The Big Ten Tournament is over and done with now. The brackets are out and it’s go time.
Despite the frustrating loss to MSU on Sunday again, Michigan improved in three games in three days in Chicago and were rewarded with a two-seed in a region that sets things up somewhat nicely fo them in the .West. They’ll play Thursday night in Des Moines, Iowa against a team they saw last year in Montana and should they emerge from this weekend would play in Anaheim the followed weekend.
Let’s take a look at the West Region with thoughts in each section:
No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Fairleigh Dickson/Prairie View
No. 8 Syracuse vs. No. 9 Baylor
As far as this grouping goes, this feels like it could be a year where Gonzaga avoids a flame-out in the NCAA Tournament, but they are by far the most vulnerable of the one seeds. Keep an eye on Syracuse here, as we saw as recent as last year in the tournament what that zone defense can do and how it gets in people’s heads.
No. 5 Marquette vs. No. 12 Murray State
No. 4 Florida State vs. No. 13 Vermont
This grouping of games may have one of the most interesting matchups of the opening weekend with Markus Howard (Marquette) going up against potential top-three NBA Draft pick Ja Morant (Murray State) in the 5/12 matchup. Florida State was a team Michigan saw last year and they had to sweat that one out. That could be another team that could spell trouble for the Zags.
No. 6 Buffalo vs. No. 11 Arizona State/St. John’s
No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No, 14 Northern Kentucky
Buffalo is one of the best basketball teams in the country despite the fact they are coming out of the MAC. They’ve got a terrific backcourt and are coached by a local guy in Nate Oats (shoutout Romulus High School). Texas Tech has the No. 1 rated defense in the nation, according to KenPom and Jarrett Culver is extremely good.
No. 7 Nevada vs. No. 10 Florida
No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 15 Montana
Nevada is rock solid and has a pair of talented forwards in Jordan Caroline and Caleb Martin, who average nearly 40 points per game between the two of them. I don’t see Florida beating them, as they don’t have a whole lot offensively despite a top-15 defense.
So, let’s talk about Michigan and this region as a whole. There is no reason they should not beat Montana, barring the unforseen (which is always possible this time of year). Nevada would be a good test for them and in the right circumstance, that could be a potential out before the first weekend is over. If the Wolverines do not play well and there’s no miracle shot like the Houston game last year, it wouldn’t be a shock at all.
Buffalo is a dark horse to make some noise. As far as what a game with Texas Tech could look like, as least from a KenPom offense and defense ranking standpoint...
At the top of the bracket, Gonzaga is definitely the team to beat and from an objective point of view is obviously the best team in the region (duh, they’re the one seed). That said, nobody can discount their history of flame outs, as they have come into the tournament with great teams before and bowed out early.
It would be awesome to see a player like Morant make some noise and carry the team for at least a game or two. FSU may be slept on because of who they play against in the ACC, but we all know what Leonard Hamilton’s crew is capable of given what we saw against Michigan last year.
It gets really interesting for the West if Gonzaga gets popped somewhere along the way, but they are as talented as they have been under Mark Few. Still, it is hard not to be a fan of Michigan’s draw in this region and it sets up nicely for a deep run if they show up to play. If they get through this first weekend, Anaheim is another heavy U-M alum area, so those games could wind up being home games for them, basically.
We won’t pour too much salt into the wound of Michigan State for winding up as a two seed in the same bracket as Duke. If you’re confident Michigan can go on a run to Minneapolis and that Duke will pop the Spartans, that’s who waits for you next and it probably wouldn’t go well. That said, the intrigue between Duke-Michigan is always going to be there. Hell, in a certain scenario, maybe we get Michigan-Michigan State round four?
If Michigan can take care of business in this first weekend, which will be tough in a matchup with Nevada, I like them to get to the Elite Eight. I’ve said all along the expectation should be for them to play four games and that box gets crossed off in that scenario. If I had to make a pick, I don’t think they’d beat Gonzaga if the Zags can take care of business.
A run to the Final Four is not out of the question, but that’s probably the ceiling here. The floor is getting beaten on Sunday. I feel good about their chances to get out of the first weekend and at least give themselves a chance in Anaheim.