Dienhart: Big Ten and NCAA tourney ... A-Z

The NCAA tourney begins on Tuesday with four first-round games. Iowa will take part in the opening round, as it battles fellow No. 11 seed Tennessee. The other five Big Ten teams will wait until Thursday or Friday to take the lid off NCAA tournament play. Here’s an A-Z took at the Big Ten and the Big Dance.

[ MORE: View the official interactive NCAA bracket ]

A is for Adreian Payne. The Michigan State big fella needs to play like a lottery pick if the Spartans want to cut down the nets. Few players possess his combination of inside-outside skills. Time to shine.

B is for bubble. Minnesota knows all about that after having its burst in the Big Ten tourney, where it needed to win two games but took just one. That’s why the Gophers are in the NIT for the second time in three years. Minnesota was NIT runner-up in 2012.

C is for Creighton. The Blue Jays could be the third-round foe of Nebraska. How great would it be to have the state rivals clash in the NCAA tourney?

D is for Dangerous. The Illinois will be dangerous in the NIT. Earlier this season, the Fighting Illini lost eight Big Ten games in a row. The season looked lost. Now, John Groce has his team playing well, going 5-2 to finish the season and coming oh-so-close to beating Michigan in the Big Ten tourney. Beware the Illini.

E is for Expectations. They are big for Michigan State. This was the AP preseason No. 2 team in the nation. But injuries ruined chemistry during the season, as the Spartans went 12-6 in league play to finish in third place. MSU limped to the Big Tourney having gone 5-7 in its last 12 games. Now, the Spartans are the pick of many to reach the Final Four even though they are a No. 4 seed.

F is for Final Four. Every player who has played four years under Tom Izzo has reach the national semifinals. That streak will end if Michigan State fails to reach the Final Four this season.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

G is for Guards. That’s what the Big Dance is all about. Ask any coach. Forget about the big men. The team with the best guard play typically advances. Which Big Ten team has the best guards? I like the units at Michigan, MSU and Wisconsin.

H is for Hoosiers. Indiana is sitting back in Bloomington with no basketballs to bounce. Tom Crean’s season is done a year after his program was outright Big Ten champ and a No. 1 NCAA seed.

I is for Iowa. The Hawkeyes are in a first-round game—or as I like to call a “play-in” game—on Wednesday vs. Tennessee. This is the Hawkeyes’ first NCAA trip since 2006. The program hasn’t won a game since 2001. But there doesn’t seem like much to celebrate with the team going 1-6 down the stretch.

J is for Jerry’s World. This is the unofficial name of AT&T Stadium in north Texas, home of the Final Four. Will any Big Ten teams make it? Gotta like the chances of Michigan, Wisconsin and Michigan State.

[ MORE: Read all of our NCAA tourney coverage ]

K is for Kaminsky, as in Frank Kaminsky. The All-Big Ten first-teamer is one of the nation’s most underrated and improved players. Kaminsky averaged 4.2 points and 1.8 rebounds in 2012-13. This season, the Wisconsin big man averaged 13.6, 6.4. He will be a key to the Badgers’ hope of reaching the Final Four for the first time since 2000.

L is for Long-range, as in long-range shooting. This is Nik Stauskas’ specialty. The Big Ten Player of the Year is a force from beyond the arc. The Canadian marksman shoots 44.9 percent from three-point range, averaging 17.9 points. But he also can work deftly off the dribble. Stauskas must play big if Michigan wants to win it all for the first time since 1989.

M is for Midwest. It’s widely considered the most daunting region. Check it out: No. 1 Wichita State, No. 3 Duke, No. 4 Louisville and No. 8 Kentucky. It’s also home to No. 2 Michigan and No. 11 Iowa. Swallow hard.

N is for Nebrasketball, the hoop sensation that’s sweeping the nation. The team with the halftime Tweeting coach is in the Big Dance for the first time since 1998. Back then, Miles was head coach at some school called “Southwest Minnesota State.”

O is for Ohio State. The Buckeyes have a fun meeting with in-state foe Dayton in the Round of 64. This is the third time that the Buckeyes have met an in-state opponent in the Big Dance in the last eight years, playing Cincinnati in 2012 and Xavier in 2007.

P is for Penn State. Indiana may have turned its nose up at the CBI, but not the Nittany Lions. Hey, it’s all about growing as a program. And that means practicing and playing.

Q is for LaQuinton Ross. Ross has become a go-to guy for Ohio State down the stretch. The 6-8 junior has scored 19 or more points in each of the last six games. He was dominating in the Big Ten tourney, scoring 19 points with 15 rebounds vs. Purdue; 26 points with 13 rebounds vs. Nebraska; 19 points and six rebounds vs. Michigan.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

R is for Runner-up. Michigan was the national runner-up last season. The Wolverines surprised by making it all the way to the national title game, where they lost to Louisville. Can Michigan make it back to the summit?

S is for Spartans. Tom Izzo’s program is the last Big Ten school to win a national championship, turning the trick in 2000 with Mateen Cleaves leading the way. That was 14 years ago, people.

T is for Two, as in No. 2 seeds. That’s the numbers of No. 2 seeds the Big Ten has in Michigan and Wisconsin.

U is for Up. This presumably is the only direction for Purdue to go after a last-place finish. Matt Painter has gone 15-17 in each of the last two seasons. And the roster remains a turnstile.

V is for Virginia. The Cavaliers are the No. 1 seed that stands in No. 4 seed Michigan State’s path to the Final Four in the East Region. The teams could meet in the Sweet 16.

W is for Wisconsin. The Badgers may have the “easiest” path to the Final Four of any Big Ten team. The Badgers are a No. 2 in the West, where they open with No. 15 American. After that, the highest seeds in the way are No. 7 Oregon, No. 3 Creighton and No. 1 Arizona.

[ MORE: Watch your coach talk about NCAA berth ]

X is for X-factor. And there is one on each Big Ten team in the Big Dance. Michigan’s is Zak Irvin; Michigan State’s is Branden Dawson; Wisconsin’s is Frank Kaminsky; Ohio State’s is Sam Thompson; Nebraska’s is Walter Pitchford; Iowa’s is Jarrod Uthoff.

Y is for Young. This is what Wisconsin is. The only seniors on the Badgers’ roster are Ben Brust and Zach Bohannon. What’s it mean? This could be your Big Ten favorite next season and a preseason Top 5 team. This March experience will be a big bonus.

Z is for Zip, as in Zero. That’s how many NCAA trips Northwestern has. But you have to like the direction of the program under Chris Collins.

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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5 Comments

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Ryan on 3/18/2014 @ 2:14pm EDT Said:

Y IS FOR YOUNG…Don’t forget how young the Huskers are! The only two seniors are Ray Gallegos and Mike Peltz who are both role players (at best). Beyond that, David Rivers and Leslie Smith are Juniors with everyone else being So’s or Fr’s. Depending on the tourney results, they could just have moved from the bottom of the league preseason 2013 to close to the top preseason 2014!

Ryan on 3/18/2014 @ 2:50pm EDT Said:

Michigan is much younger than Wisconsin

Ryan on 3/18/2014 @ 2:53pm EDT Said:

I look at GR3 as Michigan’s X-factor. He can single handedly take over a game, but also disappears for long stretches. Michigan needs him to be aggressive if they want to make another deep run. Especially with the path they have in front of them.

Doug on 3/18/2014 @ 4:03pm EDT Said:

C is for Canada – Hail Nik Stauskas

oh, and for Ryan – the youngest team in the B1G is the best – Michigan. Been documented all year.

Nick on 3/19/2014 @ 1:31pm EDT Said:

Msu would face Virginia in the sweet 16 not elite 8.