Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
It’s time to reach into my mailbag and answer your pressing questions. Lots of good questions this week, as usual. Yes, spring football is heating up. But with March Madness here, hoops are on your mind. So, let’s start there.
The Spartans were too big, too athletic, too strong and just plain too good for the Crusaders in this second-round game. In fact, the final score is deceiving. This game wasn’t that close. Michigan State played one of its most complete games of the season, being especially dominating on the glass as it aims for a seventh Final Four appearance under Tom Izzo.
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
Welcome to one of the greatest days on the sports calendar! Where to begin? How about here, with Ohio State, one of my Final Four picks? When you think of Ohio State’s sprint to the NCAA tourney, ripping off eight victories in a row, you think of an offense that has featured a steadier stream of contributors around Deshaun Thomas. But defense has been the catalyst. And one of the biggest defensive sparks has been provided by Shannon Scott.
As if you needed any more reasons to celebrate the full-fledged start of the greatest spectacle in sports, here are 64 more—in no particular order—on why the NCAA Tournament is without peer. Why not 68? Because I don’t like the play-in games.
Strength of schedule figures to be a big component of the criteria used to determine who will play in the coming four-team playoff in 2014. To that end, Wisconsin’s 2015 slate will get a big boost from having a game with Alabama on its slate.
On the eve of the NCAA tournament, hope spring eternal for every team. Get hot, rip off six victories in a row, and you will be national champion.
Tom Crean and the Hoosiers didn’t get the No. 1 spot in the Midwest—and the chance to play the second weekend of the tourney in Indianapolis that came along with it–but they are No. 1 in the East and open in nearby Dayton, Ohio. All in all, it’s not a terrible draw, especially when one looks at the loaded field in the Midwest. However, Indiana is only 3-3 in its last six games.
Illinois is a tough team to read. On any given night, John Groce’s club is capable of beating any team, evidenced by signature wins over Butler, Gonzaga, Indiana and Ohio State. Then, on other nights, they look like they can lose to just about any team. Which Illinois team will show up when the tourney tips off? That’s the question.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
It has become an annual spring rite: President Obama filling out a NCAA bracket. And he has two Big Ten teams in his Final Four: Ohio State and Indiana. There is no better place to start daily links on the eve of the NCAA tournament.
It looks like we are getting closer to divisional realignment in the Big Ten in anticipation of Maryland and Rutgers joining in 2014, according to an ESPN.com report. The big remaining question: Will Indiana or Purdue have to play in the West Division?
The Buckeyes are one of the hottest teams in the nation, winning eight in a row en route to capturing the Big Ten tourney title.
What’s the best part of the NCAA tournament? It’s the upsets. They are what we remember from year to year.
Many are picking the No. 11 seed Gophers to knock off No. 6 UCLA in the first round of their South Region clash. Yes, Minnesota is in a funk, losing three in a row and seven of 10. But this still is a talented, athletic and physical team that’s capable of big things with players like Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins, Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe, among others.
Bracket makers didn’t do Michigan State any favors, putting it in the Midwest Region—which most experts feel is the toughest with No. 1 overall seed Louisville sitting atop it. That said, the Spartans get to play the first weekend in Auburn Hills, Mich., and if they advance to the second weekend, they play in Indianapolis.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Michigan guard Trey Burke is focused on the here and now, trying to net his first NCAA tourney win after the Wolverines were dumped in the first round of the Big Dance last season by Ohio. But Burke was asked where he’ll be playing next year. His answer: “I don’t know.” Let’s kick off daily links right there.
This team has a legit shot to advance to the Final Four and cut down the nets. It also has a shot to get dumped in its second game by the winner of the No. 5 VCU-No. 12 Akron game. Get by the first two games—including the opener vs. No. 13 South Dakota State–and No. 1 Kansas may be lurking in the Sweet 16 of this tough South Region.
Wisconsin may be under-seeded as a No. 5, but it could be pushed by No. 12 Ole Miss and Marshall Henderson in the opener. The Rebels are hot, coming off the SEC tourney title. This team can score. But good defense typically trumps good offense. And no one does defense like the Badgers.
The dust has settled after a fast and furious Selection Sunday. Do you have your bracket filled out? If not, there’s time. Until then, check out what some of the Big Ten’s leading pundits are scribbling about.
The NCAA bracket features seven Big Ten teams and that’s no shock to anyone following the conference. And the Big Ten’s power was reflected in four teams being seeded No. 4 or higher—No. 1 Indiana; No. 2 Ohio State; No. 3 Michigan State; No. 4 Michigan. Wisconsin just missed as a No. 5 seed.
And then there were two. No. 2 Ohio State and No. 4 Wisconsin will meet in the Big Ten tourney title game at 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday. The Buckeyes advanced to their fifth consecutive title game by topping No. 3 Michigan State, while the Badgers eliminated No. 1 Indiana.
The Badgers slowed down the prolific Indiana attack, keeping the Hoosiers under 60 points. And this was an Indiana squad that came in averaging 80.8 points in all games. Wisconsin did a great job denying entry passes to the post and rarely offered open looks from 3-point range. Bottom line: It was a textbook Wisconsin victory. You see, this is why Bo Ryan was the Big Ten coach of the year. And, that’s 12 wins in a row for Wisconsin over Indiana.
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Bill Carmody hasn’t gotten Northwestern to the NCAA tournament in 13 seasons on the job. And, he won’t get a 14th try. Today, the school announced Carmody won’t be back. I’m sure it was a difficult decision. But, it was the correct decision.
After a bruising and thrilling two days of basketball, the four top-seeded teams advance to Saturday’s semifinals of the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament. No. 1 seed Indiana faces No. 4 seed Wisconsin, and No. 2 seed Ohio State faces No. 3 seed Michigan State.
The Spartans had lots of chances to fold but never did. They came out sluggish and fell behind quickly, ending the first half trailing, 30-20. Wait, it got worse. With 10:55 left in the game, Iowa had pushed its lead to 12 points, 45-33. That’s when the Spartans went to work, chipping away and refusing to buckle.
The Buckeyes needed a few punches in the nose to wake up. Once aroused, Ohio State took it to Nebraska. The Buckeyes shot a robust 59 percent, showing great marksmanship from beyond the arc in nailing 52 percent (9-of-17). The Huskers looked tentative after a good first 10 minutes, committing 15 turnovers. And Ohio State scored 21 points off of those turnovers to go along with 13 fast break points. Add it all up, and you can see why Ohio State won by 21 points.