Narratives have been exposed, top teams taken down and a once down-trodden Big Ten basketball conference now has the chance to make big noise in the 2017 NCAA tournament.
It was all in a weekend’s work for three of the seven Big Ten teams in the NCAA tournament this past weekend.
As the second weekend of the tournament stands before us the Big Ten, along with the Pac-12 and the SEC are the only conferences with three teams in to the Sweet Sixteen. Not the supposedly top ACC, nor the Big East either.
Yet, of those three teams at most two can make it out of the second weekend. After all, Michigan and Purdue are both in the Midwest regional and wins on Thursday night would pit them against each other for a berth in the Final Four.
Wisconsin joins the two Midwest regional teams, hoping to make it out of the East regional in New York City this weekend too.
However nice the stories of those three teams have been, can any of them really make the first weekend’s magic go a few more rounds?
A lot of that will come down to the matchups, but that is where a lot of the good news comes. Wisconsin matches up well with No. 4 seed Florida, while Michigan gets a Ducks team still high from a late-game win over Rhode Island in the Round of 32.
Purdue, well, as a No. 4 seed, they will get a high-powered Kansas team that handled anything Michigan State could throw at them in the last round.
CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander took the task of re-seeding the Sweet 16 and not a single one of the B1G teams ranked higher than Purdue at No. 10. Still, expecting the Boilermakers to move on on Thursday seems like a stretch.
After all, Kansas has two national player of the year candidates on its roster and is a No. 1 seed for a reason. However, this could be a really dangerous game for the Jayhawks thanks to the things that Purdue does well.
First off, Purdue is one of the few teams that can match the perimeter fire power that Kansas brings to the table. The Boilermakers comes in to this weekend as the sixth-best three-point shooting team in the country.
Want a good way to slow down a run-and-gun team? Start working the shot clock and nailing triples like they are going out of style.
There’s also Purdue’s defensive style. It isn’t one necessarily about funneling to the rim and using its two big men to pester close shots. Instead, it dares teams to hit mid-range jumpers and stay out of the lane all together. That game plan should sound familiar to Kansas fans, and it should be frustrating, because Fred Hoiberg’s Iowa State teams used it to perfection time and again against the Jayhawks while he was with the Cyclones.
There’s also the issue of Purdue’s lack of ability to turn opponents over. If you don’t turn up the pressure on KU, they will kill you on the offensive end of the floor.
Of course, all of this highlights the biggest weakness in Purdue winning this game — it’s inability to play well on either end in transition. The Boilermakers aren’t exactly full of players who improvise and get things done on their own.
Betting on the Boilermakers to execute the game plan to complete perfection is not something I’m willing to do. In fact, of the three teams left from the B1G, Purdue has perhaps the worst route to a Final Four appearance (now watch Purdue make me eat my words).
That brings us to the other game in Kansas City on Thursday night — one that features two teams that love to score in bunches and do it with flare. Oregon and Michigan look similar on the stat sheet, especially as of late.
If there is a player who can go toe-to-toe with Michigan’s miracle man, Derrick Walton Jr., it is Oregon guard Tyler Dorsey. He has scored 20-plus points in the last five games alone. He’s also the one who got the Ducks in to the Sweet Sixteen, nailing a late three-pointer that ended up winning the game against Rhode Island in the Round of 32 this past weekend.
Michigan wasn’t just a one-trick pony though, as Moritz Wagner and Zak Irvin have come along for the ride in the NCAA tournament.
Oregon was nearly sent packing in both of its first two NCAA tournament games, in large part because it has been forced to find a new identity on the fly (pun intended). That’s what happens when you are reeling from the loss of 6-10 forward Chris Boucher.
Without him, the middle of the Ducks defensive effort has been missing. That’s good news for Michigan, especially after seeing Wagner and Co. abuse Louisville down low in their Round of 32 matchup on Sunday.
Seeing the magical run of Michigan end against Oregon is far less likely of the two games at the Sprint Center.
The good news is I could also see the Wolverines be a much more difficult matchup for Kansas to handle than Purdue. Michigan simply is better at handling transition situations on both ends of the court and have the individual brilliance to get the job done when needed.
Out of the Midwest regional, bet on Michigan to be the one to make it if a B1G team does do it.
That leaves the chances for Wisconsin, and arguably no Big Ten team has a better path to the Final Four than Wisconsin does. It’s matchup against Florida is advantageous, although not quite on the level of advantage that the Villanova matchup was.
As talkingBadgers pointed out earlier this week, Vanderbilt’s three wins this season provide a very familiar blueprint to a Wisconsin victory. Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ present matchup nightmares and a red-hot Bronson Koenig should scare anyone in the NCAA tournament these days.
Hayes, Koenig, Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter have also made it to the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth straight year — a feat no team in college basketball outside of Madison, Wis. can claim.
Betting against that experience isn’t wise, neither is betting against a clutch player like Koenig if the game is close.
Get beyond the Gators in the Sweet Sixteen and there’s a date with the winner of Baylor-South Carolina. Not exactly the dangers of Duke or SMU as many expected to happen. Seeing Baylor would give me more pause than seeing South Carolina at this point, just given the nature of how the teams play the game.
Still, if Michigan is the miracle team, Wisconsin is the team of destiny at this point and I’m not one to mess with a good thing while it is happening. As long as the version of Wisconsin we have seen for the last two weeks shows up and not the one that was around in early February, UW is a great bet to head to another Final Four.
So if you are asking me to pick a team, and I sense that you are…give me Michigan and give me Wisconsin to make it two teams in the Final Four from the “down” Big Ten.
That’s not the homer in me speaking either, that is just my gut reacting to what is and could be in front of each team over the course of this weekend. If true, an extra weekend of Big Ten basketball on our television sets never hurt anyone.