This. Is. March.
The Big Ten tournament came to a close on Sunday with #2 Illinois beating #5 Ohio State in an OT thriller, 91-88.
The Buckeyes were led by Duane Washington jr.’s game-high 32, while Andre Curbelo, Kofi Cockburn, and Ayo Dosunmu each had 16 for the Illini. Even though the Big Ten tournament was dope, the real fun begins this week. For the first time since 2019, we’re getting the best event in all of sports: March Madness.
Fortunately for us Big Ten fans, we are extremely well represented in this year’s dance. Nine of the fourteen teams in the conference heard their names called on Selection Sunday. This broke the previous conference record of eight teams in the tournament, set in 2019. It’s just the 5th time in history that a conference has had nine or more of its teams go dancing.
The Big Ten was unreal this season, and being the most well-represented conference in March Madness is a testament to that. No Big Ten team has won the tournament since Michigan St. in 2000. Could this be the year the drought ends? Let’s go through all the teams with a chance.
#1 Seeds: Michigan (East Region), Illinois (Midwest)
Even after their tough loss to Ohio State on Saturday, Michigan still profiles as one of the best teams in the country. A key for them will be whether or not senior forward Isaiah Livers will be available. Livers, the team’s second-leading scorer, re-aggravated a stress fracture in his foot this week. His availability for the tournament is questionable. The Wolverines play Saturday, where they’ll take on the winner of Thursday’s Mount St. Mary’s/Texas Southern play-in game.
The Illini are rolling right now. Conference champions who cruised to victories over Rutgers and Iowa before defeating OSU in overtime in the championship game. Dosunmu hasn’t skipped a beat since returning from his broken nose, Cockburn has been dominant, and Curbelo is really coming into his own. Illinois is a very legitimate title threat, and that’ll start when they take on Drexel at 1:15 PM Friday.
#2 Seeds: Ohio State (South), Iowa (West)
Ohio State has been playing great basketball. They’ll need Washington to continue scoring the ball well, and EJ Liddell to eat down low in order to make a run. Fortunately for them, both of those things are very possible. Look for the Buckeyes to get to an Elite Eight or Final Four. That begins at 3 PM Friday against Oral Roberts.
Likely Player of the Year Luka Garza didn’t play his best against Illinois on Saturday, but the good news is this: he won’t have to face Illinois again until a potential championship matchup. If Garza does his thing and the Hawkeyes shoot well, I can easily see them making a deep tournament run. I do think their region is stacked, with Gonzaga, Oregon, Kansas, and UVA all looming as potential opponents. Garza will try and lead his team to the Final Four, starting with a game against Grand Canyon on Friday.
#4 Seed: Purdue (South)
Purdue was a hot basketball team, winning five straight before being eliminated by Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament on Friday. They’ll try to pick back up against North Texas Friday night at 7:25. If the Boilermakers are gonna make a push in this tournament, they’ll need Trevion Williams to be the dude we saw drop 26 on Friday.
#9 Seed: Wisconsin (South)
The Badgers come in as a #9 seed, which surprised me a little bit. They finished the season as the #6 seed in the conference, and spent a lot of time in the AP Top 25. However, after a narrow defeat at the hands of Iowa on Friday, the committee decided Wisconsin would be a 9 seed. They matchup with North Carolina in what figures to be one of the more intriguing matchups in the Round of 64. That contest will take place on Friday.
#10 Seeds: Maryland (East), Rutgers (Midwest)
Maryland punched their ticket to the dance after defeating Michigan State 68-57 on Thursday. The Terrapins were eliminated by Michigan the next day, but still had an impressive enough resume to garner a 10 seed and a date with UConn on Friday.
My Rutgers Scarlet Knights are finally in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 30 years. I started to get a little nervous when their name wasn’t called in the first two regions. Being a Rutgers fan, you always have to be ready for the worst. Fortunately, my fears were not realized.
Rutgers will face Clemson at 9:20 on Friday night. If the Scarlet Knights are to make a run at this thing, they’re going to need Geo Baker and Ron Harper to step up, as well as Myles Johnson to stay out of foul trouble.
#11 Seed: Michigan State (East)
The Spartans are the ninth and final Big Ten team in the dance, sneaking in after losing to Maryland on Thursday. Despite being just a #11 seed, Michigan State is intriguing. We’ve seen them defeat the likes of Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio State the past few weeks. If they’re playing well, they can beat anybody. They’ll have to start with UCLA in the First Four Thursday night at 9:57 PM.
I can’t believe the tournament is finally here. After how last season abruptly ended, this Selection Sunday was a little bit sweeter than usual. Be sure to check back all week on Twitter, Instagram, and the blog. The plan is to have a live blog going every day that serves as your one-stop shop for tournament action.
I’m excited. I hope you’re excited. If you’re not, get excited. This is March baby.