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Breaking Down the Big Ten NCAA Tournament Matchups Round of 32 – Saturday Games

The Field of 68 is now down to 32, with Indiana, Ohio State, and Wisconsin all winning games on Thursday evening.

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 Saturday’s third round games (formerly the second round).

#2 Ohio State (28-7) (13-5 Big Ten) vs. #7 Gonzaga (26-6) (13-3 WCC)

Game Time: 2:45 PM EST (approx) on Saturday.


Winner Plays: #3 Florida State/ #6 Cincinnati (on Thursday).

Ohio State: Ohio State jumped on Loyola (MD) early on Thursday, then coasted to a 19-point win over the Greyhounds. The Buckeyes didn’t look great, but Loyola was easily overmatched. Deshaun Thomas had a career high 31 points to lead all scorers, making up for Jared Sullinger’s 4-14 performance from the field. 5-star center Jared Sullinger (17.4 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 53.0 Field Goal Shooting Percentage), 5-star forward Deshaun Thomas (15.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, and 53.4 Field Goal Shooting Percentage), and 5-star guard William Buford (14.8 PPG, 2.8 APG, and 84.2 Free Throw Shooting Percentage) have led Ohio State this season.

Gonzaga: The Zags, coached by Mark Few, have been challenged by NCAA Tournament teams during the regular season, going 5-4 against them. Gonzaga demolished West Virginia on Thursday, winning by 23 in what was a pro-West Virginia venue. Gonzaga shot 56% from the field, including 52.9% from three-point land to send the Mountaineers packing. Gonzaga will likely be in a pro-Ohio State venue on Saturday, based on the Buckeyes’ proximity to Columbus. Gonzaga has four players averaging double digit points, including 3-star guard Kevin Pangos (13.8 PPG, 3.4 APG, and 40.7 Three Point Shooting Percentage), forward Elias Harris (13.0 PPG, 8.6 RPG, and 50.5 Field Goal Shooting Percentage), and center 4-star Robert Sacre (11.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, and 51.1 Field Goal Shooting Percentage).

My Take: If Gonzaga is going to win this one, they need to shoot as well as they did against West Virginia. Gonzaga is a physical team and could pose problems for the Buckeyes. Regardless, the size advantage lies with Ohio State, whose starters have an average height of 6-6, compared with Gonzaga’s who are 6-5. Look for the Buckeyes to their height to their advantage, especially with their guards (OSU’s Lenzelle Smith Jr. is 6-4, while Gonzaga’s Gary Bell Jr. is 6-1). As I said before, foul trouble can pose a problem for the Buckeyes, but they simply have too much talent for the Bulldogs. Note that Gonzaga is 1-10 ATS away from home.

The Pick: Ohio State -7.

#4 Wisconsin (25-9) (12-6 Big Ten) vs. #5 Vanderbilt (25-10) (10-6 SEC)

Game Time: 6:10 PM EST (approx) on Saturday.


Winner Plays: #1 Syracuse/#8 Kansas State (on Thursday).

Wisconsin: Wisconsin demolished Montana and Will Cherry on Thursday, beating the Grizzlies by 24 points 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 4.1 APG), 2-star forward Ryan Evans (11.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, and 44.3 Field Goal Shooting Percentage), and 4-star forward Jared Berggren (10.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG, and 44.4 Field Goal Shooting Percentage) led the Badgers.

Vanderbilt: After beating Kentucky to win the SEC Tournament, many were high on Vanderbilt’s chances to make a run at the Elite Eight. Still, until Thursday, Vanderbilt, coached by Kevin Stallings, had not made it out of the first game of the NCAA Tournament since 2007. On Thursday, the Commodores beat Harvard by 9, a game in which they allowed the Crimson to creep back into. Vanderbilt led by as much as 18 during the game, only to see their lead shrink to six with just under two minutes left. 5-star guard John Jenkins (20.1 PPG, 48.1 Field Goal Shooting Percentage, and 44.6 Three Point Shooting Percentage), 4-star forward Jeffery Taylor (16.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 49.8 Field Goal Shooting Percentage), and 3-star center Festus Ezeli (9.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 53.2 Field Goal Shooting Percentage) have led the Commodores this season.

My Take: Vanderbilt has made the Sweet 16 in two of their previous five appearances in the NCAA Tournament (most recent three were first round exits), dating back to 2004. Vanderbilt is 6-5 against teams in the NCAA Tournament, while Wisconsin is 7-7. Despite their length, Vanderbilt is a soft team. If Wisconsin pounds the ball inside and gets Ezeli in foul trouble, the Badgers will be in the Sweet 16 for the second straight year.

The Pick: Wisconsin +1.

#5 Indiana (26-8) (11-7 Big Ten) vs. #12 Virginia Commonwealth (29-6) (15-3 CAA)

Game Time: 7:10 PM EST (approx) on Saturday.


Winner Plays: #1 Kentucky/#8 Iowa State (on Friday).

Indiana: Indiana disposed of New Mexico State on Thursday night, beating the Aggies by 13 in a game in which New Mexico State never led, and the Hoosiers led by as much as 21 points. 5-star forward Cody Zeller (15.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG, and 62.4 Field Goal Shooting Percentage), 4-star forward Christian Watford (12.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 42.9 Three Point Shooting Percentage), and 3-star guard Jordan Hulls (11.9 PPG, 51.3 Field Goal Shooting Percentage, and 50.0 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.

Virginia Commonwealth: The Rams, and Coach Shaka Smart, snuck by fellow mid-major Wichita State on Thursday, after leading most of the game. Wichita State got into foul trouble early and was never able to quite dig themselves out of that hole. The Rams haven’t played many NCAA Tournament teams this season – just four, right at the beginning of the season – going 3-1 in those games (beat Western Kentucky twice, South Florida once, and lost to Alabama by 8). With that said, VCU has been dominant since mid-January, winning 18 of their last 19 games in a pretty competitive conference, including seven in a row. During their seven game win streak, the Rams have outscored their opponents by an average of 7.3 points per game. VCU is led by 2-star Bradford Burgess (13.4 PPG, 4.9 RPG, and 80.0 Free Throw Shooting Percentage), 3-star forward Juvonte Reddic (10.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 51.4 Field Goal Shooting Percentage), and 3-star guard Troy Daniels (10.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG, and 84.3 Free Throw Shooting Percentage).

My Take: To say I was surprised with Indiana’s dominance of the Aggies would be an understatement. New Mexico State is not a good three point shooting team, so once they got behind it was pretty much all over. New Mexico State shot 33.3% from three-point land (4 for 12; 55.1%, or 27-49, from the field); New Mexico State averaged giving up 68 points per game on the season, while making an average of 32.7% of their three point attempts. VCU is a much different team, playing much better defense, but they only make an average of 33.5% of their three point attempts. The Rams average giving up just under 60 points per game. If Indiana plays as physical as they did against New Mexico State, they should advance. But if they allow VCU to control the tempo, hitting jump shots, VCU will be returning to the Sweet 16. Indiana will be a good test for Coach Smart’s team, who is rumored to be the leading candidate for the Illinois head coaching position.

The Pick: Virginia Commonwealth +6.