College basketball: Battle-tested Big Ten teams ready to dance
Michigan State will open with Valparaiso. That has to sound good to Tom Izzo.
“I’m looking forward to playing anybody,” the Spartans coach said after Ohio State beat his team Saturday in the Big Ten tournament. “I’d play the Lakers tomorrow instead of some of the teams I’ve played recently.”
It was no surprise that seven Big Ten teams got the NCAA call.
An eighth, Iowa, made CBS’ and ESPN’s “snubbed” list. The Hawkeyes went 9-9 in the league, but their nonconference slate was littered with weaklings.
As Bruce Pearl, the ESPN analyst and former Iowa assistant put it: “Virginia, Maryland, Iowa — they all scheduled soft. They all have young basketball teams, and I think they had better regular seasons than they anticipated. It cost them in the end.”
A quick look at the seven who made it:
Indiana: No. 1 seed vs. LIU-Brooklyn/James Madison. The Hoosiers are college basketball’s version of the Blackhawks – skilled with multiple scorers.
Ohio State: No. 2 seed vs. Iona. The Buckeyes are scorching, having won eight straight. And they’re getting contributions from complementary players LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson.
Michigan State: No. 3 seed vs. Valparaiso. Crusaders coach Bryce Drew knows something about upsets, but the Spartans are big, tough, tested and get to play near home, at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Michigan: No. 4 seed vs. South Dakota State. Like Michigan State, the Wolverines will save on gas after being assigned to the Palace. But the stay could be almost as short as the trip, given that Michigan has lost six of its last 12 and plays the hot-shooting Jackrabbits, who won at New Mexico and have guard Nate Wolters, who averages 22.7 points and 5.8 assists.
Wisconsin: No. 5 seed vs. Mississippi. The Rebels and their rebel without a cause, guard Marshall Henderson, made it in by shocking Florida in the SEC tournament final.
Illinois: No. 7 seed vs. Colorado. The Illini got a higher seed than bracketologists Jerry Palm (8) and Joe Lunardi (9) predicted. But the draw is tough, given Illinois’ rebounding woes and the toughness of big Buffaloes such as Andre Roberson (11.3 rebounds per game).
Minnesota: No. 11 seed vs. UCLA. The Gophers went 5-11 after a 15-1 start, so they should not complain after getting a seed one lower than Palm and Lunardi predicted. They’ll take on an offensively gifted Bruins team that lost to Oregon 78-69 in the Pac-12 tournament final.