a charging call that Aaron Craft drew late to set up his buzzer-beating winning trey. OSU is in the Sweet 16 for a fourth season in a row.

Best shot: Without a doubt, it was Aaron Craft’s bomb from beyond 3-point range with the final few seconds of the game clocking bleeding away in a tie game vs. No. 10 Iowa State on Sunday. Craft’s prayer was answered to propel the Buckeyes to a fourth consecutive Sweet 16. Moments early, Craft had missed a potential game-winning shot but got a second chance after the Cyclones fumbled the rebound out of bounds.

Key injury: Keith Appling left Michigan State’s win over No. 6 Memphis in the second half with a shoulder injury. He eventually returned to the bench but didn’t play. The junior point man has had shoulder issues in the past. Appling must be healthy and productive for the Spartans to keep marching.

Also, Indiana guard Jordan Hulls hurt a shoulder vs. No. 9 Temple on Sunday, leaving the court for a while but ultimately returning to the contest with a protective device on. Will he be OK for a Hoosiers program that’s in consecutive Sweet 16s for the first time since 1993-94?

Best pick: Michigan’s Mitch McGary obliterated poor VCU’s Briante Weber with a stone-wall pick at the top of the key in the first half of the Wolverines’ romp over the No. 5 Rams. Weber remained on the floor for an extended stretch, trying to regain his senses after being rocked by the 6-10, 250-pound Michigan freshman big man.

Most impressive team: Michigan looked awesome in dispatching No. 13 South Dakota State on Thursday, 71-56, and then blasting No. 5 VCU, 78-53. Michigan State also looked good in whipping No. 14 Valparaiso, 65-54, and then No. 6 Memphis, 70-48. It was a great few days for the state of Michigan, as both Michigan and Michigan State are in the Sweet 16 together for the first time ever.

Most disappointing team: Wisconsin. The No. 5 seed Badgers flopped in a first-round loss to No. 12 Ole Miss, falling 57-46. Rebels star Marshall Henderson notched 19 points to sink Wisconsin. It was the first time the Badgers had lost their opening NCAA game since 2006, a string of six appearances in succession. Wisconsin hit just 15-of-59 shots–7-of-30 from beyond the arc—to finish 23-12.

Ranking the Sweet 16 matchups:

1. No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 1 Kansas. This game is loaded with athletes. The size of the Jayhawks could pose issues for a perimeter-oriented Wolverines squad. Michigan guards Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Glenn Robinson III will need to shoot well. And Michigan must find a way to defend the interior.

2. No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Duke. Two of the nation’s blue-blood programs will square off. It’s happened just twice in the NCAA tourney, as the teams split their games.

3. No. 1 Indiana vs. No. 4 Syracuse. The Hoosiers don’t see many zones in the Big Ten. And the ones they did see were nothing like the zone the Orange rolls out. How will Indiana handle the length and athletic ability of Syracuse? No doubt, Hoosiers freshman guard Yogi Ferrell will need to improve on his zero-point effort vs. Temple on Sunday. This is a rematch of the 1987 title game that IU won.

4. No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 6 Arizona. Defense is the hallmark of this Buckeyes team, which has won 10 in a row. And they will need to turn up the heat vs. a talented Wildcats squad. Deshaun Thomas must continue to pour in 20 points.

Team most likely to advance to the Final Four: Ohio State. The Buckeyes are playing in a West Region that has been decimated. No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 3 New Mexico, No. 4 Kansas State and No. 5 Wisconsin all have been dumped. If the Buckeyes don’t get back to the Final Four for a second straight season, it will be a surprise. To get to Atlanta, OSU must beat a No. 6 seed (Arizona) and a No. 9 (Wichita State) or No. 13 (LaSalle) seed.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Ben on 3/25/2013 @ 7:47pm EDT Said:

Just saying~michigan is a 4 seed and you put them in as a 3 seed. Other than that it was a great post keep it up i love your writing.

Delmar Jones on 3/26/2013 @ 9:14pm EDT Said:

They are in the conference that everybody said was the best and they preform like it . As for your All-First week team you should had six, how can you leave Craft out? Outside of that you’ve done a great job,keep it up