Big Ten PG: How Sweet It Is!

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Leading their teams to the Sweet 16: Indiana's Cody Zeller, Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor, MSU's Draymond Green and OSU's Jared Sullinger

Hopefully, each week I’ll have a quick read on the Big Ten basketball scene as well as what’s happening in the nation at large. Most weeks this will appear on Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning.

The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament has come and gone and it was a big one for the Big Ten, the state of Ohio and the Midwest at-large.

The Big Ten got four teams to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1999 as Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana and Wisconsin all won their first two games to advance to their respective regional semifinals. Big Ten teams combined for a 9-2 record during the first weekend of the tournament. It would have been five Big Ten teams in the Sweet 16 had Purdue not fallen apart late against No. 2 seed Kansas in a Midwest Region third-round game.

The Big East also has four teams in the Sweet 16. The Big 12, the SEC and the ACC each have two in, while the MAC and the Atlantic-10 each have one.

The state of Ohio got four teams to the Sweet 16 becoming the first state to advance that many schools to the regional semifinals in the history of the NCAA Tournament. That group included Ohio State, Cincinnati, Ohio U. and Xavier. OSU and UC will play in a regional semi, meaning one of them will play for a spot in the Final Four next weekend in New Orleans.

And half of the Sweet 16 is from the Midwest with the four Ohio schools as well as Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin and Marquette. (Three other schools are from close to the region with Kentucky, Louisville and Kansas all advancing.)

Below we will look at how each of the Big Ten teams fared in the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament as well as what lies ahead.

Spartans Sidestep St. Louis To Reach Sweet 16

* First Weekend Results: Playing as the one seed in the West Region, MSU defeated 16 seed LIU-Brooklyn 89-67 and stopped No. 9 seed St. Louis 65-61 in Columbus.

* Sweet 16 Match-Up: MSU faces No. 4 seed Louisville in a West Region semifinal Thursday in Phoenix (7:47 p.m., TBS).

* The Skinny: Draymond Green lived up to his All-American status with a triple-double against LIU-Brooklyn (24 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) and a double-double in the win over St. Louis (16 points, 13 rebounds). Green dished to Keith Appling for the clinching three-pointer against SLU. Appling had 19 points in that win … MSU and Louisville met in a 2009 regional final with the Spartans pulling off the 64-52 win … MSU is on a roll with wins in 12 of its last 14 games and five in a row … MSU is going for its ninth Final Four and seventh in 17 years under coach Tom Izzo … A win over Louisville would set up a regional final against Marquette or Florida.

* Coach Izzo Says: “We spend a lot of time telling players that one free throw, one missed switch, one missed uncontested three, one missed cutout can mean the game. So I was just excited that we could have a moment when I could say, ‘Look, if that free throw didn’t go in, if that three that we had two times we were supposed to switch, we came out of a huddle and knew we were going to run this play, we didn’t do this and that. If certain things didn’t happen, we’re sitting here, Day Day and Austin (Thornton) and (Brandon) Wood and (Anthony) Ianni are done, you’re going to feel bad that we made that mistake. So let’s learn from it and try to figure out that the whole 40 minutes, (you) better be glued into what’s going on because one thing can change it.’”

* Helwagen Says: The weekend went about how you might have thought. St. Louis gave Michigan State a great run on Sunday. That should help prepare the Spartans for the road ahead. MSU upset Louisville in a regional final three years ago. Now the shoe is on the other foot. How will MSU cope with being the favorite this time around? I still think this MSU team moves on and makes it to the Final Four. Green, in particular, is on top of his game right now.

Buckeyes Bounce Gonzaga To Move On To Boston

* First Weekend Results: Playing as the two seed in the East, Ohio State defeated No. 15 seed Loyola (Md.) 78-59 and then stopped No. 7 seed Gonzaga 73-66 in Pittsburgh.

* Sweet 16 Match-Up: OSU faces No. 6 seed Cincinnati in an East Region semifinal Thursday in Boston (9:45 p.m., CBS).

* The Skinny: The Buckeyes got a pair of outstanding individual performances in the first weekend. Wing Deshaun Thomas had a career-high 31 points and 12 rebounds in the win over Loyola. OSU then gutted out the win against upset-minded Gonzaga with point guard Aaron Craft tallying 17 points and 10 assists in that win … The Buckeyes reached the Sweet 16 round for the fourth time in eight years under coach Thad Matta, although they have been upset by lower seeds the last two years in the regional finals … OSU and UC met in a regular season game in December 2006, won by OSU 72-50. That is the only meeting between the schools – just 100 miles apart – since UC took back-to-back national title game wins over OSU in 1961 and 1962 … A win over UC would set up a regional final against either Syracuse or Wisconsin … After a late-season swoon with a couple of home losses, OSU has won six of its last seven games going into the Sweet 16.

* Coach Matta Says: “We're playing in Boston next weekend. I think that's one of the big things. What is hard right now at this juncture of the season, for our guys, you know, I don't know what it is, it's now five games in (nine) days, with the Big Ten tournament. We haven't had a ton of time to sit down and say, ‘Hey, here's the things we got to do better.’ It's been like, ‘Hey, here is what Gonzaga is going to do, and here is how we have to counter it.’ I think we've done a decent job with that.”

* Helwagen Says: If Craft plays like he did against Gonzaga, Ohio State could go to the title game. Thomas is really on a downhill roll right now with two more big games in Pittsburgh. Jared Sullinger has been up-and-down and William Buford really hasn’t had a lot to write home about since his game-winning shot at Michigan State back on March 4. If they get these four cylinders all pumping at once, they will make the title game.

Indiana Rallies Past VCU, Earns Rematch With UK

* First Weekend Results: Playing as the four seed in the South, Indiana defeated No. 13 seed New Mexico State 79-66 and stopped No. 12 seed VCU 63-61 in Portland, Ore.

* Sweet 16 Match-Up: Indiana faces No. 1 seed Kentucky in a South Region semifinal Friday in Atlanta (9:45 p.m., CBS).

* The Skinny: Jordan Hulls had 22 points in the tourney opener against NMSU, which was IU’s first NCAA win in five years … Against VCU (an upstart Final Four team a year ago), the Hoosiers trailed by as many as nine points in the second half. But they held VCU to just four points in the final 12-1/2 minutes. Will Sheehey’s 15-foot jumper with 12.7 seconds left was the game winner and the Hoosiers then watched as a VCU three-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark. The Rams missed 13 of their last 15 shots, including their last eight three-point attempts. The win put Indiana in the Sweet 16 for the first time since it went to the national title game in 2002 … VCU coach Shaka Smart seems to be the guy to beat for the Illinois job … Next up is Kentucky, the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed. The Hoosiers dealt UK one of its two losses this season back on Dec. 10 as Christian Watford’s buzzer-beating three-pointer lifted IU to the improbable 73-72 win … If the Hoosiers can reprise their win over the Wildcats, they would play Baylor or Xavier for a spot in the Final Four … Indiana has won 10 of its last 12 games.

* Coach Crean Says: “These guys did a fantastic job. Everybody that played was playing with great intensity, on both sides, great intensity, great energy, great toughness. And we knew we were playing against a team that really cared about one another, and I think they'll see that they were playing against a team, in our group, that really cares about one another. And when you've got that kind of togetherness, a lot of amazing things can happen. That's what our year has been like and that's what this game was like.

* Helwagen Says: I had Indiana reaching the Sweet 16 and the Hoosiers did it even if the second game against VCU was less than impressive. Kentucky is the team to beat in the tournament, though. It may take (another) Herculean effort for IU to upset the Wildcats. But the Hoosiers at least take the floor knowing they can play with UK. What a great year this has been for Indiana, regardless of what happens this weekend.

Wisconsin Stop Vandy For Ryan’s Fifth Sweet 16 Bid

* First Weekend Results: Playing as the four seed in the East Region, Wisconsin crushed No. 13 seed Montana 73-49 and edged No. 5 seed Vanderbilt 60-57 in Albuquerque, N.M.

* Sweet 16 Match-Up: Wisconsin faces No. 1 seed Syracuse in an East Region semifinal Thursday in Boston (7:15 p.m., CBS).

* The Skinny: The Badgers bounced back big from a lopsided Big Ten tournament loss to Michigan State (65-52) to win their first two NCAA games, including a nut cruncher against SEC tournament champion Vanderbilt … Jordan Taylor had 14 points and hit a clutch three-pointer late to give UW the lead. The Badgers then watched as a potential game-tying three by Vandy was off the mark … This is their fifth Sweet 16 appearance for Bo Ryan … A win over Syracuse would put Wisconsin in position to play for its third all-time Final Four with a win over Ohio State or Cincinnati … The Badgers have won six of their last seven games.

* Coach Ryan Says: “I'm just so proud of the effort that our guys gave, as you can imagine. I just sat back there and listened to questions about the look that Vanderbilt got. They beat us at that opportunity. That was a wide open shot as we gave up the whole game. It just didn't happen to go down. We're the beneficiaries of maybe a play here or there. There were some loose balls, some 50‑50 balls, and we did get them, and that's a tribute to these guys.”

* Helwagen Says: After watching Wisconsin struggle in Indianapolis, I had written the Badgers off. Bo Ryan just showed me that is always a bad mistake. And, quite honestly, Wisconsin has the kind of team that could give Syracuse and its signature zone defense fits in the Sweet 16. They may need Jordan Taylor to make great decisions and play his best game of the year, though, to pull it off. Great season for Wisconsin, especially after the poor start in Big Ten play.

Boilers Blow Late Lead Against No. 2 Seed Kansas

* First Weekend Results: Playing as the No. 10 seed in the Midwest Region, Purdue defeated No. 7 seed St. Mary’s (Calif.) 72-69 and lost to No. 2 seed Kansas 63-60 in Omaha, Neb.

* The Skinny: Purdue led by as many as 11 under the final five minutes, but had to withstand a late charge to hold on against St. Mary’s. Terone Johnson had 21 points to lead Purdue to its 14th consecutive win in its NCAA opener ... The Boilermakers seemed destined to a Sweet 16 bid. They got out to an 8-0 lead and led for over 36 minutes before Kansas rallied at the end for the win. Purdue had a 60-59 lead when Lewis Jackson turned it over for a go-ahead Kansas layup with 30 seconds left. Robbie Hummel, who stood on his head with 26 points and nine rebounds in his last college game, missed a three-pointer in the final seconds … Purdue ended up 21-13 overall … Purdue loses Hummel, Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith to graduation. But Matt Painter has a nice class coming in, led by 7-0, 275-pound big man A.J. Hammons.

* Coach Painter Says: “I'm very proud of our guys, especially our seniors. I thought they were unbelievable this season. I thought they were unbelievable tonight. We talked about fightin' to get ourselves back in position like we were against Saint Mary's, and we did. We fought, we played better and we had some things go against us in the end, but Kansas capitalized. These seniors fought with everything in their power and helped us win in a first‑class fashion over the last four or five years.”

* Helwagen Says: Purdue led the whole way and I think I even thought for a moment that the Boilers were going to beat the Jayhawks and make it five Big Ten teams in the Sweet 16. Purdue had the ball and a one-point lead in the final minute, but not only failed to get a shot off but the Boilers gave up a run-out layup for the go-ahead score. Still, it was great to beat the West Coast champions St. Mary’s and put themselves in position to more than scare Kansas.

UM Coach Discovers Which School Truly Is Ohio

* First Weekend Results: Playing as the No. 4 seed in the Midwest, Michigan dropped its tournament opener to No. 13 seed Ohio U. 65-60 in Nashville, Tenn.

* The Skinny: Following UM football coach Brady Hoke’s lead, UM basketball coach John Beilein started referring to Ohio State as “Ohio.” Well, Beilein’s boys had their season ended with losses to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament and, ironically, Ohio U. in their NCAA opener … OU led most of the way. UM’s Trey Burke hit a three to cut the lead to 63-60 with 4:12 left. But UM missed its last five shots, four of them by Burke and could not pull it out … The Wolverines ended up 24-10 overall … Michigan loses shooting guards Zack Novak and Stu Douglass to graduation, but figures to build around the freshman point guard Burke as well as wing Tim Hardaway Jr. and big men Jordan Morgan and Evan Smotrycz. Beilein has 6-10 center Mitch McGary and wing Glenn Robinson Jr. signed for his 2012 class.

* Coach Beilein Says: “We obviously have a very disappointed locker room right now, but Ohio University, as you can see, is a very good team and they played a great game. They played a great game. And we forced us into really some turnovers that really got us down, and we had to make some shots that we normally do make. I'm not talking about 3-point shots. It was a tough loss for our guys, but it's a difficult way to end the season, but we did not lose to a team that wasn't worthy of this win today, they're a good team.”

* Helwagen Says: A tough end to a great season for Michigan. This was UM’s first Big Ten championship season in 26 years. By the end, though, there was simply too much standing around and hoping that the wunderkind freshman Burke made the play. Novak and Douglass, in particular, shrunk into the background. I’m sure Beilein hopes Burke and Hardaway come back to form a great backcourt tandem again next year. I’m not sure either is a first-round NBA pick right now.

Tending To Their NITting

The Big Ten sent three teams to the NIT.

Minnesota has advanced to the third round with wins over LaSalle (70-61) and Miami (Fla.) (78-60). A win at Middle Tennessee State Wednesday will put the Gophers (21-14) in the NIT final four next week in New York City. Rodney Williams led Minnesota with 21 points in both wins. Minnesota has reached the 20-win plateau in all five seasons under coach Tubby Smith.

Northwestern won its NIT opener against Akron 76-74, before falling at Washington 76-55. NU ended up 19-14 overall.

Iowa won its NIT opener against Dayton 84-75 before dropping a shootout at Oregon 108-97. Roy Devyn Marble led Iowa with 31 points, while freshman Aaron White had 22. Iowa ended up 18-17 overall.

My NCAA Tournament Picks

Well, at least I’m still breathing after the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. I only got eight of the Sweet 16 correct (ouch).The good news is my Final Four of Kentucky, Michigan State, Ohio State and Kansas is all still alive.

Here are my thoughts on the Sweet 16 and possible Elite Eight games this weekend:

Thursday’s Games

East Region in Boston

* Syracuse (33-2) vs. Wisconsin (26-9), 7:15 p.m. (CBS) – Syracuse’s zone may be missing Fab Melo in the middle, but the Orange were dominant in their third-round win over Kansas State. Of course, SU needed some favorable calls to get past 16th-seeded UNC-Asheville in the second round. Will the real Syracuse team stand up? My guess is this is a slow, deliberate game with the first team to 50 winning. Syracuse 58-53

* Ohio State (29-7) vs. Cincinnati (26-10), 9:45 p.m. (CBS) – UC has won nine of its last 11 games and comes in sky-high wanting to take instate rival OSU down a notch or two. OSU’s Deshaun Thomas has been on a roll and point guard Aaron Craft comes in off his best game yet. But UC brings great defense and a physical brand of basketball to the table. Ohio State 71-61

West Region in Phoenix

* Michigan State (29-7) vs. Louisville (28-9), 7:47 p.m. (TNT) – After a 2-4 late-season stretch, Louisville has won its last six games. This game matches the conference tournament champions from the Big Ten and the Big East. Louisville has six guys averaging between nine and 14 points. But MSU has Draymond Green. Michigan State 73-66

* Marquette (27-7) vs. Florida (25-10), 10:17 p.m. (TNT) – This ought to be one heck of a game. I have had my eye on Marquette all along. They just play with a toughness and grit that most teams simply don’t have. This is Florida’s skill against Marquette’s strength. Marquette 74-70

Friday’s Games

South Region in Atlanta

* Baylor (29-7) vs. Xavier (23-12), 7:15 p.m. (CBS) – Xavier is playing with house money as a No. 10 seed. Baylor reached the regional final two years ago. But it is Xavier’s turn. Xavier 67-64

* Kentucky (34-2) vs. Indiana (27-8), 9:45 p.m. (CBS) – Indiana pulled off the upset in the teams’ first meeting back in December. But Kentucky put on a clinic in its third-round win over Iowa State. Indiana will need to be on top of its game here. National player of the year Anthony Davis, just a freshman, will battle fellow frosh Cody Zeller in the middle. Kentucky 80-73

Midwest Region in St. Louis

* North Carolina (31-5) vs. Ohio U. (29-7), 7:47 p.m. (TBS) – UNC may be without point guard Kendall Marshall, who suffered a broken wrist in the third-round win over Creighton. With Harrison Barnes and Tyler Zeller, though, the Tar Heels have enough to get this one done. OU has won 10 of its last 11 games and reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since the NCAA field was expanded to 40 schools in 1979. John Groce can’t be long for Athens. North Carolina 84-72

* N.C. State (24-12) vs. Kansas (29-6), 10:17 p.m. (TBS) – N.C. State has reached its second Sweet 16 since 1989 (the other was in 2005) and they did it for first-year coach Mark Gottfried. That’s heady stuff for the 11th-seeded Wolfpack. But now comes No. 2 seed Kansas, which rallied late to beat Purdue and advance to its fifth Sweet 16 in six years. My guess is that scare spurs Kansas to a better performance here. Kansas 75-70

Saturday’s Games

Note: The regional finals will be at 4:15 and 6:45 p.m. on CBS. Exact game times will announced late Thursday. Here are my picks:

* East Region Final: Syracuse vs. Ohio State – It has been a great year for Syracuse in the face of all the off-the-court issues. But with Melo missing in the middle, I think Thomas and Jared Sullinger should be able to exploit some things in the paint against the zone. Ohio State 60-54

* West Regional Final: Michigan State vs. Marquette – Take your fists and pound them together. That’s what this game should look like. Two blue collar teams going head to head with a spot in the Final Four at stake. Michigan State 65-64

Sunday’s Games

Note: The regional finals will be at 2 and 4:30 p.m. on CBS. Exact game times will announced late Thursday. Here are my picks:

* South Region Final: Kentucky vs. Xavier – Kentucky just comes in waves. Xavier has had a great run. But all good things must come to an end. Kentucky 77-66

* Midwest Region Final: North Carolina vs. Kansas – The Marshall injury could impact this game. Would be great to see UNC’s Zeller up against Kansas’ Thomas Robinson. I’m giving Kansas, playing closer to home in St. Louis, the slightest edge. Kansas 79-77

I will pick the Final Four next week.

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