Ohio State’s slim chances at dancing past Thursday

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Mike Daum. (Steven Branscombe/USA Today Sports)

At one point this season, the Ohio State Buckeyes were ranked No. 8 in the nation and they had a real chance at winning the Big Ten. They still had a chance toward the end of the season to win the conference, but they did not hold their own fate and Michigan State did not falter and won the title. Still though, they finished 15-3 in the league and came in second place. They had their struggles down the stretch, losing three of their last five games, two of those to Penn State. This Ohio State team is trending in the wrong direction.

With all of that being said, the Buckeyes earned a five-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Being a five-seed puts you against a 12-seed and the most notorious upset game in the bracket. Since 2010, the 12-seed has upset the five-seed 13 times and there have only been four years since 1985 that a five-seed was not upset. It is almost a guarantee that a 12-seed pulls off a victory.

As long as that trend continues, it looks like a 12-seed will win again this year and the Buckeyes could very well be on the wrong side of that game. My theory as to why the 12-seed has been so successful is because that team tends to be on a hot streak going into the tournament. A 12-seed is typically a mid-major team that had to win their conference tournament in order to dance and is playing their best basketball of the season. Many times a five-seed is a team that could have been seeded a little higher and faltered down the stretch, therefore not playing their best basketball and vulnerable to a hot team. Hence the reason why their are so many 12 over five upsets. One team is on the rise and the other on the fall down, some March Madness magic.

In the Buckeyes case, they seem to be trending very down and their opponent, the South Dakota State Jack Rabbits, are trending up. South Dakota State is also no surprise to be in the tournament. In fact, this is their third straight appearance in the big dance. They have yet to win a game, but this year seems like their best opportunity.

Part of the reason why South Dakota State has such a good chance at beating Ohio State is Mike Daum. The now two-time Summit League Player of the Year is averaging 23.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. He can score in every different way and he has the size to be a mismatch, even against Power Five conference teams. At 6’9″, he is a defensive game plan head ache. He can beat you down low and he also shoots it at 41 percent from three. An all-around really good, NBA caliber basketball player. A hot mid-major team is prime to upset a higher seed, a hot mid-major team with an NBA caliber player is definitely a prime threat to upset a higher seed.

As I have said before, Ohio State will only go as far as Keita Bates-Diop takes them and in NCAA Tournament games you need more than one player. You can have an offensive juggernaut carry you Kemba Walker or Shabazz Napier style, but those title teams played exceptional team defense, something that the Buckeyes do not do. Bates-Diop is a great talent and this Ohio State team has out performed all expectations all year long, it might just be time for all of that to come to an end.

 

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Will Michigan be able to continue their Big Ten tournament momentum?

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John Beilein coaching his Michigan team. (Chris Keane/Reuters)

As it was widely known that the Big Ten moved their conference tournament up a week in order to play at Madison Square Garden, the championship game was played 10 days ago. It will be 11 days before the tournament champion Michigan Wolverines tip off again. How will this effect the momentum that is gained when playing tournament style basketball or will the extra rest help the Wolverines? Only time will tell, but we can speculate.

Personally, I think this totally falls on the coaching staff and how they keep the players focused while watching all of the other major conferences compete. That goes for all four of the Big Ten teams that made it. Michigan playing four games in four days this late in the season can mess with the players regular rest schedule. Continuing to play and moving onto the big dance without over thinking the process could have been be a benefit, instead of sitting for more than a week. It worked last year as Michigan also won the conference tournament playing four games in four days and eventually advanced to the Sweet 16 as a seven-seed. With more than a week between games, it can almost seem like they have not played in forever and that could pave a way for the brain to wander and overlook the task at hand. In Michigan’s case, they will have to use the Montana Grizzlies to get some rust off on day one of March Madness.

The three-seed Wolverines got paired with the Big Sky tournament champions. Montana went 26-7 during the regular season and did play four Power Five conference teams at the beginning of the season. They did pick up a win in one of those games, but that was against Pitt who was the only Division 1 team to not win a conference game this season. The Wolverines should not overlook the Grizzlies, but a Big Ten team with fresh legs should have no problems in this game. Michigan’s balanced scoring attack will be too much for Montana to handle.

Their second round matchup is a toss up of who their opponent will be. The six-seed Houston Cougars lost a heart breaking American Athletic Conference championship game that saw several self-inflicted mistakes at the end of the game. San Diego State, the 11-seed, played their way into the tournament by upsetting Nevada in the semifinals and then beating New Mexico in the Mountain West tournament championship game. I think Houston ultimately wins that matchup to move on. When it comes to the matchup against the Cougars, the teams are pretty evenly matched statistically across the board. Michigan has a deeper bench and their scoring is more spread out. Houston’s leading scorer Rob Gray averages more than 18-points per game and he might be the best player on the court in this game. The one thing that I think gives Michigan the edge is their Beilein defense that won them the Big Ten tournament and their ability to limit their own turnovers. Michigan is a complete team from top to bottom and a number of different players can beat you on any given night. This type of team will frustrate Houston, as long as the Wolverines are able to contain Gray, they will be moving onto the Sweet 16.

Their most likely opponent in the Sweet 16 will be the North Carolina Tar Heels. The two-seed and reigning national champions are on a quest for their third straight Final Four appearance. No easy task here, and these teams even played a game earlier in the season. UNC won that battle 86-71 and controlled the game from the start. It was a home game for UNC and they shot almost 55 percent for the game, which was about 9 percent better than their season average. Michigan will obviously look back at this game and reference it, but both teams have grown and gotten better since that November contest. In fact, that was probably the worst game defensively, Michigan played all season. Joel Berry III and Luke Maye lead the Tar Heels, but Michigan has multiple players that can guard Berry, giving him different looks throughout the game will help disrupt his offensive rhythm. The confidence that Moritz Wagner has been playing with will give Maye troubles, as that matchup might decide the outcome of the game. Also, the emergence of Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman down the stretch will be a huge factor, as his role and numbers have both increased since that early season matchup. I firmly believe that the Wolverines would win this matchup, even with UNC’s tournament experience, it just seems like this Michigan team is clicking on all cylinders right now. It will not be an easy task, but Michigan can win this matchup.

If that victory were to happen, their next opponent would most likely be Xavier or Gonzaga. Xavier is a team that lives and dies by the three and Michigan’s defense is made to effect that. The Wolverines would look good in that matchup and the Beilein defense would play a huge role in that game. Gonzaga is an interesting matchup in the fact that they play very similar to Michigan. They rotate in several bench players and their scoring can come from a number of different players. In either matchup, Michigan’s ball security and minimal mistakes could be the difference. That could be the theme all tournament for this Michigan team, as long as they win the turnover battle, they can go to the Final Four.

I firmly believe that this Michigan team not only has the skill, but the ability, coaching and mentality for a trip to San Antonio. Being a seven-seed in last years tournament and making it to the Sweet 16, they are on the right trajectory to make the next jump as a unit. With a slew of returning players that have tournament experience and a coach that has been to the Final Four, their is no ceiling for this Michigan team.

 

Michigan State’s tough tournament road

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Jaren Jackson Jr and Miles Bridges sit on the Michigan State bench together. (Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

The Michigan State Spartans might have the worst road to the Final 4 out of any three-seed in the NCAA Tournament this year. Let’s take a look at the matchups and see just how far this team can go.

Their first round matchup is against Bucknell. The winners of the Patriot League and they pretty much dominated their own league. The problem is that the Patriot League does not get you ready for Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. They did play a couple of major conference teams early in the season, but they have not seen the size that Michigan State is going to show up with for months now. The Spartans take this one easily.

The second round gets a little more compelling, especially when they have the possibility of playing three different teams. They are part of the section of the bracket that includes one of the 11-seed play in games. That game will feature Arizona State and Syracuse. A couple of bubble teams that many people did not think should have made the tournament. The six-seed is TCU, a team that is not quite used to the NCAA Tournament.

Syracuse obviously has the name recognition, but they have an abundance of bad losses and they are just not the Syracuse team that we are used to seeing. Plus, even with their famous zone defense, Miles Bridges is the perfect player to get into the cracks of it and tear it apart. The matchup would favor the Spartans. Arizona State had a hot start to the year, but have since cooled off, almost cooled off so much they almost missed out on the tournament. Their strength is the the three ball, but when it misses, they lose. The Spartans defense is long enough to guard the three and still rebound. I see no issues against the Sun Devils. TCU is interesting, but this is also the programs first March Madness appearance since 1998. A balanced scoring attack and a head coach in Jamie Dixon this team could make noise. When it comes down to it though, the moment might be too big. They did win the NIT last year, but the NCAA Tournament is a whole different animal. Michigan State expects to be here, TCU could just be happy to be in this situation. Happy does not win you games, the year of making it to the big dance will help this program in the future, but not against the Spartans.

The potential Sweet 16 matchup is one of the most talked about potential matchups so far. The possibility of playing the Duke Blue Devils is on the horizon. The Spartans and Blue Devils did meet up at the beginning of the season, which saw Duke walk away with an 88-81 victory. The interesting aspect to that game was that Marvin Bagley III, the ACC Player of the Year, left 10 minutes into the game after getting poked in the eye and never returned. Grayson Allen on the other hand had a career night with 37 points for Duke. The bright side for the Spartans was that all three big men, Bridges, Jackson Jr and Nick Ward each had 19 points. It was also just Jackson Jr’s just second game of his college career, which is not necessarily a good excuse as Duke started four freshman. This matchup is what everyone wants and if we get it, I think Duke prevails again. Michigan State’s strength is their big men and Duke can match that with Bagley and Wendell Carter. The guard play would be the difference and Duke’s guards are much better than the Spartans. Allen and Gary Trent Jr can be lethal from three as well as creating their own shots off of the dribble. It would be a great matchup to see and it would be must watch television.

If the Spartans do get past the Blue Devils or out of the Sweet 16 and into the Elite 8 in general, I do believe that Michigan State could win the whole tournament. I already mentioned Bridges and Jackson Jr, and of course they still have Tom Izzo. This team has the talent to win it all and they have not had a bad loss all season. Not to say that any team they face in the next couple of weeks would be considered a bad loss, but they have proven that they take care of the wins they are supposed too and have been competitive in essentially every game this season. Also, Bridges and Jackson are both likely going to the NBA, so this is their last and only chance left to win a national title, the motivation should be there.

After Duke, the one-seed in their region is Kansas, obviously no cake walk there, but a favorable matchup for the Spartans as they would win the size advantage down low. It would be a great matchup led by two great basketball minds in Izzo and Bill Self. This region might be the toughest out of all four, especially with three serious contenders to win the whole tournament. The Spartans have the chance to win the whole tournament, but a matchup against Duke might very well be the end of their season.

Purdue has a chance to make Boilermaker history

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Carsen Edwards reaches for the ball. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

The Purdue Boilermakers are a two-seed in March Madness. They are now dancing for the tenth time in the last 12 years under head coach Matt Painter. Though they have not made it past the Sweet 16 in any of those trips. This might be Purdue’s best chance to make the jump further into the tournament, as they continue to try and be known as one of the best programs in the Big Ten.

Starting with game one against Cal State Fullerton. History is on the Boilermakers side in this matchup. A 15-seed has only beaten a two-seed eight times in the history of the NCAA Tournament. So, this game should not be an issue. Fullerton is 20-11 overall and they were 10-6 in the Big West conference, good for a fourth place finish in the league, before winning the conference tournament. Their non-conference schedule was not good and they have not played a team of Purdue’s caliber. Expect the Boilermakers to dominate this matchup.

The second round is where things can get interesting. Purdue will either play Arkansas or Butler. Arkansas is the worse matchup because of freshman big man Daniel Gafford. He has the size to guard Isaac Haas without the Razorbacks having to double team him. There are two ways to defend this Purdue team. You either double Haas and make him kick it out or you guard the three and let Haas try and beat you. Having someone that is capable of guarding Haas gives your defense more options and takes away part of Purdues game plan, as they know how teams try and guard them at this point in the season. Butler is an offensive driven team with Kelan Martin leading the way. A 20-point scorer and a team that scores nearly 80 points per game, the Bulldogs would probably try to out shoot Purdue. Either way, Carsen Edwards will be the best player on the floor no matter which team wins the first round, because of that Purdue should be able to ride into the Sweet 16 comfortably.

The second weekend is always a goal for every team, but this team has had aspirations to play two games during the second weekend. They got smoked by Kansas in the Sweet 16 last year. This year though, could see a number of different teams, none of which have the skill of last years Jayhawks. The three-seed that is supposed to be in this game is Texas Tech, a serious threat led by senior guard Keenan Evans. He was injured late in the year and the Red Raiders lost four games in a row. As long as Evans is healthy this team can beat Purdue, but the Boilermakers have more weapons. With Dakota Mathias playing solid defense and Vincent Edwards using his length when he needs to be on Evans, Texas Tech is a one dimensional team led by one player. If Purdue can limit his touches, this gives the Boilermakers the advantage and a likely trip to the Elite 8. The only other threat in the Sweet 16 would be Florida who has great guard play, but they have a tougher road to get to that point and Purdue is the better overall team in that matchup. Florida cannot compare in size and that would hurt the Gators. Expect to see Purdue in the Elite 8.

The next matchup will obviously be the toughest. If Purdue were to make it all the way to the regional final, they would likely play the Villanova Wildcats. A team led by my national player of the year in Jalen Brunson, playing some of the best basketball they have played all year. I think this is where to Boilermakers season ends as Villanova is such a complete team. Along side Brunson they have Mikal Bridges, who is a great player in his own right. Jay Wright’s teams are known for not making mistakes and playing clean basketball. That will hurt Purdue as the Boilermakers struggle when they turn the ball over too much and Villanova does not miss out on opportunities. The difference here is that Villanova not only has the best player on the court in Brunson, but Bridges is more than capable of being the best player on the court on any given night as well. Their offense is overpowering and they do not make mistakes defensively, Villanova is a one-seed for a reason and will take down the Boilermakers.

Purdue’s season can be considered somewhat of a success if they were to break into the Elite 8, but a team that had the regular season they did, national title hopes are real. They still have the capability of winning six games in a row, but running into a Villanova squad could be their demise.

Four teams from the Big Ten are dancing, the Selection Sunday reaction

The Big Ten saw four teams get announced for the the big dance. The NCAA Tournament will start tomorrow with play in games and Thursday for the real first round. The greatest time of year in my opinion.

The Purdue Boilermakers received the highest seed out of any Big Ten team. They will be the two-seed in the east region with a first round matchup against Cal State Fullerton. What could turn into a media frenzy is their potential second round matchup. The Butler Bulldogs are the 10-seed in this region and a battle for the state of Indiana could ensue. Butler would first have to beat a really good Arkansas team, but March Madness never disappoints so you never know what is going to happen.

The 3-seed in the midwest bracket is the Michigan State Spartans. Tom Izzo has the Spartans dancing in the tournament again and this time it looks to be in maybe the toughest region. They have Kansas as the one-seed and Duke as the two-seed, which could turn into on of the most anticipated Sweet 16 games of all time.  All three of those teams were supposed to be hot picks to win the whole tournament and probably still are. It just appears that the road their will be a little tougher than they would have liked.

Also a three-seed, the Michigan Wolverines. Their first round matchup with Montana is what John Beilein is focused on and his players seem to not be looking past the Grizzlies either. This is also one of the hottest teams in the country and they did not really know where they were going to be seeded, but having a tournament site in Detroit, it seemed that could have been the location. Instead Michigan State will be traveling there and the Wolverines are headed to Wichita, Kansas, both three seeds, it appears the Spartans got the higher nod.

The final Big Ten team to dance is the Ohio State Buckeyes, led by Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop. The Buckeyes will play South Dakota State in the first round and it appears the coaches have already been prepping, especially with not having the Big Ten tournament this past weekend. It does not mean the Summit League opponent is an easy test though, with an NBA caliber player in Mike Daum, the Jack Rabbits are a real threat to continue the 12-seed, five-seed upset trend.

Just a few days away, March Madness is finally hear. Get out your alma maters sweatshirt, call your friends and get your television ready for some of the best basketball of the year.

Michigan State deserves to be a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament

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Tom Izzo teaching Miles Bridges. (Photo: Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire)

The Michigan State Spartans are currently the No. 4 ranked team in the country, but experts in college basketball have them as a 2-seed or lower in the NCAA Tournament. The main reason is because they are in the Big Ten. It has been a note the whole year that the Big Ten is having a down year and that they are only going to get four teams into the NCAA Tournament. The conference did not have enough quality wins and too many of their teams did not play a good non-conference schedule. They had six teams finish with below .500 records and that is a lot for a power five conference. They also only had five teams that had better than a .500 record in conference play, which shows a big disparity between the top of the conference and the bottom. Well, all of that may be the case, but that does not mean that Michigan State is not worthy of being a 1-seed.

Let’s take a look at the Spartans resume. They have an overall record of 29-4 and they won the Big Ten regular season title with a 16-2 conference record. This team does not have a bad loss on their resume. Their first loss came to Duke, who is currently ranked No. 5 in the nation, their only non-conference loss of the season. Their first conference loss came at Ohio State, who finished second in the Big Ten and is currently ranked No. 17 in the nation. Their next two losses both came to Michigan, one in the regular season and the other in the semifinals of the conference tournament. Michigan is currently ranked No.7 in the nation and might be the hottest team in the country. It is pretty impressive to go through an entire season without one blemish on your record.

Their non-conference schedule was also not bad. They played several ranked opponents and came away with victories. Their 13-2 non-conference record was made up of three ACC teams, a Big East team and an American Athletic Conference team. They beat North Carolina, currently ranked No. 12 in the nation. They also beat Notre Dame, who was ranked No. 5 when they played each other, but injuries hurt the Fighting Irish after that. Three of the non-major conference teams they played, participated in post-season tournaments last year. They were 8-1 on the road and 5-2 on neutral courts this season. All of these attributes should give them more discussion at being a 1-seed on selection Sunday.

When you look at this roster, you also are not confused as to why they have the record they do or the success they have had. They are led by Miles Bridges, a sophomore who is a projected lottery pick in this summer’s NBA draft. Bridges was a unanimous first team All-Big Ten player. Jaren Jackson Jr, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Big Ten Freshman of the Year is also a projected lottery pick in the NBA draft. This team has skill and depth on their roster and they have proved that they can beat some of the best teams in the country. Not to mention they are led by Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo. Izzo has been to seven Final Fours during his tenure at the helm, proving that his teams can be successful in March.

When it comes down to it, Michigan State has stayed away from having any bad losses on their record, they won a power five conference title outright, they came into the season as the No. 2 ranked team in the country and they never fell lower than No. 9 in the nation. They have been one of the most consistent teams in the country and they deserve a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament.