B1G conference happenings: Sweet 16 edition

Jason Miller

With four Big ten teams angling for a Final Four bid, and plenty of other happenings afoot with the other conference teams, it's time for a look around the league!

I got a note from my colleague Austan late last night, echoing what many of you are likely thinking: "...how awesome would an all big ten final four be. It's very very unlikely. But it'd be nuts." It’s unlikely, sure. But it is possible. The Big Ten has placed each of its four best teams in four different regionals. Ohio State and Indiana look to have the best bets to make it to Atlanta, but Michigan is looking strong just when Kansas seems vulnerable, and you never, ever bet against Tom Izzo in March. Furthermore, Iowa just beat Virginia in Charlottesville to get the NIT final four, supplementing the case for the Big Ten as the nation's best conference.

There have been a lot of post-Big Ten Tourney developments! Let's go look around the league:

Illinois won vs Colorado 57-49, lost vs Miami 59-63

The Illini were oh-so-close to getting that Sweet Sixteen berth. But a call that went the wrong way and some missed shots down the stretch left them just short. I gotta hand it to new coach John Groce. He took the remainders of a squad that crumbled last year and built them into borderline top-25 team.

Next up: Rebuilding from the loss of 3.5 senior starters, but Groce has transfer scorer Rayvonte Rice and a top recruiting class coming in. They should be a tough out next season, too.

Indiana won vs. James Madison, won vs. Temple

Scary stuff there, versus Temple. I didn’t expect my prediction of IU pulling away "late in second half" to mean "within the last minute." The Hoosiers live to play again, and it'd be just lovely to see the fearsome three-point touch that we've enjoyed all season long return against the Orange.

Next up: Syracuse. This will be tough. I was telling a friend of mine that this match-up actually scares me more than either of the next two possible games.

Iowa (NIT) Won vs Indiana State 68-52, Won vs Stony Brook 75-63, Won @ Virginia 75-64

Seriously, the win at Virginia is probably the Hawkeyes’ best win of the season. Hawkeye fans are right to be happy. Roy Devyn Marble is finally looking like the star scorer he was billed as before the season, Adam Woodbury had his best game (right when Aaron White and Melsahn Basabe had kinda bad games) of the season, and the young Hawkeyes really seem like they are building momentum for the future.

Next up: Maryland. The future Big Ten foe has been a tough out this season, but wasn't as good as Virginia. This should be a really good game, but with the neutral location, coach McCaffrey has got to feel confident about getting to the NIT final.

Michigan Won vs. South Dakota State 71-56, Won vs. VCU 78-53

The Wolverines destroyed VCU, but Michigan was perhaps the team in the regional that could really jump on their weaknesses. The big margin of victory has them back on the national radar. I definitely think that the Wolverines have the talent to get to the Final Four, but I don't like the looming match-up against Florida, even if they get past Kansas.

Next up: Kansas. Kansas is certainly worthy of a #1 seed, but has not been playing incredibly well. Jeff Withey is crazy good, but if Michigan is hitting their threes, this might be an upset that's decided well before the final buzzer.

Michigan State Won vs Valparaiso 65-54, Won vs. Memphis 70-48

That Memphis wasn’t actually that ugly until late in the second half. Memphis was one good run away from it being a real contest, but after the 10:35 mark of the second half, the Tigers' offense totally stalled. The Duke-MSU game is being hotly anticipated around the country, and features a lot of great match-ups, and I frankly like MSU's chances. However, the winner has to face Louisville, and I don't like the chances of either team in that one.

Next up: Duke

Minnesota Won vs UCLA 83-63, lost vs. Florida 64-78

I was rather surprised that Tubby Smith was given his walking papers, especially given the 20-point win in the first round over a higher seed. For those who think the Gophers have fallen off of some previously high-quality era, and want to look past Dan Monoson, Clem Haskins was actually a fairly mediocre Big Ten coach (I don’t mean that perjoratively, I mean middle-of-the-road as in 119-120 all-time in Big Ten games) until Bobby Jackson came along. And the way that Haskins ran the team ended with the ‘97 Final Four appearance being vacated, so.... I dunno. Minnesota’s a hard place to coach, and Smith was doing pretty well. Sure Tubby’s got his weak points (*cough* zone *cough*), but who do you get who will do better? I guess we’ll find out.

Next up: finding a new coach

Nebraska

There's a good wrap-up of the Husker season can be found here, but suffice it to say that newbie coach Tim Miles surpassed expectations. Next year, he'll being adding a redshirt junior guard (Deverell Biggs) and couple of transfers (Walter Pitchford, Terran Pettaway) to go with shooter Ray Gallegos and this year's frosh surprise Shavon Shields. Will it be enough to get to the NIT, and start some upward momentum for the program?

Next up: integrating several transfers to replace graduation losses, trying to land some solid recruits.

Northwestern

I was a little surprised that Bill Carmody was let go, given the various roster losses he had incurred due to injury etc. And I thought Chris Collins is a solid hire, the right kind of fit for NU.... wait, is he hiring the insufferable Greg Paulus? Arrrgh. Oh well, Northwestern fans seem pretty happy and optimistic about Collins, but those with some institutional memory about the Wildcats' historical record in the conference are taking a healthy "wait and see" approach.

Next up: seeing if they can keep Drew Crawford, recruit Jaren Sina, and add a transfer or solid recruit. And hey, maybe stay healthy for five minutes.

Ohio State: won vs Iona 95-70, won vs Iowa State 78-75

That Iowa State game had all the trappings of a classic upset: a hungry underdog making plays and just going unconscious from behind the arc late in the game to erase a double-digit deficit and take the lead...but the Buckeyes would not be denied their tenth straight win. The Buckeyes needed every bit of skill and luck available, but escaping the West region's upset bug has them primed for a repeat Final Four appearance. Matta always seems to lose one round earlier than you'd expect, though.... so.... a good win over Arizona followed by a disappointing loss to Wichita State? Naw, I'm betting they get to the Final Four.

Next up: Arizona. These Wildcats are dangerous, but OSU just looks to match up very well against them. As long as they remember how to rebound, that is.

Penn State

For all of the guff that Tom Crean has gotten about oversigning, he’s certainly far from the only one doiing it. Pat Chambers has to send on his best post player with a year of eligibility remaining away (Sasa Borovnjak) AND send another additional player packing. With Pitt transfer John Johnson aboard and Tim Frazier returning, some PSU fans are talking NCAA tourney and national relevance, but I gotta think a NIT bid is the best-case scenario until they find some proven two-way players in the paint.

Next up: Figuring out who else leaves. My guess is Pat Ackerman will be thanked for his work, and congratulated for his scholarship opportunity at .... oh, say, somewhere in the Patriot League.

Purdue Won vs Western Illinois 81-67, lost vs Santa Clara 83-86

Purdue was both a little better and a little worse than I expected. You never knew if they were going to beat Wisconsin on the road (by 13 points, no less) or give up a huge amount of points at home (like, say giving up 86 points to Santa Clara, in Mackey). The Boilers were just as inconsistent as could be, but they've got some serious young talent on the roster. I'm not as enamored of their recruiting class for next year as some, but it's certainly solid and shores up some needs they have on the wing. AJ Hammons is a promising talent in the paint and the Johnson brothers should be a formidable backcourt next season.

Next up: Sorting out a solid rotation for next season, and figuring out their defensive identity.

Wisconsin lost vs. Ole Miss 46-57

Sure, Wisky went belly up against the Rebels, missing shots and turning the ball over at an unusually high rate, but .... uh, never mind. That sucked. And it really sucked that Bo Ryan foisted Marshall Henderson on the rest of the country for another couple of days. Now, seniors Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans, and Mike Bruesewitz all move on, but Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminisky should join the redshirted Josh Gasser in next year's starting line-up. Bo Ryan will keep his streak of top-four finishes in the Big Ten alive for the foreseeable future.

Next up: Replacing their frontline, and figuring out the point guard situation for next season, as Josh Gasser returns but the Badgers also welcome nationally ranked Bronson Koenig to the roster.

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