There wasn’t another sport more heralded than Big Ten basketball this spring. The conference couldn’t be criticized and the only question was how many teams would reach the Big Dance. Nine Big Ten programs reached the 2021 NCAA Tournament, and yet only one remains standing: the Michigan Wolverines.
Big Ten Basketball has been a Big Disappointment
With a tournament record of 7-8, March has certainly been maddening for Big Ten basketball. That record isn’t necessarily poor just from first glance. It’s a shade under .500, but in tournament terms, that means eight of the teams have already ended their respective seasons.
First Four/Round of 64
The first round wasn’t as bad as Ohio State made it look. The Buckeyes’ massive collapse against a strong Oral Roberts team stole the headlines. However, the Golden Eagles executed exactly what Ohio State was susceptible to on defense: 3-point shooting. Oral Roberts took 35 3-pointers and made 11 of them. They were also 77.8% from the foul line, and Ohio State was a dismal 50%. The game did come down to free throws in the end. Now, Oral Roberts is in the Sweet 16 against a very good Arkansas squad. It should be a dandy.
Purdue didn’t help the conference’s great name either. However, as covered in our South region preview, when the Boilermakers lose, they lose big. This wasn’t in regard to point differential, but rather the gap in seeding against a North Texas team they should have handled. The Mean Green shot 47.5% from the field and kept the giant bigs of the Boilermakers off the offensive glass. They also committed just eight turnovers and had 14 assists. North Texas played efficiently, and it earned them the upset.
Besides the veil the Buckeyes and Boilermakers draped over Big Ten basketball, the league was a quiet 6-3 in the First Four/Round of 64. Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan all took care of business, and Maryland, Rutgers, and Wisconsin busted few brackets with minor upsets. It appeared the conference was set to run through the East and Midwest regions, and Iowa was on pace for a rematch against Gonzaga in the West.
Then the second round happened.
Round of 32
First and foremost, Illinois losing to Loyola-Chicago was not that big of an upset. Perhaps the score, 71-58, was a tad more lopsided than expected, but the Ramblers are a quality team. In fact, Loyola-Chicago is 15-5 all-time in the NCAA Tournament which ties Duke for the best winning percentage (.750) in tournament history. Cameron Krutwig was virtually unstoppable for the Ramblers and Porter Moser’s game plan was perfect. Remember, Loyola-Chicago finished 17th in the AP Top 25 at the end of the regular season. Still, Illinois was No. 2, so there wasn’t much of an excuse for the Fighting Illini.
Wisconsin was outmatched against Baylor, Rutgers blew a huge lead and opportunity against Houston, and Maryland was doomed once Alabama caught fire from long range.
Iowa, like Illinois, was the victim of exceptional preparation from Oregon. Dana Altman took a page out of Bill Belichick’s book. He let the Hawkeyes’ star, Luka Garza, be exactly that, a star. Garza finished the game with 36 points and nine rebounds, which is fantastic. Unfortunately, three other Hawkeye starters finished with zero points. The Ducks allowed Garza to beat them because he probably would have anyway. They didn’t allow anyone else to produce, however.
Michigan was the lone team to advance, and now holds the whole weight of the conference on their figurative shoulders.
Can Michigan Save Big Ten Basketball?
Surprisingly, the Wolverines were the highest-seeded Big Ten team surrounded by the most uncertainty entering the tournament. Michigan lost star forward Isaiah Livers to a right foot injury during the conference tournament. Without his reliable production and senior leadership, there was a huge void to fill. Eli Brooks, Hunter Dickinson, and Franz Wagner combined for more than half of the Wolverines’ points against LSU, but it was Chaundee Brown who stepped up. Brown scored 21 points off the bench and was a huge difference in their tight Round of 32 matchup against the Tigers.
Now they have a much tougher opponent waiting in Florida State. The Seminoles score 78 points per game compared to Michigan’s 76.8 and the teams have a very similar shooting percentage. The game will be won on the defensive side of the court, and the edge clearly goes to Florida State. The Seminoles are only giving up 53.5 points per game this tournament while the Wolverines are allowing 72. Florida State is also averaging 7.3 steals per game.
We have seen crazier things, however. We don’t have to say it, but we will. It’s March Madness. Perhaps a shout out to the Wolverine women will ignite something in the men. Michigan advanced to the Sweet 16 in the Women’s Tournament yesterday with a convincing 70-55 win against Tennessee.
Actually, the Big Ten women are faring quite nicely as a whole after sending a record-setting seven schools to their tournament. The conference record is 7-2 and two teams, Michigan and Iowa, have already punched their tickets to the Sweet 16.
Things aren’t all that bad for Big Ten basketball, I guess.
Embed from Getty Images