The NCAA Tournament begins tomorrow and for the first time in almost 10 years, March Madness won’t feature the Michigan Wolverines.
There are eight Big Ten teams in the field this year and if you’ve watched the Big Ten, you know anything can happen. The conference beat up on each other, with Purdue being the only team that truly dominated all year long.
March Madness is built for chaos, and there’s a few Big Ten teams in this field who could pull a few upsets and make a bit of a run. Here’s the case for each Big Ten team to last the longest in the tournament.
The case for No. 1 seed Purdue
In a conference full of mediocrity, Purdue stood out as the only team that looked dominant for stretches. Zach Edey was the Big Ten Player of the Year and is a matchup nightmare. Their freshman backcourt of Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer has exceeded expectations, and solid upperclassmen contributors like Mason Gillis and Ethan Morton can make big plays when needed. Head coach Matt Painter doesn’t have the greatest track record in March, but if there’s any year for him to get over the hump, it’s this one.
The case for No. 4 seed Indiana
Much like Edey, Trayce Jackson-Davis is a dominant player who can win the Hoosiers a game or two. Jalen Hood-Schifino was the Freshman of the Year for a reason, and you need at least one really good guard to make a run. Mike Woodson is an excellent coach, and it seems like he’s finally settled in. IU had a really solid season and have a friendly draw that gives them a clear path to the Sweet Sixteen.
The case for No. 7 seed Northwestern
Northwestern is coming off of one of the best regular seasons in school history. The trope of senior guards leading tournament runs is a little overdone, but the Wildcats have a quality senior backcourt in Boo Buie and Chase Audige. The draw is forgiving, as they face a Boise State team that wasn’t great in the Mountain West and a UCLA team that has been dominant, but just lost one of their best players in Jaylen Clark — the Bruins’ third-leading scorer and best defender — for the year. Just prepare yourself for a Sweet Sixteen appearance, because a lot of their alums are journalists and they won’t let you forget about it.
The case for No. 7 seed Michigan State
When looking at the mold of Tom Izzo teams that make unexpected runs, this MSU squad fits perfectly. Tyson Walker, Joey Hauser and Malik Hall are all upperclassmen playing good basketball at the right time. They finally started making their threes late in the Big Ten season and if that continues, they’ll be a darling in March yet again. On paper, the East region is a gauntlet, but there’s a chaotic region every year and MSU is built to embrace said chaos.
The case for No. 8 seed Maryland
Jahmir Young is a certified bucket who could help pull off an upset with his scoring ability alone. Maryland’s three leading scorers (Young, Hakim Hart and Donta Scott) are all seniors or grad students with solid college experience. The Terps thrived at home this season, but we haven’t them play well on the road. They got a really tough draw too, as if they beat Bob Huggins and West Virginia, they got to face the No. 1 overall seed in Alabama.
The case for No. 8 seed Iowa
The Hawkeyes were the most annoying team in the Big Ten; they showed in the wins over Michigan and Michigan State they can be pretty mediocre for 37 minutes before turning it on and hitting every single shot down the stretch. Kris Murray is an NBA player who can thrive on both ends of the floor. It feels like Payton Sandifort or either McCaffery brother could have a moment in this tournament. This team can shoot the lights out, but it’s really hard to trust Fran McCaffery, who has never made a Sweet Sixteen in 27 years of head coaching.
The case for No. 9 Illinois
Illinois has a really solid roster, led by Terrence Shannon Jr. and Matthew Mayer, both of whom can make big shots late in games. Dain Dainja is also a really underrated Big Ten big man. I love their role players in Coleman Hawkins, Ty Rodgers, Luke Goode and R.J. Melendez. We often see the defending champs go out early in March Madness and if Illinois can beat Arkansas, I think it matches up well with Kansas.
The case for No. 10 Penn State
Penn State is coming off a surprising run to the Big Ten Tournament finals, so why can’t it keep the good times rolling? Micah Shrewsberry has been rumored to be considered for the Georgetown job because of how talented he is at drawing up plays and rallying a group of guys. Jalen Pickett thrives playing booty ball, and Penn State surrounds him with solid shooters like Seth Lundy and Andrew Funk. Small teams that shoot a lot of threes can make runs in the tournament if they stay hot, and the Nittany Lions have been pretty hot lately.
Which Big Ten team do you think is the last one standing? Let us know in the comments.