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Breaking Down the Big Ten NCAA Tournament Matchups Round of 64 – Thursday Games

By the end of the weekend, the Field of 68 will be whittled down to 16 teams. Right now, there are six Big Ten teams in the field, most of which have tough matchups on opening weekend.

To see the NCAA Tournament bracket, or other post-season brackets, click here.

For each of the 68 teams records against the spread, click here.

I’ll break down each game of the NCAA Tournament involving Big Ten teams, leaving Michigan’s games to the experts. Today, I’ll cover Thursday’s second round games (formerly the first round).

#4 Wisconsin (24-9) (12-6 Big Ten) vs. #13 Montana (25-6) (15-1 Big Sky)

Game Time: 2:10 PM EST (approx) on Thursday.


Winner Plays: #5 Vanderbilt/#12 Harvard (on Saturday).

Wisconsin: Wisconsin won four in a row before falling to top seeded Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament by 13. 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 (10.9 PPG, 6.8 RPG, and 43.5 Field Goal Shooting Percentage), and 4-star forward Jared Berggren (10.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, and 45.1 Field Goal Shooting Percentage) led the Badgers to one of the three number four seeds the Big Ten captured.

Montana: Make no mistake, the Grizzlies are the hottest team entering the NCAA Tournament. With Kentucky’s loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC title, Montana now owns the nation’s longest winning streak, winners of 14 straight and 20 of their last 21 games. The Big Sky regular season and tournament champions beat Long Beach State in the regular season and beat second place Weber State twice in the span of a week and a half. Montana is led by the electric guard 3-star Will Cherry (16.0 PPG, 3.4 APG, and 45.4 Field Goal Shooting Percentage) as well as 2-star Kareem Jamar (13.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, and 44.5 Three Point Shooting Percentage) and forward 2-star Mathias Ward (11.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG, and 54.5 Field Goal Shooting Percentage).

My Take: Wisconsin hasn’t lost an opening round game since 2006, when they fell to Arizona by 19. In fact, you have to go back to the 2001 NCAA Tournament to find the last time Wisconsin was upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers were coached by Brad Soderberg, falling to 11-seeded Georgia State, coached by Lefty Driesell, in Boise. Montana upset Nevada in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, but hadn’t won a NCAA Tournament game, prior to that, since 1975.

The Pick: Wisconsin -8.5.

#5 Indiana (24-7) (11-7 Big Ten) vs. #13 New Mexico St (26-9 (10-4 WAC)

Game Time: 9:45 PM EST (approx) on Thursday.


Winner Plays: #5 Wichita State/#12 VCU (on Saturday).

Indiana: The Hoosiers played well in non-conference, posting a 12-0 record with wins over North Carolina State, Kentucky, and Notre Dame. The months of December and January, in Big Ten play, were a bit rough for Indiana, as the Hoosiers were a combined 5-5. 5-star forward Cody Zeller (15.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG, and 62.6 Field Goal Shooting Percentage) and 4-star forward Christian Watford (12.0 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 42.2 Three Point Shooting Percentage) led the Hoosiers this season. Indiana will be without 3-star Verdell Jones III (7.5 PPG and 3.2 APG) for the rest of the season, based on an ACL injury suffered in the Big Ten Tournament.

New Mexico State: Since a 68-60 home loss to Nevada, New Mexico State is 12-2. The Aggies finished second in the WAC regular season race, being swept by Nevada. New Mexico State beat Fresno State, Hawaii, and Louisiana Tech to win the WAC Tournament Title at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Aggies split with non-conference rival New Mexico during the non-conference slate and picked up a decent win over San Francisco on a neutral court. New Mexico State, coached by Marvin Menzies, has been led by forward 3-star Wendell McKines (18.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG, and 45.9 Field Goal Shooting Percentage), and Hernst Laroche (12.0 PPG, 38 APG, and 40.5 Three Point Shooting Percentage). Christian Kabongo (14.6 PPG, 3.5 APG, and 81.8 Free Throw Shooting Percentage) transferred from New Mexico State around the New Year.

My Take: Indiana and New Mexico State is a match-up of two very similar teams. New Mexico State has four players averaging double figures in scoring, so it’s a fairly balanced team. New Mexico State’s average experience is 3.2 (with 4=senior, 3=junior, 2=sophomore, and 1=freshman), while Indiana’s is 2.2. Indiana gives up the 6th most points per game of Big Ten teams (second most among Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament).

The Pick: New Mexico State +6.

#2 Ohio State (27-7) (13-5 Big Ten) vs. #15 Loyola (MD) (24-8) (13-5 MAAC)

Game Time: 9:50 PM EST (approx) on Thursday.


Winner Plays: #7 Gonzaga/#10 West Virginia (on Saturday).

Ohio State: Ohio State’s loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament Finals ruined the Buckeyes’ chance at a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. Still, the Buckeyes remain a favorite to reach the Final Four, despite a possible showdown with Cincinnati or Florida State – two defensive-minded teams. 5-star center Jared Sullinger (17.6 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 53.9 Field Goal Shooting Percentage), 5-star forward Deshaun Thomas (15.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG, and 53.1 Field Goal Shooting Percentage), and 5-star guard William Buford (14.7 PPG, 2.9 APG, and 83.5 Free Throw Shooting Percentage) have led Ohio State this season.

Loyola (MD): The Greyhounds avoided at-large selection Iona in the MAAC Conference Tournament, but still had to get through upstart Fairfield and traditional power Siena in order to win the MAAC Tournament crown. Loyola finished second in the regular season, two games behind regular season champ Iona. The Greyhounds are 1-3 against NCAA Tournament teams, with the lone win coming against Iona on February 10th. Loyola (MD) has outscored their opponents by an average of 3.6 points per game on the season, with 11 of their 32 games being decided by single digits. The Greyhounds, coach by Jimmy Patsos, are led by 2-star forward Erik Etherly (transfer from Northeastern) (13.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, and 53.1 Field Goal Shooting Percentage), guard Dylon Cormier (13.4 PPG and 46.3 Field Goal Shooting Percentage), and guard Robert Olson (11.2 PPG, and 44.2 Three Point Shooting Percentage).

My Take: Deshaun Thomas has been a key for the Buckeyes, as of late. The sophomore forward out of Fort Wayne has been a combined 32-55 from the field in the Buckeyes’ last four wins (vs. Michigan and Purdue, and at Michigan State and Northwestern) – 58.2 Field Goal Shooting Percentage. Loyola (MD) shoots 42.8% from the field, on average, 207th out of 344 Division I teams. Consider this – the Greyhounds topped 80 points only twice this season, the Buckeyes matched that mark by the third game of the year (Ohio State has ten games with more than 80 points scored). The last time Ohio State lost in the first round it was to another MAAC team, Siena, coached by current Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. Don’t expect the same result.

The Pick: Ohio State -17.