Big Ten In The Big Dance

As expected, the Big Ten got seven teams into the NCAA Tournament.

Indiana (with Cody Zeller), Ohio State (with Deshaun Thomas), Michigan State (with Keith Appling), Wisconsin (with Traevon Jackson) and Michigan (with Trey Burke) are all set for the NCAA Tournament

Tournament action gets under way tonight with the First Four games from Dayton. Big Ten schools will open play Thursday with Michigan and Michigan State in action. Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio State and Minnesota will play their tournament openers on Friday.

Many analysts are predicting one or more Big Ten teams to reach the Final Four, set for April 6-8 in Atlanta. The last Big Ten team to win a national championship was Michigan State 13 years ago in 2000. At least one Big Ten team has made the Final Four in four of the last six seasons.

Below, we look how the teams got here and where they may end up.

Indiana

* Record: 27-6 overall, 14-4 Big Ten (first)

* Seed: No. 1 seed East Region

* Poll Rankings: Fourth in the AP poll and the USA Today coaches poll.

* Computer Rankings: Seventh in RPI and second in Sagarin.

* Opening Weekend Games: Indiana plays the winner of the 16th-seed game between LIU Brooklyn (20-13) and James Madison (20-14) at 4:15 p.m. on Friday at Dayton on TBS. With a win, Indiana would play the winner of No. 8 seed N.C. State (24-10) and No. 9 seed Temple (23-9) on Sunday. The East Region is March 28-30 in Washington, D.C.

* Big Ten Tournament Finish: Top-seeded Indiana defeated No. 8 seed Illinois 80-64 before losing to No. 4 seed Wisconsin 68-56 in the semis.

* NCAA History: This is Indiana’s 37th NCAA appearance. IU has been to eight Final Fours and won five national championships. IU’s all-time tournament record is 62-31.

* Three To Watch: 7-0 F Cody Zeller (17.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg), 6-5 G Victor Oladipo (13.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg), 6-9 F Christian Watford (12.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg).

* What We Think: Indiana was ranked No. 1 nationally at various parts of the season. But the Hoosiers sputtered down the stretch with a 3-3 finish. The Big Ten tournament loss to Wisconsin probably cost IU the No. 1 overall seed and a spot in the Midwest Region, which Big East champion Louisville took instead.

IU coach Tom Crean, who took Marquette to the Final Four, has to like his team’s draw. Assuming a second-round win, the Hoosiers could be tested in the third round against N.C. State or Temple. A match-up with Syracuse or UNLV looms in the regional semifinal. Miami (Fla.), Marquette and Butler (which beat IU during the regular season) would possibly be there in a regional final.

Anything less than a Final Four would probably be a disappointment. I think the Hoosiers get there. A powerhouse semifinal game against South No. 1 seed Kansas would be quite a spectacle.

Ohio State

* Record: 26-7 overall, 13-5 Big Ten (tied for second)

* Seed: No. 2 seed in West Region

* Poll Rankings: Seventh in AP poll and sixth in coaches poll.

* Computer Rankings: 10th in RPI and fifth in Sagarin.

* Opening Weekend Games: Ohio State opens against Iona (20-13) at 7:15 p.m. Friday in Dayton on CBS. With a win, OSU would advance to play the winner of No. 7 Notre Dame (25-9) and No. 10 Iowa State (22-11) on Sunday. The West Regional is set for March 28-30 in Los Angeles.

* Big Ten Tournament Finish: No. 2 seed Ohio State won the tournament for a record fifth time and third time in four years. The Buckeyes defeated No. 10 seed Nebraska 71-50 in the quarters, No. 3 seed Michigan State 61-58 in the semis and No. 4 seed Wisconsin 50-43 in the title game.

* NCAA History: This is OSU’s 29th NCAA appearance. OSU has been to 11 Final Fours and won one national championship. OSU’s all-time tournament record is 51-27.

* Three To Watch: 6-7 F Deshaun Thomas (19.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg), 6-2 G Aaron Craft (9.6 ppg, 4.6 apg), 6-7 F Sam Thompson (7.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg).

* What We Think: Ohio State is as hot as any team in the country with eight wins to wrap the regular season, including three in Chicago at the Big Ten tournament this past weekend. Other than being relegated to the West Region, OSU coach Thad Matta (two Final Four berths) has to like his draw. None of the region’s top five seed – other than his team – has any kind of a strong NCAA pedigree.

Assuming a win over Iona, OSU could be challenged by Notre Dame or Iowa State in the third round. New Mexico and Arizona would loom in a regional semi. A match-up with Arizona would pit Matta against his former assistant Sean Miller. Gonzaga, Kansas State and Wisconsin could all be there for the regional final.

I also think Ohio State will be Final Four bound. Possible national semifinal opponents could include Louisville, Duke or even Michigan State.

Michigan State

* Record: 25-8 overall, 13-5 Big Ten (tied for second)

* Seed: No. 3 seed in Midwest Region.

* Poll Rankings: Ninth in AP poll and ninth in coaches poll.

* Computer Rankings: Eighth in RPI and eighth in Sagarin.

* Opening Weekend Games: MSU plays No. 14 seed Valparaiso (26-7) at 12:15 p.m. Thursday at Auburn Hills, Mich., on CBS. With a win, MSU would play the winner of No. 6 Memphis (30-4) and the play-in game between No. 11 seeds Middle Tennessee (28-5) and Saint Mary (27-6) on Saturday. The Midwest Region is March 29-31 in Indianapolis.

* Big Ten Tournament Finish: No. 3 seed Michigan State defeated No. 6 seed Iowa 59-56 before losing to No. 2 seed Ohio State 61-58 in the semis.

* NCAA History: This is MSU’s 27th NCAA appearance. MSU has been to eight Final Fours (including 2009 and 2010) and won two national championships. MSU’s all-time tournament record is 54-25.

* Three To Watch: 6-1 G Keith Appling (13.5 ppg, 3.7 apg), 6-4 G Gary Harris (13.2 ppg), 6-9 F Derrick Nix (9.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg).

* What We Think: MSU coach Tom Izzo has six Final Fours and a national title to his credit. MSU, making its 16th consecutive NCAA appearance, did falter with four losses in its last seven games -- a skid that probably cost the Spartans a projected two seed.

And, although MSU’s travel (Auburn Hills then Indianapolis) won’t be bad, the road to the Final Four is fairly treacherous. If MSU gets by Valpo in the second round, its third-round opponent would have at least 27 wins and could be, by then, 31-win Memphis. Regional opponents could include Duke in the semis and Louisville or St. Louis in the title game. That’s pretty rough.

I think Michigan State gets to the Sweet 16, but I can’t see the Spartans getting much past Duke if the Blue Devils make it to Indy.

Michigan

* Record: 26-7 overall, 12-6 Big Ten (tied for fourth)

* Seed: No. 4 seed in South Region.

* Poll Rankings: Tenth in AP poll and 11th in coaches poll.

* Computer Rankings: 21st in RPI and 11th in Sagarin.

* Opening Weekend Games: Michigan plays No. 13 seed South Dakota State (25-9) at 7:15 p.m. Thursday at Auburn Hills, Mich., on CBS. With a win, Michigan would play the winner of No. 5 VCU (26-8) and No. 12 Akron (26-6) on Saturday. The South Region is March 29-31 in Arlington, Texas.

* Big Ten Tournament Finish: Playing as the No. 5 seed, Michigan defeated Penn State 83-66 in the opening round before losing to No. 4 seed Wisconsin 68-59 in the quarterfinals.

* NCAA History: This is Michigan’s 24th NCAA appearance. UM has been to six Final Fours and won one national championship. Michigan’s all-time tournament record is 43-22.

* Three To Watch: 6-0 G Trey Burke (19.2 ppg, 6.7 apg), 6-6 G Tim Hardaway Jr. (14.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg), 6-6 G Nik Stauskas (11.9 ppg).

* What We Think: Michigan was ranked No. 1 for the first time in over 20 years in late January. The last 12 games, though, saw the Wolverines end the year 6-6, including a loss at Big Ten last-place Penn State.

The late slide dropped Michigan two spots from a predicted two seed to a four seed and will make it much tougher on the Wolverines to get to the Final Four. Still, Michigan’s 26 wins were the program’s most since 1992-93, when the Wolverines went to the Final Four.

The third-round match-up, likely against VCU, will be a real test. Top-seeded Kansas would be a real stumbling block in the regional semis, but it could be a great game if UM’s shots are falling. Florida and Georgetown would be tough regional final opponents.

This could be the end of the line for three UM underclassmen who could be NBA first-round picks (Burke, Hardaway and freshman Glenn Robinson III). Michigan fans are hoping it will be a long and prosperous NCAA run. I can see Sweet 16. It would take a big upset to get much past that, though.

Wisconsin

* Record: 23-11 overall, 12-6 Big Ten (tied for fourth)

* Seed: No. 5 seed in West Region.

* Poll Rankings: 18th in AP poll and 17th in coaches poll.

* Computer Rankings: 31st in RPI and 12th in Sagarin.

* Opening Weekend Games: Wisconsin plays No. 12 seed Mississippi (26-8) at 12:40 p.m. Friday at Kansas City on tru TV. With a win, Wisconsin would play the winner of No. 4 Kansas State (27-7) and the play-in game between No. 13 seeds Boise State (21-10) and LaSalle (21-9) on Sunday. The West Region is March 28-30 in Los Angeles.

* Big Ten Tournament Finish: No. 4 seed Wisconsin defeated No. 5 seed Michigan 68-59 in the quarterfinals and No. 1 seed Indiana 68-56 in the semis before losing to No. 2 seed Ohio State 50-43 in the title game.

* NCAA History: This is Wisconsin’s 19th NCAA appearance. Wisconsin has been to two Final Fours and won one national championship. Wisconsin’s all-time tournament record is 25-17.

* Three To Watch: 6-1 G Ben Brust (11.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg), 6-6 F Ryan Evans (10.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg), 6-10 C Jared Berggren (11.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg).

* What We Think: Wisconsin’s defensive prowess will make the Badgers a tough opponent for anybody they face. The Badgers boast two wins over No. 1 seed Indiana as well as two over No. 4 seed Michigan. They go into The Big Dance for the 12th time in as many seasons under coach Bo Ryan.

The whole key for Wisconsin is whether its shots are falling. If they are, the Badgers could advance to the Sweet 16 or even the Elite Eight.

The Badgers’ tourney opener against Ole Miss and high scoring guard Marshall Henderson (19.7 ppg) should be fun to watch. Fourth-seeded Kansas State could be there in the third round – and in Kansas City, no less. I like the Badgers and their toughness to win at least two games, though. If UW can get out to Los Angeles, top-seeded Gonzaga could be there in the semis. A fourth match-up with Ohio State could loom in the regional final.

I think the Badgers get out to the Sweet 16. But if Gonzaga is there for the regional final, that would be it.

Illinois

* Record: 22-12 overall, 8-10 Big Ten (tied for seventh)

* Seed: No. 7 seed in East Region.

* Poll Rankings: Unranked.

* Computer Rankings: 40th in RPI and 44th in Sagarin.

* Opening Weekend Games: Illinois opens against No. 10 seed Colorado (21-11) at 4:40 p.m. Friday at Austin, Texas, on TNT. With a win, Illinois would play the winner of No. 2 seed Miami (Fla.) (27-6) and No. 15 seed Pacific (22-12) on Sunday. The East Region is March 28-30 in Washington, D.C.

* Big Ten Tournament Finish: No. 8 seed Illinois defeated No. 9 seed Minnesota 51-49 in the opening round before losing to No. 1 seed Indiana 80-64 in the quarterfinals.

* NCAA History: This is Illinois’ 30th NCAA appearance. Illinois has been to five Final Fours. Illinois’ all-time tournament record is 39-30.

* Three To Watch: 6-4 G Brandon Paul (16.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg), 6-3 G D.J. Richardson (12.4 ppg), 6-1 G Tracy Abrams (10.6 ppg, 3.3 apg).

* What We Think: Illinois lost four of its last six games – three of them to top-four NCAA seeds away from home. But there are some quality wins there with victories over two No. 1 seeds (at Gonzaga and home with Indiana) and a No. 2 (Ohio State).

You just never know what you’re going to get out of Illinois. First-year coach John Groce led Ohio U. to back-to-back NCAA bids and a Sweet 16 appearance last year, so he knows the drill. If the threes are falling, Illinois can put a scare in anybody.

The second-round game with Colorado would be considered a toss-up. A third-round game against No. 2 seed Miami (Fla.) would probably be it for the Illini.

Minnesota

* Record: 20-12 overall, 8-10 Big Ten (tied for seventh).

* Seed: No. 11 seed in the South Region.

* Poll Rankings: Unranked.

* Computer Rankings: 34th in RPI and 30th in Sagarin.

* Opening Weekend Games: Minnesota opens play against No. 6 seed UCLA (25-9) at 9:57 p.m. Friday in Austin, Texas, on tru TV. With a win, Minnesota would play the winner of No. 3 seed Florida (26-7) and No. 14 seed Northwestern State (23-8) on Sunday. The South Region is set for March 29-31 in Arlington, Texas.

* Big Ten Tournament Finish: No. 9 seed Minnesota lost to No. 8 seed Illinois 51-49 in an opening round game.

* NCAA History: This is Minnesota’s 12th NCAA appearance. Minnesota has been to one Final Four. Minnesota’s all-time tournament record is 12-11.

* Three To Watch: 6-1 G Andre Hollins (13.9 ppg, 3.5 apg), 6-7 F Rodney Williams (10.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg), 6-8 F Trevor Mbakwe (10.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg).

* What We Think: Minnesota’s season is neatly divided into two halves. The Gophers won 15 of their first 16 games before going 5-11 down the stretch. Minnesota has lost three in a row (at Nebraska, at Purdue and a 51-49 heartbreaker to Illinois in the Big Ten tournament) and seven of its last 10. Whatever the opposite of momentum is that’s what Minnesota has now.

The Gophers are capable, though. They did beat then-No. 1 Indiana in Minneapolis on Feb. 26 (77-73). Minnesota drew Pac-12 regular season champion UCLA in the second round. The Bruins have played well down the stretch, but have been spotty for coach Ben Howland since going to three straight Final Fours between 2006-08.

Some think Minnesota will get past UCLA and move on to a possible third-round game with Florida. I just can’t get past how bad Minnesota has been down the stretch. One-and-done for the Gophers.

Summing Up

So that’s Ohio State and Indiana to the Final Four, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin to the Sweet 16, Illinois losing to Miami in the third round and UCLA over Minnesota in the second round.

Maybe the Buckeyes or Hoosiers will bring home the national championship. It would be awesome to see them playing each other -- or any two Big Ten teams against each other -- in the title game set for April 8 at the Georgia Dome. These are my picks, we will see how it goes starting Thursday.

Other Tournaments

Iowa (21-12) was selected for the NIT. The Hawkeyes host Indiana State (18-14) Wednesday at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.

Purdue (15-17) was selected for the College Basketball Invitational. The Boilermakers host Western Illinois (22-8) at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

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