The Field of 68 is now down to 16, with Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin all winning games over the past weekend.
To see the NCAA Tournament bracket, or other post-season brackets, click here.
For each of the remaining 16 teams records against the spread, click here.
I’ll break down each game of the NCAA Tournament involving Big Ten teams. Today, I’ll cover Thursday’s Sweet 16 games.
#4 Wisconsin (26-9) (12-6 Big Ten) vs. #1 Syracuse (33-2) (17-1 Big East)
Game Time: 7:15 PM EST on Thursday.
Winner Plays: #2 Ohio State/#6 Cincinnati (on Saturday).
Wisconsin: Wisconsin beat Montana by 24 points in their first game and Vanderbilt by 3 in their second game, both in Albuquerque. The Badgers allowed the fourth fewest points of the Big Ten teams, but only scored the eighth most, on average, of all Big Ten teams. 3-star guard Jordan Taylor (14.7 PPG and 4.0 APG), 2-star forward Ryan Evans (11.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG, and 44.6 Field Goal Shooting Percentage), and 4-star forward Jared Berggren (10.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, and 44.3 Field Goal Shooting Percentage) led the Badgers.
Syracuse: Syracuse, coached by Jim Boeheim, snuck by NC Asheville by 7 in their first game, one filled with controversy, but dominated Kansas State in their second game, winning by 16; both games were in Pittsburgh. The Orange were the regular season champs of the Big East, but fell to Cincinnati in the Big East Tournament. Syracuse will be without 5-star center Fab Melo (7.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 56.6 Field Goal Shooting Percentage), due to eligibility issues. 3-star forward Kris Joseph (13.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, and 34.7 Three Point Shooting Percentage), 4-star guard Dion Waiters (12.7 PPG, 2.5 APG, and 48.2 Field Goal Shooting Percentage), and 3-star guard Brandon Triche (9.1 PPG, 2.7 APG, and 78.1 Free Throw Shooting Percentage) will need to carry to the load for Syracuse, with Melo being out.
My Take: Much is being made about the loss of Melo, for rebounding purposes. I’m a huge believer that NCAA Tournament Champions possess two qualities: (1) The team plays well together and (2) a dominant big man (note that last year’s national champion did not have a dominant big man). Melo’s loss is huge – even with Melo, the Orange allow an average of 37 rebounds per game, placing them at 292nd in the nation. Wisconsin hasn’t been to the Elite Eight since 2005, when the Badgers fell to North Carolina by 6 in Syracuse. Wisconsin is averaging 9 turnovers a game, among the fewest in the country, while Syracuse is forcing 16 turnovers a game, among the most. Protecting the ball and getting rebounds will be key if Wisconsin is going to advance on to the regional final.
The Pick: Wisconsin +4.
#1 Michigan State (29-7) (13-5 Big Ten) vs. #4 Louisville (28-9) (10-8 Big East)
Game Time: 7:47 PM EST on Thursday.
Winner Plays: #3 Marquette/#7 Florida (on Saturday).
Michigan State: Michigan State beat up on Long Island in their first game, winning by 22, and snuck by Saint Louis in their weekend game, beating the Billikens by 4 in Columbus. The last two times the Spartans were a one seed they did no worse than make the NCAA Finals. 3-star forward Draymond Green (16.3 PPG, 10.5 RPG, and 40.2 Three Point Shooting Percentage), 4-star guard Keith Appling (11.5 PPG, 3.9 APG, and 78.9 Free Throw Shooting Percentage), guard Brandon Wood (transfer from Valparaiso) (8.6 PPG, 46.9 Field Goal Shooting Percentage, and 36.9 Three Point Shooting Percentage) have led the Spartans. They also lost 5-star forward Branden Dawson (8.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 57.7 Field Goal Shooting Percentage) for the rest of the season, due to a torn ACL.
Louisville: Louisville, coached by Rick Pitino, had single digit victories over Davidson (by 7) and New Mexico (by 3) to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009. The Cardinals, Big East Tournament Champions, rely on a guard driven offense, led by 3-star Kyle Kuric (13.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG, and 80.0 Free Throw Shooting Percentage), 3-star guard Russ Smith (11.4 PPG, 2.3 SPG, 76.3 Free Throw Shooting Percentage), and guard Chris Smith (transfer from Manhattan) (9.8 PPG, 2.0 APG, and 39.2 Three Point Shooting Percentage).
My Take: Guards can be a mystery. Unlike forwards, guards tend to be streaky shooters – sometimes the shots fall, sometimes they don’t. Offenses that rely on forwards tend to be a little more reliable, unless they are facing an equally physically team. Despite Louisville’s reliance on guards, they are averaging 38 rebounds per game, 27th in the nation, on par with Michigan State. Distributing the basketball will be key, as the Spartans are averaging 15.3 assists per game, compared with 13.8 for the Cardinals. Additionally, Michigan State shoots, on average, about 5% better from the field.
The Pick: Michigan State -4.5.
#2 Ohio State (29-7) (13-5 Big Ten) vs. #6 Cincinnati (26-10) (12-6 Big East)
Game Time: 9:45 PM EST (approx) on Thursday.
Winner Plays: #1 Syracuse/#4 Wisconsin (on Saturday).
Ohio State: Ohio State beat low-major Loyola (MD) on Thursday, by 19, in Pittsburgh; they also beat Gonzaga by 7, on Saturday. Deshaun Thomas had a career high 31 points to lead all scorers, on Thursday, making up for Jared Sullinger’s 4-14 performance from the field. 5-star center Jared Sullinger (17.4 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 53.0 Field Goal Shooting Percentage), 5-star forward Deshaun Thomas (15.9 PPG, 5.3 RPG, and 53.2 Field Goal Shooting Percentage), and 5-star guard William Buford (14.7 PPG, 2.8 APG, and 83.8 Free Throw Shooting Percentage) have led Ohio State this season.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats beat Texas on Friday, by 6, and upset Florida State, on Sunday, by 6. Both games were played in Nashville. Cincinnati, the Big East Tournament runner-up, is 21-7 since the Eruption in the Emerald City. Unlike most Big East teams, which tend to be guard-driven, Cincinnati has somewhat of an inside presence with forward 5-star Yancy Gates (12.4 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 47.5 Field Goal Shooting Percentage). The Bearcats are also led by 3-star guard Sean Kilpatrick (14.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, and 2.1 APG), 3-star guard Dion Dixon (13.1 PPG, 2.1 APG, and 70.1 Free Throw Shooting Percentage), and 4-star guard Cashmere Wright (10.7 PPG, 4.6 APG, and 40.6 Field Goal Shooting Percentage).
My Take: Despite Ohio State and Cincinnati being separated by under 2 hours, the Buckeyes and Bearcats haven’t played since December 16, 2006, when the Buckeyes defeated the Bearcats, 72-50. Ohio State leads the series, 5-4, but Cincinnati won both meetings in the NCAA Tournament. The Bearcats actually aren’t a very good shooting team, making, on average, 42% of their shots from the field. By contrast, the Buckeyes make 48.6%. Expect a lot of points in the paint in this one – and a great matchup of Sullinger against Gates. Gates has had four or five fouls in 9 of his 30 games played this season (including 5 of his last 9 games), indicating that like Sullinger, he tends to put his team at risk of losing their inside presence. Cincinnati’s largest margin of victory over the last nine games is by 11 points, with the average margin of victory by 5. The Bearcats need to keep Gates out of foul trouble to have a shot in this one.
The Pick: Cincinnati +7.5.