Once again, the Big Ten is the most popular kid at the dance. With eight teams representing the conference, the B1G constitutes 25% of the entrants into this year’s tournament (not counting the play-in games). Those eight teams fall into seed lines as high as #1 and as low as #10. But this is March and anything can happen. This article is going to talk about those eight teams who will vie for the national championship and examine what each’s best- and worst-case scenarios are.
1. Purdue (#1, East): I am not sure I need to sell this team very much. They won the conference regular-season and tournament championships for the deepest conference in the land. They have the biggest matchup nightmare for opponents in Zach Edey. There should be no surprises that they claimed a 1-seed. But you could say that the committee did them no favors with their draw. After a first-round matchup against the winner of one of the four play-in games, Purdue could get to play Memphis, who just came off a victory over fellow 1-seed Houston in the AAC finals. Get through that and the Boilermakers could get red-hot Duke, who has won nine straight including their run in the ACC tournament. And if they can get to their regional final, their possible opponents include Marquette, Kentucky, and MSU. There is a lot of different styles that Purdue will have to face from round to round so they are going to have to be adaptable. But of course, their opponents are also going to have to be adaptable as there are not many teams like this Boilermakers team. Best case scenario: Win it all.
Worst case scenario: Lose in sweet-16.
2. Indiana (#4, Midwest): Indiana definitely has the talent to make a run, and they did sweep Purdue in the regular season. They did lose a game in the BTT that most expected them to win, however. Their star, Trayce Jackson-Davis was just named a first-team All-American. And freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino is a very capable Robin to TJD’s Batman. As a team, they are top-ten nationally in FG%, so this is a team that can get on a roll offensively. They are not a great rebounding team and they do give up a high number of offensive rebounds to their opponents. If a team can generate 2nd chance opportunities, then they can be the team to end the Hoosiers’ season.
Best case scenario: Having faced a much tougher schedule, they upset Houston and make it to the Elite 8.
Worst case scenario: Lose in round of 32.
3. Northwestern (#7, Midwest): Making only their 2nd ever NCAA appearance, the Wildcats stunned many observers this season as they looked good for most of the season before going on a bit of losing streak at the end, dropping their last three games in the regular season and falling in the BTT semifinals after getting the double-bye. Their leader, senior Boo Buie, is one of those feel-good stories of a player getting better each year and finally leading their team in his final season to new heights. This team is one of the best defensive units in the nation, holding opponents to 62.5 PPG. The question will be if their offense can keep up with the talent they will face in the tourney. A very tough path for this team includes a near-1-seed-earning UCLA in the 2nd round, perennial Final Four contender Gonzaga in the Sweet-16, and defending champs Kansas in the Elite 8.
Best case scenario: UCLA’s injuries allow NW to get one upset, and then Gonzaga’s FT shooting allows the Wildcats to steal another one, before meeting their end in the Elite 8.
Worst case scenario: A good three-point shooting Boise team goes off and knocks out NW in the first round.
4. Maryland (#8, South): The Terps looked more than capable in winning conference matchups against Purdue, Northwestern, and Indiana. But they also lost to Ohio State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. This is a team that relies on their ball-handler beating his defender, as they don’t move it around very well, so whoever has good on-ball guarding can take this team out.
Best case scenario: Making it to the second round to lose to #1 Alabama.
Worst case scenario: Losing to West Virginia in the first round.
5. Iowa (#8, Midwest): So, this is a team that can get hot offensively, as we know all too well. They are incredibly efficient scoring the ball and they are among the best in not giving it up. Their weakness is on the other end, where they are outside the top 300 in PPG allowed. I think it is safe to say any games they are involved in will be high scoring. But of course, they are an 8-seed, so they would have to face a 1-seed opening weekend.
Best case scenario: Beat Auburn before falling to Houston.
Worst case scenario: Lose to Auburn.
6. Illinois (#9, West): The Illini should not get very far in this one either. They start with an opponent in Arkansas who is statistically very similar. If they can get through that battle, they go on to face 1-seed Kansas. This would be a major upset so let’s not kid ourselves.
Best case scenario: Win 1 game.
Worst case scenario: Lose to Auburn in the 1st round.
7. Penn State (#10, Midwest): The Nittany Lions went on an impressive streak in the BTT, winning 3 games to reach the finals and just barely losing to Purdue in the championship game. Before that, they won five of their last six regular season games, including three against teams who made the dance. There is definitely potential for them to go on another run. They shoot the ball better than their 1st-round opponent, fellow conference-tourney runner-up Texas A&M, and also protect the ball better. Next, they could take advantage of Texas’ struggles from deep and beat them by making enough of their own. And maybe Xavier goes down to a team that has played a tougher schedule in a tougher conference, be that PSU or one of the teams they could face in the second round.
Best case scenario: PSU wins 3 games in this tournament as well, before bowing out in the Elite-8.
Worst case scenario: Former Spartan Julius Marble leads the way against a team he is familiar with, and PSU goes back to Happy Valley unhappy after 1 game.
And last but not least...
8. Michigan State (#7, East): I said in my last article that I have low hopes for this team after seeing their sorry display against Ohio State in the BTT. And I still largely feel that way. But the committee did MSU some favors with this draw. As Izzo says, “This team can play with anyone. Unfortunately, any team can play with us.”
Best case scenario: the travel and the start time feeling like 9 AM derail USC on Friday. Vermont pushes Marquette to crunch time, and MSU is the far fresher team in round 2. MSU gets to play Kentucky again in the 2nd weekend and beat them for a 2nd time this season, and then they take on our biggest nemesis, Duke, except the Blue Devils no longer have Izzo’s foil, Coach K, so MSU cruises past them easily. In the Final Four, MSU faces a familiar tournament foe in Virginia and put an end to the Cavaliers’ run. And in the finals, MSU gets another team they have already faced this season, this time against the team that defeated us by 1 point on a boat in November. But this time, MSU comes out on top by a singular point when Mady Sissoko gets a lob pass from Steven Izzo with 0.3 seconds left and dunks it home to deliver the Natty to the Green & White.
Worst case scenario: none of that happens, and MSU loses to USC on St. Patrick’s Day.
Okay, let’s hear from you. Which scenarios do you agree or disagree with? Feel free to hold your comments until after the tournament begins on Thursday if you are participating in the TOC pool (which you all should be since there is no entry fee) and don’t want to tip your hand. Here are the details for the pool:
Name: The Only Colors 2023
Group Password: GoGREEN2023