Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, March 16, 2016
There are seven Big Ten teams in the NCAA tourney. Michigan is the first to take the plunge, tipping off tonight in a First Four in clash with fellow No. 11 seed Tulsa. What is the best-case scenario in the Big Dance for the Wolverines? I tell you that, as well as my predicted scenario for each Big Ten squad in the NCAA tourney.
This is what makes picking a bracket so much fun. Everybody's right until we're all wrong.
Best-case scenario: Indiana?s first-round foe is as dangerous as any Big Ten squad?s, as Chattanooga has a traditionally strong program. And the Mocs are especially strong-and confident–with a school single-season record 29 wins. Still, the Hoosiers should slide by. Then, a tilt with rival Kentucky looms. UK is feeling feisty coming off an SEC tourney title but only being a No. 4 seed. John Calipari?s team feels like it has something to prove. Can Indiana handle the Wildcats? This potential showdown in the second round between college basketball royalty has many jacked. And it should. They last met in 2012 and haven?t since, as the parties can?t agree on venues. This is a series between bluebloods that began in 1924 has been played 55 times and is full of vitriol. Let?s say Indiana slips by Kentucky, then a date with No. 1 North Carolina would be on tap. Don?t see IU winning that Sweet 16 clash.
Road ends: Sweet 16 loss to No. 1 North Carolina
Best-case scenario: Iowa most likely will win the opener vs. No. 10 Temple. Next figures to be a tilt with No. 2 Villanova, a Big East power that at one time looked ticketed for a No. 1 seed. Iowa tussled with Nova in 2013-14 regular season, falling in OT. If the teams meet in the second round, the Hawkeyes may be able to keep it close, thanks for four senior starters. But point man Mike Gesell will need to play well. Still, Iowa?s ride should end here.
Road ends: Second-round loss to No. 2 Villanova
Best-case scenario: Maryland should ease by South Dakota State in the first round. Then, a likely game with No. 4 Cal looms. The Golden Bears have NBA first-round talent in Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, projected by most to be top 10 picks. Cal is the best defensive team in the Pac-12 and has a veteran backcourt in Jabari Bird, Tyrone Wallace and Jordan Mathews to go along with Brown and Rabb. Add it all but, and that may be too much for the underachieving Terrapins to overcome. Even if Maryland gets by the Bears, it figures to encounter No. 1 Kansas in the Sweet 16. And, that?s where the Terps? March ride figures to end.
Road ends: Sweet 16 loss to No. 1 Kansas
Best-case scenario: Pundits spent Sunday night picking on Tulsa for its inclusion in the field, as the Golden Hurricanes were the last team under the velvet rope and have a resume with some holes. Regardless, Tulsa is here playing the Wolverines in a play-in game. And, it?s beatable, as is it showed in falling to Memphis two times recently. That would set up Michigan with a tilt vs. No. 6 Notre Dame in Brooklyn on Friday. And this is an Irish club that lost to the likes of Florida State and Georgia Tech of late while get smoked by North Carolina in the ACC tourney. Win that, and a likely date vs. John Beilein?s former school, No. 3 West Virginia, looms. And, that?s exactly where Michigan?s party will end.
Road ends: Second-round loss to No. 3 West Virginia
Best-case scenario: It?s Final Four or bust for Michigan State, which is playing as well as any team in the nation. The Spartans? first three foes figure to be little more than speed bumps along the road to Houston and the Final Four. First up is Middle Tennessee, which won?t know what hit it. Then, a game with Dayton or Syracuse will be next. No prob. Next up would be a Sweet 16 game, most likely vs. Utah. That would set up a likely Elite Eight game vs. No. 2 Virginia, which has been dispatched from the last two NCAA tourneys by Michigan State. Once in the Final Four, the Spartans just may win it all, most likely needing first to beat No. 1 North Carolina and then No. 1 Kansas in the title game, a team Michigan State beat earlier this season.
Road ends: With a national championship
Best-case scenario: Purdue has a good shot to reach the Sweet 16. The Boilermakers should overwhelm Little Rock with their size. Next likely would come a second-round game vs. No. 4 Iowa State, which is beatable. The Cyclones are a balanced squad with lots of offensive explosion, featuring seven players who average at least 10 points in the uber-competitive Big 12. However, Iowa State is without senior guard Naz Mitrou-Long, out since mid-December with hip injuries. Senior forward Georges Niang is a stud, averaging nearly 20 points and 6.2 rebounds. The balanced attack Iowa State paced the Big 12 in scoring, averaging 81.8 points, but it also gives up the most in the conference at 75.0 ppg. Look for Purdue to slip past the Cyclones and succumb in a close loss to No. 1 Virginia in the Sweet 16.
Road ends: Sweet 16 loss to No. 1 Virginia
Best-case scenario: The Badgers should be able to push past Pitt in the first round. That would set up a likely meeting with No. 2 Xavier. Do the Badgers have enough to get by the Musketeers, who at one time looked poised to be a No. 1 seed? Not likely. Xavier finished second in the Big East.
Road ends: Second-round loss to No. 2 Xavier
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