Big Ten buzz
Can the Big Ten defy the odds and break a nearly 20-year drought without a conference team winning the NCAA title? It was a down year for the league, but the four teams in the bracket can all make a case for making a run to San Antonio. Here’s a look at the draws and the buzz:
Seed: No. 2 East
Record: 28-6, 15-3
Friday: vs. No. 15 Cal State-Fullerton
Scouting report: The Boilermakers lost the Big Ten player of the year, Caleb Swanigan, and got even better because of the emergence of sophomore Carsen Edwards into an All-America. Senior starters Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias, P.J. Thompson and Isaac Haas have won 102 games, five short of the most in school history by one class. Size (Haas is 7-2, Matt Haarms is 7-3) and three-point shooting are Purdue’s strengths, but it lost three in a row in February scoring just 53, 65 and 63 points.
Seed: No. 3 Midwest
Record: 29-4, 16-2
Friday: vs. No. 14 Bucknell
Scouting report: To win his first national title since 2000, Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo might need to beat a blue-blood program on the big stage or avoid one. The Spartans beat Florida in the championship game 18 years ago in Indianapolis after the Gators defeated North Carolina in the Final Four. But the Spartans lost to North Carolina in the 2009 final, and Izzo is 1-18 against Duke and North Carolina in his career. The Spartans are as talented as anyone, but they looked worse in some wins (committed 25 turnovers vs. Illinois and trailed by 27 points vs. Northwestern) than in losses to Duke, Michigan twice and Ohio State.
Seed: No. 3 West
Record: 28-7, 13-5
Thursday: vs. No. 14 Montana
Scouting report: John Beilein is the only Big Ten coach other than Izzo to reach the NCAA title game. The Wolverines finished fourth in the league this year, but they’re on a nine-game winning streak. They won the Big Ten championship behind tournament MVP Moe Wagner. The 6-11 German is the type of NBA prospect who can carry a team in the Big Dance. But the Wolverines aren’t as loaded with pro talent as the one that lost to Louisville in the 2013 title game. That Beilein squad had an amazing six players who were drafted (Trey Burke, Mitch McGary, Nick Stauskas, Tim Hardaway Jr., Glen Robinson III and Caris LeVert).
Seed: No. 5 West
Record: 24-8, 15-3
Thursday: vs. No. 12 South Dakota State
Scouting report: The most surprising NCAA tournament team from the Big Ten, Ohio State challenged both Michigan State and Purdue to be the league’s best team this year. The Buckeyes were predicted to finish 11th in the conference but ranked among the nation’s top 10 teams. Former Butler coach Chris Holtmann, who replaced Thad Matta, was Big Ten coach of the year. Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop was conference player of the year. Bates-Diop’s breakout season under Holtmann helped the program go dancing for the first time since 2015.