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Ranking each Big Ten team’s path to the Sweet Sixteen

Eight teams from the conference are in the big dance.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Championship-Penn State vs Purdue David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines are not dancing in the NCAA Tournament in 2023. But there are still eight other Big Ten teams that did make it, tied for the second-most among all the conferences. They even get to boast a No. 1 seed with the Purdue Boilermakers at the top of the East Region.

All season long, we ranked the teams in the Big Ten each week. Now to wrap up the 2022-23 campaign, we will rank each Big Ten program’s path to the Sweet Sixteen as the action kicks off Thursday.

Here’s our list:

No. 1: Purdue Boilermakers

It’s pretty simple at the top. The Boilermakers have the easiest path because they are a 1-seed. Any team they face is going to struggle to slow down Zach Edey, who I expect to feast in the first weekend. Neither Texas Southern nor Farleigh Dickinson should be a problem for them.

If you head to the second round, Memphis or FAU await. The Tigers did just come off an AAC Tournament Championship win over Houston and have been playing some really good basketball down the stretch of the season. However, their tallest player is 6-foot-9 senior DeAndre Williams and the Tigers aren’t known for stellar defense. They would have to shoot really well to beat Purdue in the second round, if they can even get past the Owls.

Beyond that is where things get a little more serious: Tennessee, Duke, Kansas State and Marquette wrap up a really difficult region. Marquette has won 13 of its last 14 and won the Big East Championship. Duke also is coming off an ACC Tournament championship. Meanwhile, the metrics love Tennessee, which actually finished ahead of Purdue at No. 4 in the NET Rankings. And Kansas State played in the toughest conference this season and pulled off some major wins.

Purdue’s path to a Final Four won’t be easy, but it has the best shot of the Big Ten teams to make it.

No. 2: Michigan State Spartans

God, I hate to say this, but I think Michigan State has a legitimate shot to make it to the Sweet 16.

I think the PAC-12 was the worst conference among the Power 5 this season, and USC lost to Wisconsin earlier this season. There were only four Quad 1 teams in the PAC-12, and the Trojans were 1-4 against those teams.

Then comes Marquette in the Round of 32, which is playing some of the best basketball in the country. The thing is, I think the Spartans match up with them well in terms of physicality, and the Golden Eagles are a young team playing for a program that hasn’t made it out of the first round since 2013.

I just have this strange feeling we see the Spartans in the Sweet 16, and I really hope I’m wrong.

No. 3: Northwestern Wildcats

I know Northwestern’s season ended on an extremely sour note. After upsets over Purdue and Indiana pushed it to the top-25, it lost four of five to round out the season.

But Boise State feels exactly like the kind of team that Northwestern needed to face in the opening round. The Mountain West has been awful in the NCAA Tournament over the last couple of seasons, and the Broncos have lost three out of their last four as well.

In the second round would be a UCLA squad trying to figure out life without starting guard Jaylen Clark, who tore his Achilles. Starting forward Adam Bona also missed the PAC-12 Championship with an injury, but could return.

If the Wildcats can catch some of that magic from a couple weeks ago, they’ve got a shot to make the Sweet 16.

No. 4: Iowa Hawkeyes

The Hawkeyes have been up and down all season and lost the final two games of the season to Nebraska and Ohio State. Kris Murray is a matchup nightmare, and they can outshoot just about anyone in the country, but their defense is one of the worst in this field.

In the first round, they get Auburn which has been on a downward slope since late January. The Tigers lost eight of their last 11 games and are giving up a bunch of points in the process. I think this turns into one of the highest-scoring games of the opening slate, and the Hawkeyes come out with a close win.

After that is No. 1 Houston, one of the most balanced teams in the country and is 31-3 with two losses in AAC play, one coming in the championship against Memphis. I think it is far more likely the Cougars cruise to the Sweet 16.

No. 5: Indiana Hoosiers

I think Indiana is on upset watch in the first game against Kent State. The Golden Flashes play super tough and aggressive defense, which is why they allowed just 49 points in a five-point loss to Houston earlier this season. They also had Gonzaga on the ropes going into the final two minutes of a game earlier this season. If the Hoosiers aren’t careful, they could lose to an inferior team like they have so many times this season.

If they do get to the second round, they’ll get the joy of playing Miami or Drake, two very quality programs. The Hurricanes owned a share of the regular season crown and are one of the highest-scoring teams in the country; Indiana lost a lot of games to teams like Iowa and Penn State who just scored at will against them.

This was a really tough draw for the Hoosiers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t make it to the second weekend.

No. 6: Maryland Terrapins

Here’s why I don’t believe in Maryland: they can’t win away from College Park.

The Terps won just two Big Ten road games this year, and both came against Minnesota, the worst team in the conference. They did beat Miami on a neutral court early in the season, but almost every meaningful win that got them here was at home.

A battle-tested West Virginia squad awaits in what should be one of the lowest-scoring games in the first round. Even if they break the trend and top the Mountaineers, the No. 1 overall-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide come next. Have fun with that.

No. 7: Illinois Fighting Illini

We all know this Illinois team is not winning the National Championship this year. There has been so much drama around this program, their head coach is insane, and they went 4-6 in their last 10 games. This team just never caught the groove so many expected them to at the beginning of the season.

Arkansas is their first opponent. Twin brothers Makhel and Makhi Mitchell can protect the rim, which is going to give Illinois problems with its terrible shooting from behind the arc.

Beyond Arkansas would be Kansas, one of the best teams in the nation and the reigning champs. Illinois’ odds are not high for getting to the Sweet Sixteen.

No. 8: Penn State Nittany Lions

I have said all season I think Penn State can compete with anybody. Jalen Pickett is such a tough guard and if his teammates are hitting deep balls around him, they boast one of the best offenses in the country. That’s why they went on such an incredible run at the end of the season all the way to the Big Ten Tournament Championship.

The problem is the Nittany Lions got the tough end of poor seeding by the committee. Texas A&M is 25-9 and was No. 18 in the country when they lost to Alabama in the SEC Tournament Final. Somehow, this bumped the Aggies to a 7-seed — they are somehow below Kentucky despite having a much better season.

If the Nittany Lions do prevail, they get No. 2 Texas, which just won the Big 12 Tournament and are playing their best basketball of the year after their head coach was fired midseason. The Longhorns are among the best teams in the country and have gone through adversity.

Penn State’s run has been great, but I just don’t see them getting past these two teams.