Evaluating Big Ten Teams in the Midwest RegionPosted by Brendan Brody on March 18th, 2014
When the field of 68 was revealed to the masses on Sunday night, the Midwest region was the one that got the most attention. It was called the “Group of Death” on a number of occasions by different media members — borrowing from soccer terminology, and used to describe what normally is the hardest group in the World Cup. The Big Ten has two of the 18 spots in this grouping, with Michigan earning a #2 seed and Iowa getting a #11 seed. Iowa’s late-season swoon caused the Hawkeyes to drop to the “opening” round, where they’ll take on a surging Tennessee team from the SEC on Wednesday night. Here’s an outline of what the Wolverines and the Hawkeyes are up against this week as they try to navigate their way to North Texas.
Michigan has an easier road than Iowa, but the Wolverines will still have to navigate through a treacherous path to get back to the championship game. They start out with SoCon conference champion Wofford on Thursday evening. The Terriers hold opponents to 32.5 percent shooting from the three-point line, so if Michigan were to become only the fourth #2 seed to go down in the first round since 2002, it would probably because they simply couldn’t hit any outside shots. The next round will give them a different set of challenges in a game against either Arizona State or Texas. The Sun Devils have the necessary perimeter athletes to counter the strength of Michigan’s trio of wing superstars, with an elite scoring point guard (Jahii Carson) backed up by a 7’2″ shot-blocking maestro in Jordan Bachynski. Texas offers a different set of challenges with its rugged inside play offering a marked contrast to the free-flowing motion of Michigan’s offense. Should Michigan make it to the Sweet Sixteen, that’s when things really could get insane. If the bracket holds, the Wolverines will get a rematch with Duke that would allow Nik Stauskas a chance at redemption from his previous four-point performance in Durham. An Elite Eight appearance could net a national title game rematch with Louisville, a chance to take down an undefeated Wichita State team, or even a battle with a Kentucky team that could very well break the Internet should the Wildcats make it that far. Prediction: Elite Eight loss to Louisville.
Iowa will travel to Dayton to play Tennessee in the First Four on Wednesday night, and the Hawkeyes have to be considered to be one of the biggest enigmas in the field. They started 19-6 before losing six of their last seven games in uninspiring fashion. They are going to be one of the Tournament’s biggest storylines if they can figure out a way to get things turned around. There’s also the unfortunate situation with head coach Fran McCaffery’s son having surgery on the day of the game. With the mounting losses and the horrible ordeal McCaffery and his family are going through, it’s going to be difficult for both the coach and his players to push everything aside and just focus on the game at hand. As luck would have it, they will play Tennessee in the First Four.
The two teams are similar in that they both have efficiency numbers that belie their seedings. Tennessee has the nation’s 29th best offense and the 16th best defense, per KenPom, and rank 13th overall. So, by the numbers, this isn’t your typical #11 seed. The Vols have two grown men on the interior in Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes, and they boast elite rebounding numbers to go with it. Iowa has to speed Tennessee up in this game to have a chance, because the Vols will win if they make it a battle of half-court offenses. They also need Roy Devyn Marble — arguably the only consistent Hawkeye during their losing streak — to win the individual battle with fellow senior wing and high scorer Jordan McRae. Should Iowa win the first one, it has a realistic shot at making in into the third round because UMass is a much better match-up for them. The Minutemen also like to get out and run, and Iowa could very easily beat them using their superior depth in a track meet. UMass is pretty solid across the board, but there isn’t anything that they’re particularly great at. Barring a huge upset, Duke would be the next opponent should Iowa get through their first two games, but we’ll deal with that if it actually comes to pass. Prediction: Iowa loses to Tennessee.